NB Politicus

Did Stewart Get A Prohibited Campaign Freebie In Mailing Of Car Tax Bills?

Posted in city government, city politics and government, ethics, municipal budget, Republicans, Tax Policy by nbpoliticus on September 2, 2017

By John McNamara

New Britain motor vehicle owners finally got their bills on September 1 along with  a glowing missive from Mayor Erin Stewart that makes the case for her re-election.

The city held up auto tax notices this year, blaming the state budget impasse for the two month delay. Uncertain was whether the auto levy would be lowered to 32 mills or stay at 37.  Given the state deficit then and now,  it would have been a safe bet to go with the 37 mill rate in July rather than wait.  The $241.5  million municipal budget for the year that began July 1st is based on what New Britain got from the state in the 2017 fiscal year.

In a city election year the delay in mailing tax bills is giving incumbent Stewart a prohibited taxpayer-funded freebie — an expensive city-wide mailing to everyone who owns a car or truck — to boost her campaign closer to the election.

Don’t expect Stewart and her full-time image team in the Mayor’s office  to miss an incumbent’s prerogative of using public funds to deliver a not so subtle piece of campaign promotion. Normally there’d be nothing wrong with it.  It’s done here and in many places all the time — an advantage to incumbents in local races with no public financing

Brochure advancing Mayor Stewart’s candidacy sent with motor vehicle tax bills this week. State law bars use of public funds for candidate promotions within three months of elections.

The issue usually arises over “franking privileges” for state and federal lawmakers who send their own positive mailers back to their districts on accomplishments and legislation.

At issue here is whether Stewart used the good offices of the Tax Collector to promote her candidacy within three months of an election.  That’s where the Connecticut General Statutes come in. State law prohibits any use of taxpayer money by incumbents within 90 days of an election for self promotion.

From Connecticut general statutes 9-610

(d) (1) No incumbent holding office shall, during the three months preceding an election in which he is a candidate for reelection or election to another office, use public funds to mail or print flyers or other promotional materials intended to bring about his election or reelection.

Using her campaign slogan “Leading The Way” in the taxpayer-funded brochure, Stewart cites saving the city from fiscal ruin, good bond ratings, reorganizing city hall departments “to find efficiencies and improve customer service and “a continuous commitment to provide our teachers and our children with the proper tools for learning and exploring.”  The official message is a carbon copy of what can be found on Stewart’s campaign website.

Any and all of the Stewart’s tax mailer assertions, of course, can be challenged in an election year.  A closer look at the  municipal budget shows higher spending  trumps efficiency at City Hall. A hefty jump in interest payments looms on short-term borrowing because Stewart and the Common Council deferred on paying bills coming due last year. And that  “continuous commitment” to education?  It’s  hard to find in a Stewart budget that continues to spend more at City Hall but didn’t add a dime to schools in the current budget.

In politics timing can be everything and can determine what is allowed and what isn’t under the law.

By incorporating her campaign promotion in the late auto tax notices , Mayor Stewart ignored the law that bans incumbents from using public funds “to mail or print flyers or other promotional materials” for reelection.

 

 

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GOP Alderman Hits School Board On Salaries But Rubber Stamps Pay Hikes, More Spending At City Hall

Posted in city government, New Britain Republicans, public education, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on August 5, 2017

 

By John McNamara

The sometimes fragile relations between City Hall  and the Board of Education took a backward step this week over complaints from Ward 2 Republican Alderman Kristian Rosado appearing in the New Britain City Journal.

Rosado, in a front-page story in the City Journal , derided a unanimous BOE move on salary increases for three administrators,  pitting Rosado against BOE President and fellow Republican Nick Mercier.

unnamedRosado was joined by two BOE members, Sharon Beloin-Saavedra and Miriam Geraci, who either half-heartedly voted for the increases or didn’t stick around long enough to vote on the matter at a July 24th meeting.  Geraci, absent for the vote, objected because of uncertainty over the amount of Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funds the city will receive in the unresolved state budget.  In a City Journal editorial, Editor Robin Vinci, often a mouthpiece for the Stewart administration on many issues, sided with Rosado.

