Aldermen to mayor: pay us $485,000 for dubious deal

The New Haven Board of Aldermen passed a resolution Tuesday requesting that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. compensate for a city fund improperly used in a $485,000 real estate deal between former Corporation Counsel Thayer Baldwin Jr. and Wendell Harp, a local architect and husband of state Senator Toni Harp.

The board also voted by an overwhelming majority to hire an independent legal counsel to review materials related to the property.

The orders were passed to remedy the city’s controversial purchase of a dilapidated 24-unit apartment complex at 187 Dixwell Ave. in May 2000, in which Baldwin allegedly acted against the city charter in securing funding.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said the resolution calls for the mayor to come up with $485,000 by Oct. 1.

The board’s Joint Finance and Community Development Committee, chaired by aldermen Robert Schmalz and Philip Voigt, concluded in August that Baldwin violated the charter by signing a voucher authorizing the release of bond funds designated for specific neighborhood development not including 187 Dixwell. Under the rules of the charter, however, bond money can not be released without the signature of the department for which the funding is allotted.

“That bonding authorization was placed under control of the Department of Engineering,” Schmalz said. “The head of that department would have to sign off for authorization of funds, but that was not done.”

The error was also missed by the city’s Accounts Payable division, which reviewed the transaction, aldermen said.

City Controller Mark Pietrosimone said the staff should have realized the voucher was missing the necessary signature.

“When our staff saw the document was signed by Mr. Baldwin, they made a reasonable assumption that since his name was on the document, the transaction was legitimate,” Pietrosimone said.

Baldwin closed the $485,000 transaction in the name of the New Haven Housing Authority, but did so without consent from the Housing Authority or the Board of Aldermen.

Baldwin, who is now a Superior Court judge in Hartford, will likely suffer no disciplinary action, Voigt said.

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In an effort to remedy this situation, the Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to pass a resolution ordering DeStefano to create strategies to replenish the bond account depleted by the sale. The initiative also called for methods to prevent the unlawful use of funds from occurring in the future and the establishment of a substantial training program for appointed city employees.

The passing of these initiatives requires DeStefano to make his recommendations by Oct. 1. Voigt said the primary goal of the city should be to replace the misallocated funds.

“We want to know what city administration will do so this never happens again,” Voigt added.

Despite the controversy, Schmalz and Voigt agreed that the acquisition of the Dixwell property was in the best interests of the city. The apartment building has since been torn down to make room for a playground near New Haven’s Isadore Wexler School.

“It’s not that the sale took place. It’s that it took place inappropriately,” Schmalz said. “No one wants to void the transaction.”

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