27 December 2011

The Politics of Division: Cafero, GOP Seek To Make 5th Congressional District Less Diverse

The impasse over the redistricting of  Connecticut's Congressional political map is jeopardizing New Britain's place as one of the major cities in the 5th Congressional District.

Republican Minority Leader Larry Cafero  and his GOP cohorts on the stalemated legislative commission want New Britain to vacate the new 5th to join the 1st District where Hartford and New Britain are "communities of interest" that should go together.

In their brief to the state Supreme Court,  Cafero and company are using the "communities of interest" factor cynically and falsely to tilt the 5th into a Republican-leaning Congressional District.

New Britain,  the home of 12-term Republican Nancy Johnson until 2006, provides the 5th District with the diversity and political balance it needs to be a level-playing field for politicians of all stripes and backgrounds.

Without towns such as New Britain the 5th Congressional District becomes much less diverse.  The Republicans, who sabotaged an agreement within the commission, argue for a proposal that promotes a racial and socio-economic isolation on the political map for the next decade. This strategy may serve the GOP's short-term election agenda,  but will be divisive, diminishing the influence of New Britain voters.

Congressional districts should reflect a political and demographic balance. The 5th District should remain what it is now: a mix of urban and suburban and the wealthy and the working class voting together.

Taking New Britain out of the 5th District will create an imbalance and reduce the chances of advancing the state's common interests by its Congressional delegation.

11 December 2011

Mayor Uses On-Line Survey To Encourage Participation: Appointments Pending For Boards and Commissions

Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated voters — are welcome to submit their names and qualifications to be considered for a nomination to one of the volunteer boards where citizen oversight and participation can make local government more accountable to residents. Over the last week Mayor Tim O’Brien completed his appointments to the city Police Commission. But 26 other bodies must be filled to have all hands on board for the new administration.

Mayor O’Brien has invited interested residents to submit information via an online survey available at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/93LHK6X

Commissions such as Fire, Parks and Recreation, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Board of Finance and Taxation, Civil Service/Personnel and Veterans are mandated by the City Charter. Special acts require the Board of Water Commissioners and the Fairview Cemetery Commission to be filled. Other commissions that have been established or re-established by ordinance after Charter change in 2003 include the Arts, Building, City Plan, Aging, Persons with Disabilities, Youth and Family Services, Ethics, Human Rights and Opportunities, Parking, Public Works, Health, Conservation, Ordinance Appeals Board and Housing Board of Appeals. Mayoral appointments will also be made for the Commission on Community & Neighborhood Development and the Municipal Economic Development Agency. Complete information on commissions, their composition and schedules is available at the city’s website: http://www.newbritainct.gov/liv_boards.html

Persons interested in serving may call the Mayor’s office at 860-826-3303.

26 November 2011

In Seeking Support For Senate Murphy Shares a New Britain Story

U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, in a holiday weekend message seeking support for his Senate bid,  shares the story of his mother's upbringing in hardscrabble New Britain.

The appeal for support draws a sharp contrast with Republican frontrunner Linda McMahon and the untold millions the former WWE CEO will spend in 2012.
"Yesterday, like many of you, I spent Thanksgiving with my mother. I saw the proud look on her face as she sat on the couch surrounded by children and grandchildren who are all healthy, happy, and secure. 
Her pride runs so deep because she knows - and we all know - how hard she struggled to get to this point in her life. My mother grew up in the Mount Pleasant housing projects in New Britain, and though her family lurched in and out of poverty, she was determined to defy the odds and succeed. She did - she went to college, became a teacher, and raised me to believe I could do anything I wanted to in life if I just set my mind to it.  
But my mother didn't do it alone. She lived in public housing, her father got a job making things for the federal government, and she went to college with the help of federal aid.  
She succeeded because her community helped her succeed. And to put it simply, I'm running for the Senate to restore that magical partnership between individual will and community investment." 

