West Haven official OK’d contracts for family business


Robert Bruneau, a metropolis councilman and fire commissioner in West Haven, made use of his elected situation as a chief of the West Shore Hearth District to authorize contracts and payments for a firm owned by his spouse and son.

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

That income was reportedly paid out to the garage in return for the company restoring and protecting 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 present Bruneau’s son billed the fire district a flat price of $1,500 per thirty day period to go over labor expenses and tens of countless numbers of bucks a lot more to supply belts, batteries, hydraulic hoses, brake pads, air filters, oil filters, water pumps and doorway latches for the fireplace trucks.

The records highlight how Bruneau — who was also not long ago singled out in a condition audit that examined questionable investing by the West Haven city governing administration — signed off on far more than 50 % of the 46 invoices that were being submitted to the hearth district more than the past two decades. That positioned him in a posture in which he was verifying the sections and services that his family’s enterprise was billing the hearth district for.

As the chairman of the board of hearth commissioners, Bruneau has sizeable impact about West Shore’s $11 million yearly spending plan, and he assists to make your mind up what contractors do business enterprise with the fireplace district, which operates independently of the town governing administration in West Haven.

Stephen Scafariello, the main of the West Shore Fire District, reported Bruneau’s Garage was chosen in July 2020 to manage the department’s fireplace engines and other gear subsequent a community bidding approach. He said the corporation was awarded the agreement since no other business responded to an advertisement that was positioned in the West Haven Voice, a hyper-regional newspaper that is published each individual other week.

Nonetheless, ethics authorities claimed Bruneau’s involvement in the contracts and the payments to his family’s company represents a immediate conflict of interest, no subject how the procurement process labored or how a lot of corporations submitted bids.

“If you are signing invoices for issues involving your business or your instant family’s organization, that is a apparent conflict,” said Peter Lewandowski, who serves as the govt director of Connecticut’s Business of State Ethics.

Lewandowski and the other personnel at the state ethics office environment do not perform any purpose in enforcing ethics legislation inside of municipalities or any other neighborhood governments in Connecticut. But he reported Bruneau’s actions would pretty much definitely run afoul of any ethics guidelines that are in location for the fire district.

State, neighborhood and federal codes of ethics, Lewandowski claimed, all prohibit persons from working with their govt places of work to choose official actions that gain them selves or their relatives users. So, also, do several company codes of conduct.

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

Scafariello, the fire main, confirmed via email that the West Shore Fire District has an ethics code in area, but he and an legal professional for the fireplace district did not right away provide that plan to the CT Mirror.

‘Business as normal’

Bruneau, who was initially elected as a fireplace commissioner in 2017 and has served as a West Haven metropolis councilman due to the fact 2020, said he never noticed that ethics code prior to the CT Mirror contacting the hearth district this thirty day period, and he reported he didn’t know it was inappropriate for him to indication off on checks to his family’s organization.

“I did not see everything completely wrong with it at the time, and now that it has appear to our consideration, about an ethics problem, we would surely glimpse to do factors a tiny little bit in another way transferring forward,” he reported.

Bruneau mentioned he and his spouse and children have labored on the fireplace engines for the West Shore Fireplace District for several years — very long in advance of he was commissioner, again to when he was serving as a superintendent with the division.

His family’s organizations, he additional, have also completed perform for West Haven’s two other fireplace districts and the city’s police section.

“It’s just a little something we have done appropriate together,” he said, “and my spouse and children has done it for decades, to be entirely sincere with you. So when this came about and no one bid on it, I genuinely just didn’t figure out that it would be a difficulty. For us, it was just small business as standard.”

Bruneau mentioned none of the steps he took had been intended to be “underhanded,” and he reported he is “devastated” and “heartbroken” that any person would query his motives or his family’s integrity.

“There was almost nothing — no intent right here — to get worked steered towards any family members member by any means,” he claimed. “I do a large amount for the police division. I do a good deal for the fire division. It was never about dollars. That is the furthest issue to fear about for us simply because we do extra for very little than we monthly bill them for.”

