Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

0Will DEEP allow the Housing Dept. to subsidize $300,000 affordable-housing units in the Norwalk floodplain?

Washington Village flooded parkingTwo years ago, Superstorm Sandy flooded first-floor apartments at Washington Village in Norwalk. Now state and local officials are seeking to expand the project in the same flood-prone location using millions in state and federal taxpayer money, including $9.8 million designated for the Sandy cleanup, but they need approval from environmental regulators first.

The new development would include about 273 units at a cost of at least $85 million, meaning each unit will cost more than $300,000 to construct. In all the developer, Boston-based Trinity Financial, will receive $43 million in state and federal support.

Half of the new units will be considered public housing, targeted at a family of four earning less than $38,500. Another quarter is considered workforce housing, for family incomes between about $64,000 and $70,000. The remaining units will rent at market rates.

Some Norwalk residents have criticized city officials and the developer for building in the floodplain.

After Sandy struck, the Norwalk Hour reported on the damage:

Flood waters damaged dozens of first floor units at the Washington Village housing complex. Residents used hoses to remove an inch or more of water from their living areas. Norwalk Housing Authority employees helped residents clear the excess water from their living spaces and discard of soggy couches and ruined rugs.

There was flooding the area after heavy rain last week.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing on the flood management exemption for Washington Village 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 15, at the South Norwalk Community Center. DEEP will accept written testimony until close of business on Dec. 18.

Trinity will build all of the first-floor units above the level reached by the worst flood scenario considered in the application. However, 198 parking spaces will be under the building.

One drawing included in the application shows how high up on a car floodwaters in the parking garage would rise. In one building, the worst-case flood – “a 500-year flood with wave” – would leave some cars completely submerged. A 100-year flood would rise up to the bottom of the windshield.

The flood contingency plan calls for the building manager to ask residents to move their cars to higher ground before a storm.

After Superstorm Sandy, the Hour reported that a Washington Village resident “who refused to give his name, said he was given ample warning to move his car, but he did not think the flooding would be that bad.”

The plan also calls for raising the intersection of Raymond and Day Streets above expected flood levels and building a raised pathway through nearby Ryan Park so that emergency vehicles could reach the development if the streets get washed out.

Patrick Lee, a co-founder and executive vice president of Trinity, gave $7,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account since 2013. State law would prohibit Lee, as a beneficiary of state funding, from making donations to candidates for state office or to the state party’s account to benefit those candidates. However, recipients of state funding and state contractors can give to the same party’s federal account.

4Son of dead state employee continued to cash pension check for 16 years

The son of a Connecticut state employee cashed his dead father’s state pension and federal Social Security checks for 16 years until federal investigators learned of the father’s death in 2012 and discovered he stole nearly $350,000.

Raymond LaChance, of Spring Hill, Florida, illegally collected $161,002 in Social Security benefits plus $182,832 in Connecticut pension payments sent to his late father, Francis.

In 2011, the last full-year of Connecticut pension payments, the state paid $15,100, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis.

In October, a federal judge sentenced LaChance, who pleaded guilty over the summer, to a year in prison and ordered him to pay restitution.

The State Employee Retirement Commission, with the advice of Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Leonard Boyle, voted on Oct. 29 to forego prosecution of LaChance under Connecticut law to participate in a federal settlement and receive restitution soon.

However, SERC staff later learned the deadline for such an arrangement passed two days earlier on Oct. 27. Although SERC submitted the request to the Attorney General’s Office, it had to go to the Chief State’s Attorney instead because it dealt with a criminal matter, according to SERC minutes from Nov. 20.

Staff also reported the pension fund is writing checks to 2,138 beneficiaries over the age of 90.

Update: Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Leonard Boyle said the judge who sentenced LaChance included a restitution order for the amount stolen from Connecticut. He said the missed deadline did not impact the state’s ability to obtain the order. “We were better off having all this rolled into the federal case,” Boyle said, explaining the decision to decline prosecution under state law.

1Republicans: Gruber paid at least $120,000 for Connecticut work

House Republicans say a controversial healthcare economist behind Obamacare received at least $120,000 for his work in Connecticut.

Jonathan Gruber of MIT has been in the spotlight for recently publicized video footage of him criticizing American voters for being stupid. Additional footage has Gruber saying former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy “ripped off” Medicaid.

Gruber did work for the $1 billion plus Sustinet plan in Connecticut. Sustinet never advanced beyond a board to study the idea because state employees turned on the idea.

The Sustinet board was able to avoid transparency requirements because two outside groups, the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut and the Connecticut Health Foundation, paid its expenses.

