NORWALK, Conn. When a Norwalk school board member was seen using a truck belonging to a Rowayton fire department for personal business, some people expressed concern, according to Norwalk Common Councilman David McCarthy.
Thats why McCarthy, a Republican, said he shot video of Democrat Mike Barbis, who is also a Sixth District Commissioner, using a Rowayton Hose Company truck.
McCarthy was under the belief last week that the city of Norwalk contributed to the purchase of the truck. He was also concerned that Barbis could be opening up the city and the volunteer fire company to liability issues, which could also increase insurance costs.
"Someone brought it to my attention and to me it's wrong, on its face," he said.
But Ed Carlson, chief of the Rowayton Hose Company, disputed that.
"He was authorized to do that," Carlson said of Barbis. "That pickup is owned by the hose company. It's a volunteer organization, and we're not associated with the city in any way. The truck is owned by the hose company, and it's for members use to move personal things if at some time they need it."
"The city of Norwalk has nothing to do with the Rowayton fire department," said Barbis. "Nothing, nothing, nothing. We help them. We're all volunteers."
McCarthy responded by email. "It is a volunteer fire department," he said. "However, they do benefit from bonding by the city to acquire their equipment. I believe they also receive some taxpayer funding that goes to upkeep and insurance of these vehicles. If the policy of the RFD is that their equipment can be used for this sort of thing, then it should be changed or they should stop accepting taxpayer money."
Barbis is treasurer of the organization and has been a volunteer for about 15 years. The Sixth Taxing District contributes money to the department to buy fuel, he said. It also bought its newest fire truck. Everything else is covered by fundraising done by the volunteers, including property maintenance.
The volunteers just replaced the 50-year-old kitchen in the firehouse, using money they raised, he said.
The mill rate is lower in the Sixth Taxing District than in any other part of Norwalk. "The reason is the volunteer fire department and all the work that the volunteers do, and jeopardizing our lives," Barbis said.
McCarthy, a freshman councilman, says that as a public figure he must maintain a higher standard. "Given that local residents don't know these policies (since they called me this time and I believe they called Andy Conroy in the past) you would think that someone in a position of authority would avoid the appearance of using even quasi-public assets for their own benefit," he said by email. "When you consider Mr. Barbis' position on the BoE and the erroneous accusations of financial misconduct of that board, you would think he would try even harder."
Asked about the use of the truck, Barbis knew the complaint came from McCarthy. He saw McCarthy in the street taking photographs and wondered what was up.
"I was responding to a citizen's concern and embarrassment," McCarthy said. "I remained in the public right of way and caused no disturbance. It was the right thing to do."
The public has a perception of wrongdoing, he said, that should be addressed. "I've had a number of people who when this comes up they all react the same way," he said. "If that is the policy maybe they should post that on their website it would avoid the confusion."
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