The BOE, however,  unanimously approved three salary increases — a revenue neutral move, according to Mercier, because of a $49,000 cut in Assistant Superintendent Paul Salina’s compensation.  Receiving salary hikes were Chief Financial Officer Kevin Kane, Talent Officer Dr. Shuana Tucker and Assistant Talent Officer, Dr. Nicole Sanders, the principal of the North End School, who was promoted to the position.

 

City Journal Editor Robin Vinci, apparently confusing Dr. Sanders with someone else, falsely reported that Sanders is a member of the BOE.  By law, school employees cannot serve on the elected board.

Mercier, quoted in the City Journal, said “the chief financial officer is taking over as head of three departments, that warranted the salary increase. In terms of the talent office it was partially due to an increase in duties and responsibilities”  and making the salaries “competitive.” Mercier said the move is saving $20,000 in central office spending this year and will reduce administrative costs by $90,000 next year.

But Rosado lambasted the salary levels  as “outrageous and insulting considering that the average resident of New Britain makes under $40,000 a year,” saying more money should be going to classroom support.

By contrast, Rosado, in his capacity as a member of the Common Council, has been a reliable rubber stamp for Mayor’s office salary hikes and major budget increases on the municipal side of the ledger.  He supported Mayor Stewart’s budget that denied a very small increase for city schools.

No one questions Alderman Rosado nor the City Journal for casting a critical eye on how tax dollars are spent. But their critical eyes appear to be only wide open at the Board of Education. They are closed shut when it comes to salary hikes, increasing debt interest and all manner of discretionary spending by the Stewart administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legislature Takes On Water Issues; Rep. Lopes Bill Requires Fair Market Value For City To Sell Wells, Watershed Land

Posted in environment, environmental protection, water resources by nbpoliticus on February 13, 2017

By John McNamara

State Rep. Rick Lopes (D-24) has filed a bill requiring municipalities or water companies to “complete  a fair market appraisal of any property encompassing a watershed, well or reservoir before such property may be sold, and to make such appraisal public at least 90 days prior to such sale.”

Lopes’ proposal is due for a public hearing on Wednesday, February 15th, at the Legislature’s Planning and Development Committee.

Rep. Rick Lopes

Rep. Rick Lopes

The legislation (6481) stems directly from Mayor Stewart’s second attempt to sell the Patton Brook well in Southington to the Town of Southington for $1 million last year. The New Britain Common Council authorized the sale  in a controversial move that brought strong public opposition at a public hearing last July.  The sale remains under review by the state Department of Public Health. The city administration,  through the Board of Water Commissioners, also quietly approved the sale of watershed land in Burlington last last year, land that is also a part of New Britain’s coveted and extensive watershed  in the region.

The effort to sell city watershed, along with a Stewart administration-back proposal by Tilcon, Inc. to lease watershed land on the New Britain-Plainville line for mining operations, has met with growing resistance from the Bradley Mountain Alliance . A citizen coalition has coalesced around protecting the watershed and its members regularly attend City Hall, the Board of Water Commissioners and state regulatory agency meetings.  Year-long drought conditions that have forced the city to purchase water from the Metropolitan District Commission has further increased citizen opposition to the sale of Patton Brook.

According to a commentary raising objections to a Patton Brook sale last July: “The real value of Patton Brook Well – whether it is to be leased or sold – should be calculated on its capacity to produce potable water for residents and businesses.  At no time have New Britain officials, including Stewart and Water Services Director and Southington resident Gil Bligh,  provided a professional or independent appraisal of the Patton Brook Well’s actual value in setting a sale price of $1.2 million two years ago and $1 million this year.  Basing a sale or lease on a real property assessment of the pumping station and the small amount of acreage alone is absurd and irresponsible.”

