Russo Not Added to Public Works Bldg Committee, Which May Disband

Fred Russo is shown here speaking to the Board of Selectmen at an April 2013 meeting, with "Stop Tabor" supporters in the audience.
Fred Russo is shown here speaking to the Board of Selectmen at an April 2013 meeting, with "Stop Tabor" supporters in the audience. Pam Johnson

On Sept. 4, the Board of Selectman (BOS) voted 2-1 against naming “Stop Tabor” organizer Fred Russo to the Public Works Building Committee (PWBC).

The BOS also discussed the need for the town to possibly disband the commitee and instead focus on forming the Public Works Commission; as well as moving ahead with the work of a Standing Building Committee. Additionally, it was noted Branford resident Tom Brennan officially began working as Branford Public Works Director on Sept. 3. Brennan replaces Art Baker, who left in February to take a position in Massachussettes. Brennan will oversee a Public Works Department which has been operating out of leased space at 137 North Branford Road for over two years, as the town tussles with deciding on the best location for a new Public Works facility.

On Sept. 4, Third Selectman Jamie Cosgrove (R) made the motion to name Russo,  who has a construction background, to the PWBC. The committee is charged with recommending the best site for a new Public Works facility. First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos (D) and Second Selectman Andrew Campbell (D) voted against appointing Russo.

DaRos said he wanted note that, “…I’m only opposed to this gentleman because he made it clear that he’s only on it for one reason, it’s to make sure the one site (Tabor) does not get selected.”

In 2012, the PWBC determined the Tabor site was the best for locating the new facility, and that recommendation was upheld by an Oct. 2012 BOS vote (2-1) with Cosgrove opposed. Soon after, the highly visible “Stop Tabor” grass-roots effort, led by Russo, gathered steam, with over 600 petition supporters.

On Sept. 4, Cosgrove reiterated he was opposed to Taborfor Public Works based on the magnitude of the project, its cost and, “…add in fact the neighborhood began to come forward even made it more clear this is not the site,” he said.

DaRos said given that the PWBC had twice-recommended the Tabor site, he agreed with the committee chairman’s recent assertion that the PWBC had fulfilled its charge and should be disbanded. The ten-person committee has three members, which is one reason why Cosgrove recommended Russo for appointment. Campbell said he has also talked with people wishing to be considered for the PWBC, although he felt the best approach, at this point, was to go forward with forming a Public Works Commission.

“In so far as we have three out of the ten original members on the Public Works Building Committee (and) we have a brand new Public Works director as of yesterday, I think there’s a …need in the process for input, as to needs of department. I think that’s a little much to put on someone new,” said Campbell, adding “…I don’t think re-stocking this committee gets us anywhere.”

The latest charge of the PWBC was this summer’s review of another potential site for Public Works, on commercial property on North Ivy Street.  On Sept. 4, Campbell noted an informal report that had just been received from the committee concerning the North Ivy Street site showed some “…operational issues pertaining to the conduct of the business of Public Works.”

Cosgrove said he felt the PWBC needed to remain intact in order to facilitate moving forward.

“We need to continue to move forward on this. We have a Public Works department in a non-compliant temporary facility… at least move forward on site selection,” said Cosgrove. “I saw the report for (North) Ivy Street, it’s no surprise to me… however, just because there are issues with that property…we have a list of properties in town that are viable.  I don’t see the issue of why we need, if the Public Works department isn’t changing what they’re doing, to hide behind the argument we have a new director, we’re going to have to see how he’s going to operate. We’ve studied this over and over and we’re not moving forward.”

All three selectmen agreed Branford also needs to move forward with a Standing Building Committee to address available infrastructure for needs including those of the school district and senior center.

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