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.

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