Rep. Lopes, who represents the 24th assembly district inclusive of New Britain neighborhoods close to watershed land, opposed the attempted sale of Patton Brook in 2014 and 2016 saying in a letter to the editor “water and access to water will always remain a valuable asset. The city of New Britain had the foresight to purchase property with access to water all over the state and these water rights remain among our most valuable assets. Giving up wells and reservoirs are short-term fixes that will only cost the city in the long run.”

Lawmakers are also taking up a series of bills supported by the Save Our Water , a non-partisan citizens’ group that initially mobilized to oppose MDC and Bloomfield decisions to give Niagara Bottling Company of California access and favorable rates to MDC reservoirs. Its membership is growing and includes New Britain as concern over protecting the water supply and natural resources is growing throughout the state.

Save Our Water’s legislative agenda includes law changes on drought protection (HB-6349), permits for large water bottlers (HB6341), water rates for water bottlers (HB6319),  uniform clean water project charge rates (HB6342) and regulation of bottle water (HB5619).   Save Our Water opposes Senate Bill 753 — an act concerning the viability of expanding the bottled water industry in Connecticut. Instead Save Our Water favors its own legislative package “to ensure the prudent management of our state’s valuable water resources, establishing priorities for water usage during droughts and requiring that water rates for large-scale water bottlers are not lower than rates for residential customers.”

 

 

City Hall Watch: Deferring Municipal Debt Payment Means Cash Now, Higher Interest Next Year

Posted in city government, municipal budget, New Britain, property tax by nbpoliticus on February 10, 2017

By John McNamara

The Stewart administration is shifting $6 million from a scheduled payment on the city’s rising municipal debt— creating an election year windfall to avert yet another tax increase.  The Common Council approved what representatives of William Blair & Company, the city’s bond counsel, called a “re-structuring” of  a $28 million bond at a special meeting  on January 11th.

Expect Mayor Stewart to trumpet a “savings” to avert her third property tax hike or claim a hefty boost to the city’s “rainy day fund” as municipal budget talks get underway in a few weeks.

CITY HALL WATCH

CITY HALL WATCH

But using the city’s credit card to increase cash flow in the current fiscal year is hardly a savings or proof of Stewart’s fiscal prudence. It obligates the city to shell out more to bond holders in the out years. Pushing debt obligations to 2018 and beyond  guarantees all the borrowed money (short and long-term debt for capital projects and allowable expenses) will come with considerably higher interest rates.

“We’ve been seeing  the rates increasing from last year,” William Blair’s Richard Thivierge told the Common Council. “Some debt rates have gone up 60 to 80 basis points.”

Ward 5 Alderman Carlo Carlozzi, who extensively questioned bond counsel along with Alderman Manny Sanchez on January 11, expressed some frustration on the new deal with creditors which will lower the payment this year from $28,315,000 to $21, 600,000. “The city always seems to be restructuring its debt.”  Carlozzi said,  wondering out loud if moving the debt was kicking the can down the road at higher interest rates.

Bond counsel representatives explained that the city is not re-financing — which is usually done to get lower rates — but is deferring the debt a portion of which stems from borrowing  in Stewart’s first two terms. Because of the city’s “high debt base” Thivierge said the city needs to “levelize” its debt service by slowing down its payments. Always the obliging middle man in extending the debt, Thivierge called it “budgetary prudence.” In political terms that’s a euphemism for not having to raise taxes or cut services in an election year.  Pressed by Carlozzi’s questions, the Mayor,  Finance Director Lori Granato and Bond Counsel tacitly acknowledged the city could pay down its debt at a lower interest rate this year, but that the extra $6 million will be needed in the next budget after July 1.

Obligating the city to pay more for debt at the start of 2017 stems from structural factors that cash-strapped cities face. New Britain, according to the state Office of Policy and Management (OPM), is the slowest growing grand list in the state with 97% of the land developed and a considerable amount of real property owned by the state or nonprofit institutions. This inelastic tax base, reliance on the property tax and dependence on state aid that this year exceeds $100 million makes the current system unsustainable no matter who is mayor or serves on the Common Council. All of this is why the bond lenders hold cities in a cycle of  borrowing for needed capital improvements not favorable to fiscal stability and residents. Raising taxes is good. Cutting services is better. Selling off municipal assets (such as watershed) is even better for improving your bond rating and pleasing the lenders on Wall Street.

