Former Middlefield building official case going to trial

Former Middlefield building official case going to trial



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By Lauren Takores

MIDDLEFIELD — A former municipal building official is seeking compensation for wrongful termination, including his job back, in a lawsuit against the town.

Robert Meyers, of Moodus, was Middlefield’s building official for almost six years.

His employment was terminated on Feb. 21, 2017 by a vote of the Board of Selectmen five days earlier.

Meyers had been on paid administrative leave since July 12, 2016. He could not be reached for comment.

In Meyers’ letter of dismissal, the town alleges he failed to perform his duties in connection with building renovations at Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort, failed to maintain proper documentation, failed to follow instructions and keep assigned work hours, and displayed inappropriate conduct and insubordination on several occasions.

On March 16, 2017, Meyers filed a complaint against the town, claiming the town did not provide him with written notice of the specific grounds of dismissal and failed to prove that he failed to perform his official duties, and that he presented sufficient evidence showing he performed his required duties, according to court documents.

He’s seeking back pay and money damages, and reinstatement to building inspector.

A trial management conference is scheduled for Sept. 13 and a trial is scheduled for Oct. 4. at Middletown Superior Court.

Meyers’ firing centers on actions he took regarding building projects at Powder Ridge.

Town officials say he used his position to obstruct the building permitting process for the Powder Ridge Lodge, according to court documents.

Meyers says he was concerned the lodge did not meet fire and other building codes and had to assert, more than once, his authority over the project, court documents state.

2011-2012

Meyers was hired in April 2011. At that time, Middlefield had owned Powder Ridge since 2008 and was searching for a buyer/operator.

Middlefield accepted a bid for purchase from Brownstone Entertainment in February 2012 and the sale closed in September. The group bought roughly 235 acres of land and four buildings, including the lodge, from the town. 

On Dec. 19, 2012, Meyers requested from the town additional hours and support for his duties, so the town hired Vincent Garofalo as assistant building official.

2013-2014

The lodge’s fire suppression sprinkler system was installed and inspected in November, just as Powder Ridge was set to open for the season.

Meyers states the sprinkler system was not certified because there was no reliable water source to the system and no source of continuous power for the fire pump.

Garofalo issued a certificate of completion on Dec. 26, 2014, allowing the first floor of the lodge to open.

2015

Meyers’ conflict with Sean Hayes, owner of Powder Ridge, intensified in July when Hayes filled in an old swimming pool.

Meyers said in his lawsuit that he believed Hayes needed a demolition permit. On July 28, Meyers cited Hayes for performing work without a permit.

Although Hayes appealed to the state building inspector, Meyers maintained Hayes needed a permit.

On Aug. 27, Meyers reported Hayes to the office of the chief state’s attorney for violations of the state building code after Hayes used the lodge to hold events without permits or inspections. The case referral was eventually dropped.

On Aug. 31, Hayes sent then-First Selectman Jon Brayshaw a memo asking him to remove Meyers from the Power Ridge project and appoint a third-party inspector.

Brayshaw consulted Dan Tierney, a state assistant building inspector, who maintained on Nov. 11, 2015 that Meyers was the appointed building official, according to Meyers’ suit. 

In the November election, Ed Bailey replaced Brayshaw as first selectman and Brayshaw was elected to the Board of Selectmen.

By this time, Meyers consistently had refused to grant a certificate of occupancy to the lodge over the sprinkler system issue.

In December, Bailey appointed Garofalo acting building inspector after Meyers took a medical leave of absence until Dec. 15.

According to emails introduced as evidence, Bailey consulted with state and town fire officials and determined that the lodge’s second floor could be opened without a functioning sprinkler system if there was a fire watch, which required a Middlefield firefighter to be on the promises. 

On Dec. 23, Garofalo sent Meyers and Bailey a letter stating the fire watch was a suitable, temporary alternative to the sprinkler system for the first floor only.

The next day, Meyers went to Powder Ridge to do an inspection, but without a complaint or request for inspection, according to the emails. Hayes wouldn’t let Meyers on the property.

2016

Garofalo, as acting building inspector, inspected the lodge’s second floor restaurant and bar on Jan. 7, accompanied by Tierney.

The next day, he told Meyers to issue a temporary certificate of occupancy, which would allow the restaurant to open with the condition of a fire watch.

