Joseph DeGregorio: As a matter of clarification in New Milford

December 16, 2016 GMT

For a New Milford administration that ran on a policy platform of transparency and fiscal conservancy, the actions that have led to the creation of this policy paper, called a “white paper,” by appointed Director of Finance Wallace Lee Palmer, and with subsequently support by Mayor Gronbach and his administration, has caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenditures without proper approvals, baffles me.

How is a policy paper aimed at stripping the Board of Finance of its elected duty, and arguably its most important role in our system of checks and balances as the appropriating body of the government of our town, transparent or fiscally conservative? The $845,589 the Board of Finance is looking for clarification on argues otherwise.

As a matter of fact, the initial purpose of the special meeting of the Board of Finance on Dec. 8 was to gain further clarification on appropriations that occurred between July 7 and Nov. 30, under Finance Director Palmer. My inquiries into this were spurred by the policy paper and have so far resulted in a total of $1,270,589 in appropriations that fell within the criteria of supplemental appropriations that could be in question. That sounds like a lot of money. It is about 1.2 percent of the total town budget for 2016-2017. Even so, were it all above board, I would see no problem with the dollar amount so long as the money is spent in accordance with the law. At the special meeting, however, after further research the Board of Finance had only hoped to gain clarification on $845,589 of these appropriations. They consisted of the following:

$602,727, or 47 percent of the total $1.27 million, which consists of appropriations that historically have gone before the Board of Finance but never did.

$300,000 for the turf fields

$225,000 for John Pettitbone School

$59,337.50 for Mitchell Fuel for tank replacement

$5,000 to Housatonic Valley Associates

Appropriation of $13,389 to MXI environmental services; the check dated Dec. 2 was written for $31,382.

Scheduled for the Dec. 14 BOF meeting:

$9,000 consisting of items that came before the board for approval after checks were written.

$5,000 to Kerin Fazio; check date Oct. 7, finance board approval on Oct. 12

$4,000 to Hunter Associates, LLC; payment was for $5,000, check dated Oct. 7, finance board approval Oct. 12.

The remaining $233,862 may be an internal transfer for the Century Enterprise Center. It shows up as both a transfer and an appropriation. Further information is required.

I hope you can see why I sought the special meeting of the Board of Finance for immediate clarification; a motion that was seconded by fellow Board Member, Beth Falder. I know we live in unique times, times fraught with divisive politics and pervasive misinformation. I can understand the desire to fight fire with fire; if you feel slighted by another you may feel compelled to do the same. However, if we choose to sink to the level of what we perceive as the improper actions of our would-be adversaries then nothing will change.

The thing that bothers me the most is that it seems that as opposed to following a procedure supported under a legal opinion, the current administration here in New Milford justifies their actions with a policy paper that has not been reviewed by the town attorney. Further, as opposed to directly answering questions raised by the members of the Board of Finance, who hold a fiduciary responsibility for oversight, Chairmen Alexander, Director Palmer, and Mayor Gronbach chose not to attend the special meeting, or even respond as to why they could not attend and offer an alternative.

The board members who did attend were even called arrogant and ignorant by the Town Democratic Committee chairmen for even seeking an explanation for what seem to be appropriations that did not happen in accordance with Town Charter or the Connecticut State General Statutes. I have now been called opportunistic by the Mayor for trying to bring these things to light.

This is not a matter of legislating from the Board of Finance, but rather an inquiry into what seems to be a total disregard for our town’s system of checks and balances.

As a member of the Board of Finance, I know well the role we play in town government. It is our duty to ensure the town can meet its liabilities as well as to be an oversight for supplemental appropriations, hence the monthly Director of Finance report mandated by the Town Charter. Further, entering contracts or making payments with funds not yet appropriated is in violation of our own Town Charter and Connecticut State Statutes. I feel it is my duty to say so.

Joseph DeGregorio is a member of the New Milford Board of Finance.