NORWALK, Conn. — Joe Grasso, Jr., was narrowly awarded a second Norwalk contract Tuesday, amid concerns that refusing him the work might mean that sidewalks and curbs would not get done this year.
Grasso could go to court and file an injunction if he were not awarded the $826,618 contract, Common Council Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) and Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said, before the Council voted 7 to 6 to go ahead with the deal.
The brief meeting ended with sharp words from Common Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B), who argued, along with Council member Travis Simms (D-District B), against awarding the contract to Grasso.
“I think it’s completely ridiculous how often you all vote against what’s right for South Norwalk,” Bowman said. “I am not saying everybody, but I am saying a lot of you, especially Democrats. We live in South Norwalk. We know what is best for our people. We know what is going on down there…. When the people of South Norwalk ask you to vote a certain way you should say take note.”
No members of the public spoke Tuesday against awarding The Grasso Companies LLC the contract, although members of the Village Creek Association have been vocally against Grasso in the recent past.
Village Creek is in District E; Bowman and Simms represent District B.
The Grasso Companies LLC was awarded a $3.4 million paving contract in April, after much debate and dissension because of the Grasso family’s history.
The Original Grasso Construction, owned by Joe Grasso Sr., owes up to $270,590 in property taxes due to a bankruptcy and is resented by some as a flagrant violator of Norwalk Zoning codes.
Norwalk Corporation Counsel’s office has researched the companies and declared them to be separate entities. It’s the first time a company owned by Joe Grasso, Jr., has been awarded a contract.
The Grasso Companies LLC has the same Wilson Avenue address as The Original Grasso Construction and Grasso Commercial LLC, which was slapped with a $112,001 federal tax lien in March.
Grasso’s paving contract came with provisions; the Council can cancel it if there are violations, or penalties can be levied.
The vote on the sidewalk and curb contract was tabled at the June 13 Council meeting after Village Creek Homeowners Association (VCHOA) members said they had received a threatening letter from Grasso’s lawyer.
Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) said he had concerns about the letter, as did others.
“Mr. Grasso has sent the Council a note on that, saying he didn’t mean to stifle genuine concerns,” Livingston said. “… I take him at his word.”
Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) said he and Livingston met with Grasso and a VCHOA representative.
“I think they are communicating on much better terms,” Igneri said, elaborating that Grasso has promised to move the companies trucks away from the creek so that perhaps the noise won’t travel toward the homeowners when the trucks start early in the morning.
Grasso still has an outstanding obligation, Simms said.
“This is a company that has not paid taxes to the city since 2007,” Simms said, speaking of The Original Grasso Construction. “…I don’t think we should be approving additional contracts.”
“They are separate entities, Joe Grasso Jr. is separate from his father,” Livingston said. “He is not in any violation of any laws…. Mr. Grasso seems to be sincere in his efforts to address his neighbors’ needs.”
“I understand from a non-emotional part and a legal point you’ve probably got to vote for this in the sense of it meets the smell test from a legal point, it can be challenged in a court,” Council member Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said. “I think overall, experience has taught me it would pan out in favor of Mr. Grasso… I don’t think some of his apologies and meetings and that would have happened without intimidating factor that he might not get the contract from the city of Norwalk…. I am just not buying into it.”
“I do believe Grasso is making attempt to be a better neighbor,” Council member Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) said, going on to add that at this point, this late into the summer, no one would be pulling the contract and, “I think the conditions are kind of meaningless.”
“They are asking us to disassociate the two businesses yet their promise to start engines at a certain time and clean things up, seems like that is related to the property,” Bowman said. “… I don’t see how the city can get into legal trouble when they are not disassociating themselves.”
“Mr. Grasso did not tell me he was going to be policing the entire grounds, he said he was policing his own equipment. So there was no confusion there as to what he was doing,” said Livingston, an attorney.
The trucks start early so Grasso can meet the requirements of his city contract, Livingston said.
“I don’t condone the starting time even if it is a city project because that is against our rules and regulations,” Bowman said.
Grasso hasn’t had enough time on the paving contract to show that he’s a responsible contractor, Minority Leader Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D) said.
When you’re the majority party it gets hard, because you have to make the tough decisions to govern, Kimmel said.
Emotionally, you feel one way but then you “talk to a dozen or so lawyers and you realize it’s much more complicated than that and you have to make a responsible decision” to balance the needs of neighborhoods but protect the city from legal exposure, rather than wind up in another executive session debating an expensive settlement, he said.
“Being in the majority sometimes is very hard,” Kimmel said. “…I understand how difficult this is but on the other hand we have to deal with what we consider the best interests of the city going forward and dealing with a very difficult situation.”
“We made our bed and we need to lie in it,” Kydes said. “…I am not comfortable sitting here and not having our sidewalks and road paved, issues aside. All eyes are on Grasso at this point.”
The sidewalks are in South Norwalk, Simms said.
“I am in support of getting them fixed,” he said. “…I don’t feel like we are being responsible. It’s kind of like favoritism here.”
“We all want roads and sidewalks fixed,” Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A) said. “The problem is we awarded them to someone who was questionable and we did it with restrictions… that we were going to monitor. We haven’t even gone past the 30-day limit.”
The letter really set him off, given that it wasn’t scribbled on paper but sent from a lawyer, with thought, time and intention, he said.
“I was shocked, it seemed like something out of Boardwalk Empire so I have to vote no,” Serasis said. “I don’t feel the good faith in that letter, to say ‘sorry.’”
“This wouldn’t happen in Rowayton. It wouldn’t,” Bowman said, mentioning the early morning trucks. “…No one will be saying let’s give them another chance after this.”
If it were as easy as awarding the contract to the next lowest bidder and paying a premium, he’d vote no, Kydes said.
But legal counsel said there’d be a lawsuit followed by an injunction, and the work wouldn’t get done, he said, explaining, “I am just dealing with the reality of what is happening right now.”
“Grasso is perfectly within its rights to start its trucks in the morning,” Igneri said. “… They not allowed to load construction equipment…. I think we just keep going around and around on this… we legally should not be discriminating against Grasso Jr. for what’s going on on the property.”
Voting yes were Michael Corsello (D-At Large), Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large), Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), Kimmel, Livingston, Igneri and Kydes. Voting no were Bonenfant, Hempstead, Serasis, Bowman, Simms and O’Toole Giandurco.
Construction companies should be started in Rowayton and Silvermine, Bowman said.
“We all can vote for those businesses to continue,” she said. “…South Norwalk, I want to make sure you see: these are Democrats who continually vote against your quality of life.”
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