Letter claims Stuart 'mismanaged' Bridgewater trust fund

Bridgewater Democrats recently opened their mail to find a five-page letter from long-time Board of Finance member George Allingham claiming that the first selectman had allegedly mismanaged a trust fund.

In the letter, Mr. Allingham states that the town's first selectman, Bill Stuart, had been drawing money from a trust fund set up to assist those in need and distributing it "without consulting anyone else or obtaining required approval."

Called the Burnham Fund, it was the focus of a recent Freedom of Information Commission ruling, which determined that the names of recipients and amounts distributed to those recipients from the fund be released.

New Milford attorney Paul Garlasco, who has a federal suit against the town and Stuart over a land dispute, sought the names.

Mr. Stuart said Aug. 13, after the FOI decision was reached, that he had "absolutely no concern" about trust fund recipients' names being given out beyond confidentiality issues.

"Everybody in Bridgewater is a friend of mine so it's impossible for me not to give money from the fund to someone in need who is not a friend," said Mr. Stuart, who has been Bridgewater's first selectman for 26 years and was close friends with Mr. Allingham for decades.

In his letter, Mr. Allingham wrote, "The records clearly indicate Mr. Stuart distributed in excess of $2,500 to a single recipient."

The recipient of that money, Robin vonReyn, came forward Aug. 28, saying that she was, in fact, in need of help when she turned to Stuart as the first selectman in the town.

"Several years ago I had fallen on very hard times... I had a home to keep up and three sons to take care of in addition to many other bills. I turned to our first selectman for help and he came through," Ms. vonReyn said. "Without that help, I would have lost my home and would have been forced to leave Bridgewater."

Ms. vonReyn said she found Mr. Allingham's letter to be "a despicable accusation." She said she knew Mr. Stuart since she moved to the town 10 years ago, but not as a close personal friend.

Mr. Allingham could not be reached for further comment. But his letter stated that he believed he had been passed over by the Democratic Party in town to run in the coming November election because of Mr. Stuart's influence. He explained in the letter why he petitioned for a primary, which is scheduled for Sept. 15.

"The Democratic system requires checks and balances," Mr. Allingham wrote in the letter. "A volunteer serving on a Board or Commission should not be expelled for exposing inappropriate ... behavior of the First Selectman."

The chairman of the town's Board of Finance, Colin Brown, also signed the letter stating he agreed with "all the facts as presented above."

Mr. Allingham hired a private attorney to offer an opinion on Stuart's actions in regard to the disbursement of money from the Burnham Fund, the letter said.

Attorney Daniel Casagrande, of the firm Cramer & Anderson, wrote in his opinion earlier this year that Mr. Stuart had acted inappropriately since state law "prohibits the Board of Selectmen from making expenditures from the Burnham Fund without an appropriation authorizing such expenditures."

Mr. Stuart said Aug. 28 that the names of the recipients from the Burnham Fund would be released soon and that should put any questions about propriety of disbursement to rest.

"I think that the Burnham Fund has done a lot of good over the years for the people in this town," Mr. Stuart said.