The situation has been made worse in New Britain by “structural deficits” first identified by Mayor Tim O’Brien when he took office in 2011 and quickly acknowledged by Erin Stewart when she succeeded O’Brien despite her politicking that the budget mess was created entirely by O’Brien in one term.

Both mayors pointed to the four terms of former Mayor Tim Stewart who, with the acquiescence of Democratic common councils between 2003 and 2010, relied on one-time fixes and phantom sales of land.  With increases in spending and freezing the tax rate year after year during the first Mayor Stewart’s terms,  a financial hole was created that the city is still climbing out of.

“We had an issue a few years back when someone came into office and said there were structural problems in the budget,” said Carlozzi at the bond authorization meeting, alluding to former Mayor O’Brien sounding the alarm more than five years ago. “That person was heavily criticized. We now have heard for the last three years that we have structural issues with the budget. That individual was correct.”

As Alderman Carlozzi made clear at the Council meeting paying off your credit card debt sooner rather than later would be a good thing.  In 2017, however, the restructuring of debt is a way to paint a hunky-dory financial picture that relies on the city’s mountain of debt getting higher.  What is especially misleading is the “rainy day” or “tax stabilization” fund being counted in the millions of dollars. Implying that the surplus stems from more efficiencies and prudent fiscal management as Stewart boasts is false. It is based almost entirely on restructuring borrowed money and a 2014 property tax increase — the largest in city history.

The bottom line is that in a municipal election year all that glitters is not gold when it comes to city finances. Bond authorizations cannot be used to meet current operations only capital improvements.  But in New Britain and other financially struggling cities increasing debt costs for ready cash carries a heavy price tag due and payable sooner rather than later.

 

Opposing Trump, GOP Agenda: NB, Hartford Part of Historic Women’s March

Posted in Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on January 22, 2017

From http://www.newbritaindemocrat.org

 

By John McNamara [Photos by Frank Gerratana] The Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump spawned marches from Augusta, Maine to Anchorage Alaska. Millions of people, connected by the same social media so deftly and divisively used by Donald Trump, answered the call of the women’s march to respond to […]

via Opposing Trump, GOP Agenda: Hartford, New Britain Part Of Historic Women’s March For Equality, Economic Justice — New Britain Democrat

City Hall Watch: Stewart Wants More Money For Tilcon Watershed Study; Costs To Exceed $350K

Posted in city government, environmental protection, New Britain, Uncategorized, water resources by nbpoliticus on December 12, 2016

By John McNamara

The Stewart administration is seeking an additional $17,500 for an  environmental study of Tilcon Inc.’s  long-term plan to lease city watershed for trap rock mining.

The extra cost is up for consideration at the December 14th Common Council meeting and follows the June 2016 Common Council approval of a $337,000 no-bid contract to Glastonbury-based Lenard Engineering, a contractor the city has frequently used on water supply issues.

The request for more money from a favored contractor of the Stewart administration stems from the original scope of the study commissioned by the city.  That engineering survey was quickly deemed inadequate by both the regional Water Planning Council (WPC) and the state Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) when members of those councils learned about the agreement with Lenard and opponents of Tilcon’s expansion project raised objections.

Environmental officials, though allowing the city to engage Lenard Engineering last summer, have questioned the “independence” of the firm and chastised the city for the original scope of work which failed to address environmental concerns.

The Tilcon expansion, unsuccessfully sought nine years ago during the first Stewart Administration, will need state approval in order for Tilcon to extract the valuable igneous rock known as trap rock on 131 acres of protected watershed that is in close proximity to the city’s Shuttle Meadow reservoir.

from Protect Our Watersheds CT

from Protect Our Watersheds CT

The new scope of work, according to the council resolution, entails “an enhanced, four-season ecological study.”  The original scope of work, rejected by the CEQ, was set for 15 weeks and left out critical factors in assessing the impacts of expanded Tilcon mining on forest land and the fragile ecology that sustains wetlands in the city-owned regional water system. Apparently the $337,000 isn’t enough for Lenard Engineering to do what it is supposed to do for a true  environmental assessment.