25 November 2011

24th House District Special Election: Sharon, Rick and Mike Vie For the 24th

24th State Rep Nominating Convention Tuesday, 11/29 In Newington

The convention to nominate a Democratic candidate for the 24th House District seat vacated by Mayor O'Brien will be held Tuesday, November 29th at 7 p.m. at Newington Town Hall Council Chambers, 131 Cedar Street.
Three candidates with considerable public service and legislative experience have emerged to replace O'Brien: BOE President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, Former Ward 1 Alderman Rick Lopes and Common Council President Mike Trueworthy.  They are seeking support from 13 delegates chosen last year for Rep. O'Brien's re-nomination.  The 24th District lies in New Britain and Newington -- a multi-town district that requires a delegate convention instead of a nomination through the Town Committee.  In New Britain the district comprises the Vance, NB High School, Roosevelt and Gaffney school polling places.

At a New Britain Democratic Town Committee meeting November 17th involving New Britain and Newington DTC members and delegates, Beloin-Saavedra, Lopes and Trueworthy all pledged to abide by the result of the convention and unify for a special election that is expected to be held January 10th.

The candidate elected in January will served in the short session of the Legislature that begins in February and will almost immediately roll into the endorsement for a new term with Town Committees' selection of delegates in March.  New political boundary lines will also be established by then as the result of the 2010 Census and the work of the Redistricting Commission that has not completed its work. All of the announced candidates are expected to remain in the 24th District after the district lines are re-drawn.

15 November 2011

Reflecting On the Inauguration: Tim O'Brien Wants To Be The "Education" Mayor

Today's swearing in of the new Mayor, Tim O'Brien, and other municipal officials elected last Tuesday was most significant for where it was held as much as what was said at the ceremony.

 The New Britain High Band played the music and the Madrigal Singers sang the National Anthem as classes at the high school, the state's largest, were in full session.

As a legislator O'Brien has been nothing less than passionate about public education and how it can be improved in a city where pressures on keeping the property tax down are paramount. O'Brien has balanced the need for aid to education with solid plans to reduce the reliance on property taxes to pay for quality education.  O'Brien should fervently hope that Governor Malloy, formerly an urban Mayor, will address the school funding issues if he can get out from under the state's recession over the next two years. Among other things O'Brien has called for use of magnet school funding  to give New Britain parents a choice and to develop Sheff-O'Neill regional schools within the city which hosts one of the major teacher colleges in the state in CCSU.  Upwards of 600 New Britain students now journey to Hartford every day to attend the Classical Magnet or the college-oriented Capital Prep.

In the last two City Hall administrations (Pawlak's  and Stewart's 16 years)  the local allocation to the schools has been contentious and successive administrations have skirted or scuttled the requirement for a minimum level of support to education. Less than two years ago the Democratic Council restored more than $1 million  to avoid larger classroom sizes only to have it scuttled by the Mayor.

Unquestionably, Tim O'Brien faces enormous fiscal issues as he takes office amid the deep recession and less in the way of help from Hartford or D.C.  But based on his call at today's inaugural for cooperation and a clear statement that education IS a priority in his administration the terms of the debate have significantly changed.  Education will be a priority and O'Brien intends to be the "Education Mayor".  As the more perceptive politicians in our town have pointed out that is the only and best  strategy to retain and attract middle-class families to stay here and move in from anywhere else.

17 September 2011

Beware of Professional Politicians Accusing their Opponents of Being A "Professional Politician"

I once knew a state representative in Lynn, MA who came up with a winning slogan: "Tim Bassett Is A Lousy Politician".  As I recall, the  Lynn lawmaker used the phrase to win  a term or two or three up on Beacon Hill giving  meaning to the use of irony in politics.

That same claim has been resurrected over and over again at every level and every year since I first heard it.

In presidential politics this year Mitt Romney, the former Governor of MA, the  former nominee for U.S. Senate and 2008 presidential contender, is using the line again, having accused his GOP opponents of being "professional politicians" in a recent speech. Shameless.

In New Britain, Mayoral Nominee Tim O'Brien's primary opponent, a multi-term alderman and office seeker, labeled himself the "people's advocate, not professional politician!!!"  Shameless again.

