30 June 2014

Who's Selling The City's Water Supply Now? This Time It's For Real

One of the more effective hits on former Mayor  O'Brien's  2013 campaign was unfounded assertions that he was cutting a deal with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) to sell the city's water department --- the city's most coveted natural resource.

None other than ex-Congresswoman turned lobbyist Nancy Johnson was trotted out by the Republican campaign to falsely and deliberately spread the rumor that Mayor O'Brien was getting rid of water assets to the tune of $80 million: a big lie that had its origins in former Mayor Tim Stewart's talks with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) about the city's regional water assets.

Now comes a plan from the second Stewart administration to sell off a piece of the city's water resources in Southington in exchange for a cool $ 1.2 million from that town's government.  Southington now pays New Britain a $106,000 annual lease for the water rights.

Mayor Stewart, quoted in her weekly newsletter, assures us that our neighboring town wants the Patton Brook Well for its water plan and that continuing the lease is not an option for either town.

According to the Mayor's office,  Southington offered to buy the Patton Brook parcel for $200,000. Miraculously, Erin Stewart claims she negotiated a sale for $1 million more, adding one-time revenue to the city.  The Stewart administration insists that the city is not selling any more water reserves at this time.

Reservoir near New Britain and Southington line (www.lenard-eng.com) 
But the devil may be in the details here. And it will be up to a public hearing and the Common Council to get these details and more answers that weren't provided in the Mayor's braggadocio about her negotiating skills.

Will that $1.2 million sale price obligate New Britain to do infrastructure work on the city's dime before the sale goes through?  If that is the case the city's return on a sell off of one of its natural assets may not even be close to  $1 million. And lost forever is the $106,000 annual income from the longstanding lease with Southington.  

There are also questions as to why the sale income would go into city's general fund instead of the water enterprise department fund as would be customary in transactions involving the water department.  The Board of Water Commissioners reportedly approved the deal but with only three members present and one of those Stewart-appointed members abstaining.

No one questions that the city -- its structural deficits acknowledged by the current and past mayor -- could use revenue over what property taxes and state aid provide.  But the selling of public land and natural resources for short term gain is a risky proposition that may cost the city more in the long run.

The public needs to  know a lot more about this sales contract before it is approved by the Council and signed by the administration.

23 June 2014

Shrinking Federal Funds: Stewart Blocks Funds For Basic Human Needs, Community Services

A mayoral veto this month reducing federal funds that will go to meet basic human needs and community services shows the difference between the city's Democrats and the Stewart-led Republicans.
The Stewart Administration wants to take away at least $62,000 from community services and hand it over to acting Municipal Development Director Ken Malinowski who intends to use the funds to pad his office budget with another administrative position.
The veto message and the list of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grants can be found HERE.
This is not a case of cutting back to save taxpayer money. The federal appropriation is already in place. The longstanding federal program which used to provide upwards of $4 million to the city has steadily dropped over 30 years. It has hovered at $1.5 million in recent years.  In the budget priorities of the Stewart regime federal funds for direct services for  residents are losing out to the City Hall bureaucracy.
Mayor Stewart and Malinowski, misinterpreting and exploiting a letter from a Housing and Urban Development official, cited a guideline that only 15% of  the city's $1.5 million allocation of CDBG funds go to basic human needs and community organizations.  But New Britain and other distressed cities received an exemption to the 15% rule more than 25 years ago -- an exemption still in effect that gives the city more leeway in how the federal funds can be used.  The real threat to losing federal funds may lie in the way Malinowski has previously administered federal funds. These include an unaccounted for $100,000 developer loan for which the city had to pay back HUD and the potential loss of federal money for a poorly planned Arch Street project for veterans that was hatched during Malinowski's time in the first Stewart administration.
photo (8)
Dozens of residents turned out at the June 11th Council meeting to protest Mayor Stewart's veto of funds for community services under the federal CDBG program.
The Democratic majority on the Common Council approved $371,000 for direct services in May restoring funds taken away by the Mayor's Commission on Community and Neighborhood Development (CCND) which set a $319,000 allocation for community services. That prompted the Mayor to send her veto message that could not be overturned. Two Democratic Aldermen -- Michael Trueworthy and Carlo Carlozzi -- didn't vote citing conflicts under HUD regulations. No member of the Republican caucus was moved by the many residents who sought restoration of funds at the June 11th Council meeting.
Stewart's and Malinowski's agenda, like the Boehner and Ryan crowd in Washington,  hits anti-poverty services particularly hard, including programs at the Human Resources Agency (HRA) such as the Food Resource Center, Las Perlas Hispanas Senior Center and the Polish Outreach Office. Small grant program funds at the OIC (youth employment) and Prudence Crandall Center were also eliminated.
The upheld veto leaves the Common Council with no choice but to adjust the allocations and with fewer dollars to go around this time for neighborhood services and organizations.
The Common Council meets on Wednesday, June 25th, for its last meeting before the fiscal year begins July 1.

