Election, lawsuits, Charlie the bulldog dominate headlines
The following ranked among the top news articles over the past year.
Election ’19: Lauretti rolls to 15th term; change dominates BOE
Mayor Mark Lauretti rolled to his 15th consecutive term as Republicans held control of the top boards and commissions in Shelton, according to Election Day totals. Lauretti easily outdistanced Democrat John Harmon by a wide margin, nearly 70 percent to 30 percent. Lauretti finished with 7,225 votes, compared to Harmon’s 3,493. Republicans also held control of the Board of Aldermen.
The biggest change came to the Board of Education, which now has six new members. Republicans held control with incumbent Kathy Yolish (6,752) joined by Carl Rizzo (5,625), John Fitzgerald (5,745), Amy Romano (6,188) and Jim Orazietti (6,195). On the Democrats’ side, incumbents Kate Kutash (5,023) and Amanda Kilmartin (4,478) won re-election, with Diana Meyer (4,509) and Patti Moonan (4,144) filling out the board. Two incumbents, Republican Darlisa Ritter (5,277) and Democrat David Gioiello (3,964), failed in re-election bids.
The election came after rough Republican primaries in September, during which eight Republicans joined forces in an attempt to force their way on the November ticket. “Here for Shelton” was a group started by Anne Gaydos, Mark Holden, Tom Minotti, Mike Gaydos, Peter Squitieri, Greg Tetro, Chris Jones and Jim Capra. All but Capra were passed over by the Republican Town Committee at the summer caucus.
Capra, who was unanimously supported in his run for re-election to the Board of Aldermen’s Fourth Ward, ultimately faced a fight from Bernie Simons. Simons was a surprise primary candidate for the Fourth Ward and was backed by some RTC members in his efforts.
In the end, the Lauretti-backed candidates easily captured primary victories, then rolled to election wins in November.
Beth Smith faces police investigation; no charges but endures job switch
The community was shocked in March as police opened an investigation into then-Shelton High School Principal Beth Smith and then-SHS Assistant Principal John Skerritt, who were both placed on administrative leave, neither to return to their old posts again.
Smith and Skerritt, who is now assistant principal at Shelton Intermediate School, were investigated for the school’s handling of an alleged sexual assault involving two students and whether school personnel adhered to requirements in state law.
That six-week investigation was closed earlier in May, with no criminal charges filed. The police report on the investigation stated that Shelton police had sought a warrant for the arrest of Smith and for risk of injury to a minor and interfering with police, but State’s Attorney Margaret Kelley declined to prosecute.
Once cleared, Smith was moved to the central office for a special education post. She then filed a grievance. Smith reached an agreement in December with school officials and the Board of Education, resolving the pending grievance she filed following her reassignment to supervisor of special education in July.
The settlement approved unanimously by the Board of Education changed Smith’s new title to supervisor of special education and pupil services, labeled the move as a promotion and kept her $164,595 salary but also grants the administrator annual pay raises of 2.8 percent, as she would have received if still high school principal.
With the agreement, Smith and the union agreed to withdraw the pending grievance and the arbitration was canceled.
Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish noted that Smith and Skerritt were both cleared of any wrongdoing by the state’s attorney’s office, and school Superintendent Chris Clouet stated that Smith had followed the board’s policies and procedures, so “there was no cause for disciplinary action against her.”
Kathy Riddle was named the interim high school principal for the 2019-20 school year.
Jeff Roy steps down as Shelton High’s winningest football coach
Jeff Roy stepped down as Shelton High School football coach in December. He coached 25 years at his alma mater, including the last 16 running the program, leaving as the winningest coach in the school’s history.
For Roy, now 52, the reason is simple: His 7-year old twins — Brady and Luke — need him.
Roy’s teams went 129-46 (.737 winning percentage) and reached three state championship games.
A 1985 Shelton graduate and an All-Housatonic League selection, Roy started in the defensive backfield at CCSU for four seasons. He took a job at Sikorsky Aircraft when another Shelton product asked him to join coach James Benanto’s staff.
Roy rose through the ranks, became a teacher and ultimately Benanto’s defensive coordinator. Shelton won titles in 1995, 2000 and 2003, Benanto’s last as head coach. Roy took over for Benanto, his mentor, in 2004. Roy’s first team went 8-2, but then dipped to 3-7 the following season.
As it turned out, that was Roy’s first and only losing season. Shelton reached its state championship game under Roy in 2007, but lost to Greenwich 28-14, in the LL final.
After a six-year playoff drought, the Gaels finally broke through again in 2014. This time, however, they lost to Xavier, 28-27, in overtime when quarterback Mark Piccirillo was ruled to have fumbled before crossing the goal line — a call Roy and his staff still dispute.
