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RTM, Selectman Outraged Over Metro Center Deficit, Lost Revenue

New First Selectman Shares Sentiment, Saying Board of Finance Was in the Dark Too

Town officials - Republicans and Democrats alike - said they were kept in the dark about cost overruns on the Fairfield Metro Center project until First Selectman Michael Tetreau delved into the true status of the project after taking office 17 days ago.

"I'm really shocked at the size of this overrun," Richard Santalesa, a District 3 member of the Representative Town Meeting, said after Tetreau gave a Metro Center update Monday night to the RTM in which he said the project was overbudget by $2.4 million to $6.4 million and that Fairfield taxpayers, under an agreement signed in April 2010, were liable for the deficit.

"Why couldn't we have some inkling that there could be a problem?" RTM member Kathryn Braun, R-8, asked. "I wasn't given anything that was showing anything overbudget...I can tell you we didn't know and it didn't happen overnight."

Braun said she not only was unaware of the $2.4 million to $6.4 million deficit, she and other RTM members also didn't know the town had forfeited its ability to get back its $6 million investment in the project through revenue from parking permits at the upcoming train station on lower Black Rock Turnpike.

RTM member Liz Hoffmann, R-8, praised Tetreau's report as the best Metro Center report given to the RTM, saying former First Selectman Ken Flatto's reports amounted to "unicorns and rainbows and everyone's in a good place."

Nicholas Mirabile, an RTM member from District 9, said, "As shocking as it is, and it almost leaves me speechless, the number, the potential $6 million overrun, it makes me happy to have a report that discusses numbers."

Mirabile characterized Flatto's Metro Center's reports as "fluff," saying Flatto talked about the history of the project without giving RTM members, or, apparently anyone else, a detailed update on the project.

RTM Moderator Jeff Steele, R-2, said he was hearing Monday night for the first time that the town gave up $6 million in reimbursement from parking permits. "Why would we give up that revenue?" he asked.

Tetreau said Steele was asking him for negotiating details on a deal that town officials entered into a year ago, in a meeting Tetreau wasn't in, and at a time when Tetreau was a member of the Board of Finance and as in the dark as the RTM.

Thomas McCarthy, an RTM member from District 8, said he didn't think he would have allowed the town to assume the risk of cost overruns and questioned how the town ended up in the position it's in.

Town Attorney Richard Saxl said the town wound up managing a $44 million project because the state wouldn't let Blackrock Realty, LLC take the lead since the private developer was in foreclosure proceedings with its lender, TD Banknorth. The state couldn't take over the project because permits had been issued in the town and Blackrock Realty's name. "The state said, in essence, 'You have to do the project. That's the only way it works,' " Saxl said.

Saxl said the state wasn't going to kick in another $19.4 million for the project unless the town gave up the right to get back its $6 million investment through revenue from parking permits.

RTM member David Becker, R-1, questioned how Flatto unilaterally gave up $6 million in revenue and allowed the town to assume liability for cost overruns in the project. "The unilateral decision by the previous administration to expose us to expenditures and drop revenue, unilateral decisons that cost millions of dollars, are pretty disturbing," he said.

Tetreau said it's not something he would have done because he would think such decisions needed approval from town boards. "I would think that it's required, but I'm not sure," he said.

Hoffmann said, "It scares me to think it's negotiated behind closed doors, signed and sealed."

Selectman James Walsh said he was "shocked, appalled and disgusted" at the turn of events, adding that he was not referring to Tetreau, who "walked into this 17 days ago."

Walsh said he had "not seen a more mismanaged project in this town."

"This information wasn't readily available; no one knew what was going on," Walsh said. He said he first learned of the cost overruns at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night.

Echoing Hoffmann and Mirabile, Walsh said the Board of Selectmen had been given "glowing, flowery" reports about the Metro Center from Flatto.

Walsh asked Saxl if Flatto knew the full risks to the town in the April 2010 agreement that Flatto signed. "He was aware of that," Saxl replied.

"He was willing to assume that risk for the town of Fairfield?" Walsh asked.

Saxl replied that Flatto was.

"Jesus Christ," Walsh muttered as he left the microphone.

RTM member Ed Bateson, R-3, asked if the RTM could vote on a funding request that covers the Metro Center deficit at a meeting later than its July meeting. Tetreau replied, "That's a little closer than we'd like to cut it."

