31 December 2008

Push To Save Herald, Press Sparks Debate In National Media

The push by local legislators, as mentioned in November 28's post, to involve the Department of Economic Development (DECD) in efforts to save The Herald of New Britain and the Bristol Press is drawing national media attention.

A Reuters story posted at The Huffington Post focuses on questions of a free press and the potential conflicts that would arise if newspapers got government "bailouts" or other forms of assistance.

The coverage is being driven by a mistaken notion advanced in some reports (including those by Courant columnists Stan Simpson and Kevin Rennie) that the proposal would give the newspapers a handout or "bailout" in the face of falling revenues and readership.

That wasn't the case at all when State Rep. Tim O'Brien (D-24) first asked economic development officials to lend a hand in finding a buyer or potential investors to replace the absentee and failed ownership of The Journal Register Company. The state DECD Commissioner, Joan McDonald, said as much in noting that the push by local elected officials has drawn up to five potential buyers who would take advantage of incentives that her department could provide.

In the Reuters analysis, writer Robert MacMillan notes that legislators, who this week were joined by the Mayors of New Britain and Bristol, sought state intervention to find a way to save these hometown dailies, both of which have a long tradition as the local commercial dailies in once thriving factory towns.

MacMillan, quoting journalism professors and experts, frames the issue in terms of the conflicts that would ensue with state assistance for a newspaper:

To some experts, that sounds like a bailout, a word that resurfaced this year after the U.S. government agreed to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the automobile and financial sectors.

Relying on government help raises ethical questions for the press, whose traditional role has been to operate free from government influence as it tries to hold politicians accountable to the people who elected them. Even some publishers desperate for help are wary of this route.

Providing government support can muddy that mission, said Paul Janensch, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a former reporter and editor.

The Reuters story correctly points out that the separation of the press and government is just as important in a democracy as the separation of church and state.

That separation, however, would not be jeopardized at all if a buyer is found for the Herald or Press, or both, and the newspapers survive via the public sector incentives that DECD would provide.

Whether DECD incentives were part of the sale or not, the assumption that newsrooms would be compromised in New Britain and Bristol is based on unfounded speculation by those journalists and academics who are calling these efforts by DECD a "bailout."

With the Herald due to close January 12th, it is the longest of long shots to assume a deal will come together in time to save it. Some other form or forms of journalism need to emerge to keep the fourth estate alive locally. The best scenario is that a community newspaper (using both print and the internet) be locally owned and self-sustaining, not another absentee owner seeking to plunder these local papers as the Journal Register company has done.

14 December 2008

O'Brien's Call For Special Elections For U.S. Senate Vacancies Gets Traction With L'Affaire Blogojevich

State Rep. Tim O'Brien (D-24) gets a well deserved accolade from Connecticut Local Politics this weekend on his legislation requiring that special elections be held when vacancies occur for the U.S. Senate.

O'Brien saw his proposal die in the 2007 General Assembly with a criticism that his motive was "partisan." Democrats haven't held the Governor's office in a long time and Jodi Rell, the incumbent, would be the sole appointing authority now should Chris Dodd or Joe Lieberman move on before their terms end.

You can't blame O'Brien for bringing up the legislation (filed as HB 5034) again in light of the machinations of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the bipartisan calls springing up in the Land of Lincoln for "Blago's" removal. "Blagojevich, according to FBI-related wiretap sources, wanted to sell Barack Obama's vacated seat to the highest bidder, among other "pay to play", indictable ideas.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)quickly called for a special election. It is a likely scenario that the Illinois Legislature will move quickly to impeach the sitting governor and set a date for an election -- denying the cornered incumbent the chance to appoint or leaving it to the Lieutenant Governor who has called for the incumbent's resignation. An Illinois special election, however, would bring electoral credibility to whoever fills Obama's shoes and certainly promote the idea in other states.

O'Brien, who researched and offered the legislation as a member of the General Administration and Elections Committee (GAE), found it odd that U.S. Representative seats are always filled by special elections but not U.S. Senate seats. There was a time when senators were not elected by the people, but by legislatures. Gubernatorial appointment powers may be a throwback to those days. O'Brien cited the contradictory methods in filing the bill.

"My proposal was simple - let the people decide who represents them." says O'Brien on his blog. "It is already the process we use to fill a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives when someone leaves that office. There is no good reason for why the process for filling vacancies in the U.S. Senate should be any different."

O'Brien intends to file the bill again in the 2009 session. Opponents arguing that the Governor should remain the sole appointing power will be sure to have the Illinois situation thrown back at them.

27 November 2008

Saving The Hometown Dailies

A plea by legislators for state assistance in saving the Herald of New Britain and The Bristol Press -- the two dailies slated for closure by the parent Journal Register Company -- is getting a mixed reaction among the commenters and bloggers who offered their opinions this week.

