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Revamped Trumbull Housing Authority Fires Attorney, Attacks Director

First Selectman Tim Herbst has appointed several new members who voted to replace the authority's attorney recently. Herbst was concerned after reports and messages detailed alleged problems regarding the THA's chief during Hurricane Sandy.

The Trumbull Housing Authority board is demanding to question THA Executive Director Harry Wise over his handling of Stern Village during Hurricane Sandy.

On Dec. 20, it also unanimously voted to fire its attorney, Trumbull lawyer Anthony Musto, who also represents Bridgeport, Trumbull and Monroe in the state Senate.

Musto said Wednesday he would not challenge the vote. His complete response will be recorded in a follow-up story.

The board's new members are Russ Friedson and Joanna Leone. Gail Hanna remains, and one member was absent. All the votes were 3-0 at the special meeting Dec. 20 in Town Hall. One seat remains vacant on the board.

The next authority meeting will be Jan. 29 at Stern Village, on Hedgehog Road.

The authority first voted to accept the opinion of Town Attorney Robert Nicola that a Dec. 17 meeting of the authority was improperly noticed and therefore illegal. Any decisions at that meeting are nullified, including approval of a controversial contract for Wise.

Musto said the Dec. 17 meeting was legal and the board at that time did not err.

Friedson said the contract contains a clause that says the executive director has six months to "cure," or fix issues if removed "for cause." The town would pay the director's attorney's fees if he won.

And a report accuses Wise, director for 10 years, of mishandling emergency preparedness for Stern Village, the subsidized housing community for seniors and the disabled on Hedgehog Road.

Among the accusations from the Trumbull Fire Marshal's Office:

  • Wise went home as Hurricane Sandy blew in late October, leaving residents without a evacuation or emergency plan. He does not have a cellphone.
  • Wise failed to order a generator for the village community room, which could have served as an emergency shelter. Temperatures dropped to freezing at night, and with the power out, the village's electric heat didn't work;
  • Wise failed to cooperate with town officials to craft an emergency plan;
  • The list of residents was six months behind, resulting in misidenification of a person who died during the hurricane. The death was cardiac-related and is not considered foul play or related to the storm, police have said.
  • Wise reportedly said residents who had medical complications that prevented them from leaving their apartments would be removed from the village because it is for independent living;
  • Wise said because Stern Village is for independent living, he didn't need to help residents evacuate or know their whereabouts during the storm.

Before reviewing the report, the authority said Musto should have known that the Dec. 17 meeting was illegal and that he should not have allowed the contract to proceed.

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Herbst Criticizes Wise and the Authority

"In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I asked members of the emergency management team to detail for me all problems associated with the emergency response and relocation of residents from Stern Village to Madison Middle School," the first selectman said.

"The reports from the Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Marshal speak volumes.  The problems encountered by our emergency responders is the direct result of systemic lack of due diligence on the part of the Trumbull Housing Authority.

"In November, Town Atty. Robert Nicola and I met with Judith Stern, Chairwoman of the Trumbull Housing Authority.  During this meeting, I communicated to Mrs. Stern the concerns of our emergency management team as it related to the response during Hurricane Sandy. I also communicated other concerns to Mrs. Stern as they relate to the housing authority. I advised Mrs. Stern that I believed the housing authority was not properly addressing the safety of the residents and I had no choice but to replace her and another housing authority member.

"In the days and weeks that would follow, Mrs. Stern showed her true character and her clear lack of concern for the residents of Stern Village by placing politics ahead of people.  Before leaving the authority, Mrs. Stern convened a secret meeting that was not properly noticed and in violation of the Trumbull Town Charter.  The Housing Authority spent most of their meeting in executive session.

"When they emerged, their attorney, State Sen. Anthony Musto produced a prepared contract document extending the Executive Director's contract another two years. They also placed additional provisions in the contract that favored the employee at the expense of the Housing Authority. They signed the contract as soon as they emerged from executive session. This conduct demonstrates that the chairwoman of the Housing Authority worked in concert with Attorney Musto to draft the provisions of this contract extension before even taking it before the other board members. The terms of the contract were a done deal before this illegal meeting even took place.

"The Housing Authority did not even accord the residents of Stern Village with the opportunity to attend a public hearing to voice their opinions on the matter at hand. And, as we have learned from the request for document production, the authority was not even providing a performance evaluation for the executive director over the last several years," Herbst said.

