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.

 

 

Inside City Hall: Stewart’s Civil Service Commission Abuses Power, Violates Charter

Posted in city government, city politics and government, ethics, Republicans by nbpoliticus on January 15, 2015

The Civil Service Commission’s  efforts to remove from office and impose fines on Council President Pro Tem Suzanne Bielinski over the Council’s hiring of her niece, Jessica   Gerratana.  as the Common Council secretary,  is a costly misuse of government for partisan purposes.

Ignoring  the City Charter , the Commission voted last  October 6th for the ouster of the long-serving  Bielinski  and  for a $2,500 fine on the alderwoman after  Commission members agreed to take up  a complaint and the unsubstantiated accusations of  Ward 5 Republican Ald. Louis Salvio.  The Commission’s latest gambit came last week when, upon advice of lawyers from  Murtha Cullina, it backed away from recommendations for  a $2,500 fine and the removal of Bielinski , referring the matter “informally”  to the Common Council for action, but still insisting on a $250 penalty.

Civil Service Commissioners, acting without a shred of legal standing  and with the tacit approval of the Stewart Administration and its Corporation Counsel,  attempted to set  itself up as judge and jury of Alderwoman Bielinski’s conduct. Despite high-paid legal advice to back off, the commission continued to double down on its illegitimate actions.

Nearly forgotten in this charade of an “investigation”  and abuse of power by the commission is the earlier decision by the city’s ethics commission to throw out Salvio’s complaint for insufficient evidence.  By charter and ordinance,   the ethics commission is the only municipal body sanctioned to consider conflicts of interest by the Mayor and Council members.

By retaining an outside firm to avoid any “conflict of interest” in advising the Civil Service Commission,   Corporation Counsel  Gennaro Bizzarro side-stepped his non-partisan responsibilities in favor of rewarding political friends.

His choice of a law firm reinforces the partisan nature of the Civil Service Commission’s actions against Bielinski.  Murtha Cullina’s partners are Republican-leaning, having represented New Britain Republicans in the Ward 5 ballot case in 2013 and serving as “observers” on Election Day last November in an intrusive attempt to challenge Democratic voters at the polls.

Attorney Bizzarro knows very well that one of the city’s full-time staff attorneys could have interpreted the City Charter and rendered  an opinion in a heartbeat.  The City Charter could not be clearer on this issue. A commission in the executive branch of government has no role in the censuring or removal of a Council member.

With litigation and a grievance pending Ald, Salvio and the Republicans are heading for the exits and doing damage control. The immediate and unfortunate result, however, is that legal costs to the city are likely to escalate by the tens of thousands of dollars because of the partisan use of government  by New Britain Republicans. It’s budget time and not a good time to be playing politics on the taxpayer’s dime

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State Republicans Retreat To New Britain

Posted in city politics and government, Republicans by nbpoliticus on February 2, 2009


The Republican State Central Committee, hit hard by losses in state House races last year, left Hartford for New Britain’s A.H. Harris Building in December in office space that is “twice as big as our current digs and provides us with some exciting new opportunities,” according to a GOP blog. The opportunities, say the Republicans, involve a facility big enough for in-house training classes “so that our candidates can improve their communication skills, learn about web-based tools…and engage in discussions on key policy questions with the smartest people we can find.”

In Scott Whipple’s recent Herald story on the Republicans’ move, State Chair Chris Healy explained:

“New Britain is really the heart of the state..Not just geographically. It’s emblematic of the kind of hard-working, family-oriented, community-involved city where we want to be…..The city has its own notable Republicans: Mayor [Tim] Stewart, Nancy Johnson and Tom Meskill. We didn’t need to be in the capital city, yet we wanted to stay in metro Hartford.”