Most voters easily dismiss the "professional politician" charge because it always comes from a professional politician trying to deflect attention from issues and their own credentials.   The use of the tag line, however, is just another way of putting down the pursuit of politics and public service -- a meaningless phrase that further contributes to voter apathy and indifference.
And what's wrong with voting for a professional politician? He or she may know what their doing when they attain public office.

05 September 2011

Op-Ed: CEOs Rewarded for Corporate Tax Dodging

Other Words Op-Ed: Week of September 5-13

For an elite group of American CEOs, sacrifice is for chumps.
As the nation struggles with budgetary constraints, Congress has exempted a group of imperial CEOs and their companies from contributing to the solution.

High Wire CEO  by Khalil Brendib  www.otherwords.org
One special group of CEOs enjoys huge compensation packages while presiding over companies that pay little or no taxes. Twenty-five companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid in U.S. corporate taxes, according to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies that I co-authored.
Instead of building better products or providing superior customer service, they spend millions to lobby Congress to change the tax laws so they don't have to pay.
The ranks of these profitable tax dodgers include Honeywell, General Electric, Verizon, eBay, International Paper, Boeing, Dow Chemical, Ford Motor, and Qwest Communications.
John Lundgren, the CEO of toolmaker Stanley Black and Decker, got a 234 percent pay hike in 2010, bringing his compensation to $32.6 million. Meanwhile the company is shedding thousands of jobs and moving more operations and profits offshore. They have 50 subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. Instead of paying taxes, they collected a $75 million refund.
Twenty of these 25 companies spent more money lobbying than they paid in taxes. When confronted by their tax dodging, their PR flaks complain, "We are just obeying the law." Last year, these 25 companies spent $150 million to influence the law, through lobbying and campaign expenditures.
These companies win gold medals in accounting gymnastics, using subsidiaries in low- or no-tax countries to avoid their tax obligations. Here's how the game works: A corporation pretends its profits are earned in offshore subsidiaries while its losses are incurred in the United States. At tax time, these corporations report to Uncle Sam that all they have are losses. Together, these 25 companies have 556 subsidiaries in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Ireland, and Bermuda.
These U.S.-based companies use our taxpayer-funded infrastructure, including roads, bridges, broadband, and transportation. They benefit from taxpayer-funded research and spin-off products like the Internet, advanced jet engines, and drug research. Their corporate assets are protected by the U.S. military, police departments, and firefighters — and they rely on our U.S. justice system to defend their intellectual property.
Yet 20 of these companies paid no taxes in 2010. They didn't chip in one dime to pay for the services they enjoy — and that contribute enormously to the success of their businesses. Five companies paid symbolic amounts of taxes, less than the paychecks of their CEOs. But most, in fact, collected checks from Uncle Sam.
We taxpayers just hired Boeing for $35 billion to build new aircraft for the U.S. military. Honeywell also receives huge U.S. government and military contracts. But we don't require either company to pay a nickel for national defense or public services.
As wages for most Americans have remained stagnant over the last several years, these imperial CEOs saw their compensation jump 27.8 percent between 2009 and 2010. The average CEO of an S&P 500 company collected $10.8 million in compensation. But the CEOs of these notorious tax dodgers were paid an average of $16.7 million in 2010.
Shareholders should reward CEOs for building better products or delivering better services, not for accounting gymnastics that game their tax bills down. Shareholders at Stanley Black and Decker are trying to reverse their CEO's pay grab.
Congress should pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would generate an estimated $100 billion in revenue annually. It would save jobs at patriotic U.S. companies that are forced to unfairly compete with corporate tax dodgers on an unlevel playing field.
Our nation needs all hands on deck, with everyone pulling their weight to address our fiscal challenges. As we try to recover from the worst economic depression since the 1930s, middle-class taxpayers and domestic businesses shouldn't have to carry these slacker companies on their backs.
Chuck Collins is a co-author of the new Institute for Policy Studies report, "Executive Excess 2011: The Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging." www.ips-dc.org

16 July 2011

Murphy To Take Up GOP Plan To Outsource and Increase Costs of Medicare, Social Security At New Britain Senior Center 7/18

Congressman Chris Murphy (D-5) will discuss the future of Medicare and Social Security in New Britain Monday July 18th amid Republican plans to reduce benefits and privatize the federal programs for older citizens.

