NB Politicus

Republican Candidate For 26th District Stirred Social Media Controversy in 2015

“Racially Divisive” Posts Sunk Ceglarz’ Council Candidacy In The ’15 Municipal

By John McNamara

The New Britain Republican Town Committee’s (NBRTC) slate of legislative candidates for the November 3rd Election includes a nominee who stirred controversy in 2015 that forced his withdrawal from the Councillor-At-Large race that year.

Piotr (Peter) Ceglarz, a member of the NBRTC from Ward 4, is making his second run at incumbent Democrat Peter Tercyak for the General Assembly District that includes John Paul II, Pulaski Middle School, Saint Francis Church and Holmes School polling places.

In 2014 Tercyak defeated Ceglarz for re-election in an uneventful race with both candidates participating in the Citizen Election Program (CEP) of public financing.  In the 2015 municipal election Ceglarz joined the Erin Stewart slate as one of five at large Council candidates.

His short-lived campaign for city office was anything but uneventful.  Soon after the July nominations racially-charged social media posts attributed to Ceglarz’ Facebook page surfaced spreading white nationalist, hateful memes that have become all too familiar in Trump Republicans’ playbooks and are ever present on Facebook and Twitter.

At issue were Facebook posts by Republican Ceglarz in which he shared and agreed with messages from right-wing groups defending the Confederate flag and referring to such organizations as the NAACP, United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund as “racist.” In another post President Obama is linked with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin over gun ownership rights. Ceglarz also disparaged minimum wage workers in disseminating his views at the time of his candidacy for City Council.

The offensive posts led to immediate calls for Ceglarz to exit the campaign by Democrats and drew in media coverage that eventually caused Stewart, protecting her “socially liberal” Republican brand outside of New Britain, to dump Ceglarz once the television and newspapers came calling.

The social media-savvy Mayor with a constant presence on Facebook professed no knowledge of the Ceglarz posts on the day she asked him to leave the slate. “Earlier today I became aware of several postings on Facebook, made by Peter Ceglarz, that were both ill-advised and indefensible in their nature. While I consider Peter to be a good friend, there is simply no room in this campaign for that sort of divisiveness,” the Mayor responded in a written statement.

Ceglarz complied with Erin Stewart’s order to withdraw but without any apology or remorse saying he was the victim of “a political hit job.”  Reacting to the press coverage back then Ceglarz, in a comment to the New Britain Herald, called the paper “the most biased and liberal paper in the state. Sorry but your recent story about me was the biggest B.S. and P.O.S. NICE way to kiss ass with (former Democratic Chair John) McNamara and (former Councillor David) DeFronzo and then calling things racist. Get your facts straight and cover the truth and not lies.”

Coming off the GOP bench to run a third time, the unrepentant 2020 Ceglarz has scrubbed his social media of any of the publically shared racist taunts that abruptly ended his run for office five Augusts ago.  Of more concern, however, is how his personal views may inform his stances on legislative issues that effect the residents of his district in a multi-cultural, diverse community. 

Unfortunately, Ceglarz’ 2015 posts are an example of the vitriol that has been injected via social media into New Britain politics going back to at least 2009. 

Last year older posts attributed to  Democratic Council candidate Antonio Lavoy, Sr. were widely condemned for vulgar remarks directed at Erin Stewart, transgressions for which Lavoy apologized.  And early in 2019 former Mayor Timothy Stewart referred to Democratic women in Congress as “bitches in heat” in a Facebook post during the State of the Union address, a flip remark that brought his forced resignation as head of the Chamber of Commerce after dodging an earlier controversy with the help of State Senator Gennaro Bizzarro, the city corporation counsel and Chamber Board Chairman. 

“Stewart had already been facing calls that he resign or be removed as the head of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce from a scandal from 2017 in which he made a comment that was widely criticized as racist,” according to the New Britain Progressive. “Stewart had made an online comment that, ‘Unfortunately the inmates continue to run the neighborhood,’ in a discussion regarding the city’s North Oak neighborhood, a neighborhood that has a large Latino and African American population.”

Inflammatory rhetoric, personal insults and racial invective are nothing new in political discourse in New Britain and elsewhere.  But social media — pervasive and unfiltered — accelerates division and does harm to  civic engagement.  There’s no stopping the bigoted and uninformed, egged on by the highest office in the land, to post their rants. But elected leaders and those who aspire to leadership have a special responsibility not to offend nor tolerate those who do so.

(Editor’s Note:  In 2015 I was the Democratic Party Chair and Mayoral candidate and was among Democrats calling for the withdrawal of Ceglarz from the Council race.)