Nonetheless New Britain seems an unlikely place for the state GOP to locate an office. There are 18,072 Democrats here (12/31/2008) compared to about 3,699 Republicans — part of the surge that favored Democrats everywhere in 2008. When unaffiliateds (11,749) are counted, Republicans account for little more than 11 percent of the electorate. Republicans would counter that they hold the Mayor’s office with incumbent Tim Stewart, who rode into office when residents were hit with 40% revaluation hikes a few years ago. Stewart certainly didn’t get elected because he is a Republican; the electorate in a divided government mood voted the incumbent out for ignoring assessment hikes in a property tax system that state Republicans, by and large, want to maintain. Two years ago, however, Stewart’s expected coattails didn’t materialize as the GOP lost ground on the Common Council. His state party’s presence is also a double-edged sword for the Mayor. The only party affiliation you’ll find on his lawn signs is “Democrat” (as in “Democrats for Stewart”). The same could be said for former Congresswoman and New Britain resident Nancy Johnson who finally lost in 2006 when her Republican antics and actions in Washington finally outpaced her moderate, bi-partisan tone back home, complete with the “Democrats for Johnson” lawn signs all over town in her recent elections.

The often acerbic and confrontational Healy appears to be borrowing a page from the national strategy of former Democratic National Chair Howard Dean whose 50-state strategy is credited with turning red states to blue in the Presidential and congressional races last year. He says his party’s candidates need to get support from all parts of the state, not just Fairfield County where even the last of the GOP members of Congress in New England, Chris Shays, lost last year.

Healy’s challenges, however, run much deeper than finding and training candidates to run for office. In the Herald story, he unwittingly lets us in on the problem with the Republican brand:

“I’m not worried. We have plenty of talented people who want to run. We’ve got Republican mayors in Danbury, Middletown and New Britain with ability and passion. Democrats will always have people who want to make a career out of politics. A lot of Republicans come from the real world; they’re not interested in government.”

They’re not interested in government. That statement provides as good an explanation as any of the mounting foreign and domestic troubles of the country with Republicans in charge of the White House and Congress over these last eight years. You might say Bush and the Republicans “weren’t interested in government working effectively,” leading to the train wrecks left to the Obama administration to solve now.

And in New Britain, Healy couldn’t be thinking of his Mayor, Tim Stewart, with his lifelong career in government in the Fire Department. Nor his local party chair, Paul Carver, who left the private sector years ago to take a Rowland patronage appointment to the DPUC. Actions speak louder than words, and phony arguments that always tear down the public sector can’t help our current difficulties when public and private solutions are needed for the recovery. Whatever happened to that well-known Republican Abraham Lincoln who famously said the role of government is “to do for the people what they can’t do for themselves.”

Healy’s mantra and that of many of his Republican brethren remains that the individual is more important than the community; that private interest and gain should always trump the public interest even in these dire economic times. Witness the incredible display of selfishness by Republican House members last week in Washington: not one GOPer voted for a federal stimulus and reinvestment package that would reach down and provide some measure of relief to local governments, schools and the unemployed. Better to fork over more tax breaks to the wealthy and continue Wall Street welfare; promise that all of the government largesse will eventually trickle down to the rest of us living in Hooverville.

The acerbic Healy knows that that message will never sell in New Britain. He must know that a conservative Republicanism serving the interests of corporate giants over Main Street and small business is morally and politically bankrupt. The only thing left to do is to keep tearing down Democrats without offering much in the way of solutions or programs in return. In his new New Britain digs, Healy joins kindred spirits with the likes of Mayor Stewart, Ald. Lou Salvio and Chairman Paul Carver who could write a book on petty politics. Instead of reaching out to govern on a bipartisan basis between elections, their tactics frequently involve personal attacks, using official complaint processes for partisan ends and losing one Freedom of Information case after another to keep public information from Democrats and everyone else.

Let the battle for the hearts and votes of New Britain voters begin in 2009. Meanwhile, New Britain Democrats welcome the state Republican office to New Britain.

And kudos to State Party Chair Chris Healy for demonstrating that New Britain is not a bad place to re-locate a business or a group seeking to rebound from a disaster.

Photo Credit: http://forwardliberally.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/more-from-the-republican-civil-wars/