May 5, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
The city is far short of meeting its goal for city residents working on the $1 billion public school renovation project - and many of those claiming to live in Hartford may not even be residents at all.
Records show that 21.8 percent of the work is going to Hartford residents - far short of the city's goal of setting aside 30 percent. The targets are goals, not mandates.
On top of that, about 15 percent of the 650 people who claim to live in the city never produced a driver's license, a utility bill or any other evidence that they actually live in Hartford, said James Keaney, project director for Diggs Construction, the firm overseeing the project for the city.
Andrea Comer, a member of the school building committee, initiated the probe after city residents complained they couldn't get construction jobs. Comer found a number of suspicious entries: 15 employees listed post office boxes in place of addresses and at least one address showed as many as 10 people living in the same location. Comer said she also checked a few addresses that are near her home and said that some don't exist.
"I don't accept P.O. boxes. I don't accept addresses that don't exist. I don't accept 12 to 13 people living at the same address. Somewhere along the line, we're not doing things right," Comer said. "It's time for us to be sure Hartford residents are getting the jobs."
No one from the city or Diggs has visited the homes to verify that the people who claim to live there actually do, but officials are reviewing records.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez, chairman of the committee, responded to Comer's concerns by asking Charles Crocini, the city's director of capital projects, to organize surprise on-site audits of employee records to ensure that contractors are gathering the evidence they need to prove that people who claim to live in Hartford do in fact live in the city.
In addition, Keaney said that he assigned Diggs' employees to study records to verify residency. He said he is finding incorrect information and a shortage of evidence of residency, but he said he has not investigated in enough depth to uncover any outright fraud.
Keaney found, for example, that:
Of 15 workers who used post office boxes, 11 showed proof of residency when they were hired; four did not.
At one address that six people claim as their home - 1136 Broad Street - Keaney said three employees actually live on Zion Street. The other three showed proof that they live at the Broad Street address.
At 389 Capitol Ave., where nine employees claim to live, six showed proof of residency and three did not.
Contractors who hire people to work at the sites and construction managers who oversee the sites are the ones who are responsible for verifying residency, but Keaney said there are limits to how far contractors can go in making sure people claiming to live in Hartford actually do.
"Construction managers say this tracking of minority workers and Hartford residents is something they've never seen before," Keaney said. "They're not conditioned to produce this paperwork."
About 3,600 people are currently working on seven building projects. Over the course of 10 or more years, the city and the state will spend about $1 billion renovating and expanding existing schools and building new magnet schools.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at