September 30, 2022

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West Haven official OK’d contracts for family business

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Robert Bruneau, a city councilman and fire commissioner in West Haven, employed his elected position as a leader of the West Shore Hearth District to authorize contracts and payments for a enterprise owned by his spouse and son.

The paperwork reveal that Bruneau — along with his two fellow fireplace commissioners — accredited much more than $81,000 in payments to Bruneau’s Garage, which he and his family members have owned and operated for a lot more than a decade.


That income was reportedly paid out to the garage in return for the corporation fixing and retaining the fire district’s plow truck, its rescue boat, its blue and white fireplace engines and the backup turbines at its two hearth residences.

The invoices clearly show Bruneau’s son billed the hearth district a flat cost of $1,500 for each month to protect labor prices and tens of countless numbers of dollars a lot more to offer belts, batteries, hydraulic hoses, brake pads, air filters, oil filters, water pumps and doorway latches for the fire trucks.

The documents highlight how Bruneau — who was also just lately singled out in a point out audit that examined questionable paying out by the West Haven town govt — signed off on more than fifty percent of the 46 invoices that ended up submitted to the fire district around the previous two years. That positioned him in a place in which he was verifying the pieces and services that his family’s small business was billing the fireplace district for.

As the chairman of the board of hearth commissioners, Bruneau has major affect over West Shore’s $11 million annual spending plan, and he helps to come to a decision what contractors do organization with the hearth district, which operates independently of the town government in West Haven.

Stephen Scafariello, the chief of the West Shore Fireplace District, stated Bruneau’s Garage was picked out in July 2020 to preserve the department’s fire engines and other equipment subsequent a community bidding process. He said the corporation was awarded the agreement due to the fact no other organization responded to an advertisement that was put in the West Haven Voice, a hyper-local newspaper that is published each other 7 days.

Nevertheless, ethics specialists said Bruneau’s involvement in the contracts and the payments to his family’s company signifies a direct conflict of curiosity, no issue how the procurement system worked or how lots of firms submitted bids.

“If you are signing invoices for matters involving your enterprise or your immediate family’s firm, which is a clear conflict,” claimed Peter Lewandowski, who serves as the executive director of Connecticut’s Business of State Ethics.

Lewandowski and the other employees at the state ethics office do not participate in any job in implementing ethics laws in just municipalities or any other area governments in Connecticut. But he claimed Bruneau’s actions would nearly certainly operate afoul of any ethics insurance policies that are in put for the fire district.

Condition, neighborhood and federal codes of ethics, Lewandowski claimed, all prohibit persons from working with their govt offices to consider formal actions that profit on their own or their loved ones customers. So, far too, do numerous company codes of carry out.

“That’s seriously ethics 101,” Lewandowski mentioned.

Scafariello, the hearth main, confirmed by way of email that the West Shore Hearth District has an ethics code in spot, but he and an attorney for the hearth district did not straight away deliver that coverage to the CT Mirror.

‘Business as normal’

Bruneau, who was first elected as a hearth commissioner in 2017 and has served as a West Haven metropolis councilman given that 2020, explained he never ever noticed that ethics code prior to the CT Mirror calling the fireplace district this month, and he reported he didn’t know it was inappropriate for him to indication off on checks to his family’s small business.

“I did not see everything improper with it at the time, and now that it has arrive to our focus, about an ethics predicament, we would definitely appear to do items a tiny bit differently moving forward,” he said.

Bruneau claimed he and his family members have labored on the fireplace engines for the West Shore Hearth District for several years — prolonged ahead of he was commissioner, back to when he was serving as a superintendent with the section.

His family’s organizations, he added, have also finished function for West Haven’s two other fire districts and the city’s police section.

“It’s just one thing we have done suitable alongside,” he explained, “and my family has completed it for decades, to be entirely sincere with you. So when this came about and no one bid on it, I really just did not realize that it would be a dilemma. For us, it was just company as typical.”

Bruneau mentioned none of the actions he took have been meant to be “underhanded,” and he mentioned he is “devastated” and “heartbroken” that anyone would question his motives or his family’s integrity.

“There was absolutely nothing — no intent below — to get worked steered towards any family members member in anyway,” he said. “I do a whole lot for the police section. I do a lot for the fire office. It was never ever about dollars. Which is the furthest factor to worry about for us because we do much more for nothing than we bill them for.”