That's because many people thrive on complaining about their daily newspapers, and continue to do so despite the painful reductions and eliminations of local coverage by all three dailies serving Bristol and New Britain -- the Press, the Herald and The Courant.

When Henry Paulson of the Bush Administration is lurching from one financial services giant to another doling out bailouts for some but not others, it's a reasonable question to ask why public investments and resources should be applied to flagging businesses at the local level.

The lawmakers, however, are doing nothing more than watching out for the economic well being of their communities. If the Herald or the Press were machine shops making widgets for United Technologies, no one would raise a fuss about saving jobs and commerce. Intervention by the state Department of Economic Development (DECD) would be uniformly welcome. They have been around here much longer than the absentee ownership of the Journal Register Company.

An exact assessment of the economic impact of The Herald and Press is probably not available beyond the payrolls and expenditures directly involved in putting out these papers.

But town and regional newspapers -- print and online -- are much more than the sum of their parts. They have much more utility than 24-hour cable and mass media that offer up more "infotainment" than broadcast journalism

Economically, small businesses build traffic and remind repeat customers of their goods and services in local mainstream media that has a targeted circulation area for maximum effect. The shutting down of the Herald and Press would likely reduce the local economy by millions of dollars and add to a ripple effect of business closures.

Beyond the dollars and cents,local newspapers -- despite the hits their newsrooms have taken over the last decade -- keep the flow of information going about city and town governments, giving residents the knowledge needed to make informed judgments about actions and decisions that have a direct impact on their lives.

There is something noble about the work of local journalists Steve Collins and Jackie Majerus over in Bristol. And in New Britain over the last year, Marc Levy and Rick Guinness of The Herald have been upholding the best traditions of the fourth estate by demanding public officials obey the FOI laws.

It's being argued that bloggers and internet outlets will now fill the void. The ease of blogging and exchanges of opinions online are addressing some gaps in the greatly diminished coverage of the dailies. It's also true that there is infinitely more news and opinion available globally for any interested reader. The news and views ("news you can use")we require, however, are local. Too often emerging town blogs and forums are a poor substitute for dispassionate coverage that people need to make informed judgments. Anonymous comments on blogs and news threads sound like the opinions of village idiots or persons with personal axes to grind, and nobody you would want as your neighbor.

Where does this story go from here? The state lawmakers push with the DECD is worth trying as doubtful as investments, public or private, in newspapering may seem.

The discussion of alternatives should continue. Local commerce needs a local medium. Community journalism that can sort out opinions and personal agendas from the facts and interpret decisions and events for readers is needed -- a vacuum that a thousand bloggers cannot fill.

Whatever emerges from talks to save the Herald and Bristol Press let us recall the old axiom: "There is nothing as powerful as the truth and nothing so hard to come by..." It will get harder without the Press and Herald and the now greatly-downsized Courant.

01 October 2008

Ending Wall Street Welfare: Economist Says Democrats Need Long Term Strategy

Robert Kuttner, a widely published economist based at The American Prospect is providing some of the best commentary yet on the economic emergency precipitated by the excesses of the unregulated home mortgage and securities industries.

"Democrats will shortly become stewards not just of a temporary bailout but of a long term recovery strategy," writes Kuttner in a September 30th post "Learning from 1929". "They might as well begin by pointing us on the right path. That includes direct refinancing for homeowners, direct government involvement in the management of failing financial institutions that are recapitalized by government money, through something like the Reconstruction Finance Corporations of the Roosevelt era; and a transfer tax on stock and bond transactions, both to raise needed revenue and to damp down the kind of speculation that led to the meltdown. Then Congress can begin the task of regulating the financial system properly. The basic concept is that any financial enterprise capable of taking down the system requires the tight government supervision that in the recent past has been limited to commercial banks."

Kuttner suggests that the congressional Democrats are a long way from finding an authentic Democratic response that can effectively deal with the laissez faire and failed policies of Republicanism. Regulating the financial system correctly, argues Kuttner, is "the Democratic ideology. But lately, that set of core convictions has gotten rusty. It needs to be reclaimed, and fast. Too many Democrats are still thinking small."

Not, it should be noted, is the thinking of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2) who voted no on the amended Paulson proposal this week for all the right reasons. He was the only member of the Connecticut delegation to do so.

Kuttner doesn't stop at the Wall Street "rescue". "Government will need to rely on substantial public spending to pull the wider economy out of the hole. Most of that can be raised by surtaxes on the wealthy and by transaction taxes on speculation, but it will also require a temporary increase in public deficits. Raise enough revenue to cover about $700 billion of financial recapitalization in year one, and in years two through eight use the proceeds for public works, infrastructure, good jobs, universal health coverage, expanded pre-kindergarten and child care."