12 June 2014

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate: Rock Cats Owners Didn't Even Bother To Tell The Big Club

One of the biggest complaints coming out of the pending deal by the Rock Cats and the City of Hartford is that key "stakeholders" were not let in on the talks nor intentions of the team's ownership to vacate New Britain Stadium in 2016 for the proposed I-84 linked Parcel 12B in downtown Hartford.

Neither New Britain's Mayor Stewart nor State Senator Eric Coleman nor even the team's big corporate sponsor, The Stanley Works, among others, were consulted or given as much as a courtesy call.

Well move over Erin and Eric. As it turns out local officials and sponsors were not the only ones left out of the loop. The ownership group led by Boston real estate mogul Josh Solomon didn't even bother to inform the big club in Minnesota.

A news blog out of Minneapolis reports that the MLB Twins of which the Rock Cats are a Double A affiliate in the Eastern League were also blindsided by the New Britain to Hartford project. And we're not talking about the busway here.

"The Twins were not consulted about the plans of their Class AA affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats, to move into a $60 million stadium in Hartford, Conn., for the 2016 season, a deal announced in the state’s capital Wednesday. But Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said the Twins understand why owner Josh Solomon is making the move, and will likely support him," wrote Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on June 5th

Hartford city officials are giving the Rock Cats owners a pass about their insistence on cloak and dagger negotiations. Hartford's Development Director told Connecticut Public Radio  that development proposals, if they are to come to fruition, need to be  under wraps before moving into the public domain.

So much for planning the use of taxpayer money with transparency. And the Twins -- a long way away from New Britain anyway -- are excusing the Solomons for their pursuit of a new park in secrecy.

The Rock Cats owners, however, may be in for a rude awakening now that the $60 million plan is subject to oversight and the full involvement of stakeholders in the process.

They want to walk away from New Britain's sweetheart deal of a $120,000 or so annual lease because they want even more public subsidies from their current local government.

They see dollar signs and corporate sky boxes at their proposed band box of a publically financed park in downtown Hartford. But if it can't be built, if the project won't survive a legitimate public vetting, they -- the fans and corporate sponsors --will not come.

Mr. Solomon may think he has a back up in Springfield but there are no guarantees there.

In the end the Rock Cats owners may have to come crawling back to hard hittin' New Britain just for a place to play two years hence. If that occurs let's negotiate the deal in the open with the involvement of all stakeholders.

08 June 2014

Stewart Veto Puts HUD Funds For Community Services In Jeopardy: Does Administration Want Money For Political Appointee Malinowski?

In a June 6th letter Mayor Erin Stewart vetoed and returned to the Common Council a plan for use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds in the new fiscal year.

On May 28th the Common Council on a 7 to 5 voted restored funds to several community agencies that had been reduced by the Mayor's Commission on Community and Neighborhood Development (CCND).

According to The New Britain Herald story several organizations that had been zeroed out by Stewart and the CCND, including the Prudence Crandall Center,  the Opportunities Industrialization Center and HRA's Polish Outreach Center, among others, had grant funds put back into the plan by the Council.

At issue is the allocation for community services in the $1.5 million the city receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Council reduced the percentage this year to $371,000 or 24.7 percent of the CDBG money while the Administration and acting Municipal Development Director Ken Malinowski wants to allocate $319,000 (21.2 percent) -- an 8.4 percent cut in funds that have been relied on by various community agencies for more than 30 years.

Stewart and Malinowski, citing HUD's recommended allocation percentage of 15% for community and social services, want to re-direct funds under the federal program.  This is not a matter of reducing appropriations to save the cash-strapped city but federal funds that are available for a range of neighborhood , housing and community services.  Mayor Stewart and Malinowski want the money for something else, but the specifics have not been given to justify immediate cuts to direct service programs.

Some observers claim the transfer of funds is sought to pay for Malinowski's $102,000 annual salary as acting head of the department that handles the federal money, a job he left when the previous administration took office in 2011. As is, the Council approved money for management and administration totalling $300,236 or 20 percent of the CDBG budget.

In re-appointing Malinowski to lead municipal development at a six figure salary Mayor Stewart  said she wanted to "get the federal money flowing again." It also helped that Malinowski was a primary fundraiser for the Mayor's 2013 campaign after he openly flirted with a mayoral run himself. But Malinowski's record as a dispenser of HUD funds took at least one serious hit late in the administration of former Mayor Tim Stewart.  HUD ordered the city to return $100,000 for a "non-recourse" loan made to Arete Development Group because the loan was ineligible.  HUD  found violations on the loan given to Arete on Malinowski's watch related to the application process, environmental standards and accounting for the money.

