Lakeview Avenue Bridge Arbitration causes controversy - Top Story of 2011
Published 3:30 pm, Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Most of town government was caught off guard this year when they discovered a $650,000 arbitration award was paid in full without the necessary consult of the major town bodies. It spawned a monthlong investigation into the practices of legal issues in town as well as communication. A Town Council subcommittee was formed to look at all the hiccups and suggest recommendations to prevent this from happening in the future.
"This subcommittee was formed by the Town Council to examine the issues surrounding the Lakeview Bridge arbitration. We intend to discover all of the important facts that relate to this matter. This could get tedious as we go through all of the details. But in the end, the thoroughness of this (process) is the only way that we will resolve all of our questions and do so in a way that we can all understand," Lakeview Avenue Bridge Litigation Subcommittee member Kit Devereaux said at the first meeting June 1.
The internal communication issues stem from the fact that the arbitration award against the town was paid in full March 27 without the knowledge of the Town Council.
First Selectman Jeb Walker and Director of Public Works Michael Pastore took responsibility for what was described as a "breakdown in communication" after the payment was made.
The matter stems from a conflict between the town and Loureiro Contractors, Inc., concerning the Lakeview Avenue Bridge construction in 2008.
The town went into arbitration after withholding $250,000 from the contractors and claiming the firm was delaying the construction project. According to documents, Loureiro Contractors claims the work was delayed due to unforeseen complications with underground utilities, overhead wires and flooding.
At a Town Council meeting in May, Walker and Pastore shared responsibility, though Walker ultimately put the onus on himself as first selectman.
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"I have to accept responsibility for that," Pastore said when asked why town officials weren't made aware of the decision at the end of February.
"I authorized the payment. When the decision came down, right or wrong, it was basically treated as a contract payment that was due under the contract."
Walker also took responsibility for the lack of communication.
"I accept full responsibility for anything that happens in town, irrespective of the situation, irrespective of what the consequences might be. Full responsibility lies with me," Walker said.
"I am the chief executive of the town and whatever failure of communications there was. I take full responsibility for. It was not Mr. Pastore's fault. It was not Mr. Conrad's fault. It's not our town attorney's fault. I take full responsibility."
In addition to Walker and Pastore, the subcommittee spoke to the Board of Selectmen, Attorney Tim Fisher, Town Attorney Chris Jarboe, Town Treasurer Donald V. Hersam, Town CFO Gary Conrad, Scott Bassett of McGladrey and Pullen, the town's auditors, Town Administrator Tom Staddler, and Town Council Chairman Dr. Mark DeWaele and member Paul Foley.
After completing all the interviews and research, the Lakeview Avenue Bridge Arbitration Subcommittee unveiled its draft report of recommendations Oct. 26. The report, which is available on the town website, outlines several suggestions on how New Canaan can avoid the missteps that occurred earlier this year in relation to the arbitration settlement that sent more than $600,000 to Lourerio Contractors Inc.
In its final recommendation, the report highlights the controversy that surrounded the settlement.
"The incident of the Lakeview Avenue Bridge Arbitration incurred the disapproval of New Canaan residents at a level not seen in recent decades," the report states. "It was an example of what can happen when systems that had been historically adequate, could not keep pace with current circumstances."
Some of the most significant recommendations include establishing a Public Works commission, a review of the duties for the position of town treasurer, giving Town Council additional authority to approve all funds transferred to the capital and nonrecurring fund, having the Board of Selectmen look at checks over a certain dollar amount and establishing a temporary committee "charged with the responsibility of facilitating the implementation of the recommendations contained in this report, where feasible."