Southbury First Selectman Ed Edelson attempted to answer
allegations Tuesday that he covered up an accident involving a town-owned
Department of Public Works truck that tipped over on Peter Road over the summer, seriously damaging the vehicle and causing hydraulic fluid to spill into the soil.
Edelson’s political rivals, including many who support his Republican opponent, John Monteleone, are lodging the accusations. Among them are that Edelson, a Democrat, failed to notify DEEP as required by state law, that he should have reported the accident to the Board of Selectmen and that he never notified the public of the incident. The town bought the truck in 2011 for $175,000.
Resident Robert Barnes says Edelson has a duty as the town’s chief elected official to notify the state’s Commercial Truck Inspection Division and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about such incidents.
Barnes says there was a large amount of hydraulic fluid that spilled from the truck (see photos attached). Edelson said those on scene, including police, firemen and DPW employees, determined that:
“Although there was leakage of hydraulic fluid, it was not more than a few gallons. …It was biodegradable fluid that is used so no cleanup is necessary as with a petroleum product, the consensus was that a call to DEEP was not required.”
The person in charge of reporting those types of spills in town is Fire Chief Rick Lyle, who admitted as much Tuesday during the press conference. (see attached video)
‘The Buck Stops at (Edelson’s) Desk’
That is what Carol Renza of Concerned Taxpayers of Southbury told people at Tuesday's press conference. Renza, who supports Monteleone, said she’s upset that the public was not notified.
“We put in the paper the theft of a $400 leaf blower from a town truck - it was reported n a police report,” she said. “But damages like this weren’t reported? It was a cover up. I think we need honesty and truth and transparency in government. (Edelson) prides himself with being transparent, but he is not.”
Monteleone told Patch following the press conference that he was surprised at the way the incident was handled:
“The current first selectman has talked much about transparency,” he said. “I think it’s an unfortunate accident. Thank God no one was hurt, I’m very happy about that. Since this involves such a large and costly item, I would have expected, regardless of what other activities were going on in town that it would have been fully disclosed, especially to the Board of Selectmen. They were elected to know what’s going on in town and to help manage the town. The first selectman is not the only guy in charge of town. I think he should rely on them, get their advice and get their counsel before taking action.”
Barnes was far more blunt in his criticism of Edelson. In a letter he submitted to local media, he wrote:
“Mr. Edelson’s motivation is clear – that this serious incident be hidden from the voter weeks before the election, totally irrespective of violations of DMV, DEEP laws. Edelson, who advertises himself as a strong environmentalist and whose administration purports to be ‘transparent,’ once again speaks with forked tongue – transparency and the environment be damned.”
Edelson: ‘There was no cover up’
The first selectman defended himself and town employees Tuesday, while admitting that some lessons were learned. He told the public he was surprised to learn that all DEEP fluid spills need to be reported, regardless of the amount or substance.
“Frankly, I was surprised to learn this as I was used to a 5-gallon minimum of hazardous substances, unless it is into a body of water,” he said. “This was basically a small leak of vegetable oil. When we asked DEEP what they would have done if we had reported this back in June, the answer was that they would have recorded it and thanked us for informing it to them. No further action would have been required.
“I would remind you that we have a team of very experienced town employees and volunteers on site and none of them thought this was a leak worthy of reporting. We have all learned something.”
He addressed each concern point-by-point Tuesday and handed the media a four-page, typed letter that contained his full remarks. In it, he states that although police were on scene, it was not a police matter. “An incident report was made based on the call to dispatch, but this is very brief,” he said.
“Per the question of why I did not report this to the Board of Selectmen, I can only observe that after my first concerns about safety were addressed, I moved on to other things that needed my attention,” Edelson said.
Those included closing out the books on the fiscal year, which ended two days after this incident occurred. He said the next Board of Selectmen meeting was scheduled for the Fourth of July and was canceled due to the holiday.
“By the time of our next meeting on July 18, this was no longer an issue in my mind,” he said. “It was an insurance matter that was moving forward as it should and being handled appropriately by the Public Works and Fiscal Office.”
He closed the press conference by saying everyone involved did their job with the best interest of the community in mind.
“I want to be clear – there never was and there is no cover up about this matter,” he said. “While we appreciate public comments at Selectmen meetings, this opportunity should not be used to make allegations about public employees and volunteers that are without merit. I would ask that people pay attention to the facts before making statements about not following legal procedures and continuing to undermine the integrity of employees and volunteers despite facts to the contrary.”