NORTH STONINGTON — Former First Selectman Shawn Murphy says the pavilion erected this week at Hewitt Farm "will be a great asset for the town," but in the spirit of letting no good deed go unpunished, he's complaining that successor, Mike Urgo, cut corners in having it built so expeditiously.
An Amish company, Pine Creek Structures, of Millersburg, Pa., put up the wooden structure on the historic 104-acre Hewitt Farm in about five and half hours on Monday, beginning at 6:30 a.m. and using pre-cut materials. The 20-by-40-foot pavilion is centrally located within the park to provide shelter and shade to visitors who use the hiking trails and other amenities.
To get to that point, Murphy asserted, Urgo failed to properly post a meeting, misappropriated funds, and ignored the town’s purchasing policy.
Murphy said Tuesday that Urgo and Selectwoman Nita Kincaid had attended a Recreation Commission meeting on June 6 and “convinced” the members that it was OK for them to authorize the use of recreation funds to build the pavilion.
He argued that since two out of three selectmen makes a quorum, by law they should have posted a Board of Selectmen meeting notice if they were there to conduct town business.
Murphy also complained that funds over $5,000 are considered capital items and should be called out individually in the town budget and approved by the Board of Finance. Instead, he said, the pavilion funds, amounting to about $17,000, were taken out of the recreation department’s budget.
“The pavilion was never in the budget, so the public never had a chance to have a say,” Murphy said. “They could have done a transfer of funds so at least the Board of Finance and the Board of Selectmen could be part of that.”
“The third way the project went wrong is when you have a purchase over $5,000, the purchasing policy states it has to go out for bid,” Murphy said. “The pavilion never went out for bid. We don’t know that was the best deal for the money.”
“The pavilion is a good thing,” Murphy added, “but the original plan was to not involve town funds.” He noted that Bill Richer, chairman of the conservation committee, came up with around $4,000 in grant monies, which was used to pour the concrete slab for the structure last year.
Urgo wrote in an email on Tuesday that the Recreation Commission “has the authority to expend funds on any recreation facility in town and Hewitt Farm falls certainly within this category.”
He said there were several reasons why the project didn’t go out for bid.
“We have still been raising money up until this very day and were not certain how much if any town funds would be requested or required to build it,” Urgo wrote “Since recreation chose prudently not to act until towards the end of the fiscal year, we needed to move quickly in order to get this project done before the year end, because our Board of Selectmen created a policy whereby we cannot encumber funds beyond the end of fiscal year end. This means if the project was to be done this fiscal year, it must be completed prior to June 30..”
Urgo also noted the town had received six quotes on the project that were properly vetted and “we felt comfortable that we received the best price.”
“There is no ordinance in the town concerning public bidding, though we do in nearly all circumstances work within the town policy on public bidding,” he wrote.
Regarding the quorum at the recreation meeting, Urgo wrote that the meeting was posted with 24 hours notice.
“As the other two selectmen and I are of opposite parties, we are not supposed to talk outside of public meetings, and we do our best to adhere to this,” Urgo wrote. “Many times I show up at meetings and Bob (Carlson) is there, or Nita is there, or they both are there. I have no prior knowledge of them being there.”
“At this meeting, I urged the Recreation Commission to think carefully about this expenditure knowing this could potentially be a bit controversial as many people see Hewitt farm separate from recreation (which I disagree with),” Urgo wrote. “I also told them I would support whatever they decided.”
Urgo said he was not in attendance during the vote for the project.
Urgo also said the recreation commission had discussed the project over a period of three months. “Upon seeing they had money remaining in their budget ... they opted to authorize up to $13,000 for the purchase of the pavilion.”
Urgo also noted total cost for the pavilion was $16,820, and that all that is needed from the recreation department is $9,700, the rest having been donated. Donations, he said, are still coming in so the total town cost may be less, he said.
Murphy, who recently challenged the wording of the town's budget referendum, conceded that the project was a valuable addition to the town. “I’m just unhappy about how it was managed and that some people were left out of the decision,” he said.
Unhappy enough to run again for selectman? Murphy said no. And Urgo, for good measure, told The Sun on Tuesday that he does not intend to seek a second term.