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Monday, January 14, 2008

2 aldermen want Building Dept. probe; mayor blasts idea

By Brian McCready
Milford Bureau Chief
— Two Democratic members of the Board of Aldermen say they plan to initiate an "investigation" into the practices of the Building Department.
Alderman Martin Hardiman, D-3, and Suzanne Manning, D-3, attended a meeting of the Devon Revitalization Committee last week and claimthere have been numerous complaints concerning the Building Department.
"We’re looking at investigating. Whenever a group of people call something into question it needs to be investigated," Manning said.
During the public portion of the Devon meeting, Hardiman said aldermen will look at not re-appointing Building Department official Thomas Raucci. Afterward, Hardiman clarified that aldermen want to hold a special meeting to have a frank discussion concerning performance of the department.
He also said a resolution urging the mayor to change leadership in the building office is a possibility. During the Devon meeting, there was significant discussion from several members and attendees about problems in the Building Department, including long waits to obtain permits. The topic is not new to the city, as it has been a point of discussion by the city’s Economic Development Commission for the past year.
But Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. blasted Democrats for publicly threatening Raucci’s position, saying Raucci belongs to a union and they may be handing him a "multimillion-dollar lawsuit." Richetelli also stressed the Building Department has become more efficient in the past couple of months, and an investigation would waste taxpayer dollars.
Raucci said he has nothing to hide, welcomes an investigation and would like an opportunity to speak with anyone who has concerns. He said the State Building inspector recently reviewed his office and found it performing above expectations despite the need for more staff.
"Instead of wasting money on an investigation, they should put the money back into giving me proper staffing levels," Raucci said. "I’ve done nothing wrong. You want to investigate, go ahead."
Raucci also noted he must be doing something right as the city’s the grand list of taxable property increased 86 percent last year, two new shopping centers have been constructed, and the Westfield Connecticut Post mall completed a major expansion ahead of schedule.
The issue of the Building Department surfaced at the Devon meeting when Kingdom Life Bishop Jay Ramirez raised concerns about Smith-Craft Real Estate Corp. dropping on plans to construct a $24 million mixed-use project in Devon, which would have been similar to Schooner Wharf downtown.
Devon Revitalization Chairman James Amann, who also is the state House speaker, and Ramirez, both said they had spoken with Smith-Craft officials, who expressed frustration with bureaucratic red tape in working with the city. Amann said it was his frustration with the Building Department in 1980 that led him to run for the Board of Aldermen.
"It’s been a consistent problem with this community for so long," Amann added.
New PZB member Kim Rose, D-3, said that the department has been a "huge problem" for a long time.
But Smith-Craft Co-President Robert Smith said Raucci is being picked on, and is the "most competent" building official with whom he has ever worked.
Smith-Craft is one of the city’s top five taxpayers and has projects in 17 different communities in the state.
"Tom’s level of sophistication is unique in the business," said Smith adding that Raucci’s office is severely understaffed.
Richetelli added that Smith-Craft passed on Devon because the zoning makes it hard to develop the area, and that as soon as the plans were announced several people rallied to oppose the project.