Musto: Herbst should apologize to THA

State Sen. Anthony Musto is demanding that First Selectman Timothy Herbst apologize and retract comments he made about him and the Trumbull Housing Authority last week. But that won't happen.

Musto, who has been the housing authority's attorney for 10 years, called Herbst's comments "defamatory, outrageous and filled with falsehoods" this week. Specifically, he took issue with Herbst's contention that the THA, which oversees the town's Stern Village housing complex, put politics ahead of people and engaged in a secret and illegal meeting to renew the contract of Stern Village Executive Director Harry Wise. (Full text of Musto comments here. Full text of Herbst statement here.)

"Herbst said THA was not properly addressing the safety of the residents," Musto said. "This is false and is a direct result of the fact that Mr. Herbst does not understand the role of THA nor what Mr. Wise did during the storm."

Stern Village is a municipal housing project for low-income residents who come and go as they please and receive no special care or assistance beyond what any other tenant would receive from a landlord, Musto said. Wise has no obligation to assist the residents, but he worked hard during the storm and ensuing blackout. His actions confirmed to the THA that he was the correct person to run the complex, Musto said.

In response, Herbst publicly attacked the commission, calling the members "deceitful" and "duplicitous" and lacking concern for the Stern Village residents, Musto said.

In addition, the meeting in question was anything but secret, having been noticed on the commission's calendar and with an agenda posted at the THA office, though not the town clerk's office as required by town charter. Gail Hanna, a Herbst appointee and the former commission's lone Republican, attended the meeting and voted without commenting on the meeting's legality or secrecy, Musto said.

Finally, Musto said, Herbst's characterization of the contract renewal as "unscrupulous" and a "done deal" between himself and former THA Chairman Judith Stern was false.

"Ms. Stern had no role in the negotiation or drafting of the renewal at all, and I received no comments from her prior to the meeting," he said.

"In fact, I had no discussions with any commissioners prior to the meeting."

Instead, the contract had been negotiated between Musto, as the THA's attorney, and Wise's representative, former Town Attorney James Cordone.

Though Wise received some concessions, he was not given a pay increase for the first time in his 15 years of employment. As the THA attorney, Musto explained provisions of the contract but did not recommend the board accept or reject it. The board, except for Hanna, voted to approve the contract, earning sharp criticism from Herbst, whose reaction Musto called "unconscionable."

"He should know better than to make such vile, public accusations of dishonesty without knowing all of the facts," Musto said. "Instead, he has chosen to disparage the commissioners' character based on his own speculation."

Herbst said he was aware of Musto's comments but had not read them. Far from apologizing, he strengthened his own comments, asking why the THA had never followed up on reports from the town's emergency responders that questioned Wise's conduct both during the storm and in the year since Tropical Storm Irene had also knocked out power at the complex.

"I have relatives that are senior citizens, and I would not feel comfortable with them living at Stern Village given the management and previous housing authority's lack of concern," Herbst said. "For a year they knew they needed to make provisions like getting a generator and they did nothing."

Herbst said the commission should have solicited feedback from Stern Village residents regarding Wise's job performance, and questioned why the THA had not conducted a performance review of Wise for years.

"In the last week, I have received numerous letters from residents thanking me for taking action," he said. When asked for copies of the letters, Herbst provided a scan of a handwritten note dated Dec. 28 where an eight-year resident of Stern Village, whose name was redacted, characterized Wise as argumentative and confrontational and frequently threatening residents with eviction. Complaints from residents fell on deaf ears, the resident claimed.

"It goes in the shredder," the resident said.