July 16, 2014

Hercules at the plate at Muzzy Field

Filmed at Muzzy Field in Bristol:

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Democrats fire back on referendum issue

Democratic city Councilors Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, Calvin Brown and Mary Fortier issued this statement late Tuesday:

Democratic Response to the Republican Town Committee’s recent “Let the Public Decide” press release
Petty politics and overly dramatic phrases will do little to further this debate on downtown’s future. Our comments concerning the referendum were based in two facts: the City of Bristol has never governed by referendum and to date, we are not convinced that a non-binding referendum on a non-ordinance related item is proper.
The primary question is is it appropriate for the City of Bristol to invest public money to kick-start the initial phase of a private investment?
Following dozens of meetings and forums, and accumulating voluminous input since this downtown development project was first proposed almost 10 years ago, we have reached the point where hard decisions need to be made.

So the secondary question is, “should the question be put to referendum or should we rely on the experience and knowledge of our elected officials?”

These are two complex questions that invite thoughtful public policy debate. But not questions that require, or will be resolved, by the petty political bickering offered by the Republican Town Chairman Derek Cenzelewski..
It is our opinion that a call for a non-binding referendum is yet another move by the local Republicans to not make a decision. Mr. Cenzelzewski’s effort to twist our words showcases political opportunism at its worst.

There has been a glaringly obvious lack of reports from Republican Council members concerning items of importance at monthly City Council meetings and in fact, when Democrats give reports, they are accused of “grandstanding” or “talking too much.”

Councilman Martin serves as liaison to the Field Study Committee, the Board of Education, the Downtown Development Corporation and the city’s Marketing Task Force – 4 committees that have major budget and policy impact yet until last month, he has stayed silent during Committee reports. Ironically,

Councilman Martin has also neither fulfilled his role of communicating back to the Council on downtown issues nor has he endorsed the idea of a public referendum, yet Mr. Czezelewski ignores these facts. Again, a clear indication of his motivation: petty political bickering.

To recap some of Mr. Czenzelewski’s  outlandish allegations, here is what we believe:
    We know our role is to listen to our constituents and make ourselves available to them in a variety of ways including at public events, via social media, email, and open office hours. In fact, the Democratic council members are the only ones to have held office hours to hear from our constituents, this past year.

    Councilwoman Fortier does have an opinion. She is also a lawyer by profession and deals in facts. As the minority party, we are not included on the current talks with the Renaissance discussions. Some of these concerns were addressed by the mayor in executive session last week when the mayor realized we had not received certain information and promised the Council it would be circulated shortly.

    The city did not hold meetings in the “middle of the night” in 2005; nor do they do so now. That’s just a lie. But here’s a fact, many city meetings are held to accommodate key members of the Republican administration with disregard to the Democratic members’ schedules or the public, which typically can’t make meetings that are held when most people are still working.

    There was a large amount of public input and open meetings in 2005 concerning the fate of the 17 acre parcel. Ideas considered and discarded based on public reaction at that time included using the site for a field house and new Boys and Girls Club, a school to replace the O’Connell neighborhood school. Ironically, after 8 years with little to no progress, 2 of those years in which Mr. Czezelewski served on the City Council, there are many people who now look back on those proposals and wish that those ideas had come to fruition.

Democracy doesn’t stop at the ballot box. It requires constant conversation. Creating and recreating the image of what we as a community want our city to be is a work in progress. Bristol residents have contributed to the discussion on the future of downtown for years. That conversation is not over nor is it right for us, as city councilors now, to abdicate our responsibility. To do so would ignore what the voters sent us as their elected Councilors, to do.

Submitted By:
Calvin Brown, District 1
Mary Fortier, District 3
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, District 3

In addition, Fortier sent this along:

