Tesei concurs with police on Town Hall cameras
In a place where traffic lights on the Avenue and Realtor signs are viewed as threats to the soul of a town large enough to be a city, Greenwich is about to make a telling change to the way it does the people's business -- by installing security cameras at Town Hall.
A security assessment of the building, which was conducted by local police after the discovery of a mysterious white powder in April that shut down the Information Technology department, recommended mounting cameras in the hallways on all four levels, including the basement.
First Selectman Peter Tesei is embracing the advice contained in that report, starting with the need for surveillance equipment at 101 Field Point Road.
"I think that one is a very fundamental one," Tesei told Greenwich Time. "It's pretty easy to do."
The town's chief elected official had no definitive timetable for the installation, which he said would be determined by the schedule of building construction and maintenance workers and the availability of the cameras.
Citing the sensitive nature of the recommendations, Tesei would not identify the exact locations that were scouted out, other than to say they will be confined to the building's corridors."If something was dropped in the hallway, you should be able to pick it up from the camera," said Tesei, a Republican.
Daniel Warzoha, the town's emergency management director, endorsed the heightened security measures. "It's definitely a good idea to put the cameras in and do an uptick on security in Town Hall," Warzoha said. "It's all part of the overall package of being able to identify problems."
Selectman Drew Marzullo was skeptical, however.
"Cameras are well used in retrospective crime solving, but if the mission is to prevent crime from happening in real time, then cameras are not the answer," Marzullo said.
The Democrat favors a different approach, unless the town is willing to commit the resources to having someone constantly monitoring the camera feed.
"We employ a full-time police officer at Greenwich High School, which has interaction with students all day long," Marzullo said. "Having some sort of police presence in Town Hall will help in dealing with emergencies and hopefully preventing something from happening in the first place. Having a police officer present, your intuition still counts for something. Cameras don't feel."
Tesei ruled out assigning a police officer to Town Hall.
"No, because I don't think it's an effective use of the resource to accomplish what we're looking for," Tesei said.
Although the white powder was deemed to be harmless by law enforcement personnel at the time of the incident, town officials still did not have information on what the substance was.
Two years ago, Tesei's administration beefed up security at the first-floor office suite of the selectmen at Town Hall.
Visitors must be buzzed in by the receptionist, using a red telephone outside the front door. A video camera was also mounted on the ceiling above the phone to give Tesei's aides a bird's-eye view of callers on closed-circuit television.
Access is also gained by key cards issued to town employees and some elected officials.
Gone are the days of breezing through the front door of suite, which is home to the offices of all three members of the Board of Selectmen, the town administrator, two assistants and temporary support staff.
The security assessment also recommended what Tesei categorized as "basic training" of the town employees in the handling of public safety threats. He did not elaborate.
A number of offices most frequented by the public have panic buttons. There is also a surveillance camera outside the tax collector's office on the ground floor of the building.
-- Neil Vigdor, staff writer
Man recovers after lightning strike
Melissa Bertolf said when her husband, Gus, called last Wednesday afternoon to say he had been struck by lightning while at a Clapboard Ridge Road job site, her first thought was that it was a joke.
"I thought he was joking because he plays practical jokes sometimes," she recalled Tuesday while Gus sat nearby. "But I could tell he wasn't because his voice was so serious. Then a guy got on his cellphone to tell me Gus had been struck by lightning and they had called an ambulance."
The couple marveled at his survival from the frightening experience that had him spend two days in the Intensive Care Unit at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y.
"I'm just happy to be alive, to be honest with you. I lucked out," he said.
Melissa Bertolf, 36, said medical center nurses joked with Gus about his luck, including whether they could use his luck in buying lottery tickets, she said.
"Everyone kept saying he was a miracle, that he was lucky and they asked him what the winning numbers are," she said.
He was first taken to Greenwich Hospital and then transferred to Westchester. He was released from the hospital Saturday and is recuperating at the couple's Valley Road home in Cos Cob.
Bertolf, 38, was working on an excavator at the job site along with tradesmen and roofers as the storm gathered.
