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.