 

 

 

Under the Cover of Covid: Four Democratic Councillors Excluded From July Meeting

Posted in City Charter, city government, City Hall, city politics and government, Public Health by nbpoliticus on July 11, 2020

Mayor Pulls Plug On Remote Access For Common Council Members

By John McNamara

Four Democratic City Councillors, expecting teleconference access because of the state-mandated COVID 19 social distancing order for public meetings, were shut out of participating and voting at the July 8th Common Council meeting.

At Large Alderman Richard Reyes, Ward 2 Alderperson Colin Osborn and Ward 3’s Aram Ayalon and Iris Sanchez were muted for this month’s only Common Council meeting. The remote system used for council debate and voting was turned off.

Three other Democrats, Manny Sanchez, Chris Anderson and Francisco Santiago, were present along with the eight members of the Republican caucus. Councillors meet in a semi-circle in close proximity to one another in the Council chambers. Holding remote meetings with call in public participation has been the routine during the pandemic.

Close to 40 residents spoke via telephone about a civilian review board and the Christopher Columbus statue amid the waves of protest and concern over police violence and racism since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

COVID protocols were in force for public participation in accordance with Governor Lamont’s Executive Order on holding public meetings remotely and avoiding person to person contact.

“I was told that the Mayor expected the council members to be present,” Iris Sanchez said in a Facebook post. “I did it remotely and the whole time I and some of my colleagues were muted the whole meeting.”

While public participation took up over an hour, the regular meeting took less than 15 minutes. On the roll call Town and City Clerk Mark Bernacki hesitated but appeared to record Ayalon present when he heard Ayalon’s voice over the public participation line. Iris Sanchez, Osborn and Reyes were counted as absent. Ayalon is responding with a Freedom of Information complaint that his own open meeting rights may have been violated.

It may be that the failure to let four Democrats in on the July 8th Council meeting was just a mix up. But that seems unlikely. Mayor Stewart’s reopening of the Council Chambers without a recourse to participating remotely fits a pattern of minimal, nonchalant responses to the pandemic at City Hall.

Using her eight to seven majority, Stewart derailed Council discussion on dealing with the pandemic aside from her “proactive steps” that included a 10 p.m. curfew and the closing of municipal facilities. A resolution calling for the city to consider a work from home policy for non-essential city employees was hastily rejected on a party line vote at the April 8th Common Council meeting one day after Stewart closed City Hall to the public.

Stewart and her obedient eight-member caucus squelched any talk of looking into a work from home option, a policy that 60 percent of municipalities are allowing across the nation in the interest of continuing city operations without interruption and ensuring the safety of the work force.

The GOP caucus pushed through its own resolution without any questions falling in line with whatever the administration wanted to do. Amid criticism that the Council was doing its business remotely but requiring city workers to show up, GOP caucus members claimed Council Democrats were attempting to usurp the powers of the Mayor, ignoring completely what the City Charter mandates about legislative powers.

“City employees do not have the capability to work from home,” Stewart told the New Britain Herald on March 24th. “I’m not sure how you would fill a pothole working from home or how you could obtain a copy of a birth certificate or file a death certificate, working from home. Employees who are worried about their health have every opportunity to use their accrued time and stay home.”

Telling employees willing to work but with health concerns to take their sick or vacation time would seem to open up the Mayor to a labor law violation. Her management indifference, however, drew no response from local AFSCME or other municipal union presidents who enjoy cozy ties to the Mayor. The rank and file be damned.

Thankfully the spread of coronavirus has considerably ebbed across the state because of strong and continuous public health measures. But it’s not over. That is especially true in municipalities where rates of infection are higher. 

The prudent thing to do on July 8th was to give all elected Common Council members the remote option and follow the Governor’s executive order “to permit a public agency to meet and take action without permitting in-person, public access to such meeting, and to hold such meetings or proceedings remotely by conference call, video conferencing or other technology.”

Open meetings and transparency should not become a casualty of the pandemic at any level of government.  As social distancing and phased re-openings continue, the situation warrants some true bipartisanship in governing the city. It’s unfortunate that there has been very little of that coming out of the Mayor’s office or from her loyalists on the Council. Their brand of bipartisanship only works if you set aside transparency, dialogue and agree with them 100 percent of the time.

Four Ways to Fight Racism in Your Town

Posted in city government, civil rights, Diversity, Racism, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on June 24, 2020

Commentary courtesy of Otherwords.org

Spontaneous, peaceful protests have been occurring in New Britain over the murder of George Floyd and systemic police violence.  A rare 15 to 0 Common Council vote declared “racism is a public health crisis.” The movement is ramping up the pressure for a Civilian Review Board and changes in city government that would emphasize more community policing and de-escalation tactics in law enforcement and more funding to education and neighborhood services. 

This commentary by Gloria Oladipo, a Cornell University student, discusses activities to keep the momentum going.

By Gloria Oladipo June 24, 2020

For weeks since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests have erupted across the globe. While demonstrations in larger cities have drawn the most attention in the U.S., smaller communities can be — and are — involved in the fight for racial justice.