Meyers said in his complaint that replied to Garofalo that he was “not comfortable” and that the fire watch was “not sufficient”, and did not issue the temporary certificate.

Hayes opened the lodge restaurant on Jan. 14. The next day, Meyers hand-delivered Hayes a letter demanding Hayes close the lodge due to not having a working sprinkler system.

On Jan. 19, Hayes applied to the state building inspector for a modification for the sprinkler system to allow the use of a fire watch in lieu of a working sprinkler system, according to the evidentiary emails. 

The emails also state Tierney approved the modification, but Meyers refused to issue the temporary certificate of occupancy.

On Jan. 20, Meyers attempted to hand-deliver an abatement notice and notice of violation to Hayes at Powder Ridge. Bailey said he alerted the resident state trooper to the friction between Meyers and Hayes. Trooper Brendan Rey then stopped Meyers from entering Powder Ridge.

Meyers sent the letter by certified mail on Jan. 21.

On Jan. 22, the Middlefield fire marshal sent Hayes and Bailey a letter stating the lodge should not be open to the public because the fire department cannot provide a fire watch without a temporary certificate of occupancy.

The same day, Powder Ridge informed the town attorney they were preparing to take legal action against the town for Meyers’ refusal to grant the temporary certificate of occupancy.

In a Jan. 29 email shared with Bailey from Powder Ridge’s attorney, John Laudati, the lodge had to cancel about 150 dinner reservations and turn away about 100 more people. The lodge also was engaged in a dinner promotion with the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce.

On Jan. 25, the state Fire Marshal notified the town Fire Marshal it authorized the fire watch to be reinstated. The lodge opened the next day.

On Feb. 23, a fire pump passed inspection by Garofalo and the sprinkler system went online, but on March 2, Meyers denied a temporary certificate of occupancy.

Meyers said a final walk-through inspection of the lodge was needed before he could grant a temporary certificate of occupancy.

On April 11, a walk-through was scheduled at Powder Ridge with Bailey, Garofalo and fire officials, but when Meyers arrived, “Bailey told Meyers it was not a normal workday for him and ordered him to leave,” court documents state.

On April 14, Hayes requested a certificate of occupancy for the second floor, which Meyers denied on April 20, saying he wasn’t allowed to attend the final walk-through on April 11.

“The harassment of Powder Ridge has to stop,” Hayes wrote in an email to Bailey, Garofalo, Tierney and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. “Everyone knows what he is doing is wrong but no one is willing to stop it.”

“I will not sign a C of O (certificate of occupancy) for any building for which I was denied access for final inspection,” Meyers wrote in an email to Hayes on May 6.

On May 12, Bailey confronted Meyers in the office about the Powder Ridge certificate of occupancy.

“I advised Mr. Meyer(s) to do his job and get this matter off the books,” Bailey wrote in a memo. “I seriously doubt he has any intentions of following up the Powder Ridge Certificate of Occupancy matter.”

The next day, Meyers filed a grievance with his union, AFSCME Council 4, saying Bailey was pressuring him.

On June 1, Hayes requested a certificate of occupancy for the restaurant and bar, and, on June 13, threatened via email to take legal action.

Bailey allowed Meyers to conduct a final walk-through inspection of the second floor on June 15.

On June 17, Meyers wrote a letter to Hayes citing violations he found on the exterior of the building, having to do with propane tanks, parking lot spaces and signage, accessibility and van parking, and refused to issue a certificate of occupancy.

From June 20-28, Meyers and the state building inspector exchanged emails regarding propane codes, prompting Tierney to tell Bailey via email on June 28, “You really have to put a stop to this.”

On July 8, Meyers, Bailey and Hayes met for an inspection to address Meyers’ findings from June 15.

On July 12, Bailey placed Meyers on leave and on July 14, Garofalo issued the lodge a certificate of occupancy.

Meyers received a written notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing on Dec. 9, which was held Dec. 13.

2017

Meyers received a letter outlining the reasons for his termination on Jan. 24.

A public hearing was held Jan. 24. The public was generally supportive of Meyers, but not when it came to Powder Ridge.

Robert Parziale, service representative with AFSCME Council 4, said Meyers had no prior discipline before the hearing.

The Board of Selectmen fired Meyers on Feb. 16.

LTakores@record-journal.com

203-317-2212

Twitter: @LCTakores


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