Barton withholds special Seymour audit
  Register Staff               September 01, 2000

SEYMOUR The long-awaited special audit of the town's finances is complete, but First Selectman Scott Barton said Thursday he will not make it public right away.

An attorney with the state Freedom of Information Commission said that could be a violation of FOI laws. 

Barton held a press conference Thursday to announce he received the 1,400-page report Wednesday from Checkers International Inc., a Fairfield investigating firm. 

Barton said he will not release the $45,000 document to the public right away because it contains "sensitive personnel issues."  He said he wants to first review it with the town counsel, the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance to make sure the town won't be held liable for releasing any of the information. 

He did not say when he would release the report to the public. 

Barbara Housen, an attorney with FOIC, said the report is not exempt under the state FOI laws unless it includes personal details that could be considered highly offensive, or if it contains no content of legitimate public interest.  She said that is obviously not the nature of the Checkers audit. 

"I would say generally the records are discloseable," she said.  Barton would not say if the report accuses any town employees of criminal acts.  He did say the report mentions former and present employees and officials, but declined to name anyone. 

Barton said he would meet today with Town Counsel Robert Nastri to discuss the report. 

The move to withhold the report from the public incensed several residents who wanted to review it. 

"Who says that that report can't be altered?  They have their hands on it before anyone else.  It should be stamped and in the Town Clerk's Office," said Mary Adamowski, who heads a local watchdog group. 

Barton said no one other than himself had seen the report.  He said he expects to present it to the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance at a closed meeting Tuesday night. 

Barton said he called the press conference to let the public know the report was completed.  He asked the press to be "patient" while he and other town officials absorb it. 

Board of Finance member Vin Capece said he believes Nastri should review the report before it is released to the public, but he said if Barton is in violation of FOI laws it should be released immediately after Nastri sees it. 

Nastri did not return phone calls Thursday.  Brendan Fisk, the president of Checkers International, also did not return calls. 

The report was requested eight months ago when the selectmen and finance board members hired Checkers to audit the town's finances.  The firm, made up of ex-FBI agents, was asked to find out why the town went from a $4.9 million surplus to a $186,000 deficit during the previous fiscal year and faced a potential $3.5 million shortfall. 

Barton said 116 pages of the 260-page main report deals with the Water Pollution Control Authority alone.  The WPCA faces a $250,000 shortfall because current sewer fees do not add up to the amount owed to the plant operator, U.S. Filter of Texas. 

In addition, the WPCA is missing $185,000 allocated for capital improvements, along with years of financial records. 

He said the audit also looked primarily at three other areas: the town-run Strand Theatre, miscellaneous town accounts and state funds allotted under LOCIP, or Local Capital Improvement Program. 

Barton said the report offers several recommendations about policy and personnel changes in some areas he declined to identify.  "It suggests measures of accountability to make sure that this doesn't happen again," he said.