Town Council OKs audit of high school renovation

Trumbull’s Town Council last week  approved First Selectman’s Timothy Herbst’s request for an outside audit of the $64-million high school renovation project.

The project, which, after about seven years, is set to be completed in August, will be audited by Grant Thornton for a projected $65,000. The project, so far, has come in under budget, but delays and issues along the way have made the project somewhat of a running joke, according to Herbst.

“It’s a town joke and it needs to end, with dignity and professionalism,” he said to the Times.

The audit is set to start in August and could take about 90 days, though it may be less or more. Herbst said the audit may prove useful in finding some savings or repairs that may be made at no cost to the town.

The approval didn’t come without some hesitation and disagreement from Democrats on the council.

Council member Martha Jankovic-Mark said while she supported an audit, she believes Herbst violated the charter by appointing an Audit Committee. Mark said she had heard nothing about an audit until she saw the meeting agenda.

“Mr. Herbst appears to have violated our Town of Trumbull Charter by usurping the Town Council’s power to conduct external audits,” she said in a statement after the meeting.

Herbst said he followed a similar protocol that has been used by his predecessor and agreed that the charter is very clear in that the council must conduct audits.

“That’s why we’re here tonight,” Herbst said.

Mark said she was concerned that Grant Thornton may not be the most qualified for the project.

“If we followed the proper process, I could have been able to talk to the other candidates,” she said.

Council member Vicki Tesoro echoed a similar sentiment.

“I’m not against this audit. It needs to be done but I don’t support the process,” she said. “I don’t care what happened in the past.”

Republican Council member Michael London said he wanted to move the project forward.

“We are beating a dead horse,” he said. “Whether you agree with the process or not, can we please move on and get to the point here? This is a necessary item and I hope we move it through.”

Some council members had doubts that the project would cost just $65,000. The contract states the audit should not exceed $65,000, unless more is approved by the council.

Member John DelVecchio Jr. said he thought, based on projections from those experienced with audits, that the cost could end up being closer to $150,000.

“Possibly some wrongs will be righted,” he said of the audit results. “Are we going to get $65,000 back? I’m not sure. But am I looking to hide something? No.”

Republican Chadwick Ciocci said he thought that any opposition to the audit proposal wasn’t productive and the audit needed to go forward.

“I feel like some members are grasping at straws,” he said.

Democratic Town Council member James Meisner, who is also on the Trumbull High School Building Committee, said he had concerns about the first selectman’s use of the word “forensic” in describing the audit, as it can make it seem like the auditors are expected to find criminal activity or wrong-doing. Meisner did, however, approve of having an audit to see how the town can improve on future capital projects.

“I don’t think I want to stand in the way of this. I don’t think there is anything to hide,” Meisner said.

Herbst said his use of “forensic” wasn’t an attempt to imply any wrong-doing.

“I hope this audit comes back and shows the project was handled aboveboard,” Herbst said. “If everyone acted in the best interest of the town, we have nothing to worry about.”

Al Barbarotta, president and CEO of AFB Construction Management, the town’s representative on the renovation project, has said he supports an audit. But Barbarotta called Herbst taking the lead on the audit proposal a “witch hunt.”

“When the audit is completed we’ll be vindicated,” he said. “We’re proud of the project and it’s come in millions under budget.”