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Trumbull Housing Authority Attorney Defends Himself, Executive Director

The revamped Housing Authority board fired its attorney, Anthony Musto, and the Trumbull Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Marshal's Office criticized THA Executive Director Harry Wise for his handling of Stern Village during Hurricane Sa

Local Trumbull Attorney Anthony Musto said he won't fight the Housing Authority's Dec. 20 vote to fire him.

First Selectman Tim Herbst recently replaced two members of the authority's board, and those replacements and a current member voted 3-0 to remove Musto, who had worked for the authority for 10 years.

"I'm not going to make some crazy, futile argument out of this," Musto said Wednesday.

The two new board members are Russ Friedson and Joanna Leone.

They replace Judith Stern and Bob Marconi. Board member Edward Coyne resigned (citing family reasons) before Dec. 17 and his seat remains vacant.

In a recent statement, Herbst criticized Stern for calling a Dec. 17 meeting in which the board voted 3-1 (member Gail Hanna against) to approve a two-year contract extension for Wise, including a clause that allows him to fight for six months if he is removed "for cause." If successful, the town pays his legal fees.

But that meeting and contract extension are considered void because of the board's Dec. 20 vote. Wise's contract expires in July 2013.

Wise has been executive director for 10 years, Musto said. "As far as I can tell he's been doing a great job," he said. The clause has been in Wise's contract for years, but the challenge period was limited to six months this time around.

Wise's attorney negotiated the contract with Musto, who added that Wise agreed to forgo a raise to his $70,000 annual salary. It was not because of performance issues, Musto said.

Herbst also objected to the meeting itself, calling it illegal because it was not noticed on the town's Website or in the Town Clerk's Office, a violation of the state's Freedom of Information laws and the town charter. Twice in 2012 the town cancelled meetings for being improperly noticed.

There are also no minutes posted on the town Website for any of its 2012 meetings.

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Musto replied that Dec. 17's meeting was regularly scheduled and noticed in Stern Village, a practice that was done for years. It was "not a secret meeting by any stretch," Musto said.

"They didn't know" they had to post it in Town Hall and online, Musto said of the authority. That rule was changed in 2008, he said.

The Executive Director's Job Duties

Herbst blasted Wise primarily because he said was uncooperative with Trumbull's emergency management officials.

Two reportes from OEM and the Fire Marshal's office stated Wise did not assist residents in seeking shelter during Hurricane Sandy after the power went out and temperatures plunged at night. (The village runs on electric heat.)

Further, Wise reportedly said residents with medically complex issues would be removed from the village because it has independent, low-income apartments, and does not provide assisted living. He also said he does not keep tabs on people in the complex.

The Fire Marshal's office noted that the tenant list was reportedly six months out of date.

Herbst reported that residents had complained about Wise but Musto said he only heard grievances from tenants being evicted.

Musto, who is also a local tax attorney and a state senator, compared Wise's job to that of an apartment building manager. "Many of the [tenants] have their own cars. It's not assisted living," Musto said.

Still, Herbst pointed to the Emergency Response Management Plan drawn up in 2011, stating that Housing Authority staff must "prepare and protect" the community by keeping residents informed and warning residents about a storm and reminding them to stock up on food, medicine and water beforehand.

In case of a tornado, the staff must move residents to shelter if necessary, according to the plan.

Musto said he had never seen the document and could not comment on it.

Finally, Musto also called Herbst's comments on Stern "reprehensible."

"She's a super sweet lady. She's well-liked and well-respected," Musto said.

Defending the New Members

Although Friedson and Leone are republicans, as is Herbst, the first selectman said he chose them for their qualifications.

"This is not a power grab," Herbst said Wednesday.

Friedson was chairman of the Board of Finance. "He will ask tough questions. He will demand accountability," Herbst said.

Joanna Leone impressed Herbst with her knowledge of the Housing Authority, Herbst said. And current member Gail Hanna worked at Stern Village and was chief of staff for a former first selectman.

Member Thelma Burr is a democrat. All boards and commissions must have minority representation under the town charter.

The next Housing Authority meeting is Jan. 29 in Stern Village, on Hedgehog Road.

Dan December 28, 2012 at 04:43 PM
I am not sure how the interview with Mr. Musto was conducted but this article just seems to be a continuation of the original. This one, however, mentions an Emergency Response Plan from 2011. The original article says one did not exist. Which is it? The residents were in fact warned of the storm and ways to prepare via a reverse 911 system. Stern Village is NOT assisted living and residents are not required to leave. Residents are independent and live the way any of us do - making our own decisions. They are not sheltered from any other means of information that flood our lives. If they want to stay home, they can. The 2 articles give no concrete proof of any improprieties, because there are not any. Stern Village was prepared. Reverse 911. Generator in the Stern Center. I hope the town takes notice of this situation and realizes how ridiculous Tim Herbst is acting. Just tell the truth Tim. You want your people on the THA and in order to get it, you have to use Hurricane Sandy and badmouthing quality Trumbull residents as your crutch. Disgusting.
Thomas Tesoro December 28, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Another day, another Republican power grab. The Trumbull Republican Town Committee (TRTC) has been systematically removing diversity of opinion from Town Boards and Commissions. IMHO, the TRTC is drunk with power and so far that "power" has not resulted in benefit to our Community. The magnet school debacle, the concert debacle, the redistricting debacle are but three examples of where arrogance trumped good sense to the detriment of our Community. Good government not only respects diverse opinions but seeks them out. Good government engages all citizens, not just those that think in a certain way. Finally good government seeks out transparency and debate, in fact, relishes such debate. We have none of that. OurTown Council "calls the question" nearly every time debate gets uncomfortable and before all members have the information they need to make an informed decision. Our Town Council passes a redistricting plan when the Republican proponents of the plan could not even articulate one reason for making the change. Our Town Council hold a "public hearing" on the night of the vote then ignores the input they are given. Is this good government? Does this reflect your values?
Aaron Leo (Editor) December 28, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Dan, I split the article because it would have been very long otherwise. Thanks.
Aaron Leo (Editor) December 28, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Also, in answer to your other question, the accusation was Wise failed to cooperate and implement the emergency plan's recommendations. Sorry if that was not clear.
Thomas Tesoro December 28, 2012 at 07:53 PM
I am glad Anthony has taken the high road here and refuses to get into the gutter with the Trumbull Republican Town Committee (TRTC). If there were issues with respect to responsiveness (and I say if because I do not have the facts), the correct way to handle this is to focus on what whent wrong and to be sure any mistakes are not repeated. As usual, we take the wrong tack. We make unfortunate and incorrect statements about Senator Musto, we stack the Housing Authority with TRTC cronies, and we "fire" someone who has worked well for our Community for ten years, who just happens to be of a politcal party different from the TRTC. Maligning Town citizens and volunteers. Attacking elected officials with nonsensical alliteration. Stacking Boards and Commissions with political cronies. Political vendettas. This is embarrassing to our Town and detrimental to it's long term well being. We can and should do better than this.

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