From Medford, Oregon to Meridian, Mississippi, and many places beyond, peaceful protests have attracted hundreds. Even those in conservative, majority-white towns — some with active KKK chapters — have gathered to reject racism and violence.

It’s an encouraging sign. But not all communities have been able to hold gatherings, especially at the height of COVID-19. Thankfully, there are other ways to contribute to the fight for racial justice, even if protests have not reached your area.

1. Educate yourself.

The first step to being an effective ally is to educate yourself on racism, both structurally and in your community. A number of books are a great starting point. I recommend Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.

If you prefer watching to reading, Netflix has a number of documentaries to help understand racism and its role in the United States, including 13th and When They See Us.

Don’t forget to learn about racism and police brutality in your own community. Despite the media’s depiction of police brutality as an issue impacting mainly cities, many rural communities and suburbs also suffer from disturbing examples of police brutality.

Keep track of events in the local news. Meet with your local sheriff and ask about police accountability measures. You have a right to live in a town where the police aren’t a threat to you and others. 

2. Talk about racism at home.

One of the most impactful things that allies can do in the face of anti-Blackness is to discuss these topics at home, especially with racist people in your inner circles. Challenging racism inter-personally can help change the ideology of family and friends — or at least introduce a different perspective.

Educating your family and friends is the first step to creating new allies and fostering a more tolerant culture in your community.

3. Support racial justice organizations.

Organizations need resources to support activists on the ground, bail out protestors, and pay their bills. Funding is especially important for local organizations who may not have the same bandwidth as national organizations to raise money. For these small local groups, every dollar counts.

A simple Google search can produce thousands of results for local, smaller organizations in your area. If the internet is not accessible in your area, check local community boards. Often, groups will post flyers about events, opportunities for you to learn more about the work they do, and ways to donate to their efforts. 

4. Support struggling people.

Many Black people are exhausted and vulnerable. Many need financial help. Whether suffering from COVID-19, job loss, the death of family members, or marginalization on account of their race or gender identity, direct donations can change their lives.

Finding people in need isn’t difficult. GoFundMe has hundreds of thousands of people asking for help with basic needs. Twitter houses similar campaigns, including threads with women looking for donations to escape abusive situations or in need of general financial help.

Or, go through your local church. Ask your pastor or church board members if they are currently looking for donations to help marginalized people. Your dollars can and will change lives.

Don’t let Black Lives Matter be a passing, catchy slogan. Wherever you live, be an active ally who challenges racism at every opportunity. Everyone is responsible to fight against racism, now and always.

New Britain’s Bond Rating Drops From Stable To Negative: Huge Spike In Debt Through 2021 Cited By Moody’s

Posted in city government, City Hall, municipal budget, New Britain, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on November 4, 2017

By John McNamara

Republican incumbent Mayor Erin Stewart, in her re-election campaign this year and throughout her second term, has touted improving municipal bond ratings for New Britain’s fiscal solvency, claiming credit for budget surpluses of $15 million and pushing spending up at City Hall with no need for an election year tax increase.

Fiscal stability is the cornerstone of her platform and a main talking point in her aspirations to leave the mayor’s job for statewide office. Her campaign’s website points to New Britain “gracing the cover of the Bond Buyer, a trade publication covering the municipal bond market, “not once but twice. The city under her management is a shining example for how to make a financial turnaround work during a difficult economy.”

The November 2nd edition of Bond Buyerhowever, paints a different picture for the city’s finances in the  latest analysis, portending a difficult road ahead for the city’s budget over the next four years.  Moody’s Investor Services, which along with Standard & Poor’s, assesses the borrowing ability and fiscal health of cities in the municipal bond market, has downgraded general obligation borrowing to Baa2 from Baa1. “Moody’s cited New Britain’s reliance on nonrecurring revenues to stabilize its financial position in recent years. The rating agency also revised its outlook on the 73,000-population city to negative from stable,” Bond Buyer’s Paul Burton reported. “The rating also incorporates the city’s elevated debt profile with rapidly escalating debt service and its modest pension liability,’ the rating agency said Tuesday.”

In contrast to Moody’s downgrade four months into the 2018 fiscal year, Standard & Poor’s has previously affirmed  a more favorable A-plus rating for New Britain after upgrading the city four notches through two upgrades.   Moody’s last assessment came in 2014.

According to the Bond Buyer story:

Moody’s said the negative outlook reflects the short-term challenge New Britain will face to match recurring revenues with recurring expenditures while managing its debt service pegged to spike through fiscal 2021. New Britain, said Moody’s, could earn an upgrade through a sustained trend of structurally balanced operations without one-shots, a material reduction in debt burden, growth in its tax base or an improved resident wealth and income profile.  By contrast, continuing reliance on nonrecurring revenues, erosion of its financial position, taking on more debt or deterioration of New Britain’s tax base or wealth profile could lead to a downgrade.

