Derby Mayor Rich Dziekan’s first day on the job included appointing a new fire commissioner, hiring former Aldermen Carmen DiCenso, and figuring out how to replace a tattered U.S. flag in a cemetery off Derby Avenue.
As of 2:15 p.m. neither Dziekan or his chief of staff Andrew Baklik had stopped for lunch, and the night prior neither had slept much.
“I woke up this morning like I was a kid at the first day of school,” Dziekan said.
Dziekan had previously announced Baklik, who managed his campaign, would be his chief of staff.
After Saturday’s inauguration, Baklik said Dziekan picked Vincent M. Marino, a principal with the Cohen and Wolf law firm, to be Derby’s corporation counsel.
The changes continued in Derby City Hall Monday with the resignation of Jim Petrino, a Republican who was elected Nov. 6 to represent Derby’s Second Ward on the Board of Aldermen.
Instead, Petrino will be Derby Fire Commissioner, Dziekan said.
Petrino, a former member of the Derby Police Board of Commissioners, was a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army. He flew medevac (medical evacuation) helicopters while serving in Iraq.
He works as a quality supervisor at Sikorsky for the same helicopters he flew in Iraq.
“He has the background, training, and experience to handle the job,” Dziekan said. “I want him to work with the (fire) chiefs, let the chiefs run the department, but he’s the admin part and help the department.”
It’s up to the Republicans on the Derby Board of Aldermen to replace Petrino’s spot on the board.
Dziekan said it will likely go to either Evelyn Browning or Robert Forte, the other Republicans who ran for Second Ward Aldermen Nov. 6 but came up short.
Derby has three wards, each of which gets three representatives on the city’s legislative body.
The next Board of Aldermen meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 11.
Thomas Lenart, Sr., Andrew Mancini (both retired police officers) and Sam Pollastro (a member of the tax board and the head of the city’s Republican Party) are expected to be appointed to the Derby Board of Police Commissioners.
Carmen DiCenso, a Democrat who previously served as president of the Derby Board of Aldermen, is now working for Dziekan’s administration as an economic development liaison.
DiCenso will work out of the building department on Derby City Hall’s first floor.
DiCenso’s position is a part-time job, 20 hours a week, with no benefits.
Precise salaries for the new positions weren’t crystal clear. The employees are working within the budget set by the tax board and former Mayor Dugatto.
The mayor’s office had about $160,000 to spend, according to the 2016-2017 budget on the Derby website.
Community development, traditionally the place for economic development director in Derby, had another $100,000, according to last year’s budget.
The spending on salaries will become clearer as the administration continues to form.
The Board of Aldermen and the tax board will also review the salaries, according to Baklik and Dziekan.
Dziekan said one of DiCenso’s priorities will be to take a look at a dozen or so city-owned properties and work with developers to get those properties back on the tax rolls.
DiCenso is a former Derby High School football coach and business owner.
He didn’t run for re-election as Third Ward Aldermen this year. Instead, he opted to challenge fellow Democrat Mayor Anita Dugatto for the Democratic line for mayor.
DiCenso was endorsed by the Derby Democratic Town Committee, but then lost to Dugatto in a Democratic Primary.
Dugatto, a two-term mayor, then lost to Dziekan Nov. 6.
Dziekan and DiCenso exchanged some criticisms of each other prior to the Democratic primary, but have patched up any political differences.
It wasn’t difficult. DiCenso has known Dziekan for years and he was Baklik’s football coach.
“He wants to stay involved in Derby. He wants to do good things for Derby,” Dziekan said.
“For us it was a no-brainer,” Baklik said. “We wanted to extend the olive branch to Democrats, and we get to work with somebody who has been involved in the Board of Aldermen for a long time. He knows the inside baseball stuff that we may not know.”
DiCenso said Dziekan reached out to him after the Nov. 6 election and asked if he would consider taking the part-time job.
He said he wants to move Derby forward.
“I want to expand the tax base. We’re sitting on properties we don’t need to be sitting on,” DiCenso said. “I’m very happy to help. My thing has always been, ‘for Derby’.”
DiCenso declined to say whether he voted for Dziekan, saying such matters are private. But he noted he tried to stay on the bench during the Dugatto-Dziekan campaign. He didn’t publicly endorse either candidate.