Kuttner's corrections, in other words, call for a New Deal in the 21st Century, not just to quell the high-finance meltdown on Wall Street, but to reduce the economic insecurity felt by a growing number of working and middle income households. Let's hope that when the Congress votes again, more of Kuttner's formula will be part of the rescue.

Original post from http://newbritaindemocrat.blogspot.com

28 September 2008

Back to the Future: Divisive Bozek Gets GOP Nod For State Senate

Tom Bozek, the former state senator and self-described "conservative Democrat", wants a soapbox to spew his racially divisive views and bizarre ideas on shrinking New Britain via the elimination of low-income households.

The New Britain Republican Party has obliged Bozek, anointing him as the Republican nominee for state Senate against Democrat Donald DeFronzo, who ousted Bozek from the state Senate in 2002 behind a broad-based coalition of Democrats and Unaffiliated voters. In that 2002 contest Bozek bitterly blamed more than 1,200 newly registered Hispanic voters for his loss.

Republican Town Chair Paul Carver sheepishly told the New Britain Herald on September 27th "nobody came forward but Tom. He's got a conservative record, and the committee did not want the seat to go unchallenged."

Bozek's nomination points to the sorry state of the local GOP. Of 3,600 Republicans in New Britain and a few thousand more in Berlin, local Republicans couldn't field any fresh, conservative blood to oppose DeFronzo.

Bozek, who still occupies a seat on the Democratic Town Committee in District 1, revived his tirades against "the professional poor" and "minorities" last year in an unsuccessful, independent bid for Councillor at Large. According to the Herald, Bozek is attacking public housing, Section 8 rental stipends and Senator DeFronzo again.

The 2008 Bozek isn't hiding his racially charged rhetoric and campaign against the poor:

"We have 11,000 kids, when we should have 7,000."

"These people destroy these places (public housing). They are 80 percent minorities...They can't make friends with people in their own neighborhoods."

While Bozek has been espousing an anti-public housing and anti-family housing stance for most of the last two decades, Senator DeFronzo points out that Bozek never introduced a bill on the public housing issue while in the state Senate. There is also a bit of irony in a candidate such as Bozek attacking the "professional poor" He is a big beneficiary of taxpayers as he cleverly worked the system to become "a double- or triple dipper" in receipt of public pensions -- the last being arranged by former Republican leader Lou DeLuca who employed Bozek briefly to qualify him for more income on the public's dime.

The nomination of Bozek by Republicans may ensure that the party filled a line on the November ballot. However, they are getting a candidate whose divisiveness and appeals to the lowest common denominator may shrink their numbers even more in 2008.

24 August 2008

The Nomination: Clinton, Obama, LBJ and Martin Luther King

In the back and forth of the Democratic Presidential primary season Hillary Clinton's remarks about Rev. Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson and civil rights sparked an unfortunate exchange between hers and the Obama forces.

Clinton was trying to make a point about governing, but her remarks were criticized for pitting Lyndon Johnson's delivery of landmark civil rights laws with the movement led by Rev. King -- all of this in the context of her running against a rapidly rising African American politician who ultimately deprived her of the nomination.

Barack Obama's acceptance speech on Thursday at the Denver convention provides a better opportunity to bring up King, Johnson, the presidency and the Democratic Party.

On 8/28 45 years ago, Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his "Dream" speech -- one of the most heard and admired pieces of oratory in U.S. history. King's speech and the movement he led pushed Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats to forge ahead with stronger, landmark civil rights laws for voting rights, accommodations and other aspects of equal opportunity in 1964 and 1965.

Clinton's intent was not to diminish the civil rights struggle but to say King's movement and Johnson's power and legislative acumen were not mutually exclusive. One complemented the other. The Southerner Johnson knew the consequences. "There goes the South for a generation," Johnson was quoted when he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, predicting his party would lose elections and the "solid" South for many years as they surely did.

And now should it surprise anyone that Obama's multi-cultural background is still fodder for a GOP divide and conquer strategy first invoked by Richard Nixon in 1968?

Obama needs to draw the distinctions sharply between his vision and that of John McCain, especially on economics and the interests of people who "work hard and play by the rules." In doing so, he should revisit the King and Johnson legacy, perhaps noting that Clinton wasn't dissing King over LBJ at all.

The betting here is he will recall that long ago August 28th as he prepares to lead Democrats into the fall election. The moment will not be lost on Obama that his political ascendency this week is a direct consequence of both King's movement and Johnson's Democrats and what was said and done a generation ago. Obama's nomination will not be the end all for civil rights struggle, but a fulfillment of a huge piece of the "Dream".

