Bob Halstead, Ex Finch Roomie, No Longer Tending Community Gardens–Claims Retribution

Bob Halstead has been part of the city’s neighborhood fabric for decades. As founder of the city’s community garden program he was instrumental in transforming vacant eyesores into community pride points. He no longer serves in that capacity, a victim, he claims, of retribution for supporting Mayor Bill Finch’s mayoral opponents. Halstead shares this commentary that provides a brief history of the city’s community garden program, his relationship with the mayor and subsequent dismissal.

I was the founder of the community garden program in Bridgeport in 1980 with our first garden on 777 Arctic Street, the site of a tragic fire that burned down three 6-family homes and killed 8 people on an Easter Sunday. It was under the auspices of the East Side Neighborhood Housing Services and had the full support of then-Mayor John Mandanici. In subsequent years the program grew under Mayor Len Paoletta. Over fifty community gardens have been created over the years and as of last year there were 25 remaining, due to development and sale of properties.

Community gardens are created when a vacant lot, usually overgrown with weeds and filled with trash and debris, is cleaned out by neighborhood volunteers. For 30 years the City’s Block Grant Program supported the purchase of fencing, topsoil, plants, water lines, tools and materials for raised beds. For the past two years, under Mayor Finch, this program has not funded the gardens.

In 2006, then-Mayor John Fabrizi, CAO Michael Feeney and Chief of Staff Charles Carroll quietly moved to sell ten city-owned sites with community gardens. The community found out and organized a group called the Bridgeport Community Land Trust (BCLT) who were successful in lobbying key council people, writing letters, giving public presentations and getting great press to support their cause. The gardens were not sold.

In 2007, the BCLT gained its status as a 501(c)(3) under the IRS Code establishing it as a private non-profit corporation. Under this umbrella BCLT secured two large State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Grants under the Land Acquisition Program and with it has installed waterlines, sidewalks, fencing and topsoil to ten gardens and has revived them. They had been in disrepair. The second grant has yet to be approved and signed off by the City. The DEEP requirement that the lots remain open space for ten years was not in the recent resolution passed by the Council. The City has had the contract and approval for $46,100 since December of 2010 but implementation is still not in sight.

In the Fall of 2011, after an RFP that BCLT responded to, the City awarded all future community garden projects to Groundwork Bridgeport, inexplicably, since Groundwork has not done any community gardens in its history.

In summer of 2011 Andrew Nunn wrote the former president of BCLT that I, Bob Halstead was not to be involved in any future City dealings and that the City would not move forward with the BCLT if I were still involved. Upon my attaining this memo through the Freedom of Information Act, the former president and one other board member resigned. Barbara Kelly, a board member, took over as president and hand-picked two replacement board members. I was not on the board since March of 2011 because I became paid executive director. After appointing replacements, the board eliminated my position in March of this year.

It should be noted that I have known Bill Finch since our days at Neighborhood Housing Services in 1979 when Bill was coordinator for a new South End NHS and I was the Housing Rehabilitation Specialist for the East Side Neighborhood Housing Services. We were roommates on Walnut Street in the South End. After a while we did not get along and we parted ways. We both grew up a little and decided to get along in the period when I was City Property Disposition Manager and Bill was BEDCO director, and together we succeeded in helping bring about Reads Artspace. Our relationship changed when I supported Chris Caruso in 2007 for Mayor and worsened in 2011 when I supported Mary-Jane Foster. It was not anything personal against Finch that I supported Caruso, it was more my interest in helping create a level playing field in Bridgeport by loosening the grip the Democratic Town Committee has on all our affairs. I definitely think that I am being paid back.

Upon taking over as president, Ms. Kelly created a new Master Plan for Community Gardens. This excluded approximately 12 gardens that had already been created, or were halfway through completion. The only gardens retained under BCLT were the fourteen gardens owned by the City and the garden privately owned on Lafayette St.

In January of this year, Ms. Kelly padlocked ten community gardens, largely without informing the gardeners. One of the garden captains, Chris Morse, captain of Pequonnock Street was arrested, roughly handled, and detained overnight in lockup at the Police Station after he attempted to enter his garden.

The former “Laotian Garden” established in 1981 at 751 Hallett Street, the former site of the house that Mayor Leonard Paoletta was born in, had in the past several years been revived by various community service groups and neighbors, after having fell into serious blight in 2006. The board of BCLT recently, unnecessarily dismantled this site without consulting with neighbors under the contention that more gardeners can fit on it. Recent misguided volunteer efforts have resulted in a situation where the garden has yet to be planted and several gardeners are alienated. This garden will be visited Saturday by Mayor Finch to in some people’s minds exemplify the new and improved BCLT.

Meanwhile, across the City, many gardens are being ignored by the Land Trust. 62 Pequonnock Avenue, 142 Charles Street, Columbia Court, and 28 Stillman St are all overgrown and with disrupted community relations.