“It was just an oversight. There was practically nothing undermined by it,” he added. “The only thing I have at any time accomplished is fear about the West Shore Fire Office and retaining the residents of the West Shore safe.”

Other elected leaders who depict West Haven residents reported Bruneau’s decision to signal off on payments to his family’s small business forged the hearth district in a terrible mild and could further harm the public’s have faith in, which has now been tested in West Haven as the result of an ongoing federal felony investigation.

“While I comprehend that the contract went through the appropriate bid course of action, as an elected official, you must not be concerned in any conversations or voting on contracts that are beneficial to you or your spouse and children,” stated state Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven. “Commissioners need to have to recuse by themselves from these actions in order to reduce any question regarding the appropriateness of the process.”

State Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, voiced a very similar impression. And he argued that Bruneau needed to make a decision what is additional significant to him: his family’s businesses or his elected workplaces.

“If you are going to be in that place, you need to have to know when to recuse oneself,” reported Ferraro, who signifies most of the people today who spend residence taxes to the West Shore Fire District. “I really do not imagine the public likes hearing that people who are in positions to make contract choices are awarding those people contracts to loved ones customers. I do not imagine folks want to hear that.”

“You know, my belief is you gotta make your intellect up to possibly be a businessman or a politician,” Ferraro added. “It’s either one particular or the other, but you simply cannot be both of those.”

‘Accusations and scorn’

This is not the very first time that a enterprise owned by Bruneau and his relatives has captured the public’s focus in West Haven.

Bruneau, a two-expression metropolis councilman, also discovered himself in the spotlight in current months soon after community information unveiled that town officers in West Haven used federal pandemic reduction funding to pay Chip’s Wrecker Servicesan additional 1 of his family’s businesses — a lot more than $19,000.

That cash, according to the city’s records, was meant to compensate the company for offering meals for the duration of the pandemic, for renting tools to the town and for cleaning up following COVID-connected activities.

But before this year, a forensic audit commissioned by the point out Office environment of Coverage and Management identified that the cash Bruneau’s business been given was an ineligible use of the federal pandemic reduction funds.

The auditors argued that the invoices and other fiscal documents used to back up individuals expenses didn’t deliver ample depth about what form of operate Bruneau’s business performed in exchange for the income.

Even far more, the audit instructed the state must take a closer glance at other business dealings that Bruneau had with the West Haven govt, which he has helped to direct about the earlier two several years.

The auditors manufactured that advice right after the city’s fiscal records unveiled that a few providers managed by Bruneau had been paid at the very least $170,000 out of the city’s financial institution accounts in the past. Those payments, the auditors discussed, ought to be reviewed in purchase to ascertain if they ended up a “valid” use of taxpayer funds.

In reaction to the audit, Bruneau hired an attorney to defend his businesses and his name, and during a heated town council meeting in April, he experienced a letter from his legal professional read aloud to West Haven voters.

In the letter — which was tackled to the auditing firm hired by the state — the lawyer said all of the company transactions in between the city and Bruneau’s corporations had been over board. And he argued that Bruneau’s company background 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 browse. “It has led to my client possessing acquired accusations and scorn from article content in the newspaper and on social media.”

Absolutely nothing has been performed since that time to more check out Bruneau’s business associations with the town governing administration in West Haven, nevertheless OPM and the state’s Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) are in the system of ramping up their oversight of the city’s funds.

A spokesman for the point out agency said any selections pertaining to more investigations into the city’s spending and finances would need to have to be approved by the complete MARB board.

“All issues that bear on the governance and fiscal management of the city will be examined in due training course and will be ruled by relevant legislation,” reported Chris Collibee, OPM’s spokesperson.

Ferraro, the Republican lawmaker from West Haven, reported he thinks even further inquiries are warranted, thinking of the community distrust that proceeds to plague the town.

“The gentle of day requires to be shined on every thing in the city of West Haven,” Ferraro mentioned. “I believe almost everything should really be on the desk.”


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