(Photo Credit: Johnson Library and Museum from wikimedia.org)

02 August 2008

Salvio's Latest Salvo: Putting His Pet Projects and Partisanship Ahead of the Public Interest

It's bad enough that New Britain's share of federal community development grant funds have been dwindling for a long time. Mid-sized U.S. cities such as New Britain used to count on a bigger share of CDBG dollars to address neighborhood and housing issues and to deliver community services that the local property tax would not support.

"Twenty five years ago New Britain possessed more than double the CDBG funds it has today," noted NB Politicus in a May 2007 post. "When inflation is taken into account the city has no more than a third of the resources it once had to address blight and community development
issues. Of CDBG dollars currently available, much of current funding is dispersed to human and social service agencies because the federal and state pipeline for their services has been cut to the bone as well."

New Britain's share has shrunk to $1.9 million in the current fiscal year. Those dollars are sometimes used to fend off blight and improve neighborhoods. Increasingly the federal allocation has also been used to fill gaps in the budgets of community agencies and social service organizations.

That's why the recent action of GOP Councilman Lou Salvio is so disturbing. Salvio, whose modus operandi has been to use up public resources by filing official complaints against those he disagrees with, complained to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)about City Council approval of CDBG allocations.

Salvio's latest political salvo was directed at three Democratic Council members who are affiliated or related to persons affiliated with the Human Resource Agency (HRA) and the United Labor Agency, two organizations traditionally in line to get federal dollars because of their anti-poverty and job development services. The three Council members Michael Trueworthy, Toni Lynn Collins and Paul Catanzaro, appropriately abstained from voting on any funds directed to those agencies. In fact, Catanzaro who is Chair of HRA's Board of Directors, was absent. No conflict on their part. The Council acted in accordance with the regulations.

Salvio, who initially signalled unhappiness with the allocations because one or more of his pet projects did not get funded, complained to HUD over the failure of the city to file a perfunctory waiver to HUD about the Council abstentions. The irony is that the Stewart administration, which uses Salvio as its Council mouthpiece, failed to file the required waiver. This omission opened the door to Salvio's complaint and a divisive move to derail legitimately voted allocations on a technicality.

Maybe it's time for Mayor Stewart and his Chief of Staff Lisa Carver to put a muzzle on their Council point man when his actions serve no ethical or public purpose. Heaven knows they know how to muzzle city departments when the press and public come calling for information that should not require an FOI order to be shared.

13 July 2008

Building Commission Update: A Phony Price Tag For Access To Code Violators

Once upon a time municipal government in New Britain had a Building Commission – a five-member body that oversaw code enforcement, permits and reviewed variance requests. Every month appointed citizens reviewed inspections, monitored activities and made requests of inspectors if they knew of any code problems.

For safe housing advocates the building enforcement has been made worse by the elimination of a certificate of occupancy law that went out before the old commission was eliminated.

Charter change did away with the Building Commission six years ago and City Councils ever since have failed to adopt a building board to deal with persistent blight, abandonment and code issues. While the current Charter did eliminate many boards and commissions it gave the Mayor and Council power to establish them by ordinance instead of the lengthy referendum process at any time.

At long last the City Council is set to reinstitute the commission at its July meeting in the aftermath of laudable press coverage by the New Britain Herald’s Rick Guinness on code problems, squatters and evictions at properties owned by out-of-town landlords. Guinness and the Herald, despite their limits at the corporate owned hometown daily, are turning in some of the best local journalism in years on the housing issue. More on that in a subsequent post.

Although Mayor Stewart has been against reinstituting the commission, he should work with the Council and, as the appointing authority, give appointees an opportunity to improve code enforcement and housing policy that has been neglected for a number of years. The reality is a new Building Commission will be as effective as the Mayor wants it to be.

The need for more oversight of the Building Department and more accountability in this area of services was evident at the July 9th Council meeting.

Councillors were told that it will take up to $40,000 just to put reports on building-code violations together from the building and health departments and the Fire Marshall’s office. According to the Herald story, “finding out what actions have been taken against building-code violators will cost the city $40,000” in administrative and overtime costs. To anyone outside the City Hall bureaucracy, the figure sounds preposterous. It raises the issue of whether accurate logs and records are being kept on a day to day basis at these enforcement departments. The Council appropriately rejected the $40,000 to get the information, but you have to wonder whether they were snookered into believing that it would or should take that much to get data that should be available at their next Council meeting. “Along with giving the $40,000 estimate, the city plan, fire, health and licenses, permits and inspections departments said they will begin keeping better track, electronically, of violation information,” the Herald reported. That admission alone illustrates the need for more citizen oversight over a department that, after the Police Department, fields the highest number of complaints and disputes from residents.

Put simply, a dubious price tag to get some basic data that should already be available has been thrown in the way of improving enforcement and making a Building Commission an effective tool to reduce blight.

