West Haven official OK’d contracts for family business

Gwen Catherine

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Robert Bruneau, a city councilman and fire commissioner in West Haven, applied his elected placement as a chief of the West Shore Fireplace 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 hearth commissioners — accredited more than $81,000 in payments to Bruneau’s Garage, which he and his family members have owned and operated for far more than a decade.


That income was reportedly compensated to the garage in return for the firm fixing and sustaining the fireplace 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 rate of $1,500 for every month to protect labor expenses and tens of thousands of bucks extra to supply belts, batteries, hydraulic hoses, brake pads, air filters, oil filters, water pumps and doorway latches for the hearth trucks.

The data spotlight how Bruneau — who was also lately singled out in a state audit that examined questionable expending by the West Haven city govt — signed off on much more than 50 % of the 46 invoices that have been submitted to the fireplace district more than the previous two decades. That put him in a situation where by he was verifying the components and companies that his family’s enterprise was billing the hearth district for.

As the chairman of the board of fire commissioners, Bruneau has considerable impact over West Shore’s $11 million annual budget, and he assists to make a decision what contractors do organization with the fire district, which operates independently of the metropolis governing administration in West Haven.

Stephen Scafariello, the chief of the West Shore Hearth District, explained Bruneau’s Garage was preferred in July 2020 to manage the department’s fire engines and other gear subsequent a general public bidding procedure. He reported the enterprise was awarded the agreement simply because no other business enterprise responded to an advertisement that was positioned in the West Haven Voice, a hyper-local newspaper that is revealed just about every other 7 days.

Continue to, ethics experts explained Bruneau’s involvement in the contracts and the payments to his family’s company signifies a immediate conflict of interest, no subject how the procurement method worked or how a lot of organizations submitted bids.

“If you are signing invoices for issues involving your corporation or your fast family’s organization, that’s a obvious conflict,” said Peter Lewandowski, who serves as the govt director of Connecticut’s Workplace of Point out Ethics.

Lewandowski and the other team at the state ethics business office do not engage in any part in enforcing ethics legal guidelines in municipalities or any other area governments in Connecticut. But he stated Bruneau’s actions would almost undoubtedly run afoul of any ethics guidelines that are in area for the fire district.

State, community and federal codes of ethics, Lewandowski claimed, all prohibit folks from utilizing their federal government places of work to choose official actions that advantage on their own or their loved ones associates. So, as well, do several corporate codes of conduct.

“That’s genuinely ethics 101,” Lewandowski claimed.

Scafariello, the hearth main, verified by using e-mail that the West Shore Hearth District has an ethics code in location, but he and an lawyer for the fire district did not straight away offer that plan to the CT Mirror.

‘Business as normal’

Bruneau, who was 1st elected as a fire commissioner in 2017 and has served as a West Haven metropolis councilman considering that 2020, reported he never ever noticed that ethics code prior to the CT Mirror getting in touch with the fire district this month, and he stated he did not know it was inappropriate for him to indicator off on checks to his family’s organization.

“I didn’t see anything mistaken with it at the time, and now that it has appear to our focus, about an ethics situation, we would absolutely glimpse to do issues a minor bit differently moving ahead,” he mentioned.

Bruneau reported he and his loved ones have worked on the fire engines for the West Shore Fire District for a long time — extended right before he was commissioner, again to when he was serving as a superintendent with the division.

His family’s providers, he extra, have also carried out operate for West Haven’s two other fire districts and the city’s police department.

“It’s just some thing we have completed appropriate together,” he said, “and my loved ones has completed it for decades, to be completely genuine with you. So when this came about and nobody bid on it, I truly just didn’t realize that it would be a difficulty. For us, it was just business as ordinary.”

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

“There was almost nothing — no intent here — to get worked steered toward any household member by any means,” he stated. “I do a great deal for the law enforcement section. I do a whole lot for the fireplace office. It was by no means about dollars. That is the furthest factor to worry about for us simply because we do far more for nothing than we invoice them for.”

“It was just an oversight. There was almost nothing undermined by it,” he additional. “The only issue I have ever completed is fret about the West Shore Hearth Department and holding the people of the West Shore safe.”

