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Lopez: Answer Questions On Harding Before Construction

June 27th, 2014 · 23 Comments · Development and Zoning, Education, News and Events

Carmen Lopez

Carmen Lopez, CT Post photo

In a commentary that first appeared in the June 26 edition of the CT Post, retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez takes aim at the process to approve construction of a new Harding High School on Boston Avenue property owned by General Electric. Lopez asserts far too many questions have not been answered about contamination on the property. “The refusal to answer legitimate questions, while accusing the questioners of “delay” is inevitably the last refuge of a political scoundrel bereft of a cogent argument.” Her commentary follows:

The 1949 movie “All the King’s Men,” based on the novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren opens with the main character, Willie Stark, confronting political corruption in a small southern town.

Stark, played by Broderick Crawford, claims that a schoolhouse was built with substandard material and that the cost was inflated by a politically connected contractor. The political establishment tries to silence Willie, by concocting and pretending to enforce a non-existent ordinance which prohibits addressing a public gathering.

Thugs are sent to assault his son while the lad is attempting to pass out campaign flyers.

Stark loses the election for county treasurer, but when a stair case in the new school collapses, killing several children, those who attend the funeral show genuine remorse.

“We should have listened to you, Willie,” the mourners sob, although it is too late to save the dead school children.

At the February 2014 meeting of the Bridgeport Board of Education Facilities Committee chairman John E. Bagley, in the best tradition of democratic populism, allowed members of the public to be heard. The topic was the proposed construction of a new Harding High School on a contaminated Boston Avenue site owned by General Electric and used as a factory for many years.

Any objective review of the transcript of the Facilities Committee meeting reveals that Bagley was fair, even handed and respectful.

The debate was not one-sided. Members of the Finch administration were given the floor, as were construction trade members, as well as a member of Finch’s Republican choir. All opinions were solicited, all input was welcomed, and no one was demeaned in the process.

So how did Mayor Finch, his appointees, and press personnel react? In a word, they were apoplectic!

How dare John Bagley bring a little participatory democracy to Bridgeport, they fumed. He had some nerve allowing the masses to speak before well-paid city and state employees.

Some even claimed that Bagley had violated Robert’s Rules of Order and the Freedom of Information Act.

Of course, in the best tradition of the fictitious ordinance applied to Willie Stark, no provision of Robert’s Rules of Order or the FOIA prohibits the receipt of public input.

Bridgeport officials seem to fear the voice of the people. Therefore, officials and employees routinely and reflexively seek to squelch meaningful public participation in the governmental process.

The city’s opposition to public participation surfaced once again at the June Facilities Committee meeting. This time the issue was a new roof for Bassick High School. John Bagley continued his policy of allowing parents and community members to address the committee concerning this long-delayed roof repair project.

Since a City Council Resolution had established a building committee in 2011 to facilitate the roof repair, those in attendance wanted to know “what is taking so long?”

Bridgeport’s Director of Facilities, Jorge Garcia, objected to the public participation and was very annoyed.

Fortunately, after 11 years in the National Basketball Association, John Bagley can recognize trash talk when he hears it. The public was able to have its say, much to the frustration of the city employees in attendance.

The unreported story and the unanswered questions are these: Why does the Finch administration continue to make an issue of the fact that an elected official gives the people who elected him the right to be heard on issues of public importance? What are Mayor Finch and his administration afraid of?

Instead of focusing on whether the people of Bridgeport should be allowed to speak and voice their opinion, perhaps attention should be redirected, particularly on the Harding issue, to the many unanswered questions, such as:

1. In December 2010, the site of the existing Harding High School was designated as the site of the new school by state officials. In fact, in an April 2, 2010 article, the Connecticut Post quoted Mayor Finch as saying that the existing Central Avenue location could be used for the new school. Did the proposed location change before, or after, the illegal school board takeover in July 2011? What role did the chairman of the illegally appointed Board, Robert Trefry, the former president of Bridgeport Hospital, play in the decision to change the location?

2. Is there a contract requiring General Electric to convey 17 acres of the Boston Avenue site to the city of Bridgeport? If the answer is yes, what are the terms of the contract and why has no one seen a copy?

3. The proposed site is adjacent to Remington Woods. If contaminants migrate, through flooding, ground water, or other means, who will be responsible for any subsequent remediation?

4. Why were zoning approvals sought, and outside counsel paid $10,000 before we know the site is safe, and approved by the State Department of Administrative Services or the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection?

6. Has any site as contaminated as the GE property on Boston Avenue been approved for use as a school anywhere in the state of Connecticut?

These are only a few of the important questions, which have been highlighted and which have gone unanswered by City officials and their corporate collaborators at O & G Industries, Inc. Instead, we are asked, why did John Bagley allow the people to be heard?