In her June 6th veto letter Mayor Stewart cited a letter from a HUD official who said most cities have "an annual limit of 15% that can be spent on public services."  But the same letter affirmed that New Britain has used an allowable "exception" granted in 1984 that may exceed the 15% goal for human and social services. "The statute and regulations have allowed New Britain and similarly situated cities to continue to use that exception ever since," wrote  Gary Reisine, director of community planning and development in Connecticut's HUD office.  At the very least HUD is not mandating New Britain's move to 15 percent this year,  contrary to what Stewart and Malinowski are implying.

The veto is little more than a power play to circumvent the shared governance process that has long been established in the allocation of federal funds. Unfortunately, it may be a pretext by the administration to take money away from direct services for unspecified uses by the Mayor and her political appointee, Ken Malinowski.

22 May 2014

NB Holds Its Own With Population at 72,939: Counting Heads Key To Amount of Funds City Can Receive

New Britain's population is holding steady according to US Census data estimates reported by the Courant May 22nd.

The city's estimated population in 2010 was 73,202 and was 72,939 in 2013, a drop of 263 residents.

The census counts are a key to funding formulas for a wide variety of state and federal funding programs that support cities and towns.

A Brookings Institution brief points to the importance of population numbers in terms of public investments and economic aid. Billions of federal dollars flow into communities based on the results of the census that is taken every 10 years.  The latest numbers show New Britain -- an economically distresses city -- is faring no better or worse in the way state and federal funds are disbursed.

The count also figures in the way Congressional districts and political boundaries are drawn.

For example, New Britain was once part of the 6th Congressional district prior to 2000 but population drops reduced the number of Congressional districts to five.

04 May 2014

Whatever Happened To the CPOA? Taxpayer Group Goes Silent And Partisan

Whenever even a rumor of a property tax increase came out of City Hall over the last generation you could count on one group of citizens to make noise and try to mobilize residents against any change in the mill rate.

The New Britain Citizens’ Property Owners Association (CPOA) had a reputation as a group of outspoken conservatives who never saw a tax rate or tax hike they liked. It didn't matter who held office or what the revenue needs were for the city in a particular year. CPOA leaders rose up as citizen gadflies to challenge taxes and spending. 

Flashback to former six-term Mayor William "Billy Mac" McNamara in the 1980s, who upon hearing the group's complaints once too often, took to referring to the acronym CPOA as the "Communist Party Of America" --  a slap in the face to the right-leaning CPOA membership. 

In 2014 the prospect of a 4.88 mill rate increase is more than a rumor. City government is looking to cut spending by the millions and is even contemplating a nuclear option of borrowing money from banks to pay for operations. 

Nary a word has been heard from these self-appointed guardians of the public purse about a tax increase and  cutting the "frills" out of local government.  The last update on the CPOA's website for its members was six months ago. And you can bet there'll be continued silence about the current Stewart Administration's spending during a "spending freeze." 

Wouldn't a legitimate property taxpayer group be raising questions about: 

- GOP Republican Chair Peter Steele's $45,000 part-time job in the mayor's office with nebulous job responsibilities;

- The return of Stewart for Mayor fundraiser Ken Malinowski at $102,000  to municipal development where the misuse of federal funds administered by Malinowski under former Mayor Stewart raised concerns with federal officials and led to Malinowski's departure two years ago.
- The apparent signing of  the Republican-leaning lobbying firm, Gaffney Bennett & Associates, by Mayor Stewart at $48,000 for as yet to be announced consulting work. If correct, this inexplicable expense comes after the New Britain legislative delegation has reached out and met with the Mayor more than once to address city business in Hartford.

Such spending  would normally be juicy stuff for  the "oldest tax-payer advocacy group in the State of Connecticut" (founded in 1924) committed to  "a long tradition of fighting for the property owning tax payers of New Britain."   

Over the last decade, however,  the CPOA clearly lost its mojo and independence.  Through eight years of Tim Stewart 's mayoralty, no dents were ever made in city spending. Ominously, the elder Stewart kept counting fictitious sales of development land and ignoring pension obligations as a Democratic Common Council (made weaker by charter change) went along.  The CPOA ignored these financial mortal sins but continued to love Tim Stewart for his effectiveness at keeping dollars for education to a minimum.    

Stewart administration apologists, including those in the CPOA leadership, continue to pin all of the blame for the city's deep fiscal hole on inflated revenue projections of the one-term O'Brien administration. As noted by the New Britain City Journal, the New Britain GOP's mouthpiece:

All of New Britain's fiscal woes started 24 months ago when Tim O'Brien took office.  Up to that time the prior Stewart Administration  over eight years was the nadir of  fiscal responsibility."
Not even Mayor Stewart has had the gall to promote this lie, leaving her allies in the CPOA and the yellow journalism of the City Journal  to play the blame game. Stewart's own forensic audit found much the same as Mayor O'Brien's audit when he took office.  The city's fiscal troubles date back more than a decade and were largely created by the former Stewart administration's one-shot revenues and fiscal gimmicks that were the opposite of fiscal responsibility.

