NB Politicus

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.

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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Your Tax Dollars At Work: Erin Stewart Does Politics On Dem. Primary Day From City Hall

Posted in City Hall, city politics and government, New Britain Republicans by nbpoliticus on August 9, 2016

Republican Erin Stewart  is taking time from her  duties at City Hall to jump into today’s Democratic Primary for State Senate and Registrar of Voters,  posting a pitch from her official Facebook page to support the challengers.

Acknowledging she “is not a Democrat” Ms. Stewart urged her social media followers to oppose endorsed candidates State Senator Terry Gerratana and Registrar of Voters candidate Mike Trueworthy.

In an earlier post on her personal Facebook page Ms. Stewart resorted to name calling that was caught by Courant Columnist Kevin Rennie on his Daily Ructions blog.  Rennie has been a chronicler of Erin Stewart’s foul-mouthed rants and drinking episodes that have been an embarrassment to the city and may come back to haunt the young Republican as she seeks higher office.

Stewart Post

Erin Stewart in full campaign mode ripping up a Vote Democrat sign.

In his pursuit of a return to public office Registrar candidate Lucian Pawlak is relying heavily on Republican financial support.  A fellow Democratic supporter of Pawlak’s recently asked the former four-term Mayor if he would co-sign a letter to the editor opposing the controversial sale of the city’s Patton Brook Well in Southington that is up for a vote this week at the City Council.. Pawlak initially agreed but purportedly backed off telling his supporter that the Stewarts offered to get his committee contributions for the Democratic Primary.  Pawlak, in other words, allowed himself to be bought off on a key public issue.

Beloin-Saavedra, touting her advocacy for education and support of the schools in her challenge, has also embraced Stewart but that embrace has come at a price for what Beloin-Saavedra has said she stands for. When Mayor Stewart illegally attempted to cut $4 million already appropriated for the school budget in her first budget  Beloin-Saavedra never said a word in protest,  acquiescing to the raid on school funds. That was a disappointment for those who have always admired her BOE leadership and advocacy for education through the years. It took New Britain’s Democratic legislators  to block the loss of funds for education.

If nothing else in today’s Democratic Primary  Mr. Pawlak and Ms. Beloin-Saavedra are giving new meaning to the acronym  DINO – Democrats In Name Only.   And contrary to Ms. Stewart’s “people not politics” slogan  it’s about politics, pettiness and self aggrandizement on the city’s dime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside City Hall: Republicans Seek To Eliminate Polling Places in Center of New Britain

Posted in City Hall, city politics and government, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on January 27, 2016

By John McNamara

Republican Mayor Erin Stewart and Registrar of Voters Peter Gostin are moving quickly to reduce voter access to polling places for the November Presidential election.

A  plan drafted by Republican Gostin will  come up for a fast-tracked feasibility study vote at the Wednesday January 27th Common Council meeting. right-to-vote1

The feasibility study apparently has the support of Democrat Carlo Carlozzi, Jr., the council minority leader. Consideration of the plan would appear to be a done deal if the Council majority  agrees to look into sudden changes in where the electorate votes in 2016 . Carlozzi, however, maintains that he will oppose sudden changes in polling places despite supporting the feasibility move by Republicans.

Democratic legislators and other Democratic leaders are expected to strongly oppose any changes so close to a primary and the general election especially for its impact on elderly and minority voters.

Facing a tight timeline,  GOP leaders and the Registrars met on Monday to float the plan to reduce the number of polling places in the city from 17 to 13 on the eve of an April 26th presidential primary and the November general election.

The plan takes direct aim at two polling places in the central part of the city — the Graham and School Apartment polling places — where a minority and older population reside.

The GOP plan would eliminate those polling places and residents would apparently be offered a shuttle to the New Britain Senior Center to vote, according to Democratic Registrar Juan Verdu.

Also under consideration is the elimination of two additional polling places including the Holmes School (District 11) and the Armory (District  6). The Armory District is also in the center of New Britain where many minority residents live.

Republican Registrar Gostin has previously floated a plan to reduce polling places in the city from 17 to 10.  Gostin, who lobbied heavily for a pay raise for himself in 2015, is calling for reduced voter access as a way to save the city money,  but apparently not to reduce  the payroll and administrative expenses in his office.

The Common Council meeting on January 27th begins at 7 p.m. with public participation.