08 July 2008

Remembering Sam Goldberger

With the sudden passing of social activist Sam Goldberger of West Hartford on June 9th advocates of peace and economic justice in Greater Hartford lost a local hero who traveled the world for the causes he believed in and gave generously of his time and resources for them.

Goldberger, a graduate of Yale ’64 and Columbia where he earned a Ph.D. in Central European History, probably could have pursued academics behind Ivy walls. Instead, he returned to Connecticut to teach at Capital Community College for 33 years. He also became a campus leader in his faculty union, the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges. It would be a good guess that Sam’s activism and immigrant roots in Bridgeport led him to a community college where working people and first generation college goers get a chance to move up the education ladder. Through the years he shared his passion for intellectual inquiry with his students and gave of his time generously advising student groups.

Sam was a member of the West Hartford Democratic Town Committee and, as the saying goes, was in good standing with the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

He participated in We Refuse To Be Enemies -- a group of Jews and Muslims who talked peace and understanding amid Mideast turmoil and border disputes. Every peace and progressive organization in Greater Hartford probably benefited from Sam's involvement.

Just recently he was exhorting friends to contribute to Bethlehem University of the Holy Land, a Catholic, co-educational institution of higher learning established in 1973 to meet the needs of the Palestinian society that is open to people of all faiths.

Said fellow West Hartford Democrats Carol and Win Heimer: “Pardon the cliche, but Sam had a heart as big as all outdoors. He was kind, compassionate and a true humanist. We are privileged to have known him as a labor activist, Democratic Town Committee Member, and advocate for peace and justice here and in the Middle East.”

27 April 2008

Bush Visit At Taxpayer Expense Raises Big Bucks For Murphy Challenger

President Bush's visit to Connecticut and the 5th Congressional District on Friday raised as much as $700K, according to press reports . Much of the money is supposed to benefit the presumptive opponent of first-term U.S. Rep Chris Murphy, State Senator David Cappiello.

Bush used a Hartford speech on malaria-fighting efforts to underwrite an obviously partisan journey to the Kent home of Nixon administration Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Invitees came at $1,000 per person and got a photo with the President for $10,000.

In a bizarre twist to the trip shared with a group of 5th CD Democrats this weekend, the White House called Cong. Murphy's office last Tuesday to invite him to accompany the President on Air Force One on his way to the Northwest Hills to shake the GOP money tree for Murphy's opponent. No word yet on whether Murphy's office staff has stopped laughing yet. New England's only GOP member of Congress, Chris Shays, took the free ride.

While Cappiello needed the kind of cash that a sitting President could bring him, many Democrats and unaffiliated voters will be asking just what part of Bush's policies does Cappiello plan to run on. There was no evidence that Cappiello engaged in any photo ops with Bush. Nary a word on the Cappiello website.

Chances are the Republican challenger will do his best to ignore George Bush completely the rest of the way. It appears his strategy is to run a stealth campaign of quietly backing the Bush agenda and painting himself a Nancy Johnson moderate. To know the real David Cappiello, however, all voters will have to do his follow the money trail back to the White House. The largess given to Cappiello is the best tip off yet of what he stands for and how he will vote: for wasteful war without security, for deficits, for the continuing economic slide of working and middle income people as the rich guys with the long driveways who live next to Henry Kissinger get a tax break.

[Photo credit: http://news.bbc.co.uk]

14 April 2008

Revaluation Makes Tax Increase Inevitable According to the Mayor

A $219.5 million municipal budget was submitted to the City Council last week that will bring a tax increase to residential owners because of state-mandated revaluation, Mayor Timothy Stewart and most city officials say.

According to published reports a tax rate of 34.98 ($34.98 per $1,000 valuation) will take effect July 1 if the budget is adopted. While the tax rate is dropping, new property assessments from a recently completed revaluation will mean higher bills for homeowners and owners of multi-family units.

As with all property revaluations, burdens on small property owners and tenants increase because of the regressive nature of the property tax and Connecticut's over reliance on it to pay for essential services and schools. Residential owners in New Britain bear the brunt of higher tax bills while industrial properties will decrease under the current system.

Mayor Stewart, who rode to victory over incumbent Lucian Pawlak five years ago because of 40% re-assessment hikes, says now there is little that can be done to avert an increase in property bills because of revaluation. The budget proposal he submitted is essentially a level funding one with no layoffs and a slight increase in the education budget.

Between now and June the municipal budget will get more scrutiny from the City Council whose members will be seeking ways to extract more savings without cutting services. A key point of the debate will be whether the $118 million allocated for the school district will remain the same or be increased to deal with serious resource shortfalls cited in recent outside reports about the high school's accreditation, student achievement and morale in the school district.

