Breaking her silence since not being reappointed to the Trumbull Housing Authority in December 2012, former THA Chairwoman Judith Stern defended herself and Stern Village's executive director recently.
Addressing a group of Stern Village residents who later gave her a bouquet of flowers, Stern challenged numerous statements from town officials including the fire marshal and First Selectman Tim Herbst. (Stern Village is a subsidized housing complex home to about 200 disabled and/or elderly residents.)
Herbst's responses will be printed in a separate article.
In December, Herbst did not reappoint several THA members and others later resigned. The new board then voted to fire its attorney and Executive Director Harry Wise.
Stern started with accusing Herbst of failing to make an issue out of residents snowed in at Stern Village during the winter storm, which Herbst denies. "I personally went up there to oversee the private contractor, hired by the authority at my urging to remove snow," he said.
She added that Herbst got angry over a contract extension for Wise because he did not know about it. She blamed that on a THA member who was supposed to have given Herbst all THA information.
"She missed almost as many meetings as she came to," Stern said of the THA member.
"Politics never came up" at board meetings before December, Stern added.
The former chairwoman also denied that a meeting discussing Wise's contract was illegal, while Herbst had said it was.
Herbst had argued that board failed to file agendas and minutes in Town Hall for a year. Stern said the agendas were posted in Stern Village and did not need to be posted anywhere else.
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Assisted Living vs. Rentals
"I think he's minimizing the intelligence of the people in this place. This a rental property, not assisted living property," Stern said.
Herbst had charged that residents with special needs were at risk during Hurricane Sandy because Wise did not maintain up-to-date rental records and went home while emergency workers tried to evacuate residents.
By law, the THA can't ask residents if they have medical needs and those who can't live independently cannot stay there, and residents who need help must come to management, she said.
Residents are renters and agree to the terms of the lease. "If you don't like the terms, you can leave," Stern said.
Wise did a good job managing the complex for 12 years, and it was no different during Sandy, Stern said.
"He was here [during Sandy]. He walked around with [the fire marshal]. He handed the resident list to her," according to Stern. The list was up-to-date, she added.
Residents have said Wise was shoveling out the complex after the recent blizzard.
"We don't have to go around and start yelling at people" to evacuate, and residents can use their own minds, Stern said. She compared the complex to an apartment building with a landlord.
While residents cannot decide who is on the THA or appoint the executive director, Stern said the residents should "stand up for themselves" and vote in the municipal election in November.
A "State Community"
Stern said the town does not have power in Stern Village.
"This community is a state community. It is not a town of Trumbull community," she said.
She accused Herbst of excluding two then-members of the THA from meetings before the changeover, and then appointing Stern Village resident Joy Meehan (who was being threatened with eviction for smoking in her unit, close to oxygen tanks).
"She had many months' worth of chances" to stop smoking, Stern said.
"Mr. Herbst wants all his people in every position. It's getting ridiculous. This commission never was political," according to Stern.
Defending Harry Wise
Stern said Wise inherited a lot of issues when he took over and straightened them out.
Policies were written down, and "everything was done in orderly, business-like fashion."
Wise was accused of mismanaging Stern Village before and during Hurricane Sandy. He recently said he was comfortable with the THA's decision and would help his replacement.
He and Stern were given rounds of applause and residents have praised the former board and director.
Trumbull resident Harriet Polansky was named interim acting executive director starting Feb. 19.
Stern Village resident Robert Grillo said Polansky was very nice and that he liked her.