Murphy will be joined by Judy Stein, the executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy at the New Britain Senior Center, 55 Pearl Street, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
In announcing the New Britain meeting Cong. Murphy released the following statement:
“Rep Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has proposed a budget that includes drastically changing Medicare. At the same time, many in Congress are calling for an overhaul of the Social Security system. Congressman Ryan’s voucher-based plan would result in increased costs for most Medicare beneficiaries, especially those who are the sickest. Please join Congressman Murphy and Judy Stein to hear how these proposals would impact you.”

05 June 2011

Big Box vs. Public Park: Will A.W. Stanley Park and Golf Course Get Malled?

A public hearing and meeting of the Common Council on June 7th and June 8th are expected to stir strong debate on the proposed siting of a COSTCO store on the white nine of the 27-hole Stanley Golf Course. The plan calls for relocating two golf holes across the street on a pristine parcel of A.W. Stanley Park.
The COSTCO store would be built adjacent to the Target Store — a development approved by the Common Council in 1999 which involved the abandonment of single family homes on Glen Carlyn Road and an earlier alteration of the golf course. The Target project did not involve the taking of any of the wooded park across the street.
The ninth hole of the White Nine at Stanley Golf Course is behind
 this public hearing sign. It is the proposed site of a new
COSTCO store on the edge of New Britain.
This slim corridor of New Britain real estate at issue has a particularly high value for retailers. It is down the street from the 138-store Westfarms Mall and the Corbins Corner shopping center that intersect on Farmington and West Hartford land — towns that gain all the tax revenue from those sprawling shopping areas. Proponents are pushing the conversion for economically-distressed New Britain to gain tax revenue and jobs at the expense of open space and a radical change to the golf course.
The Friends of Stanley Park, a group of residents and preservationists, are opposing development that would take out a portion of the wooded park and wetlands area amounting to destruction of space long held in a land trust.
“A. W. Stanley Park’s wooded areas provide valuable habitat for wildlife, with over 150 species of birds and diverse plant life,” says the Friends’ group on their Facebook page. “The woods are used by local residents for recreational walking and running, observing and photographing wildlife, and simply enjoying time in natural surroundings. The woods provide sound barriers to traffic noise from Route 71, help to filter and purify the water supply to the pond they surround, remove greenhouse gases from the air, supply oxygen, and cool the surrounding neighborhoods.” Opponents urge that the city use development parcels in other parts of the city to grow the grand list and develop job opportunities.
The Zoning hearing of the Common Council will be held Tuesday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the second floor Council Chambers at New Britain City Hall, 27 West Main Street.


17 May 2011

Herald: Where Will Cuts Fall At Library?

The public library, like public education,  is a  taxpayer-supported institution with a value that isn't easily measured on a ledger sheet.  It's value to a community exceeds what it costs by many measures of human capital and civic involvement.  The possibility of layoffs in city government could hit the library in terms of reduced hours and diminished services that will be painful as the  Robert Storace's May 17th story in the Herald reports.

30 April 2011

Busway Advances: Rapid Transit Wins Over Purchase of 28,000 Jeep Patriots

Last week the arguments against Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along the I-84 corridor were less about choosing rail over buses and more about opposing any public investment at all in commuter transportation.

On April 29th, the state Bond Commission approved $90 million for the New Britain-Hartford bus way, the lion's share of state investment in a $567 million project in line to receive $455 million in federal transportation funds.

GOP State Senator Andrew Roraback, in a Hail Mary salvo before the bond vote, equated the cost of  Central Connecticut's first legitimate initiative on mass transit as the equivalent of purchasing 28,000 Jeep Patriots for  every resident of New Milford, one of the towns in his district.  Roraback's ridiculous comparison didn't exactly advance environmentalism nor rail.  Think of all those Jeeps (22 city/28 Highway) on I-84 and their carbon footprint in 2020!

