Commentary: Housing Authority actions 'disturbing and heart-breaking'
Some recent statements about the controversy surrounding the conduct of some former Trumbull Housing Authority members, as well as its former attorney, State Senator Anthony Musto, are wraught with misdirection--if not outright deception. What is especially disturbing and heart-breaking is that it appears that Senator Musto and some former housing authority members decided to play politics with the lives of Trumbull's most precious population - our seniors.
Decisions made not to prepare for or assist resident seniors during Hurricane Sandy were morally unconscionable. State Senator Anthony Musto's recent response clearly reflects his circumvention of the core issues in this matter. It is essential to ignore the spin, and consider the facts:
During Hurricane Sandy, the town's Emergency Management Department and fire marshal reported serious problems with the lack of emergency management response for Stern Village. In response to their verbal concerns, First Selectman Herbst asked for a full report detailing all of the problems.
During the hurricane, as police, fire and EMS personnel went door-to-door at Stern Village to try and evacuate seniors because of deteriorating and dangerous weather conditions, executive director of the authority, Harry Wise, had left for the day and cited the fact that the complex is categorized as "independent living" and therefore it was not his responsibility. Also, the executive director does not own a cell phone, so it was difficult to reach him.
Furthermore, the executive director's office was unable to provide an accurate list containing the names of Stern Village residents. Improper record keeping unfortunately and most sadly led to the misidentification of a deceased woman who was found at the complex.
With many days advance notice of the storm, there does not appear to be any justifiable reason that a current list of residents and associated emergency contacts was not available. Inaccurate information needlessly risked the safety and welfare of seniors at Stern Village.
In the summer of 2011, the town's Emergency Management Department recommended a series of measures based on Hurricane Irene, including the installation of a generator. The emergency preparation recommendations were to be undertaken by the former housing authority members in the event of another weather related emergency.
Unfortunately, more than a year after their recommendations were made, the former housing authority members and the executive director failed to implement the core recommendations of the emergency response plan. Since none of the emergency measures were implemented, residents of Stern Village had to evacuate.
The inaction of the former housing authority members was unacceptable and reflects an insufficient interest in protecting the residents of Stern Village. The residents of Stern Village deserve quality leadership and compassion at all times, especially during dangerous storms.
Additionally, despite a specific recommendation in the emergency plan to do so, there were not any emergency plans prepared in regard to providing alternate housing for Stern Village residents that were medically unable to go to a shelter. Some of the residents of Stern Village were evacuated to a local school. However, some were not able to do so and should have been provided shelter at other senior housing complexes (St. Joseph's Manor or Spring Meadows). Instead, the executive director stated that the residents unable to go to the shelter would have to move out of Stern Village.
Former Housing Authority Chair Judi Stern scheduled a meeting without any regard for the processes outlined in the Trumbull Town Charter, the seniors or the public. It is irresponsible and unacceptable that their meeting was not posted in the Town Clerk's office or on the town website. The residents of Stern Village and the public deserve transparency and forthright behavior at all times. Why so secret?
During the illegal meeting, they went into executive session. When they emerged, they voted to approve a two year extension for Harry Wise. They did this despite all of the problems, including a lack of responsiveness of the executive director, identified in the reports from the Emergency Management Operations Center and the fire marshal. To make matters worse, no performance evaluation had been conducted for him over the last several years.
Their attorney, Senator Musto, also participated in the executive session and emerged with a prepared contract which extended the executive director's employment at Stern Village. Among the new contract provisions, if the authority removed Mr. Wise for cause, he has six months to "cure". Also, if the authority removed Mr. Wise for cause and he decided to sue the authority, the town must pay for his legal fees if he prevailed.
The fact that Senator Musto had the contract prepared that night means that the chair of the authority, Mrs. Stern and Senator Musto worked in concert before the meeting to orchestrate the contract extension. Fortunately, the town attorney has concluded that all actions taken at the illegal meeting, including approving this contract, were null and void.
This type of conduct and disregard for the seniors and the public is a disgrace and extremely embarrassing for our town. Where was the compassion for our seniors?
After all, "Compassion is the basis of all morality."-Arthur Schopenhauer