As the founder of the BCLT and the main proponent of its success, I was left to form a new group: “Bridgeport Urban Gardens” under the auspices of its fiduciary, the Connecticut Community Gardening Association, a 501(c)(3) of which I am a member. We have attained funding and we have site control and are moving forward with the gardens started last year, including: the Shehan Center, Lansing Place, NEST Art Garden on Fairfield Avenue, and also revival of the Columbia Court Garden.

Legal advice is now being sought by members of the community who were not allowed to elect a new board at the BCLT annual meeting based on advice that BCLT received from an undisclosed attorney that we suspect is the City Attorney. The BCLT dug up the original filing with the State of Connecticut that stated that the board is to be self-appointed, in spite of its having changed its bylaws several years ago to allow for elections at the BCLT annual meeting. The BCLT had been electing its board for years at its annual meeting but this year, the board did not allow elections. They appointed themselves. Ironically, the current board was elected according to the bylaws they have discarded. We have been informed that there is a statutory basis to disqualify the current board and hold elections for a board that would reflect and represent the demographics of the communities that the gardens serve.

It should not be considered inconsequential that as soon as a letter was written informing me that my position was eliminated, Andrew Nunn immediately had a copy of it in his hand and circulated it to all the Council people. The message to them was that now it was OK to pass a resolution to place the City in fiduciary role for the grant I had gotten for the BCLT. This was passed subsequently but without the State-required stipulation that an agreement be in place to use the city property.

The sad thing about this whole affair is how the City has with impunity intervened in the internecine affairs of a community-based organization, successfully forwarding their political agenda. The original mission of the BCLT: to promote environmental causes such as open space preservation, waterfront access, bicycle advocacy, wetlands preservation, Pleasure Beach access, urban agriculture and expansion of community gardens has now fallen by the wayside at a time when such an organization is more needed than ever.



  1. Bob Halstead is the salt of the earth, honest, hard working and a valued and loved member of the urban cowboys who have been trying for years to improve this cesspool of a city. This administration is shameful, deceitful and nasty. I hate them more every day, with every report being more disgraceful than the last. Not only are they stealing our money, now they are tossing out a member of our community who has made Bpt his life work. I don’t know how they sleep at night. Hopefully there is legal recourse. What say you JML? I am disgusted.

  2. It’s their way or no way. Andy Nunn is a mean-spirited, vindictive man. I doubt he has ever stepped foot in a community garden–he wouldn’t lower himself. In fact, I have NEVER seen him at one community event. He doesn’t give a shit about Bridgeport. He sits his power-hungry ass in his office at 999, calling the shots and stealing his overpaid salary from the taxpayers of our City. It is disgraceful.

  3. What is wrong with these people? Finch, Nunn, et al. They are more and more DISGUSTING, VINDICTIVE and, as chs said, DISGRACEFUL. All they care about is their political agenda. They could give two sh*ts about the well-being of Bridgeport and its people and they need to be exposed as the frauds they are. OIBers already know this all too well, it’s the people who don’t pay attention and let this administration lead them around like a bunch of sheep while at the same time they go after caring citizens like Mr. Halstead because he didn’t kiss their a**. Screw Finch. Screw Nunn. Screw them all!!!

    1. Local Eyes // May 18, 2012 at 9:43 am
      To your posting

      Of all the words in the English language, I would say “delusional” would best describe your post if you find the words of chs and Pork City not to be as accurate as anything yet written about the principals of the Finch/Wood administration.
      There can be only one reason why you take this position.

  4. I have seen many of the gardens over the years and I am so impressed with the benefit for the neighborhood and community. Or at least used to be … until now, when I was surprised to hear Bob was being kicked out of the community gardens he started and ran.

    Seems odd and against the concept of ‘community’ gardens for board members to appoint only their friends and have no elections. Can community gardens be run by a dictatorship? Whose best interest do the current board members have in mind?

    Bob has provided so much to the city, not only with these gardens but also with other projects like Washington Park Revitalization. It would be great if the city could better utilize such efforts in a positive way.

  5. Bob Halstead is an exemplar of a long-term volunteer. What’s in it for the community, long term? That’s where Bob has been. Before we got a “green” Mayor, Bob had a green agenda working at multiple levels and he did it without a lot of money, but rather with concepts that convinced the community to participate.
    One day enough people are going to look back at the trail of ‘victims’ of this arrogant gang and consider the “power” the gang has assembled is finally too much. Evidence of overreaching are showing up in different places and are kept quiet. The question that is popping up frequently is where is the CT Post in this? Lots of this is news, but it is not covered. (One can only guess what happens to letters to the editor when ‘unfavorable comments about leadership’ do not see the light of public exposure.)
    Bridgeport has a public sickness that has created a sense of powerlessness (except in the Mayor’s office where he craves even more, so he can be more accountable?). Momentum depends not on what is right, directed by Charter, guided by Ordinance, or suggested by common sense and community based decisions, but on what was done last year or what seems best for this year by those in control of the strings. Financial decision making is influenced not only on what is raised from property owner taxes, but also from State funds, and Federal grants where the community voice and the CC decisions appear far apart at times without public comment. Thank you Bob Halstead for what you continue to do for Bridgeport and how you tell your story. You never wanted a statue to be constructed in your honor. But your words and actions will not be lost as a person of firm convictions who stood up for principle to the end. A Tale of Two Roommates? Time will tell.