Public transportation needs to encompass more than folks in the Northwest Hills hopping into their SUVs and getting a more convenient train into New York. It needs to be about working people getting to their jobs in cities. It needs to be about the Hartford student without a car being able to get to his CCSU classes on time.

Using fuzzy math, State Senator Jason Welch (R-31) told a constituent that the Busway will be a "boondoggle" and that light rail could be built at "10 percent"of the cost of the BRT.  Welch's opposition clearly led him to start making up numbers on a light rail system. Say what you will about the BRT, but building rail infrastructure in this region, especially light rail, won't be cheap.  At best a rail alternative is a $1 billion idea that is up to a decade away before any environmental and economic return on investments could be realized for the region.

There is an abundance of research on the costs and impact of rail versus BRTs.  BRTs have been shown to be flexible and effective as part of public transportation systems in metro areas around the world.  Certainly BRTs are not the end all for what a good transit system should be like in central Connecticut. But it is a start at reducing auto use and revitalizing urban areas which should be the priority of policymakers whether they come from cities or suburbs.

We've heard better arguments from opponents of the BRT than those made by Republicans Roraback and Welch this past week.  A boondoggle would really be occurring if the Governor had said no to the Busway thereby throwing the more than $65 million already invested in the project down the drain.

It makes you wonder. Had the Busway started in Bristol or Waterbury would these same opponents west of New Britain still be opposed? Or would they be hailing it as a necessary investment of public transportation dollars as economic stimulus (jobs) and every bit as good for the environment as any train?

20 April 2011

Hearing on FY 12 City Budget May 12th at Slade Middle School

Now that the Stewart administration has put a $216 million budget on the table officials have set a public hearing for Thursday May 12th at 6 p.m.   The hearing will be held at Slade Middle School, not the high school as originally announced.

With federal recovery act funds gone and a best-case scenario of level funding for state education aid, the operative word is "layoff"from the brass at the Board of Education and the Mayor's Office.

At City Hall, Mayor Stewart says $11 million must be saved via layoffs or related reductions in or to the work force.

04 April 2011

Prediction: Busway Will Get Go Ahead Today

The Governor has scheduled a Monday afternoon announcement about public transportation and whether CT will complete the New Britain to Hartford busway. Proponents Mayor Pedro Segarra and State Rep. Tim O'Brien are going.

Because of new jobs and giving guv cover and credibility with labor, Courant's Rick Green in CT Confidential says it will be the busway.

There are immediate prospects for hundreds of jobs to build the roadway along the railroad bed sinking the hopes of the rail crowd and the wishes of the towns of Bristol, Newington and West Hartford.

01 April 2011

Remembering Rev. King and the Labor Movement - Again

Ultra-conservative radio host Dan Lovallo was distorting the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. the other day.  He joined a caller in bashing labor unions by objecting to unions' honoring and remembering King for his strong support of organized labor generally and public employee unions specifically.  It's all part of Lovallo's and his drive-time competition's (Former Public Employee John Rowland)  steady trash talk against many who work in the public sector.  Lovallo's distortions aside, the anniversary of Rev. King's assassination on April 4th is a sad and irrefutable reminder that King gave his life for both civil and economic rights, especially the right of public employees to bargain collectively. In this season of attacks against labor rights in the public sector Rev. King should be remembered for his close allegiance with labor. It's something if you are of a certain age you don't forget:

04 APRIL 2007

39 Years Ago Today
I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968. Thirty nine years ago today the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. 
That week day, like many others in my senior year in high school, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts to punch in for the evening shift earning some money before entering Boston University in the fall. 
The news spread quickly that Thursday evening that King was dead. It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on outside carriage control. The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation. Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many of us to become active in politics and protest. 
There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday In January every year, but not so much is being said on this anniversary of the day he died. It's worth remembering on April 4th and throughout the year why King was in Memphis on a day I will never forget. 
By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement. In Where Do We Go From Here? King opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” -- when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.
King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying: “So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions. 
King’s campaign for striking sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. That is worth remembering most from the day he died.
from  http://nbpoliticus.blogspot.com/2007/04/39-years-ago-today.html