Also to be determined is whether a local property tax credit will be extended to seniors and individuals on fixed incomes -- a form of relief adopted by the Council and agreed to by the Mayor last fall. This issue, which would extend an existing state credit program for seniors with local funding, has been resisted by Stewart. The impact of revaluation, however, will increase pressure to provide the senior tax credit if not every year at least this year.

24 March 2008

Mayor, Council At Odds Over FOI Again

Any person denied the right to inspect or copy records under section 1-210 or wrongfully denied the right to attend any meeting of a public agency or denied any other right conferred by the Freedom of Information Act may appeal therefrom to the Freedom of Information Commission, by filing a notice of appeal with said commission.

Excerpt from Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act

The public's right to know has become a surprisingly controversial issue since last November's municipal election, putting the Republican Mayor at odds with the Democratic City Council.

In December, the Council adopted an ordinance without the Mayor's signature that requires city departments to release records and information in a timely manner when requested to do so by members of the Common Council. The ordinance apparently stemmed from some foot dragging on information access at City Hall. In one instance, Democrats sought information for legislators researching data for a bill that would create a Health Care Partnership Act, enabling cities to join the state health insurance pool and reduce insurance costs. When a legislative aide working for House Majority Leader Chris Donovan (D-Meriden) asked the city Finance Department about the number of city employees and health premium costs he was promptly turned down and told the request would have to be approved by the Mayor.

In January, Republican Town Chair Paul Carver, perhaps in retaliation for the FOI ordinance, filed a formal complaint with the state commission contending that Council Majority Leader Mike Trueworthy did not identify a nominee to the Mattabasett District Commission on a meeting agenda despite the posting of the vacancy on the agenda. Democrats have called Carver's complaint "frivolous." The Commission has yet to take up the complaint amid predictions from Democrats that Carver's complaint will be quickly dismissed.

This month a second ordinance has been proposed by Ward 4 Councillor Phil Sherwood (Photo) that would essentially establish a local Freedom of Information act. The FOI law and the 37-year-old state FOI Commission is the arbiter of all complaints at the local and state level. But Sherwood and others on the Council feel that open meetings and access to public records need to be clearly spelled out at the local level.

The Stewart Administration didn't help itself when the Board of Finance and Taxation, deliberating over the city budget, kicked New Britain Herald Reporter Rick Guinness out of its meeting. The newspaper has responded in kind, according to a march 24th Herald story:

In the past month, elected and appointed city officials, including Mayor Timothy Stewart, have barred access to public meetings, prompting The Herald to file complaints with the Freedom of Information Commission. The city must send a city attorney to Hartford, at taxpayer expense, to justify the actions.

These recent actions are raising the possibility that the Stewart administration is skirting if not violating the spirit and letter of Freedom of Information laws. Stewart and his Council minority leader, Lou Salvio, are likely to argue that such an ordinance is unnecessary at the local level. Salvio, arguing against the first FOI ordinance, claimed that he did not have any difficulty obtaining the information he needed. Democrats, however, say that is the point. Republicans, they say, are playing a partisan game even when it comes to public access to data and open doors at public meetings.

While the state FOI Commission has ultimate jurisdiction and enforcement power, it has been very supportive of some form of local FOI oversight since a 1999 statewide survey found "disappointing results" of compliance with the FOI Act by local government.

The state Commission, in fact, has adopted a local "model" ordinance that calls for establishing a municipal FOI Advisory Board -- not quite a model FOI ordinance but a move designed to reduce the small commission's large caseload.

Colleen M. Murphy, the FOI Commission's Executive Director and General Counsel, advocated for a local advisory group in an article "Freedom of Information Advisory Boards Will Benefit Citizens and Public Officials Alike":
"Why should municipalities take such a step? The answer is simple: the creation of these advisory boards will go a long way toward resolving FOI questions well before they turn into full-blown disputes. The function of the municipal advisory board is to act as a liaison, to citizens and public officials, as well as to the FOI Commission. Members of advisory boards will be trained in the application of the FOI Act to issues of local concern

Murphy, making her case for municipal advisory groups, said they would "demonstrate a municipality's commitment to the concept of open government."

City Councillor Sherwood appears to be making the same argument in calling for what would amount to a municipal Freedom of Information Act if the ordinance to be considered by the City Council is adopted.

Stewart may charge that the open government ordinance is just another example of "partisan sniping" at his administration and that it's his prerogative to maintain control over the flow of information at City Hall. But even a mayor in the strongest of strong-mayor forms of government has to realize at some point that withholding publc records and closing the door on open meetings is the wrong way to go.

16 March 2008

Foreign Intelligence, Telecom Immunity Evokes Same Old Fear Mongering Against Cong. Murphy

Criticism over a U.S. House debate on a Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) re authorization by Rep. Chris Murphy's prospective Republican opponent shows the GOP is turning early to divisive fear tactics on issues of national security and fighting terrorism in 2008.

