WALLINGFORD — Town small businesses and nonprofits may finally get the news they've been waiting for Tuesday night when the Town Council holds a special meeting to approve their ARPA applications.
The organizations on Tuesday's agenda have all been vetted by the town's ARPA consultant and the ARPA Application Review Committee and are now before the council for approval.
After that, they only need the OK from Mayor William Dickinson Jr. to receive the federal funding allocated to help municipalities, small businesses and nonprofits recoup losses from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the council will also discuss applications that the committee declined to recommend, as well as applications deemed ineligible by the town’s consultants, which has caused a stir among members of both the Town Council and the review committee.
The council will consider almost a million dollars in grants: $535,506 to nonprofits and $348,736 to small businesses. It will also consider applications the committee did not recommend to the council, and applications the town's consultant, UHY Consultants, did not pass on to the committee. The town hired UHY to vet the applications for eligibility, and pass on those deemed eligible to the committee, which then makes recommendations to the council.
It's been a long road for both the applicants and the town officials charged with administering the program, and still questions remain as to how it will finally shake out, including the handling of applications that may present a conflict of interest for council members.
For example, Town Councilor Jason Zandri objected when the committee declined to recommend an application from the Wallingford Grange. Zandri joined the Grange in October and was elected vice president in January. He ultimately left the organization and says he will recuse himself from voting on its ARPA application.
"I took on zero activity towards the application of the grant," Zandri said in a letter to ARPA review committee Chairman Mike Brodinsky. "That was all handled by President Robin Hettrick. I already assumed I could not vote on the item for the Grange and I had no intention to do so."
After obtaining a copy of the town's Code of Ethics, he resigned from the Grange, Zandri said.
"As soon as I found out that was the exact language of the code, I tendered my resignation to the organization in its entirety," he said. "I am no longer an officer and I am no longer a member. My membership was four months in total."
But Brodinsky still had concerns after Zandri requested the council consider the Grange's application, as well as two others the review committee declined to recommend — the Hungarian Community Club and Zion Lutheran Church, neither of which Zandri has connections to.
The item was added to the council's Feb. 28 agenda, but at the start of that meeting, council Chairman Vincent Cervoni announced it had been removed.
Before that meeting, Brodinsky, in an email to Town Attorney Janis Small and Cervoni, objected to Zandri's request for reconsideration of the applications.
"You now have the communications from Mr. Zandri indicating that while he was an officer of the Grange, he promoted the Grange's interests to other councilors, and he requested that the Grange’s application for $182,000 in ARPA funds be placed on the council’s agenda," Brodinsky wrote. "The request was granted. Mr. Zandri’s purpose: To overturn the ARPA Committee in order to get $182,000 for his organization.
"Mr. Zandri thinks that because he has resigned from the Grange, he can now ethically proceed on its behalf to undermine the Committee and get the Grange money. But his conflict of interest, and the appearance of it, survives and persists still," Brodinsky said in a letter to the town's Law Department. "I ask you not to be enablers of this conduct. The Codes of Ethics (Federal and local) would become jokes if you do."
Zandri could not be reached for comment Monday. Cervoni said the council will discuss the situation, as well as the applications that were not passed on to the council, at its Tuesday meeting.
"We could have chosen to have the council review all the applications instead of appointing a committee and instead we opted to appoint a committee," Cervoni said.
"It's complicated, to say the least," he said about the situation involving Zandri. "It depends on how strictly you read the Code of Ethics for the town of Wallingford.” The council will "entirely possibly" consider the Grange's application, he said.
The council meets tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at Town Hall. Meanwhile, the ARPA Application Review Committee has meetings scheduled for March 22 and March 29, both at 6:30 p.m. at the HUBCAP, 128 Center St. to continue to review applications from both nonprofits and small businesses.