In addition, the Dziekan administration hopes to regionalize its economic development office to some extent, particularly when it comes to applying for economic development grant money.
“We’re also working on bringing in a full-time professional company to handle economic development,” Dziekan said.
That effort could involve both Ansonia, where Dziekan already enjoys a close relationship with Mayor David Cassetti, and Seymour, where fellow Republican Kurt Miller was sworn in for a fourth term as First Selectman Monday evening.
Dziekan said the Valley could snag more grant money if the towns team up. There’s strength in numbers, he said.
“Everybody is talking regionalization. I think the feds and the state want to deal with bigger groups of people instead of 169 different towns and cities,” Dziekan said.
Miller said he’s interested in talking.
“We haven’t gotten into the minutiae. It’s been more conceptual at this point, but Mayor Dzeikan has the right mindset. Derby can’t do things by itself. Ansonia can’t do things by itself, and neither can Seymour,” Miller said.
Dziekan’s first day started with a constituent complaint. Someone let Baklik know of a U.S. flag in terrible condition within the Old Derby Uptown Burying Ground off Derby Avenue.
Baklik and Dziekan were not sure which government entity was responsible for maintaining a flag in a cemetery, let alone a cemetery that hasn’t been used in about 90 years.
Within a few hours a crew from the city’s Department of Public Works had replaced the flag.
“Some people were upset. I’m a veteran, I don’t want to see that either, so I wanted to nip that issue in the bud,” Dziekan said.
Dziekan said he didn’t get much sleep before reporting to his first official day in Derby City Hall.
The last few days have been surreal, including Saturday morning’s inauguration.
Now Dziekan is the mayor of his hometown.
“It didn’t really take hold until I was walking around today,” he said. “I have to get acclimated to people calling me mayor.”
The first day includes everything from getting keys to figuring out how to control the heat in the mayor’s office.
Dziekan had to move the spot in the parking lot outside Derby City Hall reserved for the mayor. His pickup truck was too big for the spot.
The morning included getting passwords for the computers, and having breakfast bagels with city hall staff, including new hires such as Pam Gagliardi, Dziekan’s new administrative assistant.
Dziekan brought no photos or mementos to personalize the mayor’s office on day one. His wife, Kristen, will help him with those duties in the coming days and weeks.
The rest of his first day included meetings, scheduling meetings, reading about meeting in emails, going over city business with the new Derby lawyer, talking to city department heads, and reviewing the week’s calendar, which is, you guessed it — stuffed with meetings.
He then attended Miller’s 6:30 p.m. inauguration in Seymour.
Other Things Happening
Dziekan is looking forward to meeting with officials form the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments to talk about what has to happen to move forward with the Route 34 widening project.
Route 34 is Derby’s Main Street.
Based on interviews conducted this week and last week, the city will likely discard some of the tweaks to the Route 34 plan that were requested by the city to the state Department of Transportation after Mayor Dugatto’s “Downtown Now” effort in 2016.
Those tweaks slowed the project down, but officials serving in Dugatto’s administration said they were needed to keep the project from becoming a highway.
The changes were not popular with the Naugatuck Valley of Governments, the regional planning agency that has been working on the design for years.
The city had a plan in place prior to the “Downtown Now” effort, and Derby needs the widening project to happen as quickly as possible, Dziekan said.
The weekend prior to Election Day, The Connecticut Post reported Big Y may be considering moving to 656 New Haven Ave., the former home of both Walmart and an Adams grocery store.
In October, a sign company submitted paperwork to Carlos Sarmiento in the Derby building department showing a new conceptual sign for the shopping plaza. The conceptual drawing showed the sign to read “Big Y.”
There was no other information and Derby officials mainly stayed mum. Big Y and the property broker have not returned multiple calls for comment from The Valley Indy.
Documents in the Derby City Hall building department are open to the public, per state law.
Sarmiento said no additional paperwork of any kind has been submitted regarding Big Y and 656 New Haven Ave., though the property owner has inquired by phone about giving the plaza a facelift by replacing facades.
Baklik and Dziekan said they don’t know anything more about Big Y coming to New Haven Avenue.
“I’ve been here all day and no one has mentioned Big Y to me,” Dziekan said.
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