Tetreau said at some point, likely in late August, the Fairfield Metro Center project will run out of money, and the contractor will shut things down and move onto other jobs. It would then be more expensive to bring the contractor, subcontractors and equipment back onto the 35.5-acre site at 21 Black Rock Turnpike.

Bateson said the April 2010 agreement, in which the town agreed to cover cost overruns on the Metro Center project and give up reimbursement of its $6 million investment, should have gone to the Board of Finance and RTM. "I really want to support this appropriation, but I'm really torn over the way it's been handled," he said.

RTM member Mary McCullough, R-3, said she wanted Metro Center numbers for May and June before she voted on a funding request to cover the Metro Center's deficit. "I don't see why we should accept less than May and June for our meeting in July," she said.

Tetreau replied, "If you're flexible with your meeting dates, we might be able to do that."

Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn said he planned to call a special board meeting  to discuss "what we're going to need to even consider a special appropriation this summer." He said the Board of Finance may need the Metro Center books reviewed by an outside accounting firm.

"We're going to need a heck of a lot more information at our board to move this [funding request] onto your board," Flynn told the RTM.

A funding request to cover the Metro Center deficit would require votes by the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and RTM, and Tetreau said he would try to bring the funding request before the Board of Selectmen on July 6, though he said that might be too ambitious.

Tetreau said he wasn't confident the state would be able to act as quickly as the town needed to approve extra money for the project, assuming state money was even available.

"I'm not sure how much money the state has, and I'm not sure they can move that fast, in that timeframe," Tetreau said. "Right now, the question is, 'How small can we make that number and still get the project done on time?' "

"We're going to continue our dialogue with Blackrock Realty and the state and hopefully, some of those conversations will bear fruit."

Walsh asked if anyone had contacted Flatto to ask why, through the end of April, town officials were receiving great reports on the Metro Center and to ask Flatto if he was aware of the cost overruns. "I think it's time, probably, to have him come back and have the ability to defend himself," Walsh said.

Selectman Sherri Steeneck, who served as first selectman after Flatto resigned May 3 to take a job in Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration, said she had a meeting with Flatto right before he resigned and Flatto said the train station project was fine.

"The last meeting we were all at," Steeneck said, referring to Flatto's Metro Center report to the RTM in late April, "we were $2 million ahead."

"I'm drawing straws at this. I have no idea how he came up with the $2 million figure," Steeneck said.

The Fairfield Metro Center, a joint project of the town, DOT and Blackrock Realty, calls for construction of the town's third train station, about 1,400 parking spaces for rail commuters and nearly 1 million square feet of commercial development on 35.5 acres at 21 Black Rock Turnpike.

The construction project now under way, and which is running the potential $6.4 million deficit, is to build public infrastructure for the project.