The transformation of the CPOA into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the New Britain GOP is a development that creates opportunity. The CPOA, always opposed to adequate school funding and absent from debates  about reducing tax regressivity, won't be missed by residents in need of tax equity and  fundamental change. It's taken on too much partisan baggage to be taken seriously.

At the state level House Speaker Brendan Sharkey has taken the first steps toward meaningful property tax reform in years. These reforms include relieving localities of the cost of special education and reducing the burdens of the property tax on homeowners and tenants, particularly in economically distressed cities.

The situation invites a new kind of citizens' group here that is  independent of either major political party and is  committed to tax fairness, equity in school funding and responsible budgets.

There's no better time to organize "New Britain Citizens For Tax Fairness" than now.

18 April 2014

City Council Gives Nod To $10.10 An Hour A Year Early

Council President Mike Trueworthy's resolution on a $10.10 minimum wage for city employees not covered by labor agreements or other contracts won a 10-5 vote at the Common Council April 9th.

It came on the heels of President Obama's visit to CCSU to rally support for federal legislation that languishes in the GOP controlled U.S. House of Representatives.  The point of Obama's visit was that states and localities now need to lead and pressure Speaker Boehner & company to adjust the federal minimum which hasn't changed in a long time.
Front Page from The Recorder, CCSU's student
newspaperafter President Obama's visit.

Thinking nationally and acting locally worked.  Nine Council Democrats were joined by Ward 4 Alderman Don Naples, an unaffiliated who ran with GOP Mayor Erin Stewart last year.

Ward Five Alderman Carlo Carlozzi, Jr. led the majority's argument for the city to go to $10.10 in 2015-2016 after a council committee exempted independent contractors from the increase.  Carlozzi, pretty much a fiscal conservative with a record of voting against municipal budgets, made the "moral' argument. Invoking the experiences of his labor Democratic parents Carlozzi noted that the compromise measure on $10.10 won a unanimous vote in committee and he was surprised to hear opposition on the Council floor. "Are we really telling people we can't afford paying them 50 cents more an hour?" asked Carlozzi, noting that the state minimum goes to $9.60 the year after next and won't reach  $10.10 until 2017.

City officials estimate the impact of $10.10 for eligible employees would be somewhere north of $80,000. But Carlozzi, who delivered a budget-cutting soliloquy on ways to avoid tax hikes at the start of the meeting,  insisted that even the most austere municipal budget should find room for half a buck an hour more for entry level wages in city jobs.  Approximately 160 employees, part and full time, would be covered by the new minimum.

"Democrat" Daniel Salerno, a member of the Council's Republican caucus, and Minority Leader Jamie Giantonio, led the opposition to the measure on jurisdictional and fiscal grounds.  Salerno, being a good soldier for the Stewart Administration, argued minimum and living wages are not the concern of elected officials in local government.  Giantonio, noting the precarious financial condition of the budget, indicated that the city could use the money for other things instead of upping the minimum for a limited number of city employees a year ahead of the state mandated wage policy.

The GOP Aldermen, wanting to have it both ways, quickly endorsed "living wages" that exceed $10.10 in theory but fell back on familiar arguments used whenever proposals to have minimums catch up with the cost of living: it'll kill jobs and drive costs up for consumers (taxpayers).

Alderman Salerno makes a good point: if Congress, specifically the GOP House was doing its job to adjust the $7.25 federal wage, neither city nor state would need to debate the issue.  The $10.10 an hour would already be in the calculations for the current budget let alone next year's or the year after that.

The Common Council, however, did the right thing in passing more than a  feel good resolution backing state and federal action after the Obama visit.  The need for constrained spending and austerity in municipal budgets is undeniable. But paying an additional 50 cents per hour for the least paid among city workers is a step toward fairness and away from the excuses and myths that always come from opponents.  Excuses and myths are holding the minimum to $7.25 nationally but not in Connecticut nor New Britain.

05 April 2014

Remembering Rev. King and 4/4/68 at MLK Park Monument

New Britain's Mary McLeod Bethune Club (MMBC) observed the anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 5th -- a memorial  event  club members have organized for most of the 46 years since the civil rights leader was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

CCSU Anthropology Professor, Dr Evelyn Harris, the featured speaker at the King Monument Memorial held at the MLK city park at the corner of Stanley Street and MLK Boulevard, told a small gathering that New Britain's King monument was one of the first memorials of its kind in the country. Participating in the program were MMBC President Chery Niccolls, NBPD Officer Marcus Burris, Master of Ceremonies; Music Soloist Linda Vickers with Marzell Jackson laying the wreath at the monument. Ward 3 Alderwoman Shirley Black and NAACP President Ron Davis shared remarks at the monument.