As a lobster fisherman, he said he has experienced lightning storms out on the water and knew the risk they pose. Bertolf and other workers had decided to call it a day and were packing up to leave when the storm unleashed its fury directly over them around 3 p.m. on July 18.
He was sitting in a dump truck and decided to dash to his pickup truck parked 60 to 70 feet away because he believed he'd be more comfortable and secure in it during the storm.
Bertolf said he had only taken a few steps when lightning struck and he was thrown into the air.
"I really don't know far it was. It felt like 50 feet, but it could have been 15, 20 feet," he said.
As he lay on the ground, in shock over what happened, his fellow workers rushed over to him.
Still reacting emotionally to their actions, Bertolf's voice caught and he turned his head away as he remembered how they ignored their safety to help him.
"Everybody who came -- they jeopardized themselves to run out in the mud and the wet when the lightning was still going down. They didn't have to do that," he said, with his voice breaking.
Bertolf said one worker in particular took charge to ensure he was safe until the ambulance arrived.
"It was like these guys were all set up to save my life right then and there through God. I don't know how it happened or why it happened," he said.
Bertolf didn't suffer burns, or any other visible injuries, something that puzzled the couple and medical staff. However, he was in great pain as he recovered at the hospital.
"I have never felt pain like that before. I have been out on the water and got my arm caught in a hauler," he said. "I have broken a bone on my back, but I have never felt pain like that before."
Bertolf said medical staff kept a close watch on him, as they feared he may have suffered internal injuries.
"I am the luckiest person, and it's a miracle. (The medical staff) can't believe it, and I can't believe it."
-- Frank MacEachern, staff writer
Environment score praised, attacked
The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters recently released its annual scorecard for state legislators, a move that drew both praise and criticism from the Greenwich delegation.
"We want to reward (legislative) committee members who stand up for what's right, or strike down bills that are really stupid," league spokeswoman Laurie Brown said.
While some legislators said the study appropriately recognized their work in protecting the environment, others argued its methodology was disingenuous and did not take into account the true motives or beliefs of those surveyed.
The study tracked roughly 21 bills during the legislative session, both friendly and unfriendly to the environment, and graded lawmakers on how they voted, according to the league's website; the average score for 2012 was just greater than 90 percent.
"Connecticut's natural resources are an important part of our state and I'm honored to be recognized for my work in protecting those resources while also providing cleaner water and more open space to our residents," Floren, who represents parts of Greenwich and Stamford, said in a recent news release.
"Sometimes it's a tough balance, but I believe with smart planning and good legislation, we can achieve both."
Gibbons, whose district includes the shoreline from Old Greenwich to Byram and part of downtown, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Other local politicans dismissed the scorecard as inaccurate and not representative of their dedication to the environment. A key aspect of the scorecard's methodology, and one that drew the ire of some representatives, was its focus on the effect of individual votes.
"We only scored the votes where we thought they were significant," Brown said. "If there was an amendment offered to gut the bill, we scored that over an amendment to change the wording or something like that."
As a result of this policy, Brown said the scorecard focused largely on votes that took place in committee as opposed to on the House or Senate floor. She said this was necessary because once bills emerged from committee they were either heavily partisan or approved unanimously in the Legislature.
State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, who received a score of 75 percent, said this emphasis on committee votes misrepresented his true position. He referred to S.B. 111, a bill for which he was marked down, that would impose a penalty on motorists who injured pedestrians and other "vulnerable users" on public roads.
"I voted against that bill so I could improve it as it went through the legislative process, but still they penalized me," Frantz said. "If they're going to grade people on their committee votes, they have to understand why they voted that way in the committee."
Frantz also argued the scorecard ignored the work of legislators outside the chamber, such as their efforts with environmental groups. State Rep. Fred Camillo, R-151st; who received a score of 63 percent, agreed, referring to his work in recycling as an example of an overlooked environmental priority.
"I normally don't pay much attention to that study because of what they have done in the past, which is portray my actions in a way that is not entirely accurate," said Camillo, who previously owned and operated AF Camillo Carting & Recycling. "I have been a recycling volunteer since 1991 and an advocate for over 20 years."
-- Christopher Meyer, special correspondent