steve sheppard July 01, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Wanted to say: third station was always stacked against the best interests of fairfield
john metsopoulos July 01, 2011 at 08:15 PM
Listen, have sat through many town meetings, I am glad to see Heather did something with her time. Please keep the discussion focused on the issues nand no personal attacks.
Amy Ulness July 02, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Why was Lisa Winjum's comment defending Heather Dean removed from this thread? Was it intentional? If so, what criteria is used to delete comments? I read the comment and didn't see anything at all objectionable about it. Could you please explain. Thanks.
Concerned Fairfielder July 02, 2011 at 02:38 PM
I have again come to the conclusion that the RTM is useless. We need a charter revision to revise our system of government. Anyone who has sold or bought a house in the last 20 years knows of the potential cost of a leaking underground oil tank. There is absolutely no way - on a project as large as FMC to provide an accurate estimate or budget for the potential cost of environmental remediation. You would think a group of lawyers and realtors would know this! And to add – if you think any environmental contract would do the work without a “per unit basis” you are smoking crack. Any realtor knows this… The BOS, BOF and RTM is littered with them. RTM members have stated that they were not presented with the details of the final contract. On video tape, “Bateson the Third” and Walsh state that they were present at the BOS meeting where the contract was raise and voted on. Bateson stated he wanted it tabled. Walsh claims he was not sworn in until the end of the meeting. Two RTM members WERE present at this meeting – neither of them took the time or effort to request a copy of the revised contract. I am getting very tired of the excuses – well it you didn’t bring it to me, I DO NOT SEE IT. Get up from your seat and instead of walking to the microphone - do your homework. I am tired of paying for your laziness, protectionism, and ignorance!!!! By the way, being a VOLUNTEER is no excuse.
Amy Ulness July 02, 2011 at 03:04 PM
As a taxpayer, I don't want to be responsible for paying for the gross negligence and complete incompetence of this train station fiasco and I feel certain that this cost overrun is only the beginning. Just dump the project, it's not worth it. There are so few spaces now at the station, it's hardly worth it. Maybe it could be made into satellite parking with buses to the Fairfield station. This is a disgrace and can't be tolerated. After years of bunglng, mismanagement, probably criminal activities, just dump the thing... I don't want to be on the hook for it. Fairfield is a small town which has been wildly bonding projects, paying millions when just about ever project goes over budget or has serious issues like the hvac at Burr, roof at McKinley, tons of things at RLMS, and of course, the tens of millions lost to Madoff--we can't afford another huge hit like this. Turn it over to the state, sell it off.... not that anyone would buy it. What are the alternatives to merely automatically turning over more and more and more money until none of us can afford to live here or the town goes bankrupt!
Anybody But July 02, 2011 at 04:28 PM
This is a republican controlled news source and if they don't like the comment even if it is not objectionable, it gets removed. Those who make not so nice comments, but have a republian opinion, don't get removed.
Notta Cronie July 02, 2011 at 05:46 PM
It's not republican controlled, it's harrison controlled. let's get down to full disclosure, erin harrison works for patch. erin's sister is rtm rep alexis harrison. erin's best friend is rtm rep jamie millington. so when reps harrison and millington get negative press they have an "in" to pull it down. i think the saying goes it's not what you know its who you know.
Anybody But July 02, 2011 at 06:19 PM
This is a republican controlled news source and if they don't like the comment even if it is not objectionable, it gets removed. Those who make not so nice comments, but have a republian opinion, don't get removed. ..
Jen L. July 02, 2011 at 06:38 PM
It's really sad that there is so much hate and venom displayed on this page. Why don't you enjoy this 4th of July weekend, go outside and remember what this is really about? Tragic that this what our town as come to.
Anybody But July 02, 2011 at 07:00 PM
No thanks. I'm waiting for the 3o'clock showing of the June 27th RTM Meeting on FairTV.
Blubby July 02, 2011 at 07:01 PM
He is a cop. He is a Sergeant in Shelton. Real Estate is a side job.
steve sheppard July 02, 2011 at 08:31 PM
Were bashing a knitting Dem and a Cop Rep instead of focusing on how to solve the train problem.......let's put pressure on the current leadership to dump the project! No more fairfield taxpayer $ !
Anybody But July 02, 2011 at 09:26 PM
First observation watching the RTM meeting, if the committee meetings (in which the members are given information so they know what they are voting on at the RTM meeting) are so important, why do most of them not even have a quorum?
Andrew Brophy July 03, 2011 at 12:47 AM
Hi Amy, Comments that are "flagged" as inappropriate a set number of times are automatically removed by the system. That is why some benign comments are deleted. Andrew Brophy
Susan Valdes July 03, 2011 at 01:38 AM
Step 1 is to clean up the Patch so that we can have a valid discussion of the issues. I get email updates on what has been posted to any thread that I'm following. The vast majority of those posts have been removed - with no good reason. Yesterday, I was a bit confused over the way posts got deleted. Today, I am alarmed. Clearly, we have some activists who have figured out how to silence people they don't like. I've got an email in to Andrew on the topic..I suggest like minded people do the same.
