To the Editor:
Four years ago, First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick ran on a platform of transparency, good government, and restoring the public trust in Town Hall. At the time, the environmental and fill pile scandal was ramping up, and voters demanded a change in leadership at Town Hall. (Side note: a little mentioned fact is that the Board of Selectmen was actually controlled by Republicans 2-1 throughout the fill pile scandal, which does make one wonder how the two Selectmen were in the dark to all the goings on).
Nevertheless, Mrs. Kupchick took office with great promises and plans for our town, and justified significant increases in her staff to implement them. Of course, no one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, which stretched every town resource to its limit. That aside, there are more questions than answers about what exactly is taking place at Town Hall (or not taking place, as the case may be):
A troubling lack of financial controls. We recently learned that town employees have been misusing credit cards; an HR-led investigation of ONE employee took seven months with the conclusion that training was needed. How many other employees were involved? Who is authorizing payments of these charges? Why are we only just learning about this now? This is likely the “tip of the iceberg” as problems were also discovered around management of two significant contracts – credit processing and grounds maintenance.
More concerning issues around financial controls: It was recently discovered that the FSW’s contribution to her health care plan was under withheld for multiple years, all under the tenure of TWO HR directors she personally hired. Payroll is a primary function. Is nobody checking these things? Do we now need to audit every employee’s payroll deduction?
Lack of transparency or poor time management: The administration reviewed the FEMA Notice of Violation and subsequent notices for years that were not raised to action until beach residents were within six weeks of losing their FEMA flood insurance discount. That led to the hasty and potentially pricey decision to make a plan to salvage Penfield Pavilion (without proper environmental studies and the inability to secure construction insurance).
More lack of transparency/poor time management: The residents are just now learning about the planned installation of United Illuminating 80- to 145-foot monopole structures throughout town from Southport to Fairfield Metro station. The administration was notified of this in 2021 and fall of 2022 and took NO discernable action to advocate for our town before the deadline. Moreover, none of this was ever communicated to the public, despite the regular publication of a town newsletter.
Deflection: The ongoing issue of the malfunctioning sewage digester and resultant stench in the area has become a political football, with the administration deflecting blame onto the (appointed volunteer) authority that oversees the Water Pollution Control Facility. (Side note: the director of the Water Pollution Control Facility was in fact the sole employee whose credit card use was investigated. So that would seem to indicate that the town IS responsible for him and his department).
In every single one of these circumstances, the answer from the FSW or her administration has been that none of these things are her fault, someone else is to blame, and she is too busy handling the fallout from the fill pile scandal. She did, however, find the time to work tirelessly (including using her taxpayer-funded newsletter for messaging) at a failed attempt to revise the town charter to consolidate power with a sprawling and confusing question that voters rejected.
Mrs. Kupchick claimed she was here to clean up the mess in Town Hall. She regularly uses the fill pile as justification for how she spends her time, while repeatedly deflecting blame when asked about the unresolved systemic issues that led to the problem in the first place. How is this prioritizing the welfare of our Town? How is this restoring trust of the people who pay her salary? And who, exactly, is minding the store at Town Hall?
Vote Gerber/Vitale on November 7th.
Zezima, a Democrat, is the RTM Majority Leader