The refusal to answer legitimate questions, while accusing the questioners of “delay” is inevitably the last refuge of a political scoundrel bereft of a cogent argument.

Members of the Bridgeport City Council and the BOE must not be coerced into silence, or stampeded into hasty action, by the mayor and his political spin doctors.

Twenty years from now, we don’t want to listen to an anguished citizen exclaim, “We should have listened!”

By then, it will be too late.

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23 Comments so far ↓

  • John Marshall Lee

    Thank goodness the “fireworks” in Bridgeport are not restricted to Seaside Park this evening. The Barnum “fireworks” will be concerned with public entertainment, including the Symphony Concert preceding the show, and public safety will be a consideration, no doubt. I expect as in most years the public will provide plenty of “Ooohs …” and “Ahhhs …”.

    But what retired Judge Lopez has done is to look at the data, such as is available, and made some connections with what is present and what should be there to create a confirmation of public safety and allow taxpayers to believe prudent, careful and thrifty financial decisions are made in a timely fashion. When oversight and monitoring appear absent, doesn’t the public have a duty to speak up? And when City officials attempt to use public meetings, not all of which are announced on the City site and which operate with rules other than City Council rules (that outlaw public comments at Council Committee meetings, the only place discussion and dialogue on City topics happens previous to a vote) that frustrate cleansing communication between supposed representatives (City Council elected) of the people and the public itself.

    Consider the Ooohs and Ahhhs that might come from the public if some genuine financial reporting happened as it does in other communities that revealed the number of people actually on the City payroll at any given moment, the effect attrition has on said budget, and the use of grant funds to maintain the City operation well beyond the Mayor’s claims the City is operating with a reduced workforce during his years in office. If Grants are not provided to the CC, is there any monitoring? If there is no internal auditor, which City employee is performing the duties of that party according to a post-Ganim ordinance on purchasing? And where is the paperwork required by the Ordinance? Let the public speak, briefly and to the point, and provide a response that creates an honest expectation of accomplishment! Revolutionary ideas? Time will tell.

  • David Moore

    Judge Lopez, every question you have asked here is completely legitimate. Harding currently serves approximately 1200 students right now and the new school is only being built for 800 students. If the school is serving a third less students, why can’t it be built in its current location? The answer is pretty clear, the non-taxpaying Bridgeport Hospital needs the land to expand. I didn’t realize the location changed after the illegal takeover in which Robert Trefry presided as chair of the BBOE, but it only adds to the storyline. There is a current VP from GE who currently serves on Bridgeport Hospital’s Board of Directors. Building Harding on such a contaminated site is not what is best for students, it is what is best for Finch, GE and Bridgeport Hospital.

  • invincible

    Thank you Judge Lopez and Mr. JML. One might say do not thank me, get involved. I am involved. I choose not to be too loud because of repercussions. I want to fight to keep Harding where it currently is. Use the money to fix it … it can be done. Our Mayor thinks by naming the school after OBAMA it will make a difference. Well it will not. What has Obama done for Bridgeport? Nothing. Stop trying to fool the people by selling a name. Fight Carmen, fight. LEAVE HARDING WHERE IT IS!

  • Pete Spain

    “Answer Questions … Before Construction”

    Yes!

    How hard is it?

    Thank you, Carmen Lopez.

  • Jimfox

    GHS and MISA Environmental Testing

    Background: In mid July 2011, during the course of the excavation work for the Greenwich High School Music Instructional Space and Auditorium (MISA) project, unexpected soil conditions were discovered in the West (or back) parking lot, adjacent to the fields, which prompted immediate environmental testing. The site work in the west lot was stopped and the excavation area was contained. The initial tests reflected low levels of some metals, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the soil. A second round of samples was taken on July 20th and included soil and indoor and outdoor air testing. The results of the air quality tests indicate all selected factors are within acceptable levels. The results of the second round of soil samples duplicated the previous results, which showed low levels of some metals, VOCs and PCBs in the soil. On July 29, 2011 the results of a third set of soil samples taken closer to fields 3 and 4 at a depth of one foot beneath the surface, reflected PCBs levels that are above acceptable standards for residential or commercial use as determined by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). These results prompted the closure of all fields as a precaution until a more comprehensive understanding of the extent of the issue could be determined.

