Herbst and Vavrek slam health district board members for creating 'contentious battle'

Two moving trucks were outside the Trumbull Monroe Health District offices Tuesday, packing up what’s left of the district offices, in preparation for the official dissolution of the district July 1. But, while packing up may be running smoothly, First Selectman Tim Herbst and Monroe’s First Selectman Steve Vavrek say a transition agreement between the district and both towns is another story entirely.

Herbst and Vavrek sent a joint statement Tuesday, criticizing a decision made by a few members of the regional health district to sell off district assets, paid for by Trumbull and Monroe taxpayers, creating what Vavrek called a “contentious battle."

According to town leaders, On June 24, the Towns of Trumbull and Monroe were notified by Health District attorney Brian Smith that the district board previously voted to provide a $32,000 severance payment to the outgoing Director Patrice Sulik, as well as granting her a Chevy Trailblazer, as part of her severance package. Trumbull and Monroe officials were told that if they did not agree to these conditions, the staff of the district was directed to liquidate assets, according to Herbst and Vavrek.

On June 26, Trumbull Town Attorney Dennis Kokenos and Monroe Town Attorney John Fracassini, sent a proposed agreement to Smith. That same afternoon district Director Patrice Sulik, and three board members, scheduled a special meeting to be held on Sunday, June 28. At that meeting, a decision was made to reject the transition agreement and proceed to sell district assets, according to the town leaders.

“No government agency should hold a public meeting on a Sunday afternoon, with less than two days’ notice, and without a quorum of the membership” said Herbst. “It’s not the way government agencies should be run, especially when significant taxpayer resources are at stake.”

“In essence, three people made this decision,” Vavrek added. “In the interest of openness and transparency, we are asking the entire health district to reconvene, and consider the terms of the transition agreement laid out by our towns.”

In December, Trumbull’s Town Council voted to leave the regional health district, essentially disbanding it at the start of the new fiscal year. Herbst proposed the dissolution, saying it would save money and give the town greater control oversight if it formed its own health district.

Since then, Trumbull and Monroe have each hired health directors and other staff to create town health departments. In Trumbull, Rhonda Capuano has been named new health director. She is a Trumbull resident and former health professional with the city of Norwalk. The Trumbull Health Department is taking up temporary residence in empty Trumbull Center office space, while a permanent location is prepared.

“The job of town government is to provide quality services to residents and businesses and to do so within the confines of a budget they can afford, with openness and transparency,” Herbst said in his statement today.

Herbst and Vavrek criticized the few members of the board for deciding to sell assets paid for by Trumbull taxpayers.

“It is disappointing for both our towns that the Health District has opted to turn what should have been a smooth transition, into a contentious battle,” Vavrek said. “Taxpayers should have faith that those in government service will do the right thing, and be good stewards of the people’s money and their trust.”

Herbst and Vavrek are asking the entire Trumbull Monroe Health Board of reconvene and find a resolution.

“We have worked through our towns attorneys to negotiate an agreement that would have provided both a smooth transition and restore faith in the taxpayers that town resources wouldn’t be wasted,” said Herbst. “Unfortunately, the District has rejected that offer, but we are hoping that a reconsideration by the full board, conducted in the light of day, will yield a resolution and a smooth transition.”

“When government agencies conduct secret meetings behind closed doors, and without public input, nobody wins,” said Vavrek. “We are hoping that the District board and staff will realize what’s at stake and make the right decision for the people they serve.”

When a reporter stopped by the Trumbull Monroe Health District Tuesday no staff were there. The number for the district has  been disconnected.
Trumbull department
On Wednesday, July 1 the Trumbull Health Department opens for business at 935 White Plains Road, Suite 210, until renovations on their permanent facility are completed.
Hours of operation are: Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 4:30. Appointments with health inspectors are requested and can be made by calling 203-452-1030.
All records and files pertaining to Trumbull residents and business have been transferred to the Trumbull Health Department office and will are in the care and custody of the town's new Director of Health, Rhonda Capuano, MPH, CHES.