House Republicans said they have identified $120,000 in payments from the Universal Health Care Foundation to Gruber around the time of the Sustinet work.

“Jonathan Gruber made millions consulting on healthcare issues from Obamacare and from states, including Connecticut,’’ said incoming House Minority Leader Themis Klarides. “The man who famously said a lack of transparency on these issues was a political asset in passing Obamacare has benefited enormously from a lack of transparency when it comes to his personal income.’’

Klarides called for more disclosure regarding Gruber’s work in Connecticut.

2Healthcare economist who believes in the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ advised Conn. in 2010

Remember Sustinet, Connecticut’s $1 billion-plus plan to combine Medicaid, state employee health plans and a government-run health insurer?

In 2010, MIT health economist Jonathan Gruber performed modeling for the Sustinet plan. Gruber, considered an architect of Obamacare, is in the news because of recently-uncovered video of him calling out the “stupidity of the American voter.”

The video shows Gruber explaining why the Obamacare legislation couldn’t say what it actually did, because then it wouldn’t pass.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s transition team report on healthcare from four years ago includes a presentation on Sustinet with the results of Gruber’s work.

Sustinet failed when many state employees questioned the concept of combining their health plan with Medicaid and asked whether the union leaders pushing the plan were looking out for the best interest of the rank and file.

Gruber earned nearly $400,000 from the federal government and significant sums from other states, although the amount paid by Connecticut is not public. The Sustinet board used nonprofits to pay for its research which allowed it to skirt transparency rules.

0Complaint targets state rep’s PAC for inadequate disclosure

A complaint alleges that a political action committee run by a Democratic state representative failed to disclose its activity properly, including last-minute contributions to town party committees right before the 2013 municipal election.

After Donna Hemmann, a Republican member of the Wethersfield Town Council, filed the complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission in May, the PAC filed amended reports to disclose two $500 donations to the Wethersfield Democratic Town Committee made on Oct. 21 and Nov. 5, 2013.

Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, controls the Pro-Progressive Energetic Leaders PAC, also known as Pro-PEL. Morin did not respond to requests for comment for this article. Outside of the legislature, Morin works for Connecticut Employees Union Independent, one of the state employee unions and an SEIU local. His PAC draws considerable support from unions.

The Wethersfield DTC did properly report the contributions, which is how Hemmann learned about them.

Pro-PEL’s amended report also disclosed other October donations that weren’t previously reported, including $500 for the Berlin Democratic Town Committee.

Hemmann also questioned how the committee raised $3,455 at a fundraiser that cost only $25, saying the “return on investment defies credibility.”

SEEC scheduled the complaint, 2014-058, for discussion during executive session on Oct. 14.

2Soros maxes out to Connecticut Democrats while banned contractors continue to give

The Connecticut Democratic Party raised nearly $350,000 in individual contributions to its federal account last month, including thousands from state contractors.

The party reported its latest haul to the Federal Elections Commission a week ago. Although state contractors and recipients of state aid are banned from donating to candidates or political parties, they can legally give to a party’s federal account. Democrats drew attention to the practice recently by using the federal account money to support the reelection of Gov. Dannel Malloy, prompting Republicans to sue.

Donors associated with the state contractor HAKS Engineers gave another $20,000 to the Connecticut Democrats last month, bringing their total contributions since last year to $70,000.

Other notable donors include:

Update: John T. Moore, CEO of the Marwood Group, gave $10,000 to the Democratic Party’s federal account last month. His colleague at Marwood, Ted Kennedy Jr., is running for state senate in Branford. Kennedy’s Republican opponent, Bruce Wilson Jr., recently filed a complaint accusing him of using the state party to make contributions over the legal limit.

1Democratic Party uses state contractor money to support Malloy

The Connecticut Democratic Party asked federal regulators earlier this month for permission to use a stockpile of cash from state contractors to support the reelection of Gov. Dannel Malloy, but rather than wait for a response the party began mailing advertisements using the money.

Since at least 2013, the state Democratic Party has used its federal account to collect donations from state contractors who are banned from giving directly to candidates or the party’s state account. The Federal Elections Commission has not ruled on the party’s request to use the money to influence a state election.

In many states, federal rules are stricter than state rules making it unlikely parties would use federal money for state candidates. However, in Connecticut the federal rules are more permissive in the sense that they don’t prevent state contractors from making contributions.

The ban includes owners and top decision makers at companies that have state contracts or receive state aid.

The most prominent example of this conundrum was Northeast Utilities CEO Thomas May, who solicited donations from his employees to support Malloy’s reelection through the federal account. At the time, it was thought the federal account could not directly help Malloy, but with the latest request to the FEC the link became clearer.

