NAUGATUCK — Mayor Robert Mezzo was taken back Tuesday when he read comments made by Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi over the way he handled a recent government action.
Rossi, a Republican running for mayor, criticized Mezzo, a Democrat and her longtime ally, for making what she described as a unilateral decision behind closed doors over a decision to ask the state to put the former U.S. Army National Guard Armory building onto the state’s annual real estate conveyance bill. Rossi made the remarks to a reporter Monday about Mezzo after Democratic mayoral candidate N. Warren “Pete” Hess criticized her plan for the Armory.
“I find it ridiculous that the deputy mayor — who I’ve worked with for many years and consider a friend — is questioning my ethics in dealing with an issue that has been in the public conversation for many years,” Mezzo said. “All I did was follow up with the legislature and was told that we could get the property included in a conveyance bill if I submitted an application the next day, and I did so.”
Mezzo said he was surprised to see Rossi’s comments in the Tuesday’s Republican-American — he is not seeking re-election and said he has had no conversations with Rossi about her displeasure over the way the situation was handled. He said the decision over whether to take ownership of the property is ultimately up to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses to approve in a public meeting.
“I don’t see how much more public this can be done,” he said.
Furthermore, Mezzo said Rossi’s plan will have cost implications that she has not factored into her plan thus far. For example, he said, retrofitting the property to repurpose it as a multiuse community center will undoubtedly cost significant money.
“This is being touted as a cost saver for the borough, and maybe in the long term it might become that,” he said. “But there is certainly a big upfront cost to retrofit that building for any use it may have.”
Earlier in her campaign, Rossi said she had considered those costs and was exploring how much money would need to be put into the building.
Finally, Mezzo said Rossi’s plan doesn’t actually save any money. While Rossi says the plan would save Naugatuck between $5 million and $10 million — just based upon the cost of building a new Department of Public Works facility — Mezzo said there are no current plans to build a new DPW facility.
In response, Rossi said she was not calling Mezzo’s ethics into question.
“What happened with that decision, and the mayor stated it himself, was that the decision was made on his own,” she said. “My platform and my plan was already formed. It was never brought before the borough board. We all read about it in the Republican-American.”
She said she was surprised because Mezzo has set a precedent of giving burgesses the courtesy of letting them know when something important is happening. And, she said, she has told Mezzo of her disappointment with how he handled the situation.
“Yes, we have discussed this in theory for a long time, but we as burgesses were left to read the details in the newspaper,” she said.