Other speakers, including longtime Club President Janice Edwards, recalled that the city's King monument was originally located at East Main and MLK Boulevard on a traffic island, a target of frequent vandalism and even visits from local KKK adherents.  The Bethune Club organized residents to stare down the Klan nonviolently when they showed up and began the effort for a better site.
Alton Brooks, a leader in the effort to establish MLK Park, with New Britain's finest.
With leaders such as Edwards, Alton Brooks and the late former Alderwoman Connie Wilson Collins pushing city government, the little corner park for the King monument was established further up the road. Today inlaid bricks recognize donors from the community who contributed to make MLK Park possible.

Police Officer Marcus Burris and MMBC President Chery Niccolls

 Democratic District Leader Mario Santos and Board of Education member Merrill Gay participated.

Duane Hinkson with sons Dillon and Devon and MMB Club Member Janice Edwards

02 March 2014

Murphy Joins Other Senators In Support Of New Ukrainian Government Threatened By Moscow

With Russian forces crossing over to Crimea this weekend, concerns grow about an outbreak of hostilities between the new Ukrainian government and Russia. That is especially so among families in New Britain's Ukrainian-American community that includes three parishes and an estimated 3,000 residents.
Chris Murphy
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy and other senators of the Foreign Relations Committee wrote President Obama on Friday to support efforts to ensure a "peaceful transition of power" in the Ukraine with the new government seeking entry into the European Union.
The letter, sent prior to the Russian incursion, stated:
“We write in support of the administration’s efforts to help Ukraine to consolidate democratically elected government, preserve its territorial integrity, and enjoy the freedom to exercise a sovereign decision to sign and implement an Association Agreement with the European Union. We are prepared to work with your Administration to reinforce your efforts by authorizing U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine and increasing assistance to facilitate a peaceful transition of power.
"We also believe that the U.S. should make use of the tools at its disposal, including targeted sanctions; and asset recovery targeting corruption, to dissuade individuals who would foment unrest to undermine Ukraine's territorial integrity or employ coercive economic measures against the Ukrainian people and the new Ukrainian government.”
The senators also raised concerns about “actions and rhetoric” of the Russian government “to actively undermine Ukraine’s unity” and “use provocative and dangerous tactics to extend their control on the ground.” 
“We do not seek confrontation with President Putin and his government, but simply to ensure that Russia abides by its commitments and adheres to core principles of international law.  A peaceful, democratic, stable, and sovereign Ukraine is in our national interest,” wrote the senators.    

26 January 2014

It May Be A "Magic Bus" After All: NB As The Center Of Rapid Transit

CT Fastraks -- called the "magic bus" to critics such as former Governor John Rowland -- will start rolling 12 months from now (February 2015) on the 9.3-mile rail right of way from New Britain to Hartford.

The New Britain Herald's Scott Whipple previews the potential of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for New Britain folks using the bus to get to Hartford's theater and cultural institutions in a Sunday story.

At drive time I've listened to WTIC's Rowland carp about a project (ironically) launched during his time in the Governor's office.

But next winter I am counting on it to get to the job in Hartford instead of sitting in stalled traffic on I-84.  It just so happens that the I-84 trek that intersects with I-91in Hartford has the most traffic volume anywhere in the nation. Not surprising given the limits and difficulty of what CT Transit busses currently offer.

New Britain's Terminal Takes Shape (CT DOT)

Right now, if the work day in downtown Hartford takes me past 5:30 pm, I'll miss the last departure for the "2" Express to the commuter lot at Brittany Farms.  I am left to get home some other way.  The CT Fastraks -- BRT or Bus Rapid Transit is a better name -- will keep going well into the night for the same regular bus fares we pay now.

For New Britain  the BRT system means a lot more than getting back and forth from Hartford for work, school or seeing the sites. The  terminal being built at the old Greenfield's site is the only stop with a significant amount of parking.  The two large municipal garages are expected to be utilized in an a yet to be defined arrangement between the city and the state Department of Transportation.

With ample parking and unused, long vacant commercial property in the center of New Britain,  BRT  is setting downtown up for  transit-oriented developments in retail, housing and new businesses. A small-scale renaissance is possible bringing people and commerce back after they left for the malls and the burbs a generation ago. Not exactly the "magic bus" Rowland and the naysayers are predicting.

Critics like Rowland linger. They predict low ridership will turn the region's first real stab at rapid transit into a boondoggle.   But more knowledgeable opponents who favored rail over a BRT system are resigned to making the project work as part of a network inclusive of rail or other options that will reduce traffic on the deteriorating I-84/I-91 corridor and connect communities for work, school and just getting around.

Twelve months and counting.

20 January 2014

Tim O'Brien: A Call To Renew Rev. King's Work For Economic Justice

 By Tim O'Brien

This weekend, our nation, state and communities celebrate and remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his accomplishments. It is a time when I have always felt inspired by his work, as a leader, and by the movement that he embodies. No Martin Luther King Day passes without me feeling emboldened and empowered to carry forward work toward building a better future.