    The Greenwich Public Schools/Board of Education, the Town of Greenwich and the GHS-MISA Building Committee are working in collaboration to address the environmental concerns of the fields at Greenwich High School. Licensed Environmental Professionals have been contracted to plan for and conduct more comprehensive testing. The Town and State Departments of Health and Environmental Protection, and the Federal EPA are also involved in consultation on the testing and remediation plans.
    www .greenwichschools.org/page.cfm?p=10019

  • BOE SPY

    This is the problem. The meeting was advertised as the board wanting to be informed on the school from expert guest speakers. The board’s tactic of ambushing these speakers is unethical, unprofessional and unfair. If a professional group asks another professional group to an event for a reason they are expected to hold themselves to this implied contract. These people prepared for a specific event. They set a certain amount of time out of their lives to meet with the board and do a specific thing. Then the board chose to ambush these people with public commentary. Mind you, only one side would have been at this meeting prepared for this agenda. As a lawyer and judge, Carmen, more than most, should understand the concept of unfair surprise, a recognized legal concept. There is also the FACT all her concerns have been addressed many times and she has no proof these things will present an issue. Neither Carmen nor the BOE have contracted an environmentalist to follow the cleanup, construction or advise the board.
    Here are possible answers to Carmen’s questions.
    1. The current site is too small (eight acres) to provide for a building, field, parking and setback. The new site is 17.2 acres. This would be in line with the lot Central and most suburban schools are on. Why do we want to relegate Harding students to the current postage stamp the school currently sits on? The new school will be free, with the state paying 80% and the sale of the property paying the rest. The construction of the new school and hospital addition will provide jobs today as opposed to future gains that may be realized years (a la Steel Point) away.
    2. File an FOI. People do it all the time. Show us your formal request for the contract. Oh yeah, you’re the ‘nobody ever told us’ BOE.
    3. You are assuming contaminates WILL migrate. What leads you to this assumption? High Horizons and Multi-cultural Magnet schools boarder the same site.
    4. The site will be made safe. That is the plan. What leads you to believe it will not be safe? Where is your expert testimony?
    5. There is no question 5? That question must have been posed in executive session. The part of the BOE meeting that is a secret from the public. When they talk about their screw-ups they do not want to make public.
    6. Schools in CT? Maybe, but nationwide, yes. Other sites have been cleaned and used for many things. A grocery store in Stratford, housing, etc.
    cpeo.org/pubs/BFschools.pdf

    These questions are no more than unsubstantiated paranoid rambling. Without expert advice and only her own beliefs she may as well be arguing we shouldn’t build the new school because God does not want us to. Like her original argument, the answer to this argument could only be validated by her and God. The city, state and GE EXPERTS said the site will be cleaned to residential standards.

    • Lifelong Bpt

      BOE SPY, you are right. I don’t have any problem with Judge Lopez and others asking the tough questions. This plan needs to be vetted.
      However, she misleads when she says this was open to the public. It was not. To have full public speaking at the meetings, you have to notify everyone in the community and make it part of the agenda. The “public speaking” for this meeting was essentially invited guests there to question the guest speakers. Especially the first meeting where Bagley practically turned the meeting over to the judge and Maria. At the time of the first meeting this was an issue that had to be addressed by the full board.
      No problem with the questioning, just have issue with the ambush tactic, which they said they would not do again, but they did.

  • BPT REBEL

    Our kids need a new Harding High. Fact is Judge Lopez and her fraternal twin Maria Pereira will fight anything and everything.
    Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong but the moral of this story is you keep crying wolf and don’t pick your battles, your constant bitching and moaning goes on deaf ears and your reputation gets low enough to crawl under an ant.

    • Godiva2011

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. Carmen Lopez is full of herself and talks just for the sake of hearing herself talk. Pereira has serious issues with authority figures. Both of them need to just shut up and disappear, plain and simple. Balking and whining about a new school is just ridiculous. My only qualm is renaming it “Obama High School” when Harding High School is an established and recognizable institution in Bridgeport.

  • Bridgeporteur

    This entire process project has been disingenuous. Fueled by greed in the name of what is good for the kids.
    This was a backroom deal in a culture that runs on backroom deals, with Bridgeport Hospital and General Electric joining the usual suspects at the table.
    1.2 million square feet of industrial, taxable property now off the tax rolls. It was a perfectly good building. The public outcry to save it was ignored and a secret deal was made. One of the rationales for not saving it was it was too dirty. Now when there is $100 million to make, it is not dirty.
    New buildings are the mantra but the test scores and graduation rates keep going down. And now there is all manner of sexual activity going on in the restrooms of the high schools. Kids roam the hallways, dressed as they like and doing what they like at their own will.
    The only rates that will be going up are our tax rates. It takes a lot of money to maintain all this added space.
    And now what’s this I hear? A new Finch gimmick to name it the Obama High School?
    Time for a new mayor and new elected officials.

