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Selectmen's Frustration Over Communication Boils Over At Meeting



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Selectmen’s Frustration Over Communication Boils Over At Meeting

By John Voket

Escalating tensions over poor communications between First Selectman Joe Borst and fellow members on the Board of Selectmen on numerous issues came to a head Monday, June 2. Republican Selectman Paul Mangiafico and Democratic Selectman Herb Rosenthal both became visibly exasperated, and Mr Borst slammed his hand down on a table in frustration.

A heated exchange was prompted by the latest in a series of concerns expressed by the selectmen since Mr Borst took office six months ago. Emotions began ramping up moments after the public commentary portion of the meeting.

Responding to comments by Ruby Johnson about a possible nanotechnology-related project at Fairfield Hills, Mr Mangiafico said he thought such a development would put Newtown in a premier position on the forefront of this developing science.

“I’ve asked the first selectman to engage himself,” Mr Mangiafico said, adding that Mr Borst previously reported speaking to Peter Longo, president and executive director of Connecticut Innovations, about the idea. “I don’t think that’s enough. I think he needs to take an active role in politically attempting to get the state to recognize that Newtown is interested in this.”

Mr Mangiafico then addressed a public comment by Peter D’Amico, founder of the Newtown Youth Academy, who presented a leaseback proposal to complete the demolition of Greenwich Hall, and to construct permanent parking and landscaping adjacent to the nonprofit sports complex he is developing on the town-owned campus.

“The problem is, a couple of weeks ago Mr Borst made a presentation at the Legislative Council meeting regarding what he termed a ‘mortgage’ with Peter D’Amico,” Mr Mangiafico said. “The problem that I have with what was presented tonight was, this was not noted on the agenda. On [May] 22, I asked Joe to put this on the agenda so it would be noted and people could show up.”

A few minutes later, Mr Borst introduced a revision of a clerk of the works proposal that he said incorporated changes suggested by fellow selectmen during previous meetings.

“I did have other changes that I recommended that still aren’t in here,” Mr Rosenthal said, adding that the draft at hand still appeared that it was creating a permanent, not a temporary, position to oversee the high school and town office developments. “I don’t think we need a permanent person hanging around in case a project comes along; we need somebody to supervise these two projects.”

Mr Borst then suggested tabling the issue until the status of one or more clerks of the works was clarified based on the timelines of several upcoming projects that have been approved or proposed. As Mr Borst proposed to move through other agenda items, Mr Mangiafico asked to return to communications.

The first selectman then proposed to add transfers, appointments, and Fairfield Hills to the agenda. Mr Mangiafico then asked again to return to communications. After agreeing to add the items he requested, Mr Borst suggested returning to “the town’s business” before entertaining communications.

“Communications is the town’s business, Mr Chairman,” Mr Mangiafico said.

“I know that, Paul,” Mr Borst replied, moving to the transfers.

Mr Mangiafico then made a motion to keep the agenda on track and move to communications, which Mr Rosenthal seconded for discussion.

“The reason why I would like to go back to communications is because there are a couple of items missing on the agenda, a couple of them related to discussions that took place during our public comment,” Mr Mangiafico said.

“Well go ahead and ask your questions,” Mr Borst said, then voting against the motion to address communications, which then passed by a 2-1 margin.

Missing Agenda Items

Mr Mangiafico then asked about the status of answers to questions proposed by Douglas Brennan during a previous meeting.

“I believe Mr Brennan raised some legitimate issues,” Mr Mangiafico said. “He asked you for answers and he reminded you he was willing to submit those questions to you in written form.”

“He has not done that yet,” Mr Borst replied.

“I just want to make sure we don’t continue to drag this on month after month,” Mr Mangiafico said. “I asked you to put this item on the agenda. It seems like every time we ask to put items on the agenda it doesn’t get on.”

Mr Mangiafico then referred to an announcement Mr Borst made to the council about a $63,000 rebate the regional electrical utility would be providing to the town for energy saving measures being implemented at the municipal office development at Fairfield Hills. As he explained the course of events surrounding the rebate program, and a meeting Mr Borst previously had with a utility representative several days after taking office, the first selectman began slapping the table as he apparently tried to recall specifics of the agreement.

Mr Rosenthal then turned to Mr Borst saying he understood Mr Mangiafico’s frustration because he, too was in Mr Borst’s position having served as first selectman for ten years.

“[But] it happens quite frequently. We consistently find out about this by reading minutes of the council, or we read about it in The Newtown Bee,” Mr Rosenthal said. “I just don’t understand why your two colleagues don’t hear about these things or have to get them second or third hand. I don’t mean to harangue you, but this is frustrating.”

Mr Borst defended himself saying the latest D’Amico proposal was reviewed just an hour before that evening’s selectmen’s meeting.

“I know, Joe, but you told the council about it more than a month ago. And yet to this date, tonight was the first time we are hearing about it. We can’t help if we don’t know anything,” Mr Rosenthal said.

Mr Mangiafico then apologized for upsetting the first selectman.

“I know you banged the table a couple of times and that is certainly not what I am looking for,” Mr Mangiafico said. “I just think we have to arrive at some conclusion as to how we are going to function as a board. You signed an agreement [for the utility rebate] without even advising Herb or me — it just riles this kind of communication up.”

Keeping The Selectmen Informed

Mr Mangiafico suggested that it was the first selectman’s responsibility to keep the other selectmen apprised of business happening that may come before the board, or that the other selectmen may face questioning over by constituents.

Ms Johnson then broke in from the audience.

“Look guys, stop. You are chewing up on each other. This isn’t working. Please find a time to get together to work out your differences,” Ms Johnson said. “This is embarrassing to sit here and listen to it.”

Mr Mangiafico then replied, “Ms Johnson, this is very embarrassing. More than you realize.”

Following the meeting, Mr Rosenthal told The Bee that Mr Borst is not living up to a campaign promise to keep all town affairs transparent.

“If people think this is sour grapes, let them,” Mr Rosenthal said. “So far, I don’t think the processes have been transparent at all — in fact I think they’ve been pretty opaque.”

Mr Rosenthal said he has continually offered to help the first selectman, and has been taken up on his offer on just a few occasions.

“But he served as a selectman before, so it’s not like he is unfamiliar with Board of Selectmen procedures,” Mr Rosenthal said. “This just makes it very difficult for Paul and me to do our jobs. And he is bound by the charter to include the Board of Selectmen, to carry out and implement the wishes of the board.”

In an e-mail response for comment on the issue, Mr Mangiafico replied that “the problem is much, much more than the dissemination of information. That is only the tip of the iceberg, but it is the one that is visible.”

“My greatest concern is that the town and people deserve better than this. Much better,” Mr Mangiafico continued. “We are supposed to be open minded and helpful to one another, not dismissive and disrespectful to each other. Together the three selectmen can advance the common good. Even disagreeing with one another in a respectful way enhances the discourse with the better decision coming to the forefront. But obviously this is a concept that is dismissed by others or just given lip service.”

Contacted Thursday morning. Mr Borst was somewhat contrite, saying it would be his endeavor to ensure all future selectmen requests for items to be put on the agendas, when requested. Saying he was unsure of Mr Mangiafico’s “agenda,” Mr Borst nonetheless said he would attempt to work more collaboratively going forward.

“I certainly will take care of putting items on the agenda, and responding to e-mails I receive from Paul,” Mr Borst said.

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