20 March 2011

Party For State Rep. Sanchez: Affirming the American Dream in New Britain

Ward 3 Ald. Shirley Black and
Rep. Bobby Sanchez
At Fiesta Latina

Family, friends and colleagues were on hand at the Puerto Rican Society Friday March 18th to celebrate the election of Bobby Sanchez as the state representative from the 25th Assembly District in New Britain.   

Sanchez, the Democratic Town Committee Vice Chair and Board of Education member, was elected in the February 22nd special election to the state assembly seat . He succeeded John Geragosian, one  of the new state Auditors of Public Accounts.

Like many a gathering at the Puerto Rican Society the “Fiesta Latina” had plenty of home-made dishes of chicken, pork, rice and beans. Sanchez, a Washington Street resident and human services professional,  welcomed attendees many of whom have worked with Sanchez through the years to register voters and promote turnouts on election days.  Ward 5 Ald.  Roy Centeno and DTC member Francisco Cuin introduced other elected officials during a brief program , including  State Rep. Tim O’Brien, Ward 3 Ald. Shirley Black and BOE President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra.  

Less than a month in state office, Sanchez says he’s absorbed in reading the many bills he’ll vote on. He faces a long week of  sessions on the finance, revenue and bonding committee as lawmakers work on a state budget of “shared sacrifice.”  His knowledge and career work in Head Start and social service programs will serve him well on the Education Committee, his other major assignment as a freshman lawmaker.

Sanchez, a New Britain native, reminded us that he was a child of the sixties. His immigrant parents enrolled him in the city’s first Head Start classroom at Saint Mary’s Church-- the early childhood program that was part of the wave of social and civil rights laws enacted and for which people gave their lives to bring about just a generation ago.  

The significance of the celebration for Sanchez was not lost on anyone in attendance. Sanchez’ election to state office is a milestone for the Latino community whose numbers, according to the 2010 census, rise rapidly in city and suburb alike in Connecticut.  Pete Rosa came by to wish Sanchez well. Rosa, a former BOE member and New Britain Alderman, was New Britain’s first citizen of Puerto Rican background to run and win elective office. It was not so long ago that Rosa, for his willingness to run and hold office, endured phone threats from anonymous voices fixated on ethnic division and hate in the city.  

That Sanchez has been elected a state representative is a solid sign of progress in New Britain. It says that people wanting to be part of politics and government will have opportunities regardless of  ethnic background or economic standing. It says that New Britain is “a city for all people”.

Pete Hamill, the author and journalist, would agree. He once remembered looking out his “tenement window” in Brooklyn in his youth and seeing  the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline.  

“They weren’t symbols of New York; they stood for America itself......Those symbols, made visible and concrete by the efforts of human beings, were not lies. The first said that here, in these United States, men and women were free of the ancient curses of class, iron tradition, religious division. An Irish Catholic from bigoted Belfast, a Jew from some forlorn and isolated Russian shtetl, an Italian from the eroded wastes of the Mezzogiorno: all were free. Each was the political equal of the richest man in the country, able to cast a vote in free elections, possessed of rights guaranteed on paper in the Constitution of the United States. Here, no man or woman would ever genuflect before a king. Here, no child would shiver in fear during the terrors of a pogrom. Here, no feudal don would exercise arbitrary powers of life and death. Not here. Not ever. This was America. Here you could imagine a glorious future. Here, dreams really did come true.  

[From “America: The Place Where Dreams Still Come True” by Pete Hamill]

25 February 2011

Should New Britain Follow Tulsa And Consider Mediation at City Hall?

