NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) - In an apparent effort to stop leaks of information to the press, New Haven Fire Dept. Chief John Alston, Jr. ordered the construction of a wall separating his office on the third floor of NHFD Headquarters from the area where two secretaries and Assistant Chief Mark Vendetto sit.
Alston complained recently about leaks in a letter about another controversy over Mayor Toni Harp diverting nearly $4,000 from the fire department to outfit her staffers in uniforms. According to Alston's Sept. 7 letter, "A person or persons from my office who constantly leaks information saw another opportunity to hurt the mayor, myself, Assistant Chief Marcano, and the fire department with partial facts."
The problem with the new wall, which includes a door and windows, is Chief Alston did not pull a building permit from the Building Department nor submit building plans to the city fire marshal prior to construction, according to the chief himself and Deputy Fire Marshal James "Jimmy" Hynek.
News 8's Mario Boone was first to discover the newly constructed wall Wednesday afternoon while visiting the fire department on a separate matter. According to Chief Alston, he plans to file a permit application for the wall in the coming days. Yet, within hours of our inquiries, word came from Building Official Jim Turcio that "a building permit was issued today," but the new construction was "not inspected as of yet."
While third floor employees of fire headquarters, including the chief and two assistant chiefs, wait for inspectors to certify the new wall is safe, the area is still open to workers and the public.
We asked Turcio if it is appropriate to begin construction prior to receiving a building permit. "Technically, you're supposed to get a permit before construction," Turcio said. He also acknowledged it's a common problem in the city for construction to start without the required permits. "As long they pull a permit and we inspect it, I'm okay with that," he concluded.
The other concern is cost. Records were not immediately available to News 8 to determine how much the construction cost. But at least one member of the Board of Alders expressed dismay about the expense and lack of adherence to protocol.
"Process matters in all of this stuff. The chief should have followed the appropriate process to get this work done," said Alder Steven Winter. "Every penny spent right now should be under the microscope and it's disturbing to learn money was spent on this when police and fire are already over budget on overtime," he told us.
Winter said this is the latest in a series of distractions coming out of fire headquarters from more pressing concerns in the city. "I don't want it to distract from the major issue we're dealing with: the $30 million structural budget deficit," Winter said.
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