HARTFORD – Daniel F. Caruso, of Fairfield, resigned Thursday from the Connecticut Siting Council after an allegedly inappropriate discussion with a lawyer opposed to a pending wind power project.
Caruso, chairman of the council since 2006, was absent from a Winsted hearing on Wednesday night and sent his resignation to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Thursday afternoon.
Malloy announced he would appoint Robert Stein, of Stamford, to take Caruso’s spot as chairman, subject to legislative confirmation.
Caruso, Fairfield’s longtime probate judge, said that while his contact with a lawyer for Prospect residents did not violate rules on informal discussions of proposals, he said in an interview that he would resign the council because he wanted to eliminate any possible claim of bias.
“I think at this point no matter what I do, if I stay on, the questions will be out there and that’s not right,” he said. “There are too many hard-working people on the council, and I don’t want their work or their decisions questioned in any way. If I prove to be a distraction, that’s not what I want. My integrity means more to me than anything else.”
Caruso’s brief, four-sentence resignation said that it has been “an honor” to serve as council chairman. “Nevertheless, I believe that it is in the council’s best interest that another meets the demands of this position,” he said. “Accordingly, I hereby resign from the council.”
In a March 22 letter to the New Britain-based Siting Council, Jeffrey J. Tinley, a Waterbury lawyer, said Caruso initiated an ex parte discussion on the project in his Fairfield judicial chambers last week in violation of state procedures.
Tinley, who represents the Save Prospect Corp. coalition of neighbors, including state Rep. Vickie O. Nardello, D-Prospect, co-chairwoman of the Energy and Technology Committee, said the encounter occurred on March 18 after an unrelated hearing on an estate that he had before Caruso’s Probate Court.
“As I approached the door leading out of the judge’s chambers, Judge Caruso called to me and asked me to come back for a minute,” Tinley said in a letter to Linda Roberts, executive director of the Siting Council, a copy of which was obtained by the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers.
While Caruso apparently limited his remarks on how the Siting Council works and did not get into specifics of the wind power projects, Tinley said he felt uncomfortable. “He said we are going to do what we have to do,” Tinley quoted Caruso, adding that if Nardello is opposed to it, “too bad.”
Tinley estimated that the discussion took two or three minutes, but he felt it important to share with the Siting Council and parties involved in the hearing.
“As I left, Judge Caruso reiterated that he was trying to help me, because as someone who does not appear before the Siting Council on a regular basis, he felt I may not understand how they operate and that they will try to give whatever they can to solve the impact,” Tinley wrote.
BNE Energy, Inc. of West Hartford has proposals for three wind generators, including a 3.2 megawatt plant at 178 New Haven Road in Prospect; a 4.8 megawatt generator on Flagg Hill Road in Colebrook; and another 4.8 megawatt on Route 44 in Colebrook.
The Siting Council reviews a variety of utility issues, including telecommunications antennas, electric generators, hazardous waste facilities, tower sharing and electric and fuel transmission lines. The council has a $2.2 million budget and 10 employees.
In January, Caruso, a Republican, began his fifth four-year term as probate judge.
Stein, if confirmed by the General Assembly as the next council chairman, recently retired as land use bureau chief for the city of Stamford, a job he held for 15 years.