  • BPT REBEL

    This city is a waste on every level.
    Every schoolteacher and police officer get their start in Bridgeport and leave as soon as they can for greener pastures.
    Someone in City Hall or PD gets a wild hair up their ass, they cut overtime to prove their stupid agenda and we lose good cops.
    Starting pay for teachers and city workers including BFD and BPD is less than the ‘burbs so good people get broken in and run as soon as they can.
    The Mayor, Stafstrom and Testa hook their cronies up through Finch with cushy no-show jobs while the real civil servants get laid off or furloughed or OT cut.
    My Hooker school district house has been up for sale over two months now without a solid nibble and it is priced to sell.
    When a solid idea comes along the Pereiras and Lopezes make it as such we don’t know if it’s bad or good as they fight everything and you can’t pay attention to them and their agenda-filled WFP, they cry wolf at everything.

    Call me sick and tired of the same old shit different day in Bpt.

    • BOE SPY

      Don’t believe the “‘burbs teachers get paid more” hype. Darien (#1 district in CT) teachers make $44K. BPT teachers make $42K. Darien pays about $40 a week more. So you work in BPT and live in Shelton or Stratford. Or, you work in Darien and live where, Stamford, Norwalk (at +50% the cost of Shelton)? Or you drive 3 hours/day to and from work. All that for $40/week. Don’t fall for that phoney baloney nonsense. The CEA just pushes that idea to get teachers a raise while the people of BPT suffer and the kids get dumber. The same thing goes for cops and FD. Next time someone tells you this, call their bluff. Tell them to go ahead and transfer. Enjoy the commute.

      • Andrew C Fardy

        Here is a site that can be used to compare teachers’ pay in Connecticut.
        teachercontracts.conncan.org

      • Pete Spain

        BOE SPY, you’re not a credible purveyor of information.

        If we must compare only salaries of starting public school teachers in the B’port and Darien systems, here we are:
        With a BA only, first year:
        Bridgeport: $42,428
        Darien: $45,334

        With an MA, first year:
        Bridgeport: $43,664
        Darien: $51,764

        MA max:
        Bridgeport: $77,546
        Darien: $100,106

        Source: teachercontracts.conncan.org/find-compare?nid=6844+6824+5304

        The MA comparison is more relevant.

        See: 2012 Public Act 12-166, Section 36(g), now codified as Connecticut General Statutes (CGS), Section 10-145b (g),

        “Any person who is issued a Connecticut educator certificate for the first time on or after July 1, 2016, will be required to complete a master’s degree in an appropriate subject matter area in order to advance their provisional educator certificate to the professional educator certificate.”

        Source: www .sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/cert/certalertmay2014.pdf

        BOE Spy, your drivel reminds me of the following:
        “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”–Upton Sinclair

        • BOE SPY

          Yes, but we are talking about attracting new teachers and holding onto them. We are not trying to hire workers away from other districts. It is kind of a continuation of the TFA vs. formal teaching degree idea. They also make the argument low pay in BPT stops us from attracting the best teachers. You are also posting the Max salaries. A teacher after 17 or so years. Your theory is I am going to take a job out of college based on what I will make in 17 years? This is what you think is credible information? If that is what you think people will do, BPT still pays more. In 17 years you may be an administrator. Since BPT has so many more admin positions you would get paid more in BPT.
          $44K vs $52K is only $154 per week. This assumes the teacher takes their pay evenly, all year ’round.
          But let’s go with your numbers. $77K vs $100K, about $400 a week. You would still be ‘poorer’ living in or near Darien or you have to travel. If it takes you two hours a day to drive and cost you $10 in gas the difference in pay is less. $80/day more – $10 in gas = $70/day more pay. For the two hours of travel you get $35/hour for traveling (or sitting) on I-95. This does not include wear and tear on your car, tires and having to replace your vehicle more often. Then if you lease you use up all your miles @ 0.25 per mile over the lease agreement.
          You would think a guy who went to Yale would find it easier to understand this, but you may not have taken any economics courses.

  • Wingnut

    Once the City Garage moves from Asylum St., the new Police shooting range goes in. Sometime this fall. No school will be built that close to a firing range. That’s why the PD is anxious to get in and complete the range.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    How close do you think the school will be to an indoor shooting range?

    • BOE SPY

      This is the part that does not make sense. Unless the shooting area is sufficiently ‘bulletproof,’ what difference would it make what is next door to the range? If anything, it would be better to have a concrete school next to the range. If a bullet passes through the bulletproofing the next thing it would hit would be concrete. The other choice is a wood frame house. Tin siding and 3/4″ of plywood is not as effective as concrete.

  • Wingnut

    No more than 1/4 mile.

  • MAGOO

    The high school is the shooting range. As far as the site will be cleaned to residential standards is bullshit. Under the Res. standards you can EAT soil three feet deep (I don’t think so). The GE site is contaminated in the pond, at the old ball field and surrounding acres.
    You do not have 17+ acres to use. As far as Birdman Finch in naming the school Obama high, I give that another bullshit.

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