WEST HAVEN >> Democratic mayoral candidate Nancy Rossi expressed her disappointment Tuesday at the City Council’s failure to muster enough votes last week to approve an investigation of circumstances surrounding last summer’s installation of cameras at West Haven High School.
“There are many unanswered questions, and the taxpayers deserve answers quickly and independently,” said Rossi, a former councilwoman who is one of two candidates who have expressed their intentions to challenge O’Brien in elections later this year.
The other, Councilman David Riccio, R-At Large, was the one who sought to initiate the investigation after Rossi and others called for it during a public comment session at the start of last Monday’s City Council meeting.
“The City Council needs to assure the residents and taxpayers that this contract, from start to finish, was handled completely above board,” Rossi said. “Right now, I think most of us are questioning that.”
Rossi was referring to a $210,625, no-bid contract to install security cameras with a state grant, which was awarded to Hi-Tech Electricom, a company headed by Richard E. Shea.
An environmental consultant’s report that was recently made public suggests that the Hi-Tech did not employ proper asbestos handling measures, raising concerns among a number of parents — although both Mayor Ed O’Brien and City Council Chairman Jim O’Brien, D-6, said Tuesday that subsequent reports from other consultants say there were and are no health risks.
In addition to being a contractor, Shea is member appointed by Mayor O’Brien to the revamped West Haven High School Building Committee, a supporter of O’Brien’s campaign and according to O’Brien, is the contractor who has installed cameras in West Haven schools for years.
The City Council has the power to conduct investigations, but to do so requires at least 9 affirmative votes. Riccio’s motion fell short in a 8-2 affirmative vote, with council Chairman O’Brien and Councilman David Forsyth, D-At Large, voting no.
Both Mayor O’Brien and Chairman O’Brien said Tuesday that subsequent investigations have shown the high school is safe.
“Once again, Nancy gets her information from social media and she doesn’t have her facts straight,” said Mayor O’Brien. He cited an April 10 email from Christopher Stan of the state Department of Public Health, which says, “The Connecticut Department of Public Health has no reason to believe the school population was exposed to asbestos as the result of the work above the ceilings.
“Following our on-site review of this situation in November 2016, the department has determine that the school remains safe to occupy, with no expected exposure to asbestos at any levels,” Stan wrote in the email, which he wrote in the wake of concerns expressed by parents and others.
Mayor O’Brien also cited an April 10 letter from Dan Sullivan, president of Chem Scope, a North Haven environmental firm that has done work at the high school in the past, which reviewed Dunn Environmental Inspection’s report, inspected the area and concurred with the state’s statement.
“Chem Scope agrees with the CT-DPH’s opinion that the there is not a current asbestos exposure hazard as a result of the subject work from June 2016,” Sullivan wrote.
“How much more can we do?” Mayor O’Brien said. “What is the City Council going to look into? ... They did look into it, and everything is OK.”
He called it “absolutely” a political issue raised by Rossi, and said, “Nancy should really do her homework before she gets everybody riled up.”
Mayor O’Brien said the city waived the bids not to reward a supporter or give the contract to any one person but because “we were either going to lose or use it, and the way to use it was the bid waiver.”
Chairman O’Brien said of the council, “We have no problem asking for (an investigation) if it’s warranted. We took the concerns and we’re getting information from it. We’re trying to get all our facts. Once they’re all in, we’ll see what we have. If there’s a reason to have an investigation then, then we’ll have it.”
In fact, “We were already looking into it per se, getting some fact-finding,” he said.
“I know it’s a hot potato. It’s that season,” Chairman O’Brien said. “But I think the emotions are getting away from everything else. They were saying there was asbestos and we were killing the children,” but “I find it hard to believe that they were going to open a school that’s a danger to everyone — and there’s no evidence that it was.
“To me the real story here is, the city of West Haven got a $200,000 grant to put in cameras that make it safer for the students,” O’Brien said.
But Rossi said there are other issues that have yet to be looked into.
“The circumstances surrounding the replacement cameras in the high school should be of the utmost importance to our elected officials,” she said. “The safety of our students, faculty and staff was put at risk. There are questions surrounding whether the city received everything it was billed.
“There are questions surrounding how much was actually paid to Hi-Tech Electricom, and whether it being awarded this contract, as a political supporter of this administration and a political appointee, presented a conflict of interest,” Rossi said.
“The approved Finance Committee minutes from the June 13, 2016, meeting recorded that on the third motion language was added,” stating that “Corporation Counsel must find that no conflict exists with the award of this bid,” Rossi said. “But the motion failed. The fourth motion that ultimately passed had the conflict language removed.”
Richard Dunn of Dunn Environmental Inspections of West Haven wrote in a Dec. 14, 2016, letter to a state Department of Public Health environmental sanitarian, “The project was not reviewed by an asbestos project design or an asbestos management planner as required by Connecticut and EPA regulations.
“Additionally, asbestos materials were disturbed by untrained and unlicensed persons during this camera installation project without containment or engineering controls to prevent fiber release,” Dunn wrote in the letter, which appears was part of his report.
In addition, “Custodians state that during this installation a small worker would enter the (confined) space above the first-floor front entrance lobby ceiling by going through a hole in the plaster ... ceiling” and “all new cables were pulled through the space above the central lobby ceiling, then down behind the awards display case and into the wiring spaces of the security desk,” the letter states.
“This above ceiling space has friable asbestos spray-on fireproofing” and “there is evidence of the spray-on fireproofing being recently disturbed,” he wrote.
An analysis by EMSL Analytical Inc. of Wallingford found asbestos in only one of four materials tested.