SOUTHBURY — The Board of Selectmen, meeting Thursday, June 17, began with an introduction of Gerald Lukowski as public works director.
At the request of First Selectman Jeff Manville, Mr. Lukowski said he’d recently retired from 35 years of service with the Connecticut Army National Guard.
His experience is in facilities construction and maintenance, with work in roads and bridges.
He received his commission as a second lieutenant from the University of Connecticut and, during the meeting, he briefly described his work during the pandemic.
After working with the state Department of Transportation, he traded a 70-mile, round-trip commute for an 16-mile trip as he lives in Middlebury.
His goals for the town are to improve communications and to create and execute plans. “It’s great to be here.”
Mr. Manville asked Mr. Lukowski to characterize the department.
He responded that the employees are great, hard workers but he found a lack of plans ready to execute and an efficient way to address communications. “The first day I turned on my email, I had 3,475 messages and 60 voice mails.”
Emphasizing his preference for five and 10-year plans, he said he’d like to code road conditions as red, yellow and green to help visualize where the work is needed.
Selectman Emily Harrison thanked Mr. Lukowski for his service and Selectman George Bertram said he anticipates a level of technical and managerial professionalism.
During the meeting, Mr. Manville reported that he had anonymously surveyed department heads regarding their interest in creating five-year goals, describing low interest in the idea.
Mr. Bertram expressed confusion, clarifying that he would not expect the Board of Selectmen to set the goals and did not know why that was a question on the survey.
Selectman Jason A. Buchsbaum would like the role of the board to be clarified. “The last thing we want to do is politicize municipal employment.
Acknowledging that the town would not be competitive with private sector salaries, the board considered the idea that the town should reward employees who are meeting objectives while being competitive with other towns.
Mr. Manville shared the survey results with the board, expecting to return to the topic at the next board meeting.
Addressing Edgewood Bath & Tennis and what would happen to the pool at Ballantine Park, Mr. Manville said the board would need to discuss the topic after an engineering study is complete.
He asked the selectmen to think about ideas for Ballantine Park should the Edgewood purchase go through.
He wondered if the town could build a community center, qualifying his comments with the statement that he was not endorsing any one idea, to suggest a walking track or pickleball court.
He also floated the idea of a multi-purpose space that could be used to stage a community theater program. “We also have to think about what it would take… if Edgewood was not an option we wanted to pursue.”
Mr. Manville pointed out that construction costs for a pool could be approximately $4 million, including a bath house and there would be a cost of $300,000 to $400,000 associated with creating an accurate estimate. “Either of these options would go to referendum.”
He asked the selectmen to think outside the box and consider Edgewood for pool and tennis and repurposing the space at Ballantine as a community center, possibly selling the existing site of the senior center and Parks and Recreation Department.
The selectmen held a brief discussion in response, during which Ms. Harrison noted that it would be difficult to make decisions until more information is available.
Before the meeting adjourned, Mr. Manville alerted the board to a letter sent to the town attorney on Tuesday, June 15, and forwarded to the first selectman regarding alleged defamatory and discriminatory statements made by Ms. Harrison. He characterized the matter as a lawsuit.
Mr. Manville said he would retain a personal attorney at the town’s expense as the matter moves forward. “Of course, there will be no comments about this; this is a legal matter.”
Ms. Harrison said that, as the letter refers to her, she would comment. She noted that the letter was mailed on Monday, May 3, and the first selectman’s statement that he received the information in June was, “Highly inaccurate. There is nothing in here that says that there is a suit. This is a cease-and-desist letter.”
The letter was written by Scott D. Brenner, partner with the Parlatore Law Group, Stamford, which is representing Ms. Harrison at her own expense, and detailing her allegations of defamatory and discriminatory statements made by Mr. Manville.
The letter is addressed to the first selectman and said, “Upon receipt of this letter, and without prejudice to any claims of liability against you and/or the Town of Southbury, CT, as a result of your actions, we request the following: That you immediately Cease and Desist from any and all such above-described behavior.”
She continued, “I’m asking Jeff to stop talking about me and presenting lies. I have not leaked information from executive session as you [Mr. Manville] have told other people. Furthermore, I asked Jeff to please sit down with me regarding this matter. He told me that it would be inappropriate to talk to me about things related to the town.”
After Ms. Harrison spoke with the town attorney, who advised her to speak with Mr. Manville, she reported that Mr. Manville did not respond to her requests for a meeting. “I tried to resolve this amicably.”
Mr. Manville answered, “That’s fine. I will retain an attorney and we can discuss it with the attorney.”