Mayor Stewart, who continues to face strong public opposition about the pending sale of the 1.5 million gallon a day Patton Brook Well as drought conditions force the city to buy water from the Metropolitan District Commission, cites the revenue  ($15 million) the city would obtain from a multi million dollar lease and the long-term benefits of Ireland-based Tilcon creating a small reservoir over the next generation. That reservoir would provide no more than 160,000 gallons a day by the year 2050.

Since Tilcon revived its expansion project this year Stewart has been its biggest cheerleader at first pushing for completion of the study without measuring the ecological impact.  She originally sought to have the study wrapped up this fall.

Her administration has also engaged Gaffney Bennett Associates, a high powered New Britain-based lobbying firm, on behalf of the city on the issue at the same time Gaffney Bennett works for Tilcon Inc. to grease the governmental skids for project approval. Those relationships raise blatant conflicts of interest that have been ignored by both state and city governments.

Attorney Paul Zagorsky, an opponent of the Tilcon expansion and part of a multi-town coalition of citizens (Protect Our Watersheds CT and the Bradley Mountain Alliance), called  out the Stewart administration for its conflicts and  lack of transparency in an August 7th New Britain Herald letter to the editor:

“In her July 28th letter to the WPC the mayor states she was ‘dismayed to learn that the CEQ passed a motion yesterday rescinding their approval of Lenard Engineering.’ While Gilbert Bligh, head of the city’s Water Department was at that CEQ meeting, he did not speak, no one from the city did. I am dismayed the city has withheld and/or provided misleading information to the public and the state, that the Lenard study is a Tilcon quarry feasibility study and not an environmental study, that Lenard is a long time contractor for the city and not ‘independent,’ and that the city is working with Tilcon’s lobbyists on this.”

The absence of  transparency and obvious conflicts of interest around the Stewart administration and water issues should prompt the Common Council to demand more accountability. That includes asking  how much has been expended so far by Lenard Engineering and why $17,500 more is necessary.

The state law adopted this year requires an “independent” study about Tilcon’s expansion and what New Britain’s long-term water needs are. The spirit and letter of that law and the laws protecting the watershed need to be followed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Britain Election Postscript: “If Trump wins will I have to leave the country?”

Posted in civil rights, Diversity, Hate Speech, Immigration, New Britain, Presidential Politics, Racism by nbpoliticus on November 27, 2016

“If Trump wins will I have to leave the country?”

The question was asked of me by a Holmes School student when I was leaving the Masjid Al Taqwa mosque on Arch Street on a Sunday evening in August. It didn’t matter that the 5th grader has probably lived in New Britain all his life and that his parents — part of a growing Muslim American community in central CT,  vote and pay taxes.

“No,” I said without hesitation to reassure the Holmes student. “Even if Trump wins you won’t have to leave the country.”

My visit to Masjid Al Taqwa came at the invitation of  Alicia Hernandez Strong, a Weyleyan student, new officer of the Democratic Town Committee and a convert to the Muslim faith.   Evening prayer, a generous ethnic supper and a panel talk on voter registration organized by Strong were part of the evening that ended with that question from the student from Holmes, reflecting his worries and that of his  family and religious community in 2016.

Inscription at Memorial to New Britain 19th century peace activist Elihu Burritt in Franklin Square.

Inscription at Memorial to New Britain 19th century peace activist Elihu Burritt in Franklin Square. (Todesignllc.com)

Over and over again the Republican presidential nominee, amplified by an easily manipulated media,  spread an unfiltered message of exclusion and fear and “change” to make America great again. Campaign rhetoric  devoid of policy and ideas was mainly against people of the Muslim faith and  millions of others without a path to citizenship whenever Donald Trump took the stage.