A Mayor and City Council majority are facing a big divide over budgets, policies and ethics.
The verbal disputes get heated with name calling and over the top rhetoric that pit one branch of government against another. All of this is occurring weeks ahead of what will be a very difficult municipal budget process.

The situation sounds a lot like New Britain and the continuing breech between the Mayor, his Republican allies on the Council and the Democratic majority on the Council -- a breech that grew worse when the Mayor lost a special election for state Senate this week and the Council leadership moved for a moratorium on city work for elected officials because of charges of favoritism towards them.

As much as it sounds like New Britain,  similar conflicts are occurring in Tulsa, Oklahoma where the idea of mediation has surfaced as a way to get the city's business done.

The news story from a local TV station quotes a local judge that seemingly intractable differences could be addressed  "in 30 days" if all sides agreed to sit down.

TULSA, OK -- There's talk of reconciliation between Tulsa's Mayor and the City Council.
The mayor and council might go into mediation to talk out their problems - and Thursday both sides took a step in that direction.
With Mayor Bartlett looking on, the City Council quizzed two retired judges about whether they could repair the mayor and council relationship.
"We can get for you what you want for the citizens of Tulsa and we can do that through mediation," Sam Joyner, a retired judge, said.
Sam Joyner and Daniel Boudreau have offered to serve as unpaid mediators and think they can settle the issues.
"If everyone wants to participate in the process, I think we could get it done in 30 days," Joyner said.
A short list of the issues includes the claim that Bartlett and Terry Simonson lied to the council and their ethics complaint against him. There's an allegation the council shouldn't have a city attorney, a lawsuit claiming the council violated the open meetings act and a threatened defamation lawsuit as well.
New Britain should be a big enough town to identify a judge or mediator who would enjoy the confidence of all sides so that the city's business could get done.  It's a certainty that the political and personal differences that have arisen aren't likely to be eliminated. But a reduced level of acrimony, respect for the rules and charter and some greater level of constructive communication between elected officials from opposite parties are in the best interests of the city.

If they are out there judges or diplomats may apply at City Hall.

06 February 2011

Playing Favorites: Stewart Administration Sends Lots of No-Bid Work To Two GOP Aldermen

A review of city purchasing records show that two Republican city council members have received a substantial amount of no-bid business through the Stewart administration.  The  transactions appear to have avoided an open bid process by either skirting a $3,000 minimum for bidding or bypassing the competitive and ethics process altogether.

Alderman at Large Mark Bernacki’s Sir Speedy Printing Company and Ward One Alderman Willie Pabon’s New Britain Fence Company have logged dozens of transactions on the city’s dime steadily doing printing and fencing work.  Between the end of 2003 and 2010  -- the tenure of Tim Stewart in the Mayor’s office -- the two firms connected to the GOP aldermen received a total or $240,316 -- $77,458 in billings from Sir Speedy and $162,858 from New Britain Fence, according to City Hall finance records.  

Between the end of 2003 through 2010 Sir Speedy’s invoices involved more than 260 separate transactions with jobs ranging from as little as $19.95 to $1,000 or more -- all falling below the $3,000 level, with one exception of an invoice for $5,764 . Annual amounts for Sir Speedy range from a low of $3,226 in 2004 to a high of $17,885 in 2006. New Britain Fence Company’s billings ranged from a low of $1,050 in 2010 to a high of $87,285 in 2006.

Controversy over contracting and public officials in the Stewart administration surfaced in 2006 when Mayor Stewart approved an “emergency” purchase order for New Britain Fence to install a mile long fence around the Pinnacle Heights housing project that was slated for demolition.  The Pinnacle Heights contract totalled $68,870 and was awarded to New Britain Fence at the end of August that year without bidding or going to the Common Council.

Democratic Alderman Larry Hermanowski objected  to the “emergency” contract at the time, filing a complaint with the city ethics commission because both Pabon, then a police commissioner, and his son, were public officials serving on city boards.  Hermanowski’s complaint -- subsequently dismissed by the Stewart controlled five-member ethics commission -- was based on the city’s ethics code which prohibits any elected or appointed official from doing work for the city without “an open and public process.”  Responding to the Hermanowski complaint, Mayor Stewart defended the emergency contract in September 2006, telling the Hartford Courant:

“There’s nothing shady going on here. This was not a contract that was steered to a crony of the mayor,” Stewart was quoted as saying as he claimed  the city’s purchasing agent and economic development director handled the purchase.

