Miller-Driscoll trade packages: ‘Routine’ matter raises ire

An army of residents soldiered by taxpayers, members of Sensible Wilton and state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and Senator Toni Boucher (R-26) packed town hall Monday night to speak out against several items on the Board of Selectmen’s Nov. 3 agenda.

Namely, they opposed an administrative approval which would authorize the first selectman to sign and execute all construction, architectural, subcontractor and vendor contracts for the Miller-Driscoll School renovation project.

Concerned that the other selectmen were about to relinquish their say in what bids are awarded, a number of individuals took to the dais with opinions and suggestions.

After a lengthy, at times barely civil argument, it was decided the Board of Selectmen will convene a special meeting Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall Meeting Room B so selectmen who so wish may review the contracts before voting either to approve or deny the administrative authorization.

In a project status update, Miller-Driscoll Building Committee Chairman Bruce Hampson and Ty Tregellas of Turner Construction explained the recommended trade packages were selected through a public process heavily influenced by the state of Connecticut.

For major public projects such as this, the state requires awards to go to the lowest qualified bids from a state-qualified list.

Tregellas also informed the board the trade packages recommended Monday night, 13 out of the total 22, were put forth because of the urgency of their respective work, including asbestos abatement and enabling work that cannot be performed while school is in session and therefore is scheduled to be done over the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

“If we miss that,” warned Hampson, “that may push it into the spring, and that would be a very serious, serious financial hit to the town.”

First Selectman Bill Brennan said the authorization is simply to allow for the timely execution of bid contracts under urgent circumstances, something that has been done many, many times for similar capital projects.

“Earlier this year,” Brennan said, “the Board of Selectmen used the exact same wording to approve the Comstock [renovation] contracts, which were, again, a series of 17 contractor bids that had to be executed.

“That process has been used for many years,” he said. “It merely allows the effective administration to get all these contracts signed and signed by the vendors so we can get going on these projects. The vendors won’t start working on these unless they have a fully executed contract.”

But Selectman Michael Kaelin thought otherwise. “I have a legal responsibility to review and approve these contracts,” said Kaelin, “and they haven’t been presented to us yet.”

Brennan and Kaelin exchanged words through raised voices more than once during the hearing. Several times, Brennan said Kaelin set a precedent when he approved an identical item months earlier for the Comstock renovation.

“Hey Mike, with all due respect, I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill on this thing. You already, in January, approved the exact same wording for the Comstock building,” Brennan said.

“Would you stop saying that?” Kaelin shouted in reply.

“I’m saying it because you did,” Brennan said.

“You’re comparing apples to oranges,” argued Kaelin. “I had the opportunity to review those contracts; I did review those contracts.”

After much deliberation, Selectman Deborah McFadden suggested a special meeting.

“You (Tregellas) have deadlines; you (Kaelin) need the contracts, so what I’m hearing is a special meeting needs to be convened.”

The selectmen agreed, and voted unanimously to meet Thursday at their regular time and location. Tregellas agreed to generate contracts for the selectmen to review, and Brennan urged the selectmen- and first selectman-elects of the Nov. 3 election to be present.

Hard copies of the contract terms and conditions, individual trade scope content, RFI responses, and costs for the 13 critical trades are in the town clerk's office for public inspection.
Public comment
Wilton resident Anthony LoFrisco saw no legal problem with the authorization and in fact endorsed it.

“I haven’t heard anything here that suggests that what you could do tonight is illegal,” LoFrisco said. “It’s tough; it’s difficult, but why are we going to have another whole review of contracts? As I understand it, they’re all the same.

“The public wants to see it? Let them go see it. But my view is, you have the power to appoint the first selectman to sign the contracts. You have the power to give him the authority to do it. Do it. Some things are tough, but if you start getting a public hearing, and people have the right to come in here, you’re gonna go crazy. The deadline is not going to be met.”

“You’ve got a job to do; do it,” LoFrisco said.

Boucher was “very disappointed in the process.”

“I’m very disappointed in what’s happened to this board, because people have to come out in mass, it seems like, on every occasion lately, because the tenor of the town has been changed so much. It’s not what Ken (Bernhard, town legal counsel) says is legally right or not; it’s considering what you’re doing to the tenor of the town and the morale of the town. You should be ultra-sensitive right now about this project,” she said.

Throughout, Brennan maintained, “My main concern has been to avoid cost escalation of this process by unnecessary delays.”

Section C-17 of the Wilton Town Charter states, “To assist in the discharge of its duties and responsibilities, the Board of Selectmen may, except to the extent otherwise provided by other law, delegate in whole or in part any of its powers and duties to the first selectman or any other selectman or selectmen.”