Saying that “the growing national atmosphere of distrust has now infected Stamford’s community,” Mayor David Martin has ordered reviews of all major transactions between the city and Building and Land Technology that had been negotiated by former director of administration Michael Handler.
Handler left his city post – the equivalent of a chief financial officer – on Feb. 28 after serving for eight years, saying he planned to spend more time with his family and that he had no other job lined up.
But on March 4, BLT announced Handler was joining it as a member of its executive committee.
Martin then issued a statement saying that, “consistent with our ethical policy,” the city “will not work with Mike on potential P3 (public private partnerships) plans in Stamford.”
“I believe Mike Handler served our community faithfully for eight years and everything he has done for our city has given me the utmost confidence in his commitment to the people of Stamford,” Martin stated.
This afternoon Martin published an open letter to residents on the city’s website, addressing what he said was growing speculation about the business conducted by Handler with BLT on the city’s behalf, especially in light of his subsequent move to that Stamford firm.
“Because his City position previously required Director Handler to negotiate with BLT on several significant projects, it is understandable individuals might be suspicious of this move,” Martin wrote. “There may also be individuals who will speculate without evidence and promote conspiracy theories about Director Handler’s move to BLT.
“Let me be very clear,” the mayor continued. “I have confidence in Director Handler and his ethical conduct while working on behalf of the City. Director Handler is credited with saving the City millions of dollars as a result of his outstanding financial acumen and his tenacious pursuit of agreements that advantaged City taxpayers.
“Nevertheless, I intend to address this matter head-on,” he continued. “My first action was to meet with the Chairs of the Board of Finance and the Board of Finance Audit Committee, as well as the President of the Board of Representatives and Chair of the Fiscal Committee to discuss this matter. We are in agreement our new Director of Administration Sandy Dennies — in conjunction with the Audit Committee of the Board of Finance — will conduct reviews of major transactions between the City and BLT negotiated by Director Handler.”
Those reviews “will focus on whether or not the City was disadvantaged in these transactions and determine if any actions or decisions were adverse to the City’s interests,” Martin wrote. “The City will use an outside financial audit firm that has not been involved in these transactions. After receiving and reviewing the findings with the Board of Finance, my Administration will present the findings to the other Boards.
“Unfortunately, the growing national atmosphere of distrust has now infected Stamford’s community,” he concluded. “I believe it best to answer speculation with facts and truth, which is the purpose of these reviews. Regardless of any speculations, these reviews are appropriate and must be done.”
Neither Handler nor BLT responded immediately to a request for comment on the open letter. However, BLT did issue a statement in reaction to Martin’s earlier “will not work with Mike” remarks.
“A restriction exists for good reason that limits a former cabinet member from directly working with the city for a period of one year, and Mike has every intention of following this restriction,” BLT said. “We are a firm believer in the public-private partnership model to improve school facilities and our education system.
“While Stamford is a perfect candidate for this,” it continued, “there are numerous locations throughout the state and the country where this model makes complete sense and will result in a tremendous benefit for students, teachers, parents, and the communities in which they live.”