Meeting Minutes Detailing Decision to Change NCHS Fields Projects Filed Aug. 30, Two Months Late

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Though officials said this week that meeting minutes disclosing a controversial decision to change a taxpayer-funded project without notifying New Canaan’s funding bodies were available after that decision was made, the public record shows that those minutes weren’t filed with the Town Clerk until Aug. 30.

The June 23 meeting of the Fields Building Committee was attended by four of five regular members—Chairman Bob Spangler, Secretary Mike Benevento, Scott Werneburg and Nick Williams (regular member Amy Bennett was absent)—as well as four ex officio members, Recreation Director Steve Benko, New Canaan High School Athletic Director Jay Egan, Public Works Director Tiger Mann and Parks Superintendent John Howe. First Selectman Rob Mallozzi and Public Works Senior Engineer Joe Zagarenski also were present.

According to meeting minutes date-stamped Aug. 30 by the office of the Town Clerk—submitted about two months past the 7-day requirement for doing so, under state law—the committee voted unanimously to approve a $4.7 million contract with an artificial turf installation company.

“Specifically excluded from the contract due to funding restraints are: project contingency, field lighting (except rough in), fencing, netting and guardrails in some areas, goal posts, and track lighting / bleachers / shed / donor wall,” the minutes said.

During a meeting on Tuesday night, Board of Finance members voiced concern that those changes—due to higher-than-expected costs in a few key areas (see below)—had been made to the project without anyone notifying New Canaan’s funding bodies.

Taxpayers through what is now a $3.9 million bonding package are funding two-thirds of the overall project, which includes repair of one turf field at NCHS, creation of another turf field-and-a-half, and a total replacement of the high school track. The nonprofit New Canaan Athletic Foundation, of which Benevento serves as president, is funding the balance of what is now estimated to be a $5.8 million project. (Originally, New Canaan was to bond $3.1 million for a $5 million project.)

“So we were promised something, stuff came up June 23, you guys go forward,” Board of Finance member Amy Murphy Carroll said at the meeting. “Who made the decision to go forward? Who signed off on the decision to do the project that pulled out a bunch of stuff that we thought was going to be in? Because once the shovel is in the ground for a government project, our schools are dug up. It’s almost like we have to come out of pocket for it. And it’s not like I think it’s not a worthy project. But where was the decision?”

Mallozzi, an ex officio member of the finance board, answered: “It’s really simple. We have a committee that the Board of Selectmen appointed. I sat in on the meeting, Mr. Stadler sat in on the meeting. The decision was made. They still have ongoing fundraising efforts. We specifically said what was coming out. It’s as plain as day what was coming out, for anyone in the public to read and understand.”

He referred to the selectmen’s appointment of the Fields Building Committee during a 5-minute special meeting on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend that nobody attended except the three selectmen and Pam Flynn, the first selectman’s executive assistant.

Since its appointment, the committee has met four times, though no one from the public or media has ever attended any of those meetings.

The meetings were never noticed online and—until Thursday of this week, officials in the first selectman’s office confirmed—did not appear in the calendar on the town’s website. The committee itself also did not appear until Thursday on a page on the town’s website that lists them.

During the finance board’s meeting, in response to Mallozzi, Carroll said: “None of us would have thought to read the minutes.”

He responded: “OK, well, I’m sorry. It’s there.”

Board of Finance member Neil Budnick said: “There is a responsibility to highlight it for people, though.”

Budnick added: “I mean, everyone in that room was pretty learned. They must have thought, ‘Gee, we should be telling the rest of the town this.’ ”

It isn’t clear just why the meeting minutes were not filed within the legally required seven days.

Benevento was not available for comment. Spangler, who also happens to serve as vice chairman of the Board of Finance—he has recused himself from items related to the fields project—also was not available for comment.

The cost overruns, Spangler said during Tuesday’s meeting, were mainly from a higher-than-expected cost to fix a severe slope in the existing turf field, as well as the high cost of fill and failure originally to factor in “prevailing wage” for workers on the project. As per state law, those workers must be paid a higher wage than if it were a private project because it’s the town of New Canaan signing contracts for the various jobs—a difference of about $110,000 in this case, officials said.

Board of Finance member Tom Schulte during Tuesday’s meeting said he was surprised that the prevailing wage wasn’t factored into project costs from the start.

“There was no circumstance under which anyone other than the town was going to sign this contract, right?” he said. “So we were always going to have this prevailing wage. And we had been alerted to this in prior times.”

Spangler said that the project cost estimates that went to various municipal bodies prior to securing town funding “did not have that in it.”

“So that is something we picked up—frankly, I picked it up in the last week when I went through hard detail trying to figure out what was the differential” between the approved funds and new, higher costs, he said.

Board of Finance member Chris Le Bris asked: “But upfront, when the first contracts came in, who was responsible for going through the contract line by line, making sure all those numbers were solid numbers?”

Spangler answered: “It was the town. So, Public Works. Steve [Benko] went through it, and Jay [Egan] went through it. So it was town personnel.”

The Fields Building Committee is scheduled to meet at 830 a.m. Friday at Town Hall.

3 thoughts on “Meeting Minutes Detailing Decision to Change NCHS Fields Projects Filed Aug. 30, Two Months Late

  1. Wow! This requires an investigation by the State of Connecticut. It was an obvious end run around the town Board and the constiuents of New Canaan. Fraud at its finest. A project without a contingency? Never heard of such a thing. These engineers licenses should be revoked or suspended at a minimum. The Field Building Committee, loaded with ethically challenged individuals, should be abolished. This process should be transparent. The town should hire an engineering consultant paid for by the field committee to do a forensic look at this. Did RAD get overpaid, was this a sole source contract, is it someones relative? My next question is, has the town budgeted for the replacement of this turf in 8-10 years when the warranty expires? This is a mighty big expense. Mowing grass is much cheaper and environmentally sound. Just saying.

  2. What a shit show! This story has gone from bad to worse. Hopefully this will be the impetus for the electorate to once and for all sweep out the dirt this Fall. Incompetent officials and back room deals have no business in NC. People need to resign or be fired.

  3. Additionally on top of poor management, there are several clear violations of the FOIA. FOIA is pretty clear – Meetings need to be posted and minutes available within 7 days. It begs the question, do we need a review of the procedures and controls within town government.

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