I want to take this opportunity to clarify my recent comments about a possible referendum on Depot Square.  Steve Collins correctly quoted me saying that I am not privy to anything and I don’t know whether there should be a referendum.  First, neither the Charter of the City of Bristol nor its ordinances has any provision for a referendum on a spending or bonding issue.  And certainly not on matters of economic development. Unlike many New England towns and cities, we do not use the town meeting or referendum for the yearly general budget or bonding issues, instead we have a Finance Board and City Council.  And, the Finance Board has more members as a check to the City Council on financial matters.  I didn’t create our system of government but I am part of it and I work within that system. 
            The BDDC, Bristol Downtown Development Corporation, was created as a special quasi-public entity to oversee the development of the 17-acre parcel we call Depot Square.  They have a “preferred developer agreement”, or contract, with Renaissance Downtowns which sets out the steps for developing the property. To date, the only thing the BDDC has asked the Council to do was grant an extension for a revised financial plan to be submitted. That extension was granted unanimously in May. I didn’t create the process but I respect the process. The BDDC was added to give extra attention, consideration, and expertise to this important issue.
 I have attended several BDDC meetings and public comment sessions since I was elected. I was not at the last BDDC meeting where the “referendum idea got floated”.  The notice of that meeting was not on the city’s website and no email notification that it was happening was sent. As a result I am not privy to the context with which the idea of a referendum was raised.  No explanation has been provided as to what the basis or authority for a referendum question, much less what the actual question would be. Yet it’s been said that a referendum would be appropriate because the city was being asked for financial support to the project.    
   Since the Council granted the extension, the mayor and Republican controlled city council have not kept us informed on further discussions. Outside counsel hired by the Mayor and City Council have not been given formal opportunities to have conversations with myself and my fellow Democrats.  My fellow Council member Calvin Brown sent an email on June 25 asking for an update on those discussions and he still hasn’t received a reply to the email. I still have lots of questions.  There is no finalized proposal so I don’t think a referendum now would even be appropriate.  And, why have a non-binding referendum?  What is the point of that?   
 I support the overall plan for Depot Square: multiple buildings with mixed use residential units, retail offices, restaurants, and of course a piazza.  I came into office being presented this plan and want to do all I can to make it work.  I want a vibrant exciting downtown, but more importantly I want a strong stable tax base. The more value built on Depot Square the more taxes the city will collect leaving less tax increases for city residents.  The value of Bristol, our community, as a whole will increase.
I share a frustration that the April proposal by Renaissance Downtowns contains a request for bonding or public money from the city. It makes what is already a complicated project more complicated.  It makes decisions by the BDDC and the Council harder. But it is, according to the current process a question for the BDDC and Council. 
The city spends many millions of dollars each year and with that try to plan and build for our future.  We have spent millions on new schools, we are planning a multimillion dollar new firehouse, before the year is out we will probably authorize spending more than a million on our first synthetic athletic field, and in the near future we will be spending millions upgrading our police communications system. Hopes that development of Depot Square would be funded by private dollars is dictated by the realities we as city leaders face daily. That doesn’t exclude considering a portion be funded with public dollars.  Or that the Mayor and City Council ignore their role as representatives of the public interest.
My constituents ask me when something is going to happen in Depot Square.  When I ran for office I told voters I hoped for something sooner rather than later.  Many voters are not familiar with all components of the process or even what has been proposed, but want to see activity downtown again. My preferences for the priorities of the city whether Depot Square or a new turf or a new firehouse or a new field are just my opinions, they are all part of a bigger process. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 15, 2014

A few big events coming up in Bristol

Here are some events coming up that might interest folks in Bristol and beyond:

Aug. 16 (Saturday) -- 

July 31 (Thursday) --
Bristol Night at the Rock Cats game in New Britain. Details here.
Sept. 13 (Saturday) --
We don't have the details about this yet, but there's a food festival planned downtown that will feature some yummy eats from everywhere from Barley Vine to Marino's Market. 
It will be held along Main Street and Riverside Avenue, right by The Bristol Press office.
Sept. 28 (Sunday) --
The Mum Parade, as always! There will be other events that weekend. Keep an eye on its website.
Want to march in the parade? Go to this link.

And don't miss the free concerts sponsored by the Federal Hill Association:

Sunday, July 27th 6:00 – 8:00 PM The Convertibles~~Federal Hill Green~~
Sunday, August 24th (start time to be confirmed) Cajun Ray and the Steamers~~~Federal Hill Green~~
Sunday, September 28th 5:00 – 7:00 PM Bristol Brass & Wind~~
Prospect United Methodist Church~~

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 13, 2014

GOP says: 'Let the public decide' on Depot Square

Press release from the Republican Town Committee:

Let the public decide this time
Bristol, CT – July 13, 2014 – Although a formal proposal to do so has yet to be made, the idea of allowing the public to weigh in on the potential public financing of Depot Square by way of a non-binding referendum placed on this November’s electoral ballot has been floated. Public support of such a referendum can be heard around Bristol, from the barbershop to the post office, City Hall to the gas station, and everywhere in between.