In the aftermath of the election and Trump’s “win” concerns are escalating. In some places real acts of hate and violence are directed at  those who were the targets of Trump’s dog whistle rants.  His appointments, including Steve Bannon, the wife-beating publisher of  the ultra right and xenophobic Breitbart News, have done little to allay the concern.

Trump’s appeals to fear and exclusion wrapped in an empty economic populism, however, are producing counter measures.  Mayors, police chiefs, civic and religious  leaders, in their words and official actions, are pushing back against the campaign xenophobia that should make a President, even a vulgar demagogue of a President,  think twice about policies that sanction intolerance and bigotry and are a refutation of what Ellis Island was all about.

The mob portion of Trump’s support and maybe even Trump himself, emboldened by the election, will continue to fan hate and division. But there are millions of Trump voters, bothered by flaws in Hillary Clinton’s establishment candidacy or swayed by the fake news vitriol against her–who will want no part of  the hate and incivility that fueled the Trump candidacy.  In New Britain and elsewhere too many of their co-workers and the parents of children they see at the school where their kids go are on Trump’s hit list.

Post-election it’s up to me and you to tell that Muslim American Holmes School boy, or the Mexican “dreamer” student at CCSU seeking a fair path to citizenship or a refugee who got here from a strife-torn land:

No. You don’t have to leave the country because of your religion or where you are from no matter who the President is.  Your city is the “city for all people” and your neighbors won’t let that happen.

John McNamara

 

 

 

 

Wave Of New Voters Includes New Britain: 4,154 Added Since June; Registration Deadline Nov. 1

Posted in Democrats, Uncategorized, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on October 23, 2016

By John McNamara

A wave of new voter registrations statewide may push New Britain enrollment past 30,000 for Election Day on November 8th.

One week prior to the November 1st deadline,  there are 29,100 eligible to vote according to Democratic Registrar of Voters Juan Verdu’s office. In addition, unregistered voters may go to City Hall on Election Day to enroll and vote under the Same Day Registration (SDR) law that will add to the number voting in the Presidential election.

The citywide breakdown shows enrollment at 53% Democratic; 34.7% Unaffiliated; 10.8% Republican, and; 1.5 % other parties.

unnamed-6

State Rep. Betty Boukus (22) greets children at voter registration event at Royal Pizza on Horseplain Road on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)

A Democratic Town Committee (DTC) task force reported last week that 4,154 have been added to the city’s rolls since June.  Of the newly registered 46.6% became Democrats, 45.4% registered Unaffiliated and 8% Republican. The record-setting voter surge has been fueled by reforms initiated by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill that have introduced the “motor voter” option at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a statewide system enabling residents to register to vote online.   In New Britain several hundred new voters have been added on the ground through canvassing and outreach by the DTC task force led by Don DeFronzo, Mario Santos, Isabelita Cancel and Willie Justiniano.

Historically voter enrollment reaches its peak every four years in the presidential election and then falls off in subsequent years.  DTC Chairman Bill Shortell said the task force will continue voter registration efforts and will work with incoming Democratic Registrar of Voters Lucian Pawlak to improve the annual canvassing of voters that occurs every year between January and April to maintain the peak levels being set this year.

State Rep. Peter Tercyak (26) and State Senator Terry Gerratana (6) serve up pizza registering voters on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)

State Rep. Peter Tercyak (26) and State Senator Terry Gerratana (6) serve up pizza registering voters on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)

 

 

School Building Committee’s Pick For Architect Of Smalley Academy Renovation Has Its Share Of Troubles

Posted in School Construction by nbpoliticus on September 4, 2016

By John McNamara

Bridgeport-based Fletcher Thompson has been selected as architect for the renovation of Smalley Academy by the city’s School Building Committee in a close and potentially controversial vote.

Fletcher Thompson (FT) is a well-established  architectural and engineering business with offices in Connecticut and New Jersey. Its roots go back a century in Bridgeport and K-12 projects figure prominently in the  design services it offers.