Other elected leaders who depict West Haven inhabitants claimed Bruneau’s determination to indicator off on payments to his family’s company cast the hearth district in a negative gentle and could further damage the public’s have confidence in, which has now been tested in West Haven as the result of an ongoing federal felony investigation.

“While I comprehend that the agreement went by way of the correct bid process, as an elected official, you should really not be included in any conversations or voting on contracts that are effective to you or your household,” said point out Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven. “Commissioners want to recuse by themselves from these actions in get to reduce any dilemma concerning the appropriateness of the approach.”

Condition Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, voiced a identical belief. And he argued that Bruneau necessary to make a decision what is additional important to him: his family’s firms or his elected places of work.

“If you are going to be in that place, you need to know when to recuse on your own,” stated Ferraro, who signifies most of the individuals who pay assets taxes to the West Shore Fireplace District. “I really don’t assume the public likes listening to that individuals who are in positions to make contract conclusions are awarding those contracts to family associates. I do not believe people want to hear that.”

“You know, my opinion is you gotta make your mind up to either be a businessman or a politician,” Ferraro added. “It’s both one or the other, but you simply cannot be equally.”

‘Accusations and scorn’

This isn’t the very first time that a business enterprise owned by Bruneau and his spouse and children has captured the public’s notice in West Haven.

Bruneau, a two-term city councilman, also found himself in the highlight in current months following community data uncovered that city officials in West Haven employed federal pandemic aid funding to pay out Chip’s Wrecker Supportone more just one of his family’s corporations — more than $19,000.

That dollars, in accordance to the city’s information, was intended to compensate the firm for delivering foodstuff in the course of the pandemic, for leasing devices to the city and for cleaning up just after COVID-similar situations.

But earlier this year, a forensic audit commissioned by the point out Place of work of Coverage and Management established that the cash Bruneau’s corporation received was an ineligible use of the federal pandemic reduction funds.

The auditors argued that the invoices and other economical documents applied to again up those people expenditures didn’t provide sufficient depth about what variety of do the job Bruneau’s organization carried out in trade for the money.

Even a lot more, the audit suggested the state should really get a nearer search at other organization dealings that Bruneau had with the West Haven authorities, which he has served to direct around the past two years.

The auditors produced that recommendation right after the city’s financial information disclosed that three businesses controlled by Bruneau experienced been paid out at least $170,000 out of the city’s lender accounts in the past. Individuals payments, the auditors stated, ought to be reviewed in buy to decide if they ended up a “valid” use of taxpayer income.

In reaction to the audit, Bruneau hired an lawyer to defend his enterprises and his reputation, and throughout a heated town council meeting in April, he experienced a letter from his lawyer browse aloud to West Haven voters.

In the letter — which was dealt with to the auditing business employed by the point out — the lawyer explained all of the enterprise transactions amongst the town and Bruneau’s businesses had been over board. And he argued that Bruneau’s organization background was “unimpeachable,” and his character “unblemished.”

“While you have not accused Mr. Bruneau of any criminal or moral wrongdoing, the innuendo is hazardous and unfair,” the letter examine. “It has led to my client owning gained accusations and scorn from content articles in the newspaper and on social media.”

Nothing at all has been finished since that time to further more take a look at Bruneau’s business associations with the city governing administration in West Haven, even though OPM and the state’s Municipal Accountability Evaluation Board (MARB) are in the approach of ramping up their oversight of the city’s funds.

A spokesman for the state agency explained any choices pertaining to even more investigations into the city’s paying out and funds would want to be approved by the comprehensive MARB board.

“All issues that bear on the governance and fiscal administration of the city will be examined in thanks system and will be governed by relevant regulation,” claimed Chris Collibee, OPM’s spokesperson.

Ferraro, the Republican lawmaker from West Haven, mentioned he believes further inquiries are warranted, taking into consideration the general public distrust that proceeds to plague the metropolis.

“The mild of day wants to be shined on everything in the town of West Haven,” Ferraro stated. “I imagine all the things ought to be on the desk.”

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