Danbury GOP State Senator David Capiello, in a statement appearing in a New Britain Herald story by Scott Whipple, knocked Murphy and the House leadership for holding up a Senate-approved bill that grants retroactive immunity to telecom companies, leaving the Bush Administration free to spy on Americans in the name of national security without any constitutional safeguards. Abuse of intelligence gathering capabilities contributed, in part, to the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez last year.

Capiello contends that retroactive immunity for telecom companies and warrant-less wiretaps should be allowed despite a 1978 FISA law that provides the government with immediate spying capabilities so long as warrants are obtained within three days of the intelligence gathering. “I hate the idea of it being a campaign issue,” Cappiello was quoted as saying. “I see it as a national security issue. It’s an American issue. I hope it will be resolved so it won’t become a campaign issue.” Capiello appears to be drawing on the playbook of former Cong. Nancy Johnson who swamped the airwaves in 2006 with attacks on Murphy inferring that the Democrat would aid and abet terrorists. By saying "it's an American issue" Capiello implicitly questions Murphy's patriotism -- the same tactic used by Johnson's failed re-election campaign.

Murphy is on record as saying “it is dishonest to say that the expiration of the Protect America Act means the country can’t survive. Currently, the attorney general can approve surveillance within minutes; approval from the FISA court can be obtained in three days. The government simply begins the wiretap and goes to FISA court for retroactive approval.”

Rep. Murphy supports modifying the federal FISA law "to meet current threats" but takes issue with the Republicans for exploiting the issue "for partisan political gain." To Murphy and other House Democrats, Bush and the Republicans are holding up the re authorization in order to protect telecommunication companies for infringing on the privacy for millions of Americans. Democrats are asserting the intelligence gathering is needed without breaking the law and revealing personal information about law-abiding citizens.

Murphy and House Democrats are taking up where Senator Chris Dodd left off in the U.S. Senate. Dodd valiantly opposed telecom immunity in the Senate and for a time was able to delay its passage in a stand against Bush' intransigence and Majority Leader Harry Reid's indifference. In January Dodd framed the issue in a statement on the Senate floor: "More and more, Americans are rejecting the false choice that has come to define this administration: security or liberty, but never, ever both. It speaks volumes about the president’s estimation of the American people that he expects them to accept that choice. The truth, though, is that shielding corporations from lawsuits does absolutely nothing for our security. I challenge the president to prove otherwise. I challenge him to show us how putting these companies above the law makes us safer by an iota."

09 March 2008

One Way To Promote Job Growth and Stability: Eliminate Tuition At State's Public Colleges

The earning power of college graduates versus those whose highest attainment is a high school diploma favors the former by a wide margin. In central Connecticut, it doesn't really matter anymore if you want a job as an analyst at an insurance company or fill out an application at a small manufacturer to build parts on the shop floor. You will need post-secondary skills to fill decent paying jobs in our regional economy.

That's what makes State Rep. Timothy O'Brien's legislation to eliminate in-state tuition for students at UCONN, the state universities and the community colleges intriguing. So intriguing that O'Brien's proposal has drawn considerable press coverage, including a February 21 story in the Meriden Record-Journal.

House Bill 5261 "will eliminate all tuition and fees for in-state residents" and proposes "that funding be increased to offset the costs" of eliminating in-state tuition at the public colleges and universities. While many would call the O'Brien idea unaffordable, the need to make college and post-secondary training opportunities available is broadly recognized as a key to retaining jobs and a stronger economy.

O'Brien's idea is not new. Free public education is an idea deeply rooted in the American egalitarian ideal. Once upon time California was a K-graduate school system without tuitions and fees. And last year MA Governor Duval Patrick, a business friendly Democrat, proposed a guarantee that the 12 community colleges in his state be open and tuition-free.

According to the Record Journal, O'Brien recognizes the current reliance on student tuition and fees to meet operating costs: "O'Brien's bill would require students who did not pay tuition and fees for the duration of college to pay a fixed rate for a certain amount of time after they graduate, depending on their income. If they move out of state, however, the students would be required to pay back the full amount."

Says O'Brien: "I introduced this legislation because I think that it is time that Connecticut start talking about the fact that high tuition and fees at our public institutions of higher education is a growing barrier to a college education for many people in our state, even if good financial aid is available for students." O'Brien emphasizes that the bill is also an effort to stem a "brain drain" that will encourage young people to stay in Connecticut.

While O'Brien concedes that House Bill 5261 will likely go no where in a short legislative session. He knows it opens an important discussion on educational access and economic policy that will not end with the close of the General Assembly this year.