Smalley Academy, a K-Grade 5 Elementary School, Is Due For Modernization.

Smalley Academy, a K-Grade 5 Elementary School, Is Due For Modernization.

The  firm’s recent track record, however,  shows “a litany of lawsuits,” according to a January 7, 2016 Connecticut Post story that characterized the company as “beleaguered.”  That may explain an unconfirmed report that  the School Building Committee’s deliberations were contentious. The vote purportedly was close on the little-noticed but powerful seven-member school building group with Fletcher Thompson getting the nod over New Britain-based Kaestle Boos Associates.   One member was absent from the meeting and a tie vote developed on a motion to re-consider Kaestle Boos because it is a local bidder. The city ordinance governing municipal contracts stipulates that a city-based bidder with a  low bid not more than eight (8) percent higher than the lowest bid may get the work if  “such city-based bidder agrees to accept the award of the bid at the lowest bid amount.”

Fletcher Thompson’s recent troubles, according to press reports, go from nonpayment of employee pensions and other bills amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars to possible eviction from its main office to reports of cost overruns on school projects.

  • The January 2016 Connecticut Post story reported U.S. Department of Labor action to compel the firm to make payments for its pensioners.  At issue has been $485,000 owed 164 participants in the company’s plan. By the end of January a partial agreement was announced that requires a repayment schedule starting with release of  funds from a retirement account of one of the firm’s managing partners who was named in the complaint.
  • In April of this year the architectural firm also faced eviction proceedings from its Bridgeport headquarters in the former Mechanics & Farmers Bank only two years into a 10-year lease.   It had relocated back to Bridgeport from Shelton offices. Soon thereafter problems arose “with contractors and providers including Cisco Systems, McLaren Engineering Group, Prudential and Fuss & O’Neill, among others, claiming the company had failed to make payments on hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments.”
  • The Meriden Record Journal has reported that Fletcher Thompson erred in one part of the design of the $107 million Maloney High School project in 2014 that resulted in a cost overrun of  $330,000 requiring use of contingency funds. Meriden and company officials, however, stated that change orders on projects of that magnitude are to be expected and the Maloney project has not been affected by FT’s mounting legal and financial difficulties.
  • In 2012,  an $85 million Southington middle school renovation project resulted in frustration and  strong local objections to Fletcher Thompson’s work. Cost overruns, running into millions of dollars, went from two to 10 percent because of remediation issues. “(Building Committee Member Christopher) Palmieri said the town has been promised for nearly two years, going back to when Fletcher Thompson was first hired to conduct a feasibility study regarding middle school renovations, that overruns would not exceed two percent. Instead, they now appear to be at 8.9 percent and to 10.2 percent respectively,” according to a November 2012 news story.

While Fletcher Thompson’s widely reported financial and legal problems may have been discussed by the New Britain School Building Committee, the situation did not dissuade members from selecting the firm for the overhaul of  Smalley Academy.

The Smalley Academy project in New Britain got a green light from the Common Council in June with a preliminary cost estimate totalling $53 million that some officials found to be inflated for the K-5 elementary school where renovations and improvements are long over due. By contrast the recently completed Gaffney School renovations cost $30 million.   The Council go ahead gave the Building Committee, whose members include former Mayor Timothy Stewart and allies of Mayor Erin Stewart, the go ahead to solicit bids from architects. In addition to Tim Stewart school building committee members include Sheila Smith, Fran Wolski, Carmen D’Agostino, Angelo D’Alfonso, Ryan Pinard and Peter Smulski.

The New Britain legislative delegation will seek approval of state school bond funds once the project is ready to implement. The city gets 80 percent reimbursement from the state for school construction.

SEE related NB Politicus post: Smalley Academy Renovation Cost Jumps To $53 Million

Referendum Question 3 Obscures Charter Change On Granting Pay Raises To Elected Officials, Accelerated Water Bill Payments

Posted in City Charter, city government, city politics and government by nbpoliticus on August 26, 2016

By John McNamara

The Common Council’s Republican Caucus Leader, Daniel Salerno, likes to preach to citizens who speak at public participation that they ought to stay, not leave after speaking on an issue, to watch the councilors “make the sausage” on selling city assets cheap, adopting a new policy or making budget decisions.

