Wallingford ARPA panel disbands citing council interference

WALLINGFORD — The conflict between the ARPA Application Review Committee and the Town Council came to a head this week when ARPA committee Chairman Mike Brodinsky announced that the committee has voted to stop reviewing grant applications.

"Please be advised that on March 29, 2023, the ARPA Applications Review Committee voted to cease reviewing, scoring, and recommending applications for ARPA grants," Brodinsky said in a memo sent to the council, the mayor and the Law Department. "It took this action because the Town Council — unhappy with some of our recommendations — decided to adjust our scores upward to advantage some applications based upon arithmetic and not upon merit."

It's now up to the Town Council to decide how to proceed with applications for funding under the federal American Rescue Plan Act that have not been reviewed. What will happen next will be discussed at the next council meeting, Chairman Vincent Cervoni said.

"They still exist — their vote was to not take any more action," Cervoni said. "It will be on the next council agenda and there will be a discussion on what to do next in light of the committee's vote."

The council formed the committee, with council members and Mayor William Dickinson Jr. each choosing one member, and charged it with reviewing each application for an ARPA federal pandemic grant and passing on its recommendation to the council. Before going to the committee, each application was reviewed by UHY Consultants, which the town hired to review the applications for compliance to federal guidelines.

The federal government awarded the town $13.5 million for the grants, and town officials decided to use half of that for municipal projects and award grants to small businesses and nonprofits affected by the pandemic with the rest of the funds.

The committee began meeting last September and began reviewing applications in January. But problems arose when some council members began questioning denials of applications they had a personal interest in, creating questions of conflicts of interest and acrimony between the council and the committee.

In February, Councilor Vincent Testa sent a memo to the committee questioning its rationale for approving or declining applications. According to the minutes of the March 1 committee meeting, Brodinsky told Testa that there is no one rationale because the approval process is based on a scoring system. Each member individually assigns scores from 0-100 to different aspects of the applications, and the average of all the individual scores must be over 74 to get a referral to the Town Council.

According to the minutes, Brodinsky said Testa wanted the information because the council was considering overruling applications that the committee had rejected, which Brodinsky said was "bullying and political interference." The committee was formed "to separate the political considerations from the merits of the applications and help insulate the Mayor and Council from pressure politics," he said according to the meeting minutes.

Questions of a conflict of interest arose when Councilor Jason Zandri requested the council consider the Wallingford Grange application, which the committee declined to recommend to the council. Zandri was a Grange member and served in a leadership position for a short time, which prompted the complaints. Zandri has since resigned from the Grange.

"The council's action undermined the core purpose of the committee," Brodinsky said in his memo Thursday. "We see little point, therefore, to continuing our work. Unhampered by our recommendations, the council is now free to move in another direction to achieve the results it prefers."

On Friday, Brodinsky officially canceled the April 3 and April 18 meetings. 

The committee's vice chairman, Mike Glidden, has been critical of Brodinsky's committee leadership and said he was "disappointed" with his decision to cease considering applications.

"I am extremely disappointed, and as the vice chair I would apologize to all of the applicants that now unfairly are being left in limbo..." Glidden said Friday. "What's unfair is this action has occurred as the council goes into budget season so therefore, the council isn't going to have time to look at this so this is an unfair penalty that is being passed on to the people there."



More From This Section