The Moody’s downgrade may be related to action taken by the Common Council prior to the end of the 2017 fiscal year at the behest of the Stewart administration when debt payments were deferred in the last fiscal year pushing the debt into this year and succeeding years when interest rates on the city’s borrowing will be accelerating.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Selling Of Patton Brook Well: Will New Britain Get A Fair Price To Help Southington Address Its Water Crisis?

Mayor Stewart’s Lowered $1 Million Price Drastically Undervalues Patton Brook Well 

By John McNamara

A Monday, July 11th public hearing at New Britain City Hall will take up a proposed sale of the city’s Patton Brook Well in Southington as that town’s water commission faces growing challenges to address its need for water in the sprawling suburban community of 42,000.

The sale of the well — part of New Britain’s extensive and coveted regional water assets — would be an unprecedented and controversial move,  breaking with longstanding policy of leasing water rights to Southington and others in the region, but retaining city ownership for the long-term.

Hearing Notice near Patton Brook Well (photo: www.myrecordjournal.com)

Hearing Notice near Patton Brook Well photo: http://www.myrecordjournal.com

In 2014 Erin Stewart unsuccessfully pushed selling Patton Brook Well to Southington for a $1.2 million price saying that the well didn’t figure in the city’s water reserve plan. Southington’s Board of Water Commissioners would then pursue repair of the Patton Brook pumping station for the town’s exclusive use. Previously, New Britain had leased the well to Southington for $107,000 a year — an arrangement that lasted for more than 30 years.

The 2014 Common Council narrowly rejected that 2014 sale siding with city residents who wanted to preserve the well as part of New Britain’s regional water resources.

The Stewart administration, with the 2016 Council more favorable to her policies, is back. The asking price now, however, is inexplicably lower — $200,000 less than Southington’s $1.2 million offer in 2014.

How the Stewart Administration arrived at or agreed to the lower $1 million price should be a question on the minds of residents and the Common Council.  By all accounts the Patton Brook Well is a prodigious water supply and a source within Southington’s borders that the town’s water commission badly needs to bring on-line.

Southington’s Water Department, for example, has imposed voluntary restrictions  “in order to conserve water supply during the unusual warm weather conditions and lack of rain fall.” according to the town’s website.  Southington’s system is comprised of three reservoirs and seven wells which in their present condition cannot keep up with either residential or commercial development in town. According to New Britain resident William Ostapchuk’s research on Southington and New Britain’s water resources, three of the town’s wells have long been dormant because of pollution. “Wells 4,5 and 6 are not used because the drinking water provided by each was exposed to contamination by toxic pollutants from two sites, a landfill and Solvents Recovery of New England.” Ostapchuk found. “Both became Superfund cleanup sites.”  Southington’s contamination problems led to the original leasing of the Patton Brook Well from New Britain decades ago.

The Town of Southington, in a December 2014 proposal from the water commission chairman  to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stated that the town “is struggling to provide current and future water supply, and will not be able to provide water to its 42,000 residents and businesses unless the community can address contamination in its present water supply, and establish sustainable, expanded water supplies for the future.” The December 2014 request to the Army Corps of Engineers sought an additional $7 million in funds to augment the $9.42 million already authorized by Congress for water improvements in Southington.  The additional project costs include $1.5 million for Patton Brook predicated  on Southington’s purchase from New Britain.

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.

Patton Brook, according to official estimates, is capable of holding and providing 1.2 million gallons a day from its deep well.  That kind of volume suggests that the proposed sale price of $1 million shorts New Britain out of a fair and reasonable deal by a big margin.  Current water rates in Connecticut towns served  by other regional water authorities provide a  financial yardstick to determine whether the proposed $1 million deal between New Britain and Southington accurately reflects the well’s value.   Patton Brook can pump 1.2 million gallons per day or 438 million gallons a year so long as water levels remain stable. Using Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) rates in towns served by MDC ($2.53 per 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons) Patton Brook would generate $1.48 million in user fees on an annual basis.  Applying the residential rate of Connecticut Water that serves 56 communities in the state ($5.91 per 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons), user fees would total $3.4 million for water going into homes and businesses from Patton Brook.

There is no question that New Britain’s water supply is a resource that needs to be shared on a regional basis. And Patton Brook, either leased or sold, is the best vehicle to address Southington’s deteriorating and inadequate water system.  But the situation also requires that New Britain officials, who serve a financially distressed and over taxed city of 72,000, obtain a fair price to address its own short- and long-term water needs. The $1 million sale price is neither fair nor reasonable given what Erin Stewart is proposing to irrevocably give up at a lower price that does not represent Patton Brook’s actual worth.

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