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Grasso’s fate with $3.4M Norwalk paving contract is still anyone’s guess

Members of the Common Council Public Works Committee, seen Tuesday through the window of the Department of Public Works conference room, are, from left,
Members of the Common Council Public Works Committee, seen Tuesday through the window of the Department of Public Works conference room, are, from left, Michael Corsello (D-At Large), Tom Livingston (D-District E), Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) and John Igneri (D-District E).

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Common Council members grappled Tuesday with the thorny issue of whether it should award a $3.4 million paving contract to a company that many Norwalkers equate with unpaid property taxes and Zoning violations.

The Public Works Committee ultimately decided to kick the can down the road to next week’s Council meeting.  Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) suggested that the Council reject the bid, and award the contract to Deering Construction at an additional expense of $128,138; Joe Grasso Jr. protested that his company has not done anything to merit the hesitation; and Department of Public Works DPW Principal Engineer Lisa Burns pleaded, “Make a decision next Tuesday.”

Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) leads Tuesday's meeting in City Hall.
Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) leads Tuesday’s meeting in City Hall.

The Council could reject the bid from The Grasso Companies LLC given the verbiage in the city’s responsible bidder ordinance, Igneri said, reading an opinion letter from Assistant Corporation Counsel Diane Beltz-Jacobson. The Council can consider “related entities” when assessing “responsibility,” she wrote.

The Committee hadn’t seen the letter, which was written Tuesday; this prompted objections.

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The Grasso Companies is a new, separate organization, DPW Director Bruce Chimento said, echoing comments made previously by Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola. While other Grasso companies have a long history of unpaid taxes and Zoning violations, this one has Joe Grasso Jr., as its principal, not his father.

Joe Grasso Sr.’s company, The Original Grasso Construction, is in bankruptcy and has not paid its property taxes since 2009. It’s estimated that the tab is $270,000, although Grasso has not filed the paperwork necessary for a complete assessment since 2009.

Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B) pointed out that former DPW Director Hal Alvord denied The Grasso Companies LLC a contract; Grasso said that was before Coppola’s office researched the company and determined that it is separate from other Grasso companies.

“The Grasso Company LLC did two projects for you guys in 2014, a total of $5 million,” Grasso said.

“Now that they have done the research they know,” Grasso said. “We were not in violation at the time of the bid. We are not in violation now. We do not owe taxes. We are $130,000 lower than the second bidder. What else can I do? Is there something else I can do to be more compliant?”

Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) quoted Coppola as saying “the other night” that Grasso Companies is in Zoning violation.

Igneri said he was under the impression that Grasso was in violation when the bid was submitted.

“Grasso Companies LLC has never had a cease and desist, never had any violations, but Crystal has,” Grasso Jr. said, referring to Crystal LLC, owner of 314 Wilson Ave., where The Grasso Companies operates. “I can’t speak for Crystal. I don’t have a controlling interest in that company.”

“We have the discretion not to accept the bid if there are any related companies (in violation),” Igneri said.

Chimento referred to paragraph F of the ordinance:

“The City reserves the right to reject any or all bids and/or bidders as it may consider to be in its best interests or when it is determined that the public interest would be served by doing so.”

 

“I wouldn’t ever bid on a city job. That’s ridiculous. I think we would be setting a very unhealthy precedent if we based actions on that. Are we saying it’s a related entity? Or are we not saying it’s a related entity but because it was in violation because of the time it entered the bid?” said Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large), an attorney.

Grasso said he had no ownership interests in any of the other Grasso companies.

“Crystal has 30 tenants, one of which we are,” Grasso said. “If there are any violations it could be regarding the other tenants.”

There were millings on the property, a violation of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) regulations, Chimento said, asking, “Is that from paving contracts? How did they get placed there and by whom?”

“The property is in compliance,” Grasso said.

“Last year it wasn’t,” Chimento said.

Bowman quoted Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli as saying the last payment from Grasso was on Feb. 24.

The bid was made on Feb. 23, Chimento said.

Council members said they didn’t know when the taxes were due.

“We are being asked to be like judges in a courtroom here, or something,” Council member Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) said.

It’s been six weeks since the Council began considering the contract, Igneri said, and Burns emphasized that DPW needs to begin paving.

“This is a moving target. Every time we meet there’s a new variable that comes into play,” Corsello said.

The way the ordinance is written a bidder could be disqualified for getting a speeding ticket on the way to a meeting, Council member Michelle Maggio (R-District C) said.

“This leaves everybody open, any future bidders, if we read (the ordinance) as is,” she said.

“I came in here knowing what I was going to do and I am sitting here and I don’t know what I am going to do. That is never a good thing,” Council member Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) said, echoing Livingston’s requests for information on whether Grasso was in violation when the bid was made.

Bowman said, referring to the wishes of her constituents, that she’d be willing to give Grasso a future contract but Meadow Street is an issue this time.

“Based on what I heard prior to tonight, I was in favor of disqualifying Grasso because of the related entities,” Maggio said. “But reading about these other fees and penalties, I feel bad for the other bidders if we are going to be looking back five years (for a history of violations). … I am still leaning toward Deering but right now we need clarification on that.”

Burns said they’d get the information.

“I don’t want somebody to all of a sudden get in compliance because they know the bid is due, then forget about it,” Livingston said.

Bonenfant and Bowman voted against awarding Grasso the contract, or, in other words, to move the potential contract to a vote by the full Council on Tuesday. Igneri abstained. Melendez, Corsello, Livingston and Maggio voted yes.

Comments

2 responses to “Grasso’s fate with $3.4M Norwalk paving contract is still anyone’s guess”

  1. Mitch Adis

    Grasso claims he does not have a “controlling interest in Crystal LLC”. That would indicate to me that they have an interest and are to a certain degree culpable.

    Easter may be quiet in the Grasso household. Maybe if the family would pay their bills the others in the family wouldn’t lose out on bids.

  2. molly

    I am not understanding why both the public works council and the common council is having such a hard time deciding on this. It seems that neither wants to take an responsibility in doing the right thing. What are you afraid of?? Are these people who run Grasso friends of yours?

    And when did it become OK to pay a fraction of your taxes and then get rewarded for it by doing a job for the City that is going to be paid by the taxpayers who did pay their taxes in full and on time?

    No matter whose name is on the current company, they are all related and have all been a blemish to this town for many many years.

    There is no confusion here, if they are awarded this job it’s because someone in our city government is letting them get away with it.

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