I believe that King is our nation's most important hero. Our nation has many great figures, well deserving of our honor, who strove and struggled to build our nation, by, of and for the people. Our nation is built on great ideals - democracy, justice, liberty and a decent life for all. But those ideals have all too often not been met in practice. For African-Americans, the experience was, instead, not just inequality, but the terror of violence and daily humiliation.  The work of King, and the movement he led, was the struggle to breathe life into our country's great ideals. His work was nothing short of making our nation, conceived in greatness, the great nation it was meant to be. He, and so many others, took on the face of grotesque oppression and successfully pushed it back.

King, himself, probably would bristle at the idea of himself being held up in this way. He was an organizer - yes, a community organizer. In that, he knew that, while sometimes a person can symbolize and personify a movement, the real truth is always that the movement is about us all, everyday people. It is people - all the people - who create change for the better, and it is the people - all the people - whose lives are made better from that work. On Martin Luther King Day, we honor King, himself, as well as the many people who struggled and sacrificed in the Civil Rights Movement and the movements for justice and equality before and since.

But King, himself, was extraordinary. He believed so purely in creating a better world. He believed deeply in the goodness of humanity and in our potential to set aside our differences for our common good. He would sacrifice of himself, over and over again, and, when he thought he had no energy left to give, would still muster a little more energy to give away to people thirsting for inspiration and hope.

Thankfully, we have, for the most part, put to rest the question of whether Martin Luther King should be honored as a national hero. Even those who, today, know that their own opinions differ from King's values must at least give lip service to the rightness and greatness of his work. Of course, one of the side effects of that acceptance is that political figures who do not agree with King's real values try to re-interpret his words to fit their own political agendas, such as saying that he would have opposed Affirmative Action, even when it is obvious that King would not have agreed with them. Other politicians try to appear to agree with King by lauding, post-fact, his leadership in winning reforms that are not controversial anymore, such such as doing away with overt "separate but equal" - even while those same politicians, to this day, perpetuate things, like voter suppression, that King would have told them are clearly wrongheaded. While it is easy to criticize defeated injustices, real courage is in challenging current injustices.

I think it is very important to point out, in this time of honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., that this kind of benign-sounding lip service to the memory of King is intended to prevent a more complete recounting of King's actual values and what he stood for from shining a not-so-flattering light on the agendas many politicians are currently pressing in the halls of government.

Part of the pure goodness of King as a leader was his compulsion to stand up for what was right, no matter what the cost to himself. That was true of his work for civil rights and, in the years leading up to his assassination, it was why he took positions against the Vietnam War, against exploitation of people in other countries and for economic justice for all Americans.

His assassination occurred during his work to organize the Poor People's Campaign, which was meant to follow up on the important work for civil rights - even more directly challenging the systems of injustice in the country by advocating for economic justice. He asked, "What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?" 1  He spoke for economic justice as an essential part of the promise of our nation - "If a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists." 2 And this was not only to advance communities of color, noting that white Americans also faced economic oppression and were likewise in need of reforms.

King challenged our nation to adopt reforms to make the free market work for everyone, African-American, Latino, white - everyone. Needless to say, in doing that, he was upsetting some very, very powerfulful monied interests in our country. "We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution," he wrote, and clearly laid out that this meant that, "We must create full employment or we must create incomes..." 3

The Poor People's Campaign in 1968 was organized to demand adoption of an Economic and Social Bill of Rights to make the promise of our nation real for everyone. The Economic and Social Bill of Rights (in a draft written in February, 1968, before King's assassination 4) was to proclaim:

  • "The Right of every employable citizen to a decent job." It is worth pointing out how this called for "good jobs", not just "dead end jobs," and was clear that it should be the responsibility of the country to ensure that this happened. The draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights proposed an ambitious federal job-creation program to make this a reality.

  • "The right of every citizen to a minimum income." A guaranteed standard of living for people, "too young, too old or too handicapped to work."

  • "The right of a decent house and the free choice of neighborhood." The draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights challenged that the more affluent were benefitted when, "Federally subsidized credit built suburbs and federally supported roads to access [them]," while other public spending displaced neighborhoods where whites and people of color of more modest means lived. It pointed out that, amidst a paucity of support for affordable housing, people of modest means were left to suffer in slum housing conditions. The proposed solution was the creation of many more units of decent, affordable housing.

  • "The right to an adequate education." Noting gross inequities in educational attainment along racial lines and that "only out-and-out racists believe that this tragedy is a consequence of inherent deficiency on the part of the child...", the draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights proposed, "a massive effort to upgrade the education available to" both children of color and white children and to fund higher education so that all Americans could afford to attend.

  • "The right to participate in the decision making process." The draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights placed importance on participatory democracy, "political action and voting protection."

  • "The right to the full benefit of modern science in health care." Noting the inhuman differences in health and mortality based upon income, the draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights proposed extending Medicare to everyone in America.

