New Milford Town Council meeting devolves into shouting match
NEW MILFORD — Pleas to keep the Town Council meeting civil were mostly ignored Monday after the mayor, tree warden and a tree contractor got into a three-way shouting match.
Mayor David Gronbach and tree warden Carlos Caridad bickered over problems with the town’s tree-trimming contract and who was at fault for the months-long delay in removal of dead and dangerous trees.
Last month, the town began clearing dead trees Caridad said he had tagged for removal months ago. Gronbach accused Caridad of politicizing the issue.
“The trees are being addressed,” Gronbach said. “If there is a tree that poses an imminent threat to the health or welfare of any person, that tree comes down.”
But Caridad said a handful of dangerous trees are still standing.
Caridad said he sent Gronbach several emails last winter about the risks posed by dead trees, but gave up trying to communicate in February “because all the correspondence that I had with him went ignored.
“I met with him several times up until November,” Caridad told the several dozen members of the audience. “I realized I was getting lip service. I decided email was the right way to immortalize what was going on and the liabilities the town was being exposed to.”
But Gronbach said it is Public Works, not the mayor’s office, that is in charge of tree removal, and the department was copied on all the emails he received on the subject.
“I’m not involved in the tree business,” he said. “It goes through Public Works, and then it gets to me.”
Caridad shot back, “The biggest mistake I ever made politically was voting for you,” he shouted, and announced his resignation.
“Think twice before you vote for this guy,” Caridad said as he walked out.
Before he left, Caridad and Gronbach agreed there is a problem with the town’s tree contract. Despite two rounds of bidding, the town has yet to pick a firm for this fiscal year. The previous contract with Emmons Tree & Landscaping Services was temporarily extended last month.
During the first bid process, the town received only three bids, one of which was disqualified. During the second bid process, only one company, Gentile Tree Care, applied.
Gronbach said the town is considering using the state’s tree-bid process or allowing the town to have multiple tree contractors.
“There should be more than one option for tree service for the town,” Gronbach said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Gentile Tree Care was the town’s tree contractor for five years before Gronbach took office.
But at Monday’s meeting, owner Sam Gentile — shouting from the back of the room — accused Gronbach of pursuing a personal vendetta against him and denying him the contract for two years running.
“You’re a scumbag,” Gentile yelled. “You know who you are. You know you’re a cheat and a sneak.”
Council member Mary Jane Lundgren threatened to call the police if Gentile did not leave, but Gronbach said Gentile could stay if he remained quiet.
Gronbach said Tuesday Gentile’s temper was one of the reasons the town did not pick his company.
“Part of the bid is the character and how they’re going to perform for the town,” he said. “People were scared of his outburst last night.”
On Tuesday, Gentile said he hired an attorney after his bid was rejected.
“I’m being singled out here,” he said. “I’m not being treated fairly. I’m ready to take legal action because it’s totally absurd what he’s doing. Yes, I lost my cool last night because there’s only so much you can take.”
Caridad said Tuesday it “pained” him to walk away from his job, but he could no longer work with Gronbach.
“I’ve never seen someone so blatantly lie,” he said, claiming Gronbach had not asked him to improve the tree-bid contract as Gronbach had said at the meeting.
In addition to serving as tree warden, Caridad has sat on numerous local boards. He said his allegiance is to the residents, not to a political party.
“My motivation is public safety and doing what’s right for the town," he said.