Shelton returned to the final in 2015, but lost to eventual No. 1 Darien, 39-7, in the Class LL championship — a game in which his quarterback, Zach Tuskowski, broke his collarbone on the Gaels’ first series.
Both the 2014 and 15 seasons were unbeaten, SCC Championship years for the Gaels.
Overall, Roy’s teams reached the state playoffs seven times, all in Class LL, including five-consecutive years from 2014 until this season when the team went 7-3 and just missed out on a Class LL playoff berth.
Search for Charlie the bulldog has happy ending
A miracle was the only way the Artes family could describe being reunited with their bulldog, Charlie, the pup who had been lost for more than a month after July 3 and, in that time, captured the hearts of the community.
Charlie was found, safe and sound, on Aug. 7, by a young couple walking along Bridgeport Avenue. The 1-year old, brown and white bulldog had lost 19 pounds and was “a bit dehydrated,” according to Aimee Artes, but he was sleeping with his family after weeks on the streets.
The Artes have been searching for the pup since July 3, when he slipped out of his harness and ran off during Shelton’s fireworks. Since then, Aimee and her family had been online and out in the streets posting flyers in an attempt to find Charlie.
The family had received a call from a young woman on Aug. 7 saying she believed they had found a bulldog fitting Charlie’s description and told him the location - in a ravine between Long Hill and Bridgeport avenues. Charlie was examined by the family veterinarian but besides being a little disheveled and dehydrated, he was fit to spend the night with his family.
“We have been overwhelmed with the community’s support,” said Aimee Artes.
“Insensitive” acts put Shelton in national spotlight
School officials were forced to action in response to two incidents involving intermediate school students. The first came in October, when a photo of a female student wearing blackface hit Snapchat. The girls involved apologized, but no other punishment was given. This led to NAACP members holding a rally in front of SIS prior to a Board of Education meeting.
The next incident occurred on Oct. 11, when a white student spit on a black person at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Principal Dina Marks said the student’s actions — which led to the group of 100 students being kicked out of the museum — were inappropriate and immature but not racially motivated.
In response, the district has formed an ambassador program, with some three dozen Shelton high school and intermediate school students coming together in an attempt to bridge the racial divide which has engulfed the city — brought to prominence of late by two separate acts by intermediate school students that were called out for being racially insensitive and made national news.
Students and staff have also been receiving diversity and sensitivity training over the past few weeks, but NAACP officials have been critical of the school district’s handling of the recent high-profile incidents.
“This is a great first step for Shelton on the way to denouncing bigotry and promoting diversity,” said NAACP Ansonia branch President Greg Johnson. “Multicultural ambassador programs can be very effective agents for change, but we must remember that these programs are for the long haul, they are not quick fixes. We must also remember that this program in and of itself will not change the existing culture. The people that are the face of the community will be the change.”
Teacher realizes game show dream
Elizabeth Shelton School first-grade teacher Kristen Zack realized a lifelong dream when she appeared on Wheel of Fortune, which aired in November.
“It was truly an experience of a lifetime,” said Zack, a former Shelton resident who now lives in Wallingford with her husband, Brad, and young son. “I never thought this would happen in my wildest dreams. It is something I can tell my son about in the years ahead.
“I have to say it is exciting for the students. I was on America’s game show, and everyone gets to see it. I loved being a part of it. It is still not setting in about how big this was for me.”
The results of the show, taped on Columbus Day weekend, remained secret until broadcast. Zack took home $3,500 and finished second.
Officer honored for lifesaving efforts
Officer Michael Kichar was honored by city officials in September for saving the lives of a Meadow Street couple whose house suffered extensive damage from an early morning fire in May.
Mayor Lauretti presented Kichar with a certificate of recognition for his lifesaving efforts to a rousing applause from the aldermen and residents in attendance.
Kichar was on his way in to work about 6:55 a.m. on Sunday, May 19, when he observed smoke coming from a residence at 184 Meadow Street, which is less than a mile from police headquarters. Kichar called 911 and then was able to wake and alert the residents of the home and help them and the family dog escape before firefighters arrived.
“(Kichar) deserves credit for saving their lives, or at least saving them from serious injury,” said Fire Marshal James Tortora at the time.
Kichar knocked numerous times before one of the homeowners came to the door. The homeowners told Kichar they were asleep and did not even know the house was on fire. Once all were rescued, the home was engulfed in flames within minutes.
Firefighters from neighboring Monroe and Trumbull were called in to help local firefighters extinguish the blaze that was brought under control at 8:23 a.m. Tortora said the fire started in the garage area, which had been converted into an apartment that was unoccupied and used for storage. He added that the fire spread quickly into the attic and caused extensive damage to the single-story home.
