Herbst launches investigation into AFB's work in Trumbull
First Selectman Tim Herbst has ordered an investigation into school building permits and projects handled by AFB Construction Management, the town’s facilities manager and owner’s rep on the high school renovation. The investigation comes on the heels of recent media reports that AFB may have not followed proper oversight and inspections on a school lighting project in Stamford.
Herbst sent a memorandum to Fire Marshal Meghan Murphy and Building Official Graham Bisset on Wednesday, asking for an investigation into school building permits.
AFB’s President and CEO, Al Barbarotta , a Trumbull resident, spoke to the Times Wednesday, vigorously defending the Stamford project and his work in Trumbull. He called Herbst’s efforts “another witch hunt.” Barbarotta, who is suing Herbst for “tortious interference” in a business deal, claims Herbst is once again using his seat and political friends, including former Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia, to defame Barbarotta’s character.
Herbst’s memo included a copy of the recent story that ran in the Stamford Advocate, with the headline “Board of Ed under fire over energy management services.”
“A recent installation of energy efficient lighting at Scofield Magnet Middle School was devoid of proper oversight and inspection,” Herbst wrote. “According to the Stamford Advocate ‘a review of building permit records shows [AFB Construction Management] did not follow the proper permit and inspection procedures.”
Based on the report, Herbst said he wants a full and complete investigation by the fire marshal and building official to determine if AFB took similar actions in Trumbull.
Herbst told the Times that despite Barbarotta’s claims and lawsuit, the latest investigation is not personal.
“If anyone has engaged in personal attacks, it’s Mr. Barbarotta,” Herbst said. “I have a job to do and if I see something wrong or something that doesn’t seem right, I will question it. I have an obligation to protect the citizens of this town.”
Barbarotta said the project to install energy-efficient lighting at the Stamford school was a project that is saving the city about $1,500 a week in electrical costs.
“Toward the end of last year we had money in the operating budget because we had tremendous savings,” Barbarotta said of Stamford school project. “I asked the superintendent and Board of Education, in a public meeting, for permission to do a LED test program at one of the schools.”
In the story cited by Herbst, Stamford school officials praise the project and AFB’s work on it. The story says the work came under scrutiny in the final months of Mayor Pavia’ administration after officials found out it wasn’t publicly bid. The Board of Education signed a bid waiver.
Herbst said Wednesday that the claims in Stamford sounded all too familiar. He cited a report by town auditor James Henderson, which criticized snow removal handled by Barbarotta’s company, saying AFB did not get a bid waiver for clearing roofs.
“There is a pattern here — whether it’s bid waivers not being sought for snow removal or bid waivers for non-emergency projects,” Herbst told the Times.
Barbarotta defended the Scofield project as the first of its kind in the state and a model for other schools.
“We had never done an LED project before,” Barbarotta said. “We vetted it and it seemed like a great project. Now everyone is asking when we can do the rest of the schools.
“I’m not making any money or charging a fee for Scofield. The reasoning behind it was to show the city and BOE it could be done,” Barbarotta said.
The first selectman wrote in his letter to the Trumbull officials that he found it troubling Barbarotta did not get adequate permitting and inspection for the duration of the project. He argued that if the project is the first of its kind, that would seem to be all the more reason to make sure it’s properly permitted and that inspections get done.
“I am of the strong belief that school buildings and facilities require critical attention for proper permitting and inspection,” Herbst wrote. “Any school facility that housing Trumbull children should require an abundance of care and caution.”
Ethics and lawsuit
Around June 2013, Barbarotta filed a lawsuit against Herbst, claiming tortious interference and damage to the company’s reputation. AFB claims Herbst "interfered" and stopped the company from acting as a construction administrator for a project at Trumbull Loves Children Inc.
Herbst at the time called the lawsuit baseless, saying he saw a clear conflict of interest with AFB working for both TLC and the town.
The lawsuit is ongoing.
“Part of my lawsuit against Tim is his defamation of my character — he’s attacked me in Trumbull through his seat and through his friend in Stamford, Mayor Pavia,” Barbarotta said.
In December, the court denied Herbst governmental immunity in the case, saying AFB has alleged sufficient facts to state a claim of tortious interference with a business expectancy and that Herbst is not protected from liability under governmental immunity.
“That process is going to carry itself out,” Herbst said of the lawsuit. “I’m confident a court will recognize a good faith effort on my part to make sure Trumbull Code of Ethics was honored and we avoided conflict. For me, this is about doing what’s right.”
Barbarotta has also alleged Herbst is behind an ethics complaint that involved AFB and school officials, which was filed by auditor Henderson and dismissed last June. While the ethics complaint is confidential, a report by Henderson was posted to the town website. Some argued the report was the basis of the ethics complaint.
“That report was put online,” Barbarotta said. “Mayor Pavia saw fit to share it with the Board of Education in Stamford.”
Barbarotta said the Trumbull investigation is another attempt to ruin his reputation.
“It’s another witch hunt,” Barbarotta said. “He is running out of ways to shoot at me.”
Herbst said he has asked town officials to expedite the investigation.
When asked what will happen if the investigation reveals any issues, Herbst said, “We will deal with it immediately.”