State law does allow parties to indirectly transfer federal account money to the state account by routing it through a national party committee.

The Democratic Party, through its federal account, has raised money from numerous state contractors and recipients of state aid, contributors who can’t give to the same party’s state account. The ban was put in place after Republican ex-Gov. John Rowland resigned and pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge.

A number of employees at Northeast Utilities donated a year ago after the company’s CEO sent his controversial email. Employees of DOT contractor HAKS Engineers gave the party $45,000 last year and another $10,000 this year. Some of those donations may have been solicited at an event attended by Malloy. Leaders of a joint venture selected by DOT for a $500 million project in Stamford last year gave the party nearly $100,000 in donations since the agency made its decision – and while it negotiated a final agreement.

At least two medical marijuana dispensaries gave to the Democratic Party’s federal account. The Board of Regents chairman appointed by Malloy gave the maximum gift of $10,000 right before his appointment and again this year – as did his wife. One former donor to the Republican Party cynically redirected his support to the Democratic Party’s federal account after Malloy’s election; one of his companies went on to receive $6 million in borrowed state money.

The party also raised money from affordable housing developers, First Five companies, Mystic Aquarium and other recipients of state aid.

0Brookfield Board of Education confirms termination of superintendent

The Brookfield Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to terminate Superintendent Anthony Bivona, confirming a decision the board originally made in May.

The same board that fired Bivona earlier this year sat in judgment of him during a multi-part hearing that stretched on for months.

The board fired Bivona, who led the district for seven years, after auditors discovered the district had been using a gimmick to balance its budget. Bivona’s longtime business manager, Art Colley, resigned under scrutiny earlier this year.

The audit found that $1.3 million in school district bills had been pushed into the subsequent fiscal year. The town approved a supplemental appropriation of more than $1.1 million to bring the school district’s budget back into balance.

Bivona claimed throughout the hearing process he didn’t know what Colley was doing. The board’s attorney claimed Bivona should have known and the board agreed with his conclusion. Bivona’s attorney argued political pressure led to the firing making it arbitrary and illegal.

0MDC liens property owned by Mayor Segarra’s husband for unpaid water bills

The Metropolitan District Commission has placed a lien for more than $2,000 in unpaid water bills on condos owned by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra’s husband, Charlie Ortiz.

Ortiz owns a number of properties in the city, including five of the units at 57 John St. where the MDC placed the $2,418 lien.

A spokeswoman for the mayor did not respond to requests for comment.

According to an attorney for the MDC, the lien is on all six units but each unit owes one-sixth the amount. The MDC will release the liens on each unit if its owner pays a proportionate share of the unpaid fees, plus a $26 release fee.

Rising MDC bills has become an issue for some South End residents, says Hyacinth Yennie, chairwoman of the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group.

Yennie said MDC bills have gone up, in some cases more than double, and they “are going out in a threatening way.”

She said one woman with a $900 bill told the MDC she couldn’t pay it all at once. “She was told, ‘No, you better send it all.’”

Carmen Duhaney, a South End resident, said her MDC bill went up from $210 per quarter to more than $400 per quarter. “It’s not affordable,” she said.

“Customer service was very nasty to her,” Yennie said. “They’re like pitbulls.”

Yennie said it’s also important to have oversight of the MDC. “There is no accountability when it comes to spending our money,” she said, explaining voters approved an $800 million MDC project in 2012. “We knew we were going to have to pay, but we didn’t know at what cost.”

“The plan is to have a meeting with the mayor,” Yennie said. “He’s so into this stupid stadium, I’m not sure I can get a word in.”

1Out-of-state developer, donor gets another $1.3 million; total support $43 million

A Norwalk affordable-housing project received another $1.3 million in state support, bringing total government support to more than $43 million for a project with an out-of-state developer.

Boston-based Trinity Financial is leading the $110 million Washington Village redevelopment.

Patrick Lee, a co-founder and executive vice president of the company, gave $7,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account since 2013. State law would prohibit Lee, as a beneficiary of state funding, from making donations to candidates for state office or to the state party’s account to benefit those candidates. However, recipients of state funding and state contractors can give to the same party’s federal account.

The latest batch of funding is $1.3 million for brownfield remediation. Previously, the project received:

  • $30 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which hopes to convert affordable housing into mixed-income housing.
  • $9.8 million from the state Department of Housing, passing through federal money intended for the Superstorm Sandy recovery.
  • $1.89 million as a low-income housing tax credit.

In November 2013, the party received thousands in donations from others with affordable-housing business, also through its federal account.