Susan Valdes July 03, 2011 at 01:46 AM
Step 2 is to get out from behind the computer and get involved. I went down to Southport today for David Becker's :"meet and greet". I was prepared to NOT like the young man, but since there are no other viable options for Selectman, I went to see him. Stunned - I haven't been that much impressed with another CT politician since Lieberman and Shays
Wally July 03, 2011 at 03:16 PM
You all need to get it together. Fact was every Dem criticized the GOP establishment folks that called for the monthly reviews, which were fluff, and called them partisan attacks. Turns out they were right, the project needed oversight because Ken obviously was talking out of both sides of his mouth and the Dem leadership went along and that included all the people on this post. The double standard applied to pointing out that a member of the RTM was knitting during the meeting vs what I read vilifying GOP members for using their cell phones is indicative of the hypocrisy that exists at all levels of politics. Get over it and figure out how to stop wasting taxpayers money on climbing walls, glass schools and blundered transportation projects that get green lighted to court votes.
steve sheppard July 03, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Very well said Wally...I would like to see all that are here put pressure on the current powers to be to not spend one more nickle of Fairfielder taxpayer money on the third train station.
Lisa July 03, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Common Cents, I am inclined to agree with you about the low level of discourse on the Patch. The anonymity of many commenters contributes to the personal attacks that are rampant on this site. It is easy to attack people like Heather Dean and Doug Jones or Jim Walsh, or even Jamie Millington from the safety of an online handle like "Wally" or "Common Cents" or "Concerned Fairfielder". It is quite another thing to do it in your name. If someone is willing to put her (or his) first and last name on a comment and still go ahead with a personal attack on a current or former elected official's conduct then I say go ahead. So long as a person can stand behind what she writes. As much as I disagaree with his political positions, I would defend Mr. Walsh from anonymous personal attacks as vigorously as I defended Heather Dean earlier this week. It's not the personal attacks themselves, it is that they are mounted from behind a veil of secrecy, We can't expect to raise the level of discourse if people feel that can say anything under the cloak of a clever online name. Common Cents, I hope you will join me by coming out and letting us know who you are. Thanks. Lisa Winjum
Amy Ulness July 03, 2011 at 05:33 PM
The only way to read this thread is on email since half the postings get erased. I understand that people can flag things as inappropriate and erase them but the way it should work is that they can be flagged and then the decision should be left up to the moderator to decide whether or not to remove them. I just see things being taken down so that certain opinions stick and conflicting opinions get erased. This will probably get erased but will send anyway.
Anybody But July 03, 2011 at 06:17 PM
That's what I have been saying all along but Andy is sticking to his "flagging" three times by people and it gets erased. Not buying it Andy. Someone is behind the scences with their finger on the delete button.
Susan Valdes July 03, 2011 at 09:27 PM
Wow - LIsa's commentary directed to me was removed. I don't agree with any of it, but it was a beautifully crafted essay! I find it very hard to believe that three separate people could have found it offensive. I certainly didn't - I am hopeful I can still engage her in debate on the subject. I'm going to split posts to see if one piece or the other be allowed to stay.
Susan Valdes July 03, 2011 at 09:54 PM
Lisa said: I would defend Mr. Walsh from anonymous personal attacks as vigorously as I defended Heather Dean earlier this week. It's not the personal attacks themselves, it is that they are mounted from behind a veil of secrecy, I completely disagree! It's not the secrecy, it's the personal attacks that are problematic for me. A personal attack has no real substance and is a waste of time for us all. However, given the way this town has been run, we are certainly entitled to criticize the actions of these officials. Regarding anonymity, Lisa is correct that some people will abuse it. I've pretty much seen it all: I first logged onto a board in the early 80's with an acoustic coupler. In some places I used my real name, in others I used a pen name. Truth: you can go from anonymous to real, but once your real name is used, it's out. Since hardline liberals have a tendency to get emotional, and I'm very very conservative, I figured the best start would be a pen name. I'm looking forward to a rolicking debate leading into the Republican caucus and the election for 1st selectman. It would be very unfortunate if half the comments continue to be removed - and I plan to take this up with Patch officials on Tuesday. Happy and safe 4th to everyone!
Andrew Brophy July 03, 2011 at 10:49 PM
