Transparency in Government?

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I am writing to express my concern about a recent letter written by Melissa Mack, First Selectman (FS) regarding the Bridge Street Community Center. This letter was read to the Board of Finance (BoF) at their September 13 meeting and only sent to the Board of Selectmen (BoS) on the afternoon of that meeting. In this letter, First Selectman Mack writes, “until we have an approved budget by the State of Connecticut, it would be irresponsible to expend this amount from fund balance. Accordingly, I am notifying the Board of Finance tonight that I will not sign a contract on the BSSCC project at this time.” In these uncertain financial times as relates to the State, this is not an unreasonable idea. However, what is concerning, is that, while Mack has the authority to sign contracts (or not), she has not involved the BoS in the conversation. Can the First Selectman unilaterally change things without consultation with her board? Why do we vote for a board that has no say in major decisions? Does she think the reasonable people elected to the BoS could not understand what the FS is contemplating?

According to Mack’s letter, “one of the proposals received by the Department of Public Works states that an $8.4 million budget would only allow them to build a 2,000 square foot gym. As you know, the plan calls for an 8,200 square foot gym. Based on this estimate and the conceptual estimate from Gilbane of $9,928,700 a year ago, I cannot represent that the Town reasonably expects to issue the bond or be reimbursed from the proceeds of borrowings.” Yes, one of the proposals does say that they would only be able to build a 2,000 square foot gym, but she doesn’t mention that four other proposals could build the 8,200 square foot gym within the budget. Also, the Gilbane estimate from nearly a year ago carries exorbitant soft costs and is not accurate today. She hand-picked the facts to fit her argument.

Finally, Mack writes, “I believe that we can be creative and fiscally responsible by better taking advantage of the underutilized assets in town, including our beautiful Senior Center.” The senior center may be a panacea for many who say it can be used for community events of all kinds, when in fact the center, while beautiful and convenient, is only for seniors due to state grant restrictions, with few exceptions. Being creative is an admirable attribute. If others had been consulted, would the FS have learned that upfront costs can be paid out of bonded money? Would the private foundation for BSCC have been consulted to see if there was a donor who may be willing to cover these costs?

The Permanent Building Committee (PBC), John Cloonan (Director of Public Works) and Julie Oakes (Facilities Manager) have spent nine months refining Requests for Proposals (RFP). In August alone, they conducted proposer walk-throughs of the Bridge Street building, reviewed proposals from four Construction Managers at Risk and five architects, conducted interviews and were prepared to go ahead to offer a contract when the First Selectman stopped the process – without input from her own board.

Mack campaigned on transparency in government two years ago. What precedent does her most recent action set for our town and future referendum votes? If our town leader is not supportive of a project that the residents voted to approve, can it be overturned by just one individual?

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