  6. Mario pulls a Mickey Rivers (“I don’t get no thrill from hitting home runs”) in below double negatively speaking!

    What goes around comes around. Finch vs. Gomes
    May 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm by Brian Lockhart

    Sen. Edwin Gomes, D-Bridgeport allied himself with Mary-Jane Foster’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to unseat Bill Finch, the city’s Democratic mayor, last fall.

    Gomes appeared in a radio advertisement for Foster’s campaign in which he criticized Finch, his one-time colleague in the state Senate, as having done nothing for the city.

    Well, what goes around comes around. It appears Finch does not plan on making Gomes’ bid for re-election an easy one.

    The mayor was in attendance Monday when state Rep. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport formally announced his candidacy for Gomes’ seat.

    City Democrats meet next Monday night to nominate either Gomes, Ayala or Ernest Newton II, Gomes’ predecessor who wants to return to politics after spending time in prison for corruption.

    Asked Wednesday following his weekly lunch with constituents at city hall if his appearance with Ayala equaled an endorsement, Finch said, “Stay tuned.”

    He said he’d have appeared at events with Gomes or Newton if invited, but added, “I don’t think I’ll be invited to Ed’s. He won’t talk to me.”

    Other than Gomes’ endorsement of Foster, Mario Testa, chairman of the city’s Democrats, said Thursday he does not know why there is bad blood between Finch and Gomes.

    “I don’t have no clue on that,” Testa said. “I’m surprised. I don’t know why they’re not very friendly because they both served in the Senate together. But I don’t have no clue what happened between the two.”

  7. Are you kidding me? One of our best school field trips ever was a Halstead-led trolly bus tour from Beardsley Zoo (after a garden exposition he organized) of all the community gardens, along with side trips to Tom Thumb’s tomb and previously unknown Bridgeport treasures.
    These are children who never leave their own city blocks. How awful this has come to pass.

  8. Mr. Halstead joins a long list of people who either said NO or asked the wrong questions. Here are a few of the names that I can think of.
    1. Michele Mount
    2. Rina Bakalar
    3. Joe Minopoli
    4. Jacobs from civil service
    5. Health department director
    6. Port Authority Director
    7. Thomas White legislative dept
    8. Tax Collector
    I know there are others I can’t recall. This is the most vindictive administration I have ever witnessed. The head hatchet man is that dumb ass Andy Nunn. Every dog has its day and theirs is coming.

  9. Andy,
    In your post you are recalling people who were “removed” in one way or another from work at which they were reasonably good by some estimation at serving the public. As has been pointed out before, we seem to be without a municipal system of evaluating our employees to understand whether they know their job, perform it competently and faithfully and whether it fits into the evolving vision of municipal governance.

    In the case of Tom White, the latest casualty of this administration, can you seriously consider the logic of the City Council, at least that element that does not work for the City or have a family member who does? On whom are those members of the Council to rely for information and practical support in gaining information, representing constituent concerns, in a word, in performing some of their part-time responsibilities? There was no public plan discussed in the Legislative Department budget hearing. No Council minutes capture the dissatisfaction or forward vision for their defunding action. The Council persons as individuals do not get their responsibilities as public officials. They respond too often with a form of “herd mentality,” and members of any herd are concerned with their food supply, which in this case is called a City job.
    And Andy, you have not touched on the volunteers of integrity who serve on Boards and Commissions where the Mayor has full and broad appointment powers that should satisfy him. But these are not enough so he allows terms to expire that allows him an added power to use in times of need, the power to appoint another person if the current holder proves too independent in exercising the duties of the Board/Commission. Under the current circumstances you can probably make up a list equal or greater of good people, serving with expertise and a concept of civic duty, who have been summarily replaced. This is not an efficient or proud process, Mr. Mayor. Time will tell.

  10. *** Is it possible Bill keeps a “pissed me off” little black book since his days at special education in school? And was this Bob’s payback for not doing the roommate’s weekly laundry and throwing out the trash back in the day? Will the city’s community gardens suffer now and the local neighborhoods go without tomatoes for their organic salads? As JML would say, “time will tell!” *** HERE WE GO! ***


Leave a Reply