Lisa's commentary shows up as live on the site in the comments' directory but does not show up under this story so I am reprinting it below: ["Common Cents, \r\nI am inclined to agree with you about the low level of discourse on the Patch. The anonymity of many commenters contributes to the personal attacks that are rampant on this site. It is easy to attack people like Heather Dean and Doug Jones or Jim Walsh, or even Jamie Millington from the safety of an online handle like "Wally" or "Common Cents" or "Concerned Fairfielder". It is quite another thing to do it in your name. If someone is willing to put her (or his) first and last name on a comment and still go ahead with a personal attack on a current or former elected official's conduct then I say go ahead. So long as a person can stand behind what she writes. As much as I disagaree with his political positions, I would defend Mr. Walsh from anonymous personal attacks as vigorously as I defended Heather Dean earlier this week. It's not the personal attacks themselves, it is that they are mounted from behind a veil of secrecy, We can't expect to raise the level of discourse if people feel that can say anything under the cloak of a clever online name. Common Cents, I hope you will join me by coming out and letting us know who you are. Thanks. Lisa Winjum", "
Andrew Brophy July 03, 2011 at 10:53 PM
Comments can be removed due to flagging, but Lisa's comment above did not have any flags so I am not sure why it was deleted and how it can appear as live in the comments' directory but not appear under this story. I am e-mailing the help desk at Patch to look into this.
Hugh Dolan July 04, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Fairfield Firefighter Goes for First Selectman Slot On the eve of celebrating our nation’s birth, Hugh Dolan, a veteran 20-year firefighter, has announced he is running for the town of Fairfield’s top elected position, as a Republican candidate for First Selectman. “This town, Mr. Dolan, said, is hurting deeply. The residents, Property owners and taxpayers are taxed out, and fed up. Politics, as usual, has got to end. Fairfield is in need of a “1776 “style revolution, a revolution where the interests of those who have built the town and made it a wonderful place to live and work, is protected and guarded. These politics, unfortunately, have resulted in a debt load which, at $ 300 Million, is both unsustainable and unconscionable”, Hugh said. Mr. Dolan, the 2010 candidate for State Comptroller on the Independent Party of Connecticut ticket, explained that” some 10 years ago, our entire town was operated on $ 144 Million. Today, with this new budget, the schools alone will go through 146 million tax dollars, and the entire town budget has ballooned to over a quarter of a billion dollars! The lack of accountability and transparency, the never-ending saga of “secret deals “ and wasted dollars, has brought the citizens to the point where they really haven’t had anybody in leadership positions watching their backs in town for a long time.
Hugh Dolan July 04, 2011 at 12:22 AM
Mr. Dolan said this is the right time for him to engage in this battle. “Benjamin Franklin, when queried by a young mother about “what have you given us, sir “ ( in the Convention ) , he responded, in his deadly serious tone, : “ A republic, Madam, if you can keep it ! “ “This day, especially for the residents of Fairfield, is a propitious day for freedom. I say especially for Fairfielders, because it was this day, in 1779, three long years of war after our forefathers signed , with their blood, for our freedoms, that the homes and farms of Fairfield were burned to the ground by the Brits—an enemy who felt it their divine right to tax us to death, and take away the fruits of our labors”. “All the citizens—the taxpayers—our seniors—our residents and businesses need a break! “ Mr. Dolan stated . “They need to know that the town is headed by someone who is working hard for all of them, and will balance all their interests in preserving the values of our homes, our schools, and our entire community. The Taxpayers and residents of Fairfield have not crowned a group of people with the divine right to tax away their earnings—and enslave their children under piles of debt”, Dolan said.
Hugh Dolan July 04, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Hugh, a member of the Fairfield Fire Department since 1991, and a father of eight beautiful children, is in the Fire Suppression/ Rescue Division, which, like the Police Department, is on duty 24 hours every day. “Protecting the citizens 24/7 comes second nature to us, as professionals in Fairfield“ said Mr. Dolan.” I expect to be fully engaged in the protection of the citizens of this town from ridiculous and wasteful spending, and from never-ending boondoggles like this Train Station fiasco“, he said.
Hugh Dolan July 04, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Among his immediate priorities as First Selectman, Mr Dolan said, will be to : • Prevent ANY contract from being approved by any town body which would commit or expose the town to expenses over $ 500,000 This low threshold is absolutely needed because the Town Charter currently allows too much wiggle room in spending to protect the taxpayers; • Immediately freeze at current spending levels, and roll back, where-ever possible, all spending to 2010 levels; • Immediate review of all Capital Spending programs to eliminate, modify or reduce every program to negate the need for further bonding; • An immediate Operational Audit of all departments and agencies receiving taxpayer money to reduce costs and expenses and improve operating returns, This Audit to be properly managed and conducted with full input of employees and stake-holders at all levels, and the findings and savings are to be real, practical and implemented; • Channel the savings achieved through these, and other savings opportunities to be identified, to eliminating the bonded indebtedness of the Town ( currently requiring $ 27 Million/year in payments); • Development of a Citizen’s Advisory Board, which will meet regularly, and obtain input, suggestions, and comments on all new projects , programs, and anticipated contracts from residents, citizens and taxpayers.”
just sayin' July 04, 2011 at 05:21 PM
I think a college degree should be a minimum qualification for Faifield's First Selectman spot. I don't believe that David Becker has one.

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