However, not everyone is on-board with allowing the public to have a say. This past week Councilors Zoppo and Brown came out in opposition of such a measure. Councilor Brown equated asking for the public’s opinion to “throwing his hands up” and “not doing his job.” Representing the public’s desires for Bristol is your job, Councilor, and the best way to get the public’s opinion is through a referendum.
Councilor Fortier, meanwhile, did not offer a position on this issue, saying, “I don’t know. I’m not privy to anything.” Has Councilor Fortier not been a part of these meetings? Has she not met with the developer or others? Does she simply not have an opinion, or does she not want to make her opinion known? Perhaps she has just been spending too much of her time grandstanding on issues she has no authoritative power over, rather than focusing on matters she does.  
The last time a major financial decision was made by the City on “Depot Square” back in 2005, it resulted in several million taxpayer dollars being spent on the mall. The decision was made in the middle of the night, with no public input. That administration decided they knew better than the public, and the result can still be seen today: a 17 acre parcel of emptiness in the center of our community, with millions in lost tax revenue and an I.O.U to the City’s “Rainy Day” fund.
Coincidentally, Councilor Zoppo - who opposes a public referendum on this issue - was a member of the City Council that made the initial decision to buy the mall with no public input in 2005. If the public is going to be asked to contribute additional money to this project, the Council needs to do the right thing and ask the public for its support. It is up to Renaissance Downtowns to sell this project to the public, as they have been working to do over the last few years.
At the end of the day, the City Council will have the final say – referendum or not – and will have the opportunity to lead. Why not at least get the public’s input before making that decision?

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 12, 2014

The last man standing? Calvin Brown, city councilor

At last week's Joint Board meeting, where city councilors and Board of Finance members hold a session together to give final approval to items they've already endorsed, there weren't enough chairs for everyone. So first-term city Councilor Calvin Brown volunteered to go without. That's him standing there between city Councilor Eric Carlson and finance commissioner Derek Czenczelewski.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Want to own a piece of ESPN history?

To raise money for the V Foundation, Bristol-based ESPN is selling off an old SportsCenter anchor desk on eBay. Take a look here. (Bidding ends on July 16.)

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 10, 2014

In 1902, you could get a legit $5 bill with Bristol on it

(Click to enlarge)

And signed by no less a personage than Charles Treadway, a mover and shaker of the time.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

GOP stakes an awful lot on privatizing school cafeterias

All sorts of madness at the Board of Education tonight. See this story for the overview.
I'm told the school board not only decided to appeal an unfavorable labor ruling and move ahead with its contract with Whitsons, but also agreed to dump the law firm of Shipman & Goodwin, a Hartford institution that has represented the district for decades.
It will be interesting to learn why that happened.
One thing is for sure now: the city's Republican Party is on the hook for the privatization decision that tossed 53 lunch ladies off the payroll. The GOP majority refused to back down even after the labor board's ruling and the Republican majority of the City Council this week declined the chance to go on record in opposition to their Board of Education colleagues.
It seems certain to remain a hot political issue right through the 2015 municipal election. The Republicans have made a big bet on privatization. If they're wrong, they're likely to pay a price at the polls.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 8, 2014

City councilors divided on whether to back cafeteria workers

A sharply divided City Council declined Tuesday to take a stand in favor of the school cafeteria workers who may be replaced by a private food services firm.
The council’s three Democrats supported a move to call on the Board of Education to abandon any legal appeals and focus instead on working with the union representing the 53 cafeteria employees who are slated to lose their jobs in the privatization bid.
Calvin Brown
But the four Republicans, including Mayor Ken Cockayne, opted to sidestep a direct vote and instead backed a motion to postpone indefinitely any action on city Councilor Calvin Brown’s resolution asking the Board of Education to cease fighting with the union.
Brown said the GOP council members “don’t want to take a stand” and chose instead to shirk a vote. He accused them of “acting out of cowardice” instead of standing by the cafeteria workers.
City Councilor Eric Carlson, a Republican, said he believed that requesting any action by the school panel would be “a little bit overstepping our bounds.”
“I don’t have a dog in this fight,” Carlson said.
Another councilor, Republican Henri Martin, made the motion to table Brown’s resolution. He said he did not think the council should interfere with a school board choice.
“Let them settle this. This is not our fight,” said Martin, who is seeking election to the 31st District state Senate seat representing Bristol, Plainville, Plymouth, Thomaston and most of Harwinton.
At its Wednesday meeting, the school board plans to discuss whether to appeal a decision last month by the state Board of Labor Relations that ordered it to honor the tentative agreement it negotiated with the union. The school board had decided to drop the deal and hire a private cafeteria operator instead, a decision made along partisan lines by its Republican majority.
City Councilor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, a Democrat, said the $140,000 the school board has already spent on legal fees trying to push privatization would have been better used for classroom needs.
The other Democratic councilor, Mary Fortier, said the GOP majority’s refusal to take a clear vote was “a cowardly way of getting out” of making their positions clear.
But Cockayne, who said during last year’s mayoral race that he opposed the cafeteria privatization, said the mayor and council “have zero to do with Board of Ed contracts” and shouldn’t take a formal position.
“It’s not our say,” the mayor said, adding that councilors “would be pretty peeved” if the school board sought to tell them what to do.
 Brown said the council has a duty to try to protect the 53 cafeteria workers whose “lives are being toyed with” by a school board that made an “unjust or illegal” decision to ignore the deal it negotiated with the union.
The school board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the district headquarters at 129 Church St.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 7, 2014

