Suit against New Milford mayor back in court
NEW MILFORD — A lawsuit accusing Mayor David Gronbach of misappropriating town funds by bypassing the Board of Finance was back on the docket this week after a summer of inaction.
The suit, brought by Republican Town Committee Chairman Mike Barnes, contends Gronbach used money from the Landfill Settlement Fund — more commonly known as the Waste Management Fund — and the town contingency fund without Board of Finance approval.
Barnes, who is suing not in his RTC capacity but as a taxpayer, argues this is against state and town law. He is asking the court for an injunction.
The case was on the docket for Monday at the Litchfield Judicial District Courthouse in Torrington, but no action was taken then. Instead, it was continued to a later date, which has not yet been set.
Gronbach, a Democrat, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. His attorney, Melinda Powell, said the case is hung up in Appellate Court.
In the spring, Judge John W. Pickard granted Barnes standing to sue the mayor, a decision Gronbach’s attorneys then appealed.
In September, a state Appellate Court clerk dismissed Gronbach’s appeal.
“What it all means is that taxpayers do have a voice,” Barnes said in a phone interview. “Taxpayers do have the right to hold elected officials responsible.”
Powell said it isn’t that simple.
The court date in Torrington “just means that Mr. Barnes is making efforts to reinitiate the process,” she said.
Barnes still has a partial appeal — on one matter related to his standing — waiting to be heard in the Appellate Court, she added.
The case “is basically in a procedural circle,” Powell said.
Gronbach, in March, said granting Barnes’ standing in the case had serious legal implications. “If everyone can sue the mayor, it would grind government to a halt,” he said.
Gronbach has called the lawsuit, which is largely based on his use of money from the Waste Management Fund for the contentious renovation of the old John Pettibone School into a community center, “Republican obstructionism.”
The renovation, backed by Gronbach and a Democratic majority on Town Council, was finished earlier this fall.
For the past year, Republican Town Council members often voted against spending on the project, arguing the mayor did not present the project’s true cost.
The Democrat-lead Town Council voted to approve the appropriations.
The Board of Finance often didn’t see the appropriations on its agendas at all.
Gronbach has said he doesn’t need the Finance Board’s approval because the Waste Management Fund is not made up of the taxpayer dollars the board oversees. The fund’s money comes from a settlement in which the town was awarded $43.1 million from Waste Management over a massive garbage pile.
“I’m just trying to protect the integrity of the Board of Finance, because he’s marginalized them,” Barnes said.
According to Barnes, Gronbach has pulled $1.85 million from the Waste Management Fund for projects over the last two years. Of that, about $1.15 million was appropriated without the Finance Board’s approval.
Gronbach has pulled $37,000 from the town contingency fund without approval, Barnes said.
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