Saturday was North Haven day in the New Haven Register. Four letters to the editor by North Haveners were published. One, by Rich Gallagher, argues that officials who violate the public trust should forfeit their rights to retirement benefits. This would make officials refrain from illegal activities out of the same greed that fuels such activities.
Friends of the Library President Phyllis M. Kaercher, whom I do not know, wrote a letter dear to my heart. She argues that the town meeting form of government is not the pure democracy people think it is. It allows the rule of the few -- majority selectmen, finance director, and department heads -- over the rest. To successfully win against these people at town meetings, you have to pack the house the way the fire fighters did at the last town meeting. Ms. Kaercher calls for charter revision as the remedy. Amen.
Former chair of the Democratic Town Committee Bernard McLoughlin wrote about what has to be done to restore public trust. His answers are: conduct a forensic audit, give the elected town treasurer more responsibility for financial oversight, hire a consultant to recommend a new administrative structure, including an independent human resources administrator [until now HR was run by finance director Vincent Palmeri], commit to total transparency and ethics in town government, and hold officials accountable. If we were to change our form of government and bring in an outside, nonpartisan town manager, that would deal with the financial oversight, administrative structure, and human resources issues. I hope Bernie will consider charter revision as one of his ways to restore public trust and create a more fair and efficient government.
Last but not least is Jim Leahy's letter, which he has given me permission to reprint here. It contains a lot of good ideas, especially his request for First Selectman Kopetz to resign from the Board of Finance. Having the chief executive officer as a member of the body that provides oversight over him and his department heads is a serious conflict of interest, which is why other towns do not allow it. But what is considered unacceptable elsewhere is accepted without question in North Haven. Well, things are being questioned now. Here's Leahy's letter to the editor.
It’s absolutely amazing to me that First Selectman Kevin Kopetz is finally discovering that an apparent widespread lack of fiscal and management accountability exists in North Haven. Only after three high ranking officials were arrested, did he insist upon competitive bids, tighter controls over expenditures and written justification for overtime. Were the First Selectman and members of the Board of Finance asleep at the switch?
The Board of Finance has to start accepting fiscal responsibility over the manner in which expenditures are made. In addition, First Selectman Kopetz should consider resigning from the BOF, eliminating an obvious conflict of interest.
The taxpayers of North Haven need to continue to question why the Board of Education refused to get competitive bids on the school bus contract for more than 20 years and then hold them accountable. After feeling pressure from the public, the BOE finally solicited bids for this school year. A new contractor was selected, presumably at a lower price than the incumbent. Have we been overpaying for 20 years?
According to an analysis done by a long time North Haven resident, the $75 million North Haven High School should have cost at least $10-15 million less than it did. While it is an outstanding facility, which I voted for, there are many areas where the Town added cost to the specifications without adding value. The lavish Theatre is a lot smaller than the Auditorium at the old high school. Money was wasted on design features of the Auditorium, which do not add to the quality of education. This is yet another situation where some Town officials had an apparent callous disregard for those who are paying the bills.
Superintendent of Schools Sara Querfeld, whom I believe to be a tremendous asset to the Town, told us at the Budget Meeting that the BOE had nothing to do with the lack of bids on the school maintenance contract. Ms. Querfeld claimed that the Board of Finance handled all of those negotiations, so she didn’t get involved. Few managers in industry would blindly accept a $350,000 charge to their budget and not ask if the costs were indeed fair and reasonable. Did anybody ever ask the obvious question….did the Town get competitive bids?
The taxpayers of North Haven should reject the proposed budget, because recent evidence indicates that the Town has virtually no effective controls as to how our money is spent. An independent auditor should be retained to do a forensic audit, examining all major expenditures made during the last five years, for evidence of competitive bidding and also to determine if we have adequate checks and balances on the use of public funds.