Undoubtedly Tim Stewart will defend any and all transactions that have gone to businesses connected to GOP members of the Council as dealings that are as pure as the driven snow. 

The issue, however, is not whether businesses such as Sir Speedy or New Britain Fence should have an opportunity to work for the city. They should as should other businesses here in the same line of work.

At issue is the total absence of transparency by Stewart in favoring certain vendors and not working with the Council through an open process for doing the city's business.  More important, the matter raises the question of whether special treatment has been given to public officials for private gain.

In this regard the city’s Code of Ethics is clear: “No official or employee shall grant or make available to any person any consideration, treatment, advantage or favor that it is not available to the general public.”

A related post on the city’s ethics commission is available at http://nbpoliticus.blogspot.com/2006/10/new-britains-partisan-ethics-process.html

31 January 2011

Public Transit: Towns On A Slow Train That May Never Get Here

A concerted and well-funded effort by the Bristol Chamber to scuttle the New Britain-Hartford busway has gained considerable ground in recent months.  Last week suburban Newington's Town Council was the latest to favor ending the project in favor of developing rail from Waterbury into Bristol and through New Britain.

A January 31 New Britain Herald editorial weighs in on the problem with dumping the bus line now and starting to plan a rail line from scratch.

Busway opponents seem to have engaged in some magical thinking about rail but, except about the Hartford-Springfield corridor, no plan exists and no one knows what would be the real cost to develop rail service extending into Bristol, the dream of Sen. Welch, Bristol Chamber of Commerce President Mike Nicastro and others who are trying to de-rail the busway.

There are compelling arguments that rail -- light or conventional -- would have been preferable to a busway. But back in the 1990s the highway-oriented Transportation Department argued (incorrectly) that this part of Connecticut couldn't generate sufficient passenger volume to warrant a commuter rail system.  The Waterbury rail line, however, does not appear to provide the kind of commuter relief of a busway and would not be attainable for perhaps a decade.   Trains would be running to give better connections to a student going to Boston to college or a family outing in New York City. But they would be running with less regularity to get John Doe from Bristol to his insurance job in Hartford on time.

There are compelling examples that busways -- as proposed here -- have worked elsewhere to get people out of their automobiles and reduce the carbon footprint that so many in the rail crowd favor.

The arguments against the busway get weaker when the growing and compelling need to reduce I-84 congestion and the value of getting people to work on time are considered.   -  John McNamara (Part 1 of 2)

09 January 2011

Tim Stewart As Mayor and Senator? City Charter Says Not So Fast

In declaring his candidacy for the vacant 6th District State Senate seat on January 7th, Mayor Tim Stewart said at his announcement he "would not rule out the possibility of keeping both jobs" if elected to the Senate.

While Stewart  may want to hold both elective offices and the salaries that go with them,  the New Britain City Charter says otherwise in Article V. Section 5.

The Mayor shall devote the full time necessary to the duties of the office and shall have no other occupation during the term of office and shall keep the office open during such hours of each business day as the Ordinances of the City shall direct.

Unlike municipalities with full-time city managers and mayor/legislative bodies, New Britain requires nothing less than a full-time mayor to manage a $220 million budget and "keep the office open." The last revision of the city charter gave even more powers to the executive branch, making moonlighting at the State Capitol a stretch whether the charter states "no other occupation" or not.

Out of the Senate campaign starting gate, however, Stewart is showing no small amount of hubris in suggesting he could do both jobs and adequately serve the people of the 6th District and the city at the same time.

The charter prohibition aside,  city residents deserve and require a full-time CEO.

The over-reaching Mayor would have been wise to check with the corporation counsel before saying he'd keep a public office twofer under consideration.