“It was just an oversight. There was nothing undermined by it,” he additional. “The only thing I’ve ever completed is get worried about the West Shore Fireplace Division and maintaining the people of the West Shore harmless.”

Other elected leaders who represent West Haven people claimed Bruneau’s determination to signal off on payments to his family’s enterprise forged the fire district in a undesirable gentle and could even further injury the public’s believe in, which has previously been tested in West Haven as the consequence of an ongoing federal prison investigation.

“While I fully grasp that the deal went through the right bid process, as an elected formal, you ought to not be involved in any conversations or voting on contracts that are valuable to you or your household,” reported condition Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven. “Commissioners will need to recuse themselves from these steps in get to eradicate any issue with regards to the appropriateness of the process.”

State Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, voiced a very similar viewpoint. And he argued that Bruneau needed to come to a decision what is much more important to him: his family’s organizations or his elected offices.

“If you are heading to be in that posture, you have to have to know when to recuse oneself,” claimed Ferraro, who signifies most of the people who fork out residence taxes to the West Shore Fire District. “I don’t believe the general public likes listening to that individuals who are in positions to make contract choices are awarding these contracts to spouse and children associates. I don’t consider men and women want to hear that.”

“You know, my opinion is you gotta make your intellect up to either be a businessman or a politician,” Ferraro included. “It’s both 1 or the other, but you can not be both.”

‘Accusations and scorn’

This is not the 1st time that a company owned by Bruneau and his loved ones has captured the public’s consideration in West Haven.

Bruneau, a two-time period city councilman, also located himself in the highlight in the latest months right after general public information revealed that metropolis officers in West Haven utilised federal pandemic relief funding to fork out Chip’s Wrecker Provideryet another one particular of his family’s companies — additional than $19,000.

That dollars, according to the city’s information, was meant to compensate the organization for offering foodstuff throughout the pandemic, for renting equipment to the town and for cleaning up after COVID-associated activities.

But earlier this 12 months, a forensic audit commissioned by the state Office of Coverage and Administration established that the money Bruneau’s business gained was an ineligible use of the federal pandemic aid funds.

The auditors argued that the invoices and other economical documents utilised to back up people expenses did not supply satisfactory element about what form of work Bruneau’s business performed in exchange for the money.

Even more, the audit instructed the state must take a closer seem at other enterprise dealings that Bruneau experienced with the West Haven govt, which he has assisted to lead over the past two decades.

The auditors produced that suggestion soon after the city’s fiscal data unveiled that a few organizations managed by Bruneau experienced been paid at minimum $170,000 out of the city’s lender accounts in the past. Those payments, the auditors spelled out, really should be reviewed in order to figure out if they ended up a “valid” use of taxpayer money.

In response to the audit, Bruneau hired an attorney to protect his businesses and his status, and in the course of a heated city council assembly in April, he experienced a letter from his attorney browse aloud to West Haven voters.

In the letter — which was resolved to the auditing firm hired by the state — the attorney claimed all of the business transactions in between the town and Bruneau’s providers were being higher than board. And he argued that Bruneau’s enterprise record was “unimpeachable,” and his character “unblemished.”

“While you have not accused Mr. Bruneau of any prison or ethical wrongdoing, the innuendo is unsafe and unfair,” the letter go through. “It has led to my client owning received accusations and scorn from articles or blog posts in the newspaper and on social media.”

Nothing has been done because that time to even further check out Bruneau’s company interactions with the city authorities in West Haven, although OPM and the state’s Municipal Accountability Critique Board (MARB) are in the system of ramping up their oversight of the city’s funds.

A spokesman for the state agency explained any conclusions pertaining to more investigations into the city’s investing and finances would need to be permitted by the total MARB board.

“All issues that bear on the governance and fiscal management of the metropolis will be examined in because of course and will be ruled by relevant law,” explained Chris Collibee, OPM’s spokesperson.

Ferraro, the Republican lawmaker from West Haven, reported he thinks further inquiries are warranted, looking at the general public distrust that continues to plague the metropolis.

“The gentle of day desires to be shined on every little thing in the metropolis of West Haven,” Ferraro explained. “I imagine everything should be on the table.”

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