State Rep Arzeno Credits “Playing by the Rules” for House Delegation’s Successful 20% CMS State Reimbursement

On Tuesday the three members of Greenwich’s House Democratic Delegation to Hartford kicked off the weekly Central Middle School building committee meeting agenda.

State Rep Hector Arzeno (D-151) detailed the process that culminated in the House delegation’s good news announcement last week, described Tuesday by building committee vice chair Clare Kilgallen as a “trifecta.”

“You got the priority list for this year,” Kilgallen said. “You got the space waiver which makes more of the square footage eligible for reimbursement. And you got the increase (reimbursement) to 20% as opposed to 10%.”

At the start of the meeting, CMS building committee chair Tony Turner said, “All of our House members and Senator Fazio were invited to be here today.”

State Rep Arzeno said he had been asked by many people, ‘How did you get 20% (reimbursement), and how did you get it for the whole project and not just the allowable square footage.’

“Let me say, there is not a formula for that. It’s the result of the three of us, the House delegation’s, hard work, perseverance, commitment and playing by the rules.”

“We play by the rules,” he repeated emphatically to the building committee.

“To recap, we begin with the application for reimbursement that reached Hartford at the end of the year. You missed the June 30 deadline to be included on the priority list for the project. We started at that point – knowing we were not in the best place.”

Arzeno said CMS was the number one priority for the House delegation this year.

“We are involved in other committees, and I have priorities concerning the environment and education, and other priorities for the Greenwich Public School system,” he said.

“When I say play by the rules, school construction comes from the House in a bill initiated in the Education Committee. Trying to do it any other way would be a failure,” he said.

Also, he said, we wanted to make sure the Dept of Administrative Services was moving ahead and analyzing the CMS project. This is where the project started,” he said. “We had some luck there. We coordinated with the Governor’s office, where the chief of staff and deputy chief of staff have departments assigned to them. We were lucky, Nick Simmons had Education and Administrative Services (assigned to him). That helped us.”

Arzeno said it was key to have the chair of the education committee on board with the requests. “We had a good relationship with him.”

He said policy analysts in Hartford were key to the process.

As for the higher reimbursement rate, Arzeno noted there were “ups and downs” with conversations with the leadership of the House.

During conversations in Hartford about reimbursement rates, Arzeno joked, “Meskers had to leave the room. He was asking for too much.”

That said, Arzeno noted, “In the end, those positions help sometimes help in the process and negotiations.”

Arzeno added that the House delegation also studied other districts seeking reimbursements, including a school Manchester, CT which happens to be pursuing geothermal HVAC.

State Rep Rachel Khanna said, “We worked very hard on the project and we’re so glad to see it come to fruition.”

“It can be done,” Arzeno said. “We had a hot potato, but we are very proud.”

“Your work speaks for itself,” building committee vice chair Ms Kilgallen said.

“Thank you for the work. It’s a very major positive hit on the financials on the town,” building committee chair Turner said. “Four or five million dollars is real money, but $15 million is extra, extra real money.”

State Rep Rachel Khanna said the CMS effort was the House Democratic delegation’s number one priority.

“Please know you have an ally up in Hartford, so please reach out to us,” she added.

Mr. Turner asked whether there was push back from Hartford based on Greenwich being a wealthy town.

“No,” Arzeno said, saying the consideration was limited to 500 children and 100 staff, and the history of the school.

(The school was condemned in 2022, shored up and reopened, and again briefly shut down after the April earthquake.)

“Inflammatory comments are not allowed anyway,” Arzeno said.

Arzeno said his first “intervention” concerning CMS. He recalled taking a look at the school many years ago when his daughter, now in college, was in fifth grade.

“She did not attend Central Middle School,” he said, adding that his daughter did go on to attend GHS.

State Rep Steve Meskers recalled the negotiations for reimbursement in Hartford that Arzeno had referred to.

“I started the battle and at some point I realized it was going south,” he said. “So I sent in the two diplomats….We have complimentary styles.”

Leadership Transition Plan

There was a motion by Steph Cowie and seconded by Harry Fisher to add an item to the agenda to discuss a potential chair-elect and to vote on the effective date of the resignation of the current chair.

That required a 2/3 vote – 6 out of the 9 members – to pass.

The vote to add that agenda item failed in a vote of 5 yes, 4 no.

Christina Poccia: yes
Tony Turner: no
Claire Kilgallen: yes
Todd Klair: no
Joe Rossetti: no
Josh Caspi: no
Jan Kniffen: yes
Harry Fisher: yes
Laura Kostin: yes

CMS BC Leadership Transition

Board of Education chair Karen Kowalski was invited by Mr. Turner to speak as a “stakeholder.”