Herbst Tackles Musto

"What is disturbing in all of this is that the Housing Authority's attorney, a state lawmaker, advised his clients to participate in an illegal meeting to approve the contract he drafted that was in fact so unconscionable, any rational person reading it would conclude was not a contract in the best interests of the Trumbull Housing Authority. The actions of the former Housing Authority and Sen. Musto were deceitful, duplicitous and deliberate.

"The housing authority governs Stern Village and has a responsibility to act in the best interests of their residents.  These residents are also Senator Musto's constituents.  The former Housing Authority and Senator Musto have a moral obligation to answer for their conduct and explain why they acted in such an unscrupulous manner," Herbst concluded.

Again, Musto's complete response will be recorded in a follow-up story.

Carol Hudak December 28, 2012 at 04:07 AM
Herbst is on very thin ice here with 'Mrs. Stern showed her true character and lack of concern . . .' Wow! If I were Mrs. Stern I'd be dialing my atty. after a statement like that from the FS. This is vintage, typical Herbst . . . So, Tim, who is your choice to replace Harry? Because that is what this dog and pony show is all about. Your 'righteous indignation' is only preparing the way for a Herbst appointee . . . hmm. . . is Tighe &Bond going to take over Stern Village now? You've set up GOP rule so your hand picked candidate will be approved . . . can't wait to see what friend or family member gets this appointment. You must think we are all idiots . . . Like you, Alison, I can't wait to hear 'the rest of the story.' His 2 choices are loyal GOP members, BTW. Sen. Musto, what do you think of your actions being called 'deceitful, duplicitous and deliberate?' Again, with these accusations Herbst is on very thin ice. If he really cared about SV residents, he would not have removed the full time nurse; then put her over at the Sr. Ctr. on Priscilla Place, and cut her hours to part-time. This is all a smokescreen . . .
Dan December 28, 2012 at 04:12 PM
How can the actions of Herbst be construed as anything but political? I do not know the new appointees but Mr. Friedson has been a GOP stalwart for years, sitting on many boards over time. Tim, have you EVER been to a Stern Village meeting? Do you know how it is run? It does not seem like it. What it does seem like is that you are using Hurricane Sandy to take control of another area of the town in which you do not yet control. Why would you accuse Mrs. Stern of "showing her true colors?" Sorry, sir, but your true colors come out with this debacle you created. Mrs. Stern could not be a more genuine person. By disparaging Mrs. Stern, you disparage the Stern name, which, if you have not noticed, includes Stern Village. You can only dream of doing for Trumbull what the Stern family has done over the decades. Why would she want to make this a political issue? You say she is, so prove it with truth, not opinion. Wise is NOT required to be on premises 24 hours a day and there is no law that says he needs to own a cell phone. Plus, the Stern Center, the big building there is equipped with a generator and residents did congregate there during the storm. More proof you Herbst is politicking? The quote: "...These residents are also Senator Musto's constituents..." If the residents are constituents, why would Mr. Musto act in an "unscrupulous" manner? What would he gain? This issue is just another example of a small town politician thinking he is bigger than he really is.
Thomas Tesoro December 28, 2012 at 04:43 PM
This situation and others that precede it have made Trumbull the laughing stock of the State. If, and I say if because I do not know the facts, things did not run as smoothly as they should have, then it should be handled with discretion and with the goal of being to eliminate errors for the future. Trashing Town Volunteers and other elected officials adds nothing to the discussion and serves only to polarize and make future cooperation less likely. It also sends a message to other potential Town Volunteers to simply stay away lest you get into another unnecessary political mess. We are a small Town in a small State, there is no reason why we can't show respect for one another, learn from each others mistakes and be civil in our communication with each other.
Richard December 28, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Terrible leadership qualities: bitterness, anger, and resentment. Imagine what the Newtown community is dealing with and yet members of the community just rally around each other and put their differences aside. No one is trying to come out and use the tragedy for personal political gain. Remember that not long ago in Trumbull, a councilwoman was thrown under the bus for walking a dog from the animal shelter.
Anthony Musto December 30, 2012 at 10:35 PM
I apologize, but my comments are too long to post here and I cannot effectively shorten them. I have sent them to the editor for publication. Please keep an eye out. Thanks, Anthony Musto

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