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State board votes in favor of stricter oversight of West Haven's finances

West Haven has had financial issues for 30 years or more, but the scrutiny of the city ramped up when there were multiple arrests last year.

WEST HAVEN, Conn. — The state's Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB), which has had some oversight of West Haven's finances for several years, will likely soon have much more control after a vote by board members Thursday.

West Haven has had financial issues for 30 years or more, but the scrutiny of the city ramped up when there were multiple arrests last year.

Last fall, following the arrest of former West Haven Democratic state representative Michael DiMassa, who, through his position with the city, allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars of the city's COVID relief money, an audit was ordered by the state.

"It breaks my heart that he did so, but had the city followed our recommendations, it would not have been possible for him to have done so," said Sal Luciano, a MARB board member.

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The MARB has had oversight of some of West Haven's finances for several years, but after the audit revealed the city misused approximately 80 percent of its $1.15 million in federal COVID relief funds, the MARB board voted Thursday to move oversight to Tier IV status, which has never been done in Connecticut.

"$800,000 in finances that was not part of the criminal investigation of stolen money is being unable to be reconciled and properly documented in an audit that was going on for an extended period of time is problematic," said Matthew Brokman of the MARB Board.

"As far as the findings in the audit we are still going through those and pushing back on those along with the submissions of or lack thereof the paperwork for cares act," said Mayor Nancy Rossi (D-West Haven).

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Thursday's vote triggers a 30-day public comment period. Then the vote to move the city to Tier IV goes to the governor for final approval.

"It does provide us with additional oversight tools notably the ability to hire a financial manager with good faith cooperation from the city's leadership," said Jeff Beckham, the Acting Secretary of the Office of Policy & Management.

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And the Municipal Accountability Review Board hopes greater oversight will lead to the city implementing the cultural changes and financial infrastructure that previous oversight boards have been unable to enforce.

"I think West Haven deserves the due process and the opportunity to respond to the CohnResnick audit," said West Haven Treasurer Michael Last.

The Secretary of OPM gladly responded.

"Cities and municipalities do not have due process rights under the Constitution," Beckham said. "They are creatures of the state and political subdivisions of the state and we expect them to manage their affairs in a way that is honors the public trust." 

Last added that the city's balance sheet is a lot stronger today than it was when MARB began providing oversight.

"It's stronger because the state has infused funds into the municipality so some of your points are not well taken," Beckham said.

Tony Terzi is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at tterzi@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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