Ethics complaint dismissed; Herbst, Barbarotta respond
An ethics complaint that involved the town’s facilities manager and school officials, including Superintendent Ralph Iassogna, was dismissed by the Ethics Commission Saturday, after hours of testimony.
The details of the complaint, filed by internal auditor James Henderson, are confidential but the complaint reportedly involved AFB Construction Management President and CEO Al Barbarotta, Iassogna, Board of Education Chair Stephen Wright , Building Committee Chair James Nugent and school district’s head of maintenance services, Steven Kennedy.
Iassogna told the Times he was involved in the complaint but that he and others interviewed were not the main focus of the complaint but were “periphery” individuals.
“I think we were extremely pleased but not surprised that the commission didn’t move the complaint forward,” Iassogna said. “The complaint was totally unfounded and baseless.”
Barbarotta, whose company oversees town capital projects like the high school renovation, said he wasn’t surprised the charges were dismissed.
“The Ethics Commission proved the charges were frivolous,” Barbarotta said. “We’re all very happy the charges were dropped but upset we were dragged into this at all.”
Four members of the commission had to recuse themselves during the hearing, due to potential conflicts of interest. The matter was decided by three members of the commission.
“I think the process was hampered by the fact that 60% of the commission had to recuse themselves for various potential conflicts,” First Selectman Timothy Herbst said.
Herbst also said that the decision was not unanimous to dismiss the complaint against “respondent 5,” which is presumably Barbarotta, Herbst said.
“Commissioner [Thomas] Lee made a ruling to proceed,” Herbst said. “I would be interested to see why he wanted to proceed, but that’s all confidential.”
Barbarotta, who is suing Herbst for alleged “tortious interference” in a business deal between AFB and Trumbull Loves Children Inc., said he believes that Herbst was behind the complaint. Herbst has called Barbarotta’s lawsuit “baseless” and said his deal with TLC would have been a conflict of interest and violation of town ethics.
“I’m upset he used the town auditor as a front for this,” Barbarotta said of Herbst. “It’s not fair to the Board of Finance or Mr. Henderson to be forced to put his signature on this. Tim just continues to use town employees to put money in place to chase down his political position on all this stuff.”
Herbst said he had nothing to do with the ethics complaint, though he was interviewed by Mr. Henderson in connection to the complaint. He said doesn’t know the complaint’s details.
“The internal auditor is appointed by the Trumbull Board of Finance and is responsible for ensuring there is compliance to all town rules, regulations, policies and ordinances,” Herbst said.
The first selectman said he is aware that Mr. Henderson’s investigation was initiated as the town was processing snow removal costs, while applying for FEMA reimbursement.
Herbst said concerns arose as officials processed costs from major storms in 2011 and 2013. Under Barbarotta’s management, Herbst said the town incurred a $972,000 cost in removing snow at nine schools during storms in 2011 and 2013, which exceeded the costs of plowing the entire town, the first selectman said. Herbst also said AFB signed off on an $82,000 payment for a snow removal service without going to the school business administrator or superintendent, and possibly hired back contractors who had previously caused $400,000 worth of damage while working on town property.
“It’s the job of the internal auditor to protect the taxpayers,” Herbst said.
Barbarotta has said Herbst’s attack on him is personal and he will defend his name. Herbst argues that Barbarotta’s recent comments about the first selectman hanging out with political “losers” in a Connecticut Post story show that he is the one who is going on a personal attack.
“Not only were his comments unprofessional and classless but showed how personal and political Mr. Barbarotta is,” Herbst said. “I have an obligation to protect the taxpayers.”
Herbst has proposed an audit of the high school renovation project. The renovation project, which has run into issues like cost overruns and has taken longer than expected, is now scheduled to be completed in mid-August.
Barbarotta called Herbst’s audit proposal a “witch hunt.”
“An audit on any project like this is warranted but the timing of the audit and Tim taking charge of it doesn’t make sense,” Barbarotta said.
The audit would cost about $65,000.
“There have been far too many issues with that project that I think will require it to be audited,” Herbst said. “We want to see how it can be corrected before everyone packs up and leaves, and also so we don't repeat these mistakes on future capital projects.”