Kowalski urged the committee to advance their leadership transition in a timely fashion.

“The BOE has concerns with the changing and leadership going forward,” she said. “We would like some certainty with respect to the transition of the chair.”

“I’d encourage you to put a plan quickly in place for purposes of transition,” Kowalski added. “This is our biggest BOE project, our most expensive one. We’d like to make sure there is nothing that impacts our ability to put a shovel in the ground before the end of this year.”

“I’m concerned with the dynamics of the committee that there may be some impacts to that,” she said.

Mr. Turner recalled that on May 3 he had announced his intent to step down and a 30-60 day transition period.

“My head is still in that place, meaning it is late June/early July,” he said. “It is impossible as I see things today, to have a date certain. What I am extremely concerned right now is that this project…is the single greatest risk point in the town right now. That is, 9 people control a $112 million budget.”

“We still have to go through the P&Z final site plan, and we have four very serious issues still outstanding,” he added. “We’re in the first third of transitioning to Jones Lang LaSalle (project managers), and in talking with senior VP assigned to our project, likewise they support the chair transitioning later – after they’ve been on-boarded.”

“To immediately step aside would be extremely irresponsible,” he added. “At the same time I do recognize we need to take action of some kind.”

Mr. Turner said there were many critical dates to meet in the next 60-75 days, that, if not met, would jeopardize the green light from the state for construction.

“Yesterday we had a small scare,” Turner continued. “We almost had a blip that would have caused us to miss the final P&Z sight plan presentation at the end of May…We have to be mindful of who the next chair is going to be.”

“To simply have a vote, and elect someone without thought as to what the job responsibilities, time availability – has the person had the experience of driving organizational excellence while managing to the bottom line,” Turner said. “This is a very, very serious situation we’re in. It’s not an up and down vote….We need a plan, we need to think about dates.”

Then, during “Housekeeping,” Ms Kilgallen asked that the same motion  to discuss a potential chair elect be put on the agenda for the next building committee meeting.

Mr. Turner said that topic would be on the “officers” conversation on Friday.

“You have to talk to the whole committee,” said Lauren Rabin the Republican Selectwoman who is a non voting member of the committee. ”

The three of you don’t get to willy-nilly decide what goes on and off,” Rabin continued, adding that she seconded Ms Kilgallen’s motion.

Mr. Turner said the motion to add an agenda item for the following week could not be raised during “Housekeeping,” but rather could be raised during the New Business later in the meeting.

Much later, during New Business, after Mr. Turner had left the meeting, Ms Kilgallen introduced the motion to put the discussion on potential chair elect and date of resignation of current chair to the next agenda.

Christina Poccia suggested separating the motion into two parts.

“I’d really like to hear who is  nominated to take that chair position,” she said. “If we separate those two, we might gain more traction.”

She suggested nominations of candidates for chair be made on the floor for discussion at the next meeting.

Ms Poccia nominated Steph Kowie.

Ms Kostin nominated Clare Kilgallen.

Joe Rossetti said, “I think the conversation is premature. I don’t think we’re ready to be talking about the change of chair. We still have to onboard JLL. I’m of the position that the chair doesn’t change. I think the position has been handled well.”

“But he’s announced he’s stepping down,” Kilgallen said. “We had a vote of no confidence on April 23 and the announcement he is stepping down.

“You had a vote of 4 people of 9,” Rossetti said.

Mr. Fisher noted that 5 people – a majority – were interested in having the item including discussion of potential chairs on the agenda.

“People want to see it on the agenda,” Mr. Fisher said.

Ms Poccia asked that anyone who wanted to be considered for chair send a letter to the committee members and explain their time commitment availability and qualifications, so members could be prepared to vote on a new chair at the next meeting.

“I think that’s fair,” Fisher said.

While a few people had logged off, there was a roll call vote on whether to add to the May 21 building committee agenda “potential nominations for an incoming chair provided that the potential incoming chair conveys their acceptance of the time required and the role and responsibilities is circulated to the team to make a proper decision.”

The motion passed, with 5 yes votes, 1 no vote, 3 absent.

Christina Poccia: yes
Clare Kilgallen: yes
Jan Kniffen: yes
Harry Fisher: yes
Laura Kostin: yes

Joe Rossetti: no

Tony Turner: absent
Todd Klair: absent
Josh Caspi: absent

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