In a recent New Haven Register article, there are competing claims about potential issues with a property owned, in part, by first selectman Jamie Cosgrove. On one side, Democratic candidates Tom Brockett and Kurt Schwanfelder state that Cosgrove should resign or has a questionable relationship with a town contractor; on the opposing side, Cosgrove states there is no issue and Parks and Recreation Director Alex Palluzzi supports that all contracts were publicly bid and awarded fairly.
Who is correct? What are the facts?
First, the town charter.
The town charter states that the “first selectman shall not during his term of office be an officer, director, employee or stockholder of any person, corporation, association or partnership which shall rent, hire, sell or furnish directly or indirectly to the Town of Branford any supplies, material or equipment of any sort.”
In short, the first selectman cannot own any business, in whole or part, that does work for the town, while holding office.
In the Register article, two companies are discussed, ACA Landscaping and Evergreen Landscape Supply.
ACA leases space at 164 North Main Street, a local landmark that housed Cosgrove construction for generations, and is owned by members of the Cosgrove family. ACA Landscaping has bid on town landscaping, specifically grass cutting, for years, well before Cosgrove took office. Alex Palluzzi confirms all the bids were publicly bid, and on ACA has contracts where they were the low bidder. BranfordSeven has obtained the list of bids, and can confirm this is true.
Cosgrove has no ownership in ACA Landscaping. There is no violation of the charter for being a landlord to a company that bids on town projects. Many elected officials own commercial property; nothing would prevent a tenant from bidding on and working for the town.
But what about Evergreen Landscaping?
The Cosgrove family is a part owner in Evergreen Landscaping. However, the Register showed there are no contracts or records of any bids by Evergreen on town work. In our research, we could find no record of any work or material provided by Evergreen to the town. Cosgrove confirmed that Evergreen specifically does not bid on town projects or provide material for town projects; Palluzzi confirmed he saw no record of Evergreen ever bidding a town project.
Therefore, there is also no violation of the charter.
Despite claims by Schwanfelder and Brockett and the Branford Democratic Party, there is no evidence of any violation of the town charter, as Cosgrove has stated.
But the greatest evidence this is no more than politics a few weeks before an election comes from two people: Schwanfelder and Ray Dunbar, who is also seeking office on the Democratic ticket.
Who signs the checks?
Branford has a detailed process for signing checks and payments for all expenditures. The law requires the finance director, the treasurer, and two members of the Board of Selectmen to sign off on all payments.
The Treasurer is actually Kurt Schwanfelder.
The members of the Board of Selectman that approves payments are Cosgrove and Ray Dunbar, who began doing so when Joe Higgins passed away in June of 2020.
While the Register article seems well timed to be late in election season, the article contains an interesting fact, provided by Schwanfelder, that raises questions here.
The Register states that “Town Treasurer Kurt Schwanfelder, who served for 36 years on the RTM and who is running for treasurer, said he began looking at the relationship between ACA Landscaping and the first selectman in October 2020.”
So Schwanfelder began looking at this over a year ago, yet said nothing, continued to sign off on payments to ACA, and allowed Dunbar, who is on the same political ticket, to do the same.
This is especially telling as Schwanfelder has had a long vendetta against Cosgrove. While now a Democrat, Schwanfelder was a Republican just a few years ago, and tried to run for first selectman against him in the Republican caucus, and lost. Schwanfelder was also on the Board of Finance, but was not reappointed by Cosgrove, causing him to switch parties.
Yet even Schwanfelder did not hold up any payments and made no allegations of wrongdoing despite admitting looking into the matter over a year ago.
A late election season allegation of wrongdoing is not surprising. But for two elected officials to consistently sign off on checks if they believed a political opponent was doing something wrong or even questionable is hard to fathom; that they said nothing for a year, if they truly thought there was an issue, is equally troubling.
In fact, the checks and balances in Branford worked well. There are no conflicts of interest, and nothing with either company is against the town charter. Dunbar and Schwanfelder signed off on the payments as they were legal and appropriate, and there is no inappropriate relationship between Cosgrove and any town contractor.