  • This draft5 of the Economic and Social Bill of Rights was clear that greater economic equity should be considered as part of America's great ideals and Constitutional promise: "Without these rights, neither the black and white poor, and even some who are not poor, can really possess the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With these rights, the United States could, by the two hundredth anniversary of its Declaration of Independence, take giant steps toward redeeming the American dream."

    The assassination of Martin Luther King took the great measure of the energy away from the Poor People's Campaign. It still went on as planned that summer, but it ended, having not achieved the goals for which King and so many others strove. As we well know, the objectives of the campaign, expressed in the Economic and Social Bill of Rights, for the most part, have yet to be achieved. Far from it, these are all, very much, front burner issues in our current politics. In the areas where there have been advances, those advances are now under powerful attack. In other areas, especially in the area of jobs, not having in place now what King advocated then makes middle class and poor people worse off now than they would have been. And when elected officials, such as President Barack Obama and our own Governor Dannel Malloy, press for changes that advance King's ideals, they must labor against difficult political headwinds.

    Given what Martin Luther King advocated for when he was with us, it is clear that, were he alive today, he would be pressing hard for significant change. It is no wonder than many politicians of today will spend their Martin Luther King Day glossing over the full depth of what King believed in. If they acknowledged his real policy objectives, they would have to admit that they disagree with what King would have wanted them to do.

    So let us make this Martin Luther King Day one of renewing our commitment to the movement and the great and important objectives for which King gave his life. Let us not allow people who oppose justice, equality and fairness for all to dissuade us from doing what is right through their various tactics of harsh mean-spiritedness and silver-tongued distraction. King taught us that people of ill intent would try to make it difficult for people who stand-up what is right.  He also taught us that, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." 6

    We can, in our nation, our state and our communities have a better, fairer, more just, more equitable future for ourselves and generations to come - one that we can all share. Now, more than ever, we must renew the work that our great national hero, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., championed.

    1 Joe Fassler, "'All Labor Has Dignity': Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Fight for Economic Justice", The Atlantic, February 22, 2011
    2 Mark Engler, "Dr. Martin Luther King's Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom", The Nation, January 15, 2010
    3 Mark Engler, "Dr. Martin Luther King's Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom", The Nation, January 15, 2010
    4 "Economic and Social Bill of Rights", King Center online document repository
    5 After King's assassination, the Committee of 100 created the version of the Economic and Social Bill of Rights that was advocated during the Campaign, which called for
    “a meaningful job at a living wage for every employable citizen.”, “a secure and adequate income for all who cannot find jobs or for whom employment is inappropriate”, “access to land as a means to income and livelihood”, “access to capital as a means of full participation in the economic life of America” and “the right of the people to 'play a truly significant role' in shaping government programs design and implementation”, Amy Nathan Wright,"Unfinished Business", (2007) pages 195–197

    6 NPR Staff"King's Son And Friend Talk New Memorial, Media", NPR website

    [ Tim O'Brien is the former Mayor of New Britain and State Representative from the 24th District]

    12 January 2014

    Mayor Hires GOP Chair: SEEC Complaint Involving Peter Steele For Campaigning From Mayor's Office Still Under Investigation

    "Oh. What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."  - Sir Walter Scott

    In her campaign for Mayor last fall Erin Stewart was critical of Tim O'Brien  for rewarding political friends while in office. As Ms. Stewart said last year, she wanted to "take the city back from political cronyism."

    In her first announced appointments Stewart tapped staffers from her youthful campaign team and appointed John Healey, an aide to Republican House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, to be a $90,000+ a year chief of staff. So far so good. New Britain mayors, coming into office just one week after elections, are entitled to assemble an office with people they know  -- even if the hires are political friends.

    Two months after the election, however, Erin Stewart's promise to root out cronyism is just that -- a campaign promise not meant to be kept. More important,  her recent and unannounced hire raises new concerns about the use of  government resources for partisan political activity. Republican Town Committee Chair Peter Steele, a perennial GOP candidate, comes in -- "returns" is a better word -- as an aide at $45,000 annually. For Steele this is a pay hike and political reward.  He was a $25,000 a year aide to  Mayor Tim Stewart during his time in office.
    GOP Town Chair Peter Steele

    Here is where candidate Stewart's anti-cronyism pitch falls apart.  In that previous stint in the Mayor's office, Steele may have blatantly used  city resources to do political campaigning on the public's dime in the Mayor's office..

    In a complaint filed early last year to the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) by O'Brien Aide Rosemary Klotz, Klotz asserted that when O'Brien came into office city information technology employees discovered "at least 200 files on city computers that indicate former Mayor Stewart and his staff, including Steele, used the machines to conduct campaign business."  After the complaint was filed SEEC investigators subsequently visited City Hall and collected evidence in the still unresolved case.