Muzzy bash offers a hit, but not a home run

The 100th birthday celebration for Muzzy Field didn’t draw anywhere near the 20,000 or more that organizers hoped for.
Friday’s rain didn’t help, not only because dampened that day’s crowd but also because it caused so many people to postpone gatherings to Saturday, with its glorious weather.
The rain also forced many nearby fireworks shows to wait until Saturday instead of lighting up the sky on the 4th. That meant many people who might have come to see the fireworks in Bristol went somewhere else instead.
Still, there’s no denying that Saturday’s attendees fell well short of the plans. I tried to get a count, but it wasn’t really possible. I eventually settled on “thousands” of people partaking, but it was a lot closer to 1,000 than 20,000.
Why so few?
Well, making people pay to see the concert kept a lot of folks away, even though they could have easily listened from just outside Muzzy and even watched it from some vantage points beyond the fences. I’m sure if more people knew Saturday that the cheapest tickets were only $10 that day, more would have been sold. But it was too late to reach many potential buyers of heavily discounted tickets by then.
Having it all happen on a holiday weekend must have hurt as well. I could see from my Facebook feeds that lots of Bristol residents were at the shore, lying in the sand in Rhode Island or fighting the traffic on the Bourne Bridge. That’s reality any summer weekend, of course, but there are likely a lot more who are gone over the three-day weekend.
I heard a lot of people say that it would have been better if the city just did everything itself instead of teaming up with Reach Foundation, a Farmington-based charity that almost certainly lost a fair amount of money on the whole thing. I’m not convinced, though, because there was a limit to what a tiny park department can do no matter how many step up to lend a hand.
Whatever the problems, though, those who came mostly had a good time. The concerts rocked. The Bristol Brass and Wind Ensemble was in top form. The fireworks were great.
I heard a lot about the new Bristol logo as well. People seemed to like the red heart-shaped B baseball caps – despite seeing a connection with the Red Sox in them that isn’t really there. They look pretty sharp, by all accounts.
All in all, the festival proved a success. It didn’t draw enough people to be a rousing one. But for those who came, for the most part anyway, Muzzy Field provided a good time and some good memories.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Is it coffee? Nope, just the city's water

A large section of the city saw brownish water flowing from its taps Monday after a major break in the line near Down and South streets.
“It’s the color of coffee,” said resident Sue Gorski.
The water department said the break, slated for repair by late Monday, left about 25 homes without water and many others seeing discolored water.
The normal clarity of the water, all of which is safe, was disrupted by the high volume of the leak, which stirred up sediment in the pipes all the way west to the Terryville line.
Water Superintendent Rob Longo said the water was safe despite the coloration.
“We know it is not appealing, but it should clear for customers soon,” he said late Monday afternoon. Its safety “was never jeopardized,” he said.
Crews were working on the break Monday afternoon and hoped to fix it sometime in the evening.
The department said that anyone experiencing discoloration after the repairs are done should “run the cold water from an outside faucet or your bathtub until it runs clear.”
Longo said water crews “will flush some hydrants in the area” after the break is repaired.
But, he said, “because the break caused such a large flow across the city, it may take some time for it to clear up everywhere.”
Rust and mineral deposits can accumulate in water mains, the department said, but normally lay dormant.
One suggestion the department offers for anyone whose clothing was in the laundry when sediments are stirred up might be able to remove any discoloration by adding a quarter of a cup of cream of tartar with regular laundry detergent.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com