“(Kichar) had the presence of mind to stop, get into the house and get the people out, so they are alive today,” said Lauretti. “The house is not, but the people are.”
City sues Board of Education, again
The city of Shelton filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education, for the second time in two years, charging the BOE with deficit spending in violation of the city charter.
The suit remains in place, even though the BOE now has the same attorneys as the city — corporation counsel Teodosio Stanik.
The suit was in response to the city audit report, which reported that the school board overspent its budget allotment by some $3.1 million over a two-year period. The motion stated that the “City of Shelton take appropriate legal action against the Shelton superintendent of schools and those responsible on the Board of Education and/or within the Shelton school district for deficit spending by the Shelton school district in violation of city charter as noted by the city of Shelton auditor for the fiscal years 2016-2017 and 2017-18.”
In a roll call vote, the aldermen deadlocked at 4-4, with Mayor Lauretti breaking the tie with a vote in favor of the legal action. David Gidwani, Jim Capra, Noreen McGorty and Cris Balamaci voted against the suit.
The suit stems from the report filed by CPA David Cappilletti of Clermont and Associates, LLP, the city’s independent auditor. The audit uncovered a $3,170,300 accumulated loss in five special-revenue accounts maintained by the Board of Education and school district. The biggest shortfall was for $2,776,708 in the state excess cost-grant program, a fund used primarily to subsidize high-cost special education programs. Much of its revenue gets reimbursed by the state, hence the name of the fund.
Cappilletti did not suggest there was any wrongdoing on the part of the Board of Education or school district staff. Instead, the problem came about because of misunderstandings of the budgeting requirements, he said, and a lack of communication between the school district and City Hall.
School Superintendent Chris Clouet also said there are “serious errors” in the audit report. He said the error stems from how the district uses and accounts for state-issued excess-cost funds that help school districts deal with unanticipated special ed costs. Such students, he said, typically “need complex services offered in out-of-district settings.”
This has also resulted in a better relationship between the Board of Aldermen and Board of Education related to financial issues.
Bus issues cause delay in school opening
Shelton schools opened on Wednesday, Sept. 4, one day later than originally planned, because the city-run Shelton Student Transportation Services was still verifying driver records.
State Department of Motor Vehicles officials spent much of Friday, Aug. 30, inspecting drivers’ records, and Mayor Lauretti pushed to subcontract drivers as all involved sought to guarantee school starting on Sept. 3, as planned.
The city officially took over control of the school bus transportation operation on July 1, and summer school started on July 9. The city takeover of the student bus transportation was a result of the city lawsuit against the Board of Education in 2018.
Shelton FD, Echo Hose Ambulance earn top honors
Echo Hose Ambulance received the 2019 Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service. Echo Hose Ambulance, which was chosen for the honor by the Council of Regional Presidents (CORP), received the award on May 20 in the State Capitol’s Old Judiciary Room.
This award was established to recognize and commend an EMS organization, whether career or volunteer in structure, that has enhanced the understanding and support of the EMS system through its public service, community education and contributions to a city, town, region or the state as a whole.
The criteria used to select the honoree includes EMS leadership, public education and community involvement.
The Shelton Fire Department earned high praise in July, being tabbed as the state’s top fire department by the American Legion Department of Connecticut.
Representatives of each of Shelton’s four fire companies — Echo Hose Hook and Ladder Co. #1, Huntington Fire Co. #3, Shelton Fire Co. #4 (Pine Rock Park), and White Hills Voluntary Fire Co. #5 — were on hand to accept the award, for which the department was nominated by Sutter-Terlizzi American Legion Post 16 of Shelton.
According to the American Legion Department of Connecticut, the Fire Department of the Year designation is awarded annually to the state fire department that “while in the pursuit of its profession and by exceptional performance of duty, brings credit to that fire department and the community for performance in the field of public safety, children and youth, community awareness projects, and participation in patriotic observances.”
Shelton’s fire companies were nominated by Sutter-Terlizzi American Legion Post 16 of Shelton for serving more than 42,000 residents, plus hundreds of commercial buildings, and responding to incidents on state highways and conducting public safety education programs while still “finding time to volunteer for causes other than their own.
“On top of countless hours of training and answering over a thousand emergency calls per year the department is also very active in the community,” stated the local American Legion Post in its nomination of the Shelton Fire Department.
“Shelton’s all-volunteer fire department goes above and beyond the call for community, state and nation on so many levels,” stated the local Legion. “They truly are Shelton’s bravest. Many fire department members also are active members and officers of American Legion Post 16 in Shelton. Sutter-Terlizzi American Legion Post 16 proudly salutes the Shelton Fire Department.”