    The New Britain Herald in a March 26, 2013 story by Lisa Backus, reported:

    "Klotz's complaint alleges that the files, which range from campaign fundraising lists to lists on which residents would allow campaign signs on their lawns, were created and maintained on city computers, by Stewart and city staff members Peter Steele, Joe Shilinga and Lisa Carver, on city time."
    The dates of when the files were created range from 2003 as Stewart was running a mayoral re-election campaign to 2011 when Stewart ran in a special election to fill a vacancy in the state Senate 6th District. The documents, obtained by the Herald, include drafts and final versions of campaign mailings, scripts for electoral "robo-calls," and "primed" voter lists indicating voter preference."
    As of now that SEEC investigation about  using the Mayor's office for partisan Republican work is active and awaits a judgment from the commission.

    The hiring of  GOP Chair Steele in and of itself isn't surprising. What is disturbing is that an unresolved case  alleging campaign work in the Mayor's office by former Mayor Stewart and Peter Steele still hangs in the air.

    To be true to her high-mindedness against "political cronyism" it's time for Mayor Stewart to publicly announce the hiring of GOP Chair Peter Steele and provide the specifics on what his job functions are at $45,000 a year.

    For all the campaign talk of cronyism in the O'Brien administration, every position in the last term had a clear function and every hire was tasked to be working in service to the city, not a political party.

    At the very least the public has a right to know what Peter Steele does and when he does it on the City Hall clock.

    01 January 2014

    ALEC: Buying Influence and Tilting Laws Against Solar Energy

    Let the Sun Shine In

    Now the Koch brothers are coming after my solar panels.
    I had solar panels installed on the roof of our Washington, D.C. home this year. My household took advantage of a generous tax incentive from the District government and a creative leasing deal offered by the solar panel seller.
    caf-alec-Brookhaven National Laboratory
    Brookhaven National Laboratory/Flickr
    Our electric bills fell by at least a third. When people make this choice, the regional electric company grows less pressured to spend money to expand generating capacity and the installation business creates good local jobs. Customers who use solar energy also reduce carbon emissions.
    What’s not to love?
    According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative network better known as ALEC, our solar panels make us “free riders.” What?
    Yes, according to ALEC, an organization that specializes in getting the right-wing agenda written into state laws, people like me who invest in energy-efficiency and shrinking our carbon footprints ought to be penalized.
    Why does ALEC want us punished? Since it’s bankrolled by, among others, the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, it’s hard not to surmise that they’re worried about a threat to fossil fuels businesses. Koch Industries’ operations include refineriesoil and natural gas pipelines, and petrochemicals
    That’s no conspiracy theory. Recently the British newspaper The Guardian wrote aboutthe assault on solar panels as part of a broader exposé on ALEC.
    John Eick, the legislative analyst for ALEC’s energy, environment and agriculture program, confirmed to The Guardian that the organization would support making solar panel users pay extra for the electricity they generate. That’s already about to happen in Arizona, where homeowners who use solar panels will pay an average of about $5 extra a month for the privilege, starting in January.
    The solar power industry called the new rule a victory only because power companies in the state were demanding assessments of as much as $100 a month — more than high enough to deter families from considering switching to solar.
    Making solar energy cost-prohibitive for homeowners and businesses is part of a larger ALEC objective, affirmed at its recent annual meeting, to continue its effort to eliminate state renewable energy mandates.
    According to meeting minutes, ALEC has already succeeded in getting legislation introduced in 15 states to “reform, freeze, or repeal their state’s renewable mandate.” ALEC lobbyists are pushing policies through states that will speed up climate change and increase pollution. They’re threatening the renewable energy industry, which is already creating new jobs and saving money for homeowners and businesses.
    Without the current policy paralysis in Washington and a lack of bold, creative thinking about how to build a new, green economy at the national level, they wouldn’t be making so much headway.
    My organization, Institute for America’s Future — together with the Center for American Progress and the BlueGreen Alliance — recently published a report that shows what’s at stake with ALEC’s destructive agenda.
    Our “green industrial revolution” report recommends tying together a series of regional solutions that take advantage of the unique assets of each part of the country, such as the abundance of sun in the West and the wind off the Atlantic coast, into a cohesive whole.
    These regional strategies would be supported by smart federal policies, such as establishing a price for carbon emissions and a national clean energy standard, creating certainty and stability in the alternative energy tax credit market, and providing strong support for advanced energy manufacturing.
    This is the way to unleash the kind of innovation and job creation our economy — and our rapidly warming planet — desperately needs.
    My solar panels are the envy of my block and I wish more of my neighbors will be able to make the same choice I did. But they won’t if fossil-fuel dinosaurs like the Koch brothers and right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council keep casting their dark clouds on efforts to build a clean energy future.
    It’s time for them to step aside and let the sun shine in.
    Isaiah J. Poole is the editor of OurFuture.org, the website of the Campaign for America’s Future. OurFuture.org
    Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org