Suit against former New Milford mayor withdrawn
NEW MILFORD — A lawsuit accusing the former mayor of misappropriating funds to renovate the John Pettibone building has been withdrawn.
Michael Barnes, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, withdrew his lawsuit against former Mayor David Gronbach to prevent the administration from having to pay the legal costs. He filed last January as a resident, not as a party leader.
The lawsuit claimed Gronbach should have gotten Board of Finance approval to use $225,000 from the Landfill Settlement Fund to turn the former John Pettibone School into a community center. Barnes had asked for an injunction to prevent further spending, which wasn’t granted.
“It would have really stopped it in its tracks,” Barnes said, of the Pettibone project. “In this case, justice delayed is justice denied.”
He said the cost of renovating the former school should have been presented at the beginning of the process and the decision left to the residents, not one man.
“People should have been able to decide up front if they wanted to pay millions of dollars,” Barnes said.
Gronbach could not be immediately reached for comment. He has said he was authorized to move the money with only Town Council approval because the fund comes from an annual settlement payment, not from taxpayer funds.
The Town Council recently rejected this idea, essentially agreeing with Barnes’ argument, when it declared null and void two documents Gronbach used as evidence to prove he had the authority to spend the money without finance board approval.
At a meeting last month, the seven council members in attendance accepted the opinion of Town Attorney Matt Grimes, who said Gronbach had based his actions on “unr
Barnes said he withdrew the lawsuit because, while he has legal standing to file it, he wasn’t able to get back the money already spent. The suit would have been transferred to the current administration.
“It didn’t seem like the right thing to do,” he said.
Mayor Pete Bass, who beat Gronbach in November’s general election, said his office, Town Council and the Board of Finance addressed Barnes’ concerns by declaring those documents null and void and have decided to not go after the money from the Landfill Settlement Fund that was already spent on the project.