Trumbull Dems acccuse GOP of violating election law

Trumbull Democrats are accusing the Herbst administration of giving special treatment to a contractor they say has contributed to First Selectman Timothy Herbst’s campaigns in the past.

“The State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) is investigating whether the Trumbull Republican Town Committee (TRTC) violated state election law by accepting campaign contributions from a local construction company, which later received a no-bid contract valued at $200,000,” Democrats said in a press release.

The contractor in question is Bismark Construction. Democrats said the company’s VP Jeffrey Raucci and his wife, made contributions to Herbst’s campaign and to the Trumbull Republican Town Committee between 2009 and 2011.

On Tuesday, Herbst called the latest release from Democrats a cheap political shot and defended his decision to award a no-bid waiver to Bismark, for what he described as an emergency project at Madison Middle School in 2013.

“It takes serious chutzpah to go after a well-respected contractor to make a cheap political shot,” Herbst said.

He also attacked Tony Silber, a member of the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee that sent the release to local media.

“Tony Silber is like the little boy who cried wolf,” Herbst said. “You do it enough times, you lose credibility.”

Democrats say the donations are a clear violation, and that Raucci also made a contribution to Herbst’s state treasurer campaign that Herbst later returned. State contractors cannot contribute to candidates for state races who accept public financing for their races.

“These contributions are clearly a violation of state election law,” said Trumbull Democratic Town Committee Secretary Lisa Labella, who filed the complaint in March.

Also named in the complaint were Jack Testani, former chair of the Trumbull GOP, and former treasurer Carl Scarpelli.

In 2013, Bismark received a $200,000 no-bid contract from the Herbst administration for work at Madison Middle School.

“The contract did not need to be awarded on a no-bid basis, particularly to a donor to both Herbst’s own campaign and to the Republican Town Committee,” Democrats said.

Herbst said he found their comments about Bismark to be “utterly despicable.”

He said the no-bid waiver, which was recommended for approval by Finance Director Maria Pires before it received Herbt’s approval, was necessary.

Herbst said the school facilities department and facilities manager, then AFB Construction, had failed to address a serious structural problem at Madison Middle School and the town had to act. In the summer before school started last year, it was discovered a wall had separated from the building.

He noted that the Board of Education, which at the time had a 5-2 majority of Democrats, did not hold the school facilities department responsible for not addressing the project sooner.

“What would Democrats have done?” Herbst said. “Where would they have put the kids when school started?”

Herbst said former Superintendent Ralph Iassogna also approved the project.

“The-no-bid contract is what makes this election-law violation so troubling,” Labella said in the press release. “It raises questions about favoritism, conflicts of interest and transparency. What’s more, all of this was done under the direction of Mr. Herbst, who campaigned in 2009 on a promise to pass an ordinance banning contractors doing business with the town from making political contributions.”

‘Bad boy’ ordinance

Herbst on Tuesday touted a new ordinance, approved by Town Council last week, that he says will give Trumbull added protections against contractors who either break the law or don’t deliver.

The ordinance allows the town to disqualify contractors from the bidding or working on a town project for a number of reasons, including if the contractor failed to meet a public contract or agreement, has committed a crime that may show a lack of business integrity, or if the contractor has a history of poor performance. A disqualification of a contractor can’t last more than two years.

“The genesis of this comes from what we have been dealing with for the last four years with contractors giving us trouble,” Herbst said.

He mentioned the ongoing litigation on the Trumbull North Nichols and Jog Hill sewer projects. Herbst also cited concerns with the high school renovation and the past cost of snow removal at the schools as other reasons for needing this ordinance.

Herbst’s Chief of Staff Lynn Arnow said five other towns in the state have a similar “bad boy” or “responsible contractor” ordinance and Trumbull’s is modeled after an ordinance in Danbury.

Under the ordinance, if the town’s first selectman, purchasing authority and purchasing agent determine a contractor has violated any of the terms for disqualification, a hearing will be held. The “hearing officer” will issue a written decision following the hearing.

Herbst said he doesn’t expect the ordinance to be used anytime soon, but it provides future protections.

“Perhaps some situations could have been avoided,” he said.