Post originally appeared at http://newbritaindemocrat.blogspot.com

02 March 2008

A Brief History of Delegates And Super Delegates

The origins of pledged delegates chosen in caucuses and primaries and "super delegates" are getting much more scrutiny with no resolution in the Clinton versus Obama race. That was the case at the Feb. 21st New Britain Democratic Town Committee meeting. DTC member Butch Wierbicki, a United Auto Workers retiree, asked with a tone of suspicion in his voice where and when did the super delegates come from?

The earlier-than-ever Iowa and New Hampshire face offs and the front-loading of many primaries were supposed to make curiosity about delegates a moot point. Last December conventional wisdom held that New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who had already signed up a good share of the "super delegates", would be the inevitable nominee before one rank and file Democrat went to vote in a caucus or primary.

Butch Wierbicki is not alone in wondering about super delegates. Many Democrats and observers are asking and wondering about delegate selection because every delegate vote now matters. You've heard the numbers. The Democratic nominee will need 2,025 delegate votes out of more than 4,000 for the nomination at the national convention in Denver in August. As of March 1, both Clinton and Obama had amassed over 1,000 delegates each for the stretch run. Obama is holding an advantage after 11 straight primary and caucus victories and the early favorite Clinton is seeking a comeback on March 4th and the April 22nd primary in Pennsylvania.

The delegate make up of the 2008 Democratic National Convention springs from two conflicting trends in the Democratic Party over the last 40 years. One (grassroots) is to empower the rank and file to select the nominee. Delegates pledged to a candidate at the district level are the grassroots. The other (top-down) is to allow party potentates to have an automatic voice to determine the nominees, party platforms and rules. These are the super delegates, officially known as "Party Leaders and Elected Officials (PLEOs)" as stipulated in national party bylaws.

In 1968, a fractious national convention torn up by the Vietnam War made concessions to reformers to review rules for a more open selection process. The result was the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which established a process that gave grassroots people, union members and minorities a greater chance at becoming delegates. The more "democratic" rules took effect in 1972 when former Senator George McGovern (who led the commission) became the nominee.

In 1982, the pendulum had swung the other way. According to www.superdelegates.org: "As the Democratic Party increased their use of primaries and caucuses to select delegates during the 1960s and 1970s, intra-party criticism continued, with the opinion expressed that some control of the nomination process should remain among party elites. Although the McGovern-Fraser reforms insured significant primary delegate representation by the 1972 National Convention, Democratic presidential defeats in 1972 and 1980, and the surprise success of then-outsider candidate Jimmy Carter's nomination in 1976, increased the call for more control being vested with Party leaders."

Enter the Hunt Commission (led by then North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt). Hunt's group established the super delegates representing 15% of the convention -- a percentage that has since grown to 20% of all delegates. Former Cong. and 1984 Vice Presidential Nominee Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, defended super delegates in a February 25th Op-Ed article in the New York Times: "So we created super delegates and gave that designation to every Democratic member of Congress. Today the 796 super delegates also include Democratic governors, former presidents and vice presidents, and members of the Democratic National Committee and former heads of the national committee. These super delegates, we reasoned, are the party’s leaders. They are the ones who can bring together the most liberal members of our party with the most conservative and reach accommodation. They would help write the platform. They would determine if a delegate should be seated. They would help determine the rules. And having done so, they would have no excuse to walk away from the party or its presidential nominee."

In reality, super delegates are an attempt to put a little bit of the "smoke-filled room" back into the process. They are meant as a counterweight to the reforms adopted following the McGovern-Fraser Commission that paved the way for proportional delegate selection and the opportunity for rank and file Democrats (not party regulars) to become delegates.

Super delegates have every right to lead as Ms. Ferraro suggests, but they also need to heed what primary voters and district delegates want in 2008 if the Democratic nominee is to prevail in November. There can be no turning back the clock to "party bosses" and the smoke filled rooms of yesteryear. Unlike 1972, Democrats will have the best chance of winning the Presidency by upholding the open and democratic reforms that allowed the grassroots to get to conventions nearly 40 years ago.

In Connecticut, separate Clinton and Obama caucuses will be held on March 19th in each Congressional District to pick the delegates pledged to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Reflecting the popular vote of Feb. 5th, Obama will have the edge on pledged district delegates (It's 3 to 3 in the 5th Congressional District). Additional at-large delegates will be selected by district delegates after the caucuses. There are 11 super delegates from Connecticut, including Senator Dodd and the four Democratic members of Congress. Dodd and U.S. Reps. Murphy, DeLauro and Larson have swung to Obama. The other superdelegates include National Committee members Ellen Camhi, Anthony Avallone, Steve Fontana and John Olsen, State Party Chair Nancy DiNardo and New Haven's Marty DunLeavy who gains his status by virtue of being a member of the National Democratic Party's "ethnic coordinating committee." More information is available at www.ctdems.org