CITY HALL WATCH

CITY HALL WATCH

Salerno’s invitation to stay carries with it a strong  undertone of condescension:  the implication being that he and his GOP caucus know more and care more than any of the residents coming in to voice their concerns.  When it comes to city charter change and one of the  questions on November’s ballot, however, Salerno and his GOP caucus don’t want you to see the sausage being made at all.

Two of the three ballot questions are straightforward: Shall the terms of office for Mayor and Tax Collector go from two years to four years in 2017? Question 3, however, asks voters to adopt 11 separate changes.  Not to worry, says Salerno, Q3 is only about “housekeeping” and”technical” alterations.  There’s always the rarely noticed small print posted on the wall before going into the polling booth that you can read.

In an August 13th Sunday editorial, the New Britain Herald saw through the Stewart Administration- Salerno obfuscation for what it is. “And, if the question goes forth in its approved form, we can’t help but wonder what a voter who agrees with some of the changes but not others will do. Do voters swallow hard and say yes, ignoring objections to some proposals? Or do they vote down all of the changes, rather than approve one they find objectionable? Alderman Emmanuel Sanchez pointed out this very dilemma before he cast a dissenting vote.”

Concerns expressed in the editorial are justified. Question 3 is a menu of alterations to the city’s governing document. True. Some are technical and minor. The Board of Public Works, for example, is sensibly put back in the charter when the last charter change removed it. In succeeding years the Council has had to re-establish public works and building commissions by ordinance because the last charter referendum eliminated all but six commissions.

Another change proposes that municipal budgets are to be posted on the city website and published within seven days. This guarantees sunshine in the age of the internet when the city’s website is often weeks and months behind in posting public information. It does, however, change the publication  in a newspaper from four to seven days — a penny-wise and pound foolish move designed to extract minor savings but that may leave daily newspapers out.

Other elements of Question 3  are redundant and pertain to mayoral and tax collector terms already covered in Questions 1 and 2. Arguably they don’t need to be included at all but are loaded onto the ballot question when the issue has already been addressed.

Of greater concern are changes that are fraught with financial implications for taxpayers and practices at City Hall that deserve to  stand on their own.

All are buried  within one broad question: “Shall the City Charter be amended to make changes to conform to state statutes and make technical, administrative and other changes and clarifications?”

On closer examination certain amendments beg for more information for voters to make anything approaching an informed decision on them.  Unfortunately that information is even absent in the explanatory text provided by the Town and City Clerk that voters headed to  the polls to vote for President aren’t likely to ever see anyway.

By way of examples here are several key amendments to the current charter:

  • One fine print change allows the Common Council to “review, establish, and act upon rates of compensation for elected officials in every even-numbered year.  This would replace the current ordinance that establishes a Council compensation committee to periodically review salaries of the Mayor and other elected officials  and that would revise compensation in the next elected term.
  • Another amendment allows pensions for certain elected officials by revising the definition of an elected official to include  a person who was appointed  by the Common Council to fill a vacancy between elections.
  • Two additional amendments empower the Board of Water Commissioners to change the billing cycle from semi-annually to monthly or quarterly payable within 30 days and to add 1.5% per month interest charges on delinquent bills. Arguably the Mayor and Council who should be responsible for approving changes are apparently taken off the hook when accelerating payments and charging interest are mandated in the charter. Voters need to be informed about what’s in place now and the issue deserves to stand on its own in a ballot question.

Provisions that relate to the compensation of elected officials, the granting of public pensions  and the manner and method of how citizens pay their water bills, among other issues,  are all fair game when it comes to revising the City Charter.    But they constitute more than “technicalities” and “conformance”  to state statutes. They should have been put on the ballot with greater clarity — a clarity  that will be missing on the November 8th ballot when you get to Question 3.