John Ricci, terminated by the city as airport manager, issued a statement to OIB Thursday afternoon explaining, “By revealing that I had a long history and close friendship with Manny (Moutinho) to everyone involved, in effect, I recused myself at all levels of my participation and acted only as directed by the City Attorneys’ Office and did nothing including making any expenditures without its approval.”
This is Ricci’s first public remarks on the matter following his suspension with pay by the city in connection with an airport improvement project for the municipally owned Sikorsky Memorial Airport. His full statement follows:
You be the Judge …
In early March 2013 I was informed by Associate City Attorney Lisa Trachtenburg that an access road servicing four property owners, one of whom is Manny Moutinho, needed to be removed to complete a Safety Improvement Project at the Airport. Removing this road would deny the property owners access to their homes. A few years earlier these same property owners approached the Airport to request that their right of way over Airport property be relocated to construct a new access road because of frequent flooding conditions on the road in their existing right of way. The request was approved by the Airport Commission and Manny Moutinho for himself and the other property owners made application to the Town of Stratford Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and Stratford Zoning Board of Appeals to construct a new road which was approved except that the adjoining property owners, Breakwater Key Condo Association, appealed the decision of the Stratford Board of Appeals. Manny and his neighbors decided not to build the road until the appeal would be decided.
The safety improvement project was on a Congressional-mandated deadline and was in jeopardy because relocation of the access road was holding it up. The City Attorneys’ Office was the facilitator for the project so the City Attorney decided that the City had an obligation to provide the four property owners an alternate access to their homes/properties. The City Attorney then decided that the most expeditious way to get this done was to acquire the approval rights from Manny to construct a new access road. The City Attorney also decided that the City would pay all costs and assume all conditions to get the access road built. These decisions presented a problem for me. I had an association and long history with Manny and these decisions involved the Airport of which I was manager. Every time Manny or his Company Mark IV Construction had any dealings with the Airport in the past I would recuse myself from the process which is well documented. The Airport Commission and the City Attorneys’ Office was aware of my recusals on certain matters.
Knowing of my having a close relationship with and direct access to Manny, I was directed by Lisa Tractenburg to obtain a proposal from Manny to acquire his rights to construct the new access road regardless. Manny consented to transfer his rights but he made three demands contingent to the transfer. He wanted to be reimbursed for all his costs to get the approvals, he wanted the City to pay for all costs going forward to develop finalized plans to his standards and Town of Stratford imposed conditions to issue a permit and he wanted an opportunity to bid on the work. The City Attorneys’ Office agreed to all of his demands and after its review of the costs incurred by Manny to date I was directed by Lisa Tractenburg to pay Manny $46,000 for his rights and get the final construction plans completed which cost the City an additional $10,000. The final plans were done to the Town Of Stratford standards and imposed conditions which increased the cost of construction considerably. The costs of the access road before construction started stood at $56,000.
Lisa Tractenburg, to keep on schedule to meet the Congressional deadline decided to use a Qualified Purchase which is an expedited process to choose a contractor to build the access road. The City Purchasing Agent suggested that she get three Qualified Price Quotes (QPQs). Lisa Tractenburg directed me to get the three OPQs, one of which must come from Manny by prior agreement and I choose the other two. My choices were based on using Bridgeport contractors with known qualifications because they had done work at the Airport/City before. Contrary to what was written in newspaper articles, I received all three QPQs on the same day, April 16, 2013. I submitted the QPQs to Lisa Tractenburg and she/the Purchasing agent awarded the contract to construct the road to Mark IV Construction based on price. The contract was drawn up by Lisa Tractenburg and she instructed me to sign it on behalf of the City.
Knowing that there was an appeal that Manny decided to wait out for a judgment, the City Attorney still decided the City would take the risk and proceed to build the access road regardless. During construction, for my part in it, I hired a Professional Engineer at a cost of $4,400 to oversee the project to insure all requirements were met and I could deal arms length with Manny to avoid any conflict under the City’s Code of Ethics. The only extra cost on the job was the addition of a second fire hydrant required by the Stratford Fire Department which cost $5,500. The total cost of construction paid to Mark IV Construction was $394,500. Another expense unanticipated was $16,000 to Aquarian to inspect, test and charge the eight-inch water main installed to feed the hydrants. Also once completed the Town of Stratford requires that an as-built construction plan and survey be prepared which I estimate would cost at least $12,000. So adding it all up the total costs to date are just below $483,000. The costs are still increasing because now the city Attorneys’ Office is negotiating a settlement with Breakwater Key Condominiums on the appeal taken by them. What will that cost? Another $60,000 or $70,000? This does not include any additional legal costs the City now faces. This road will most likely have a total cost of $600,000. However, I did negotiate the sale of surplus Airport properties which should net the Airport $1,200,000 and by federal law must be used for capital improvements at the Airport. Some of the money from these property sales could be used to pay the costs of the access road instead of using money that was bonded for the Safety Improvement Project or City budget dollars.
During the entire process of getting the access road constructed I made no assumptions or decisions regarding method of procurement, final choice of contractor, or award of contract for construction. By revealing that I had a long history and close friendship with Manny to everyone involved, in effect, I recused myself at all levels of my participation and acted only as directed by the City Attorneys’ Office and did nothing including making any expenditures without its approval. Regardless of what was reported by the Connecticut Post through a series of clever cut and paste articles the extent of my business relationship with Manny throughout the entire process was that I received mortgages at prevailing market rates with full consideration from a licensed lender in which he is a principal.
Because many decisions were made above my level, be they good or bad, the Safety Improvement Project is still in jeopardy and a lot of taxpayers’ money could be spent for nothing. There could be a less expense alternative which I will bring out at a later date.
During the investigation done by the Office Of labor Relations it was alleged that I may not have performed my duties properly as my job description requires so just for the record, not as a defense, I will state that I have served under 10 of the last 11 Mayors with nearly 40 years of service to the City with a squeaky clean personnel file and numerous accomplishments. Does anyone really think I would put that record at risk? You be the judge. However questions regarding the process still remain:
Who signed the bid waiver or does one exist?
Why the lack of information to the City Council or the public about the bid waiver and the decisions made?
Why was the contract drawn up for my signature and not for the Mayor to sign? It is now known publicly that Manny was a financial supporter of Mayor Finch, did the administration create a public controversy by trying to avoid one?
Was my friendship with Manny regarded as a benefit by the City Attorney’s Office when I was directed to approach him?
Did the Mayor really not know about my close relationship with Manny especially when the investigation proved I had recused myself because of that relationship at a meeting he was chairing?
Did the Mayor lie to the public, or did the City Attorney lie to the City Council on July 1, 2013?
Did the administration create a bigger controversy than actually existed to cover up incompetence?
Maybe someone will find the answers, and once known publicly, you can be the judge.