July 29, 2008

Chief operating officer petitions submitted

Released today after turning in the chief operating officer petitions:

City Manager Petition Submission

We, the people of the City of Bristol, do hereby submit this day, July 29, 2008, our signatures attesting to our desire to place the question pertaining to the establishment of the position of Chief Operating Officer for the City of Bristol on the November ballot.

Whereas a Charter Revision Commission comprised of our fellow citizens convened, and

Whereas the Charter Revision Commission recommended that Bristol modify its form of government, and

Whereas the Bristol City Council voted 5 – 2 on June 16, 2008 against placing the question before the people, and

Whereas, the people have organized a bi-partisan effort to collect signatures of registered voters to overturn this grievous action against the people, and

Whereas duly registered voters serving as circulators have made a good faith effort to follow the prescribed Statues to enlist the support of their fellow citizens, and

Whereas, these circulators have collected and signed and duly notarized 260 petitions,

We therefore submit the signatures of 4363 citizens who have set their hand to this petition as an expression of their free will.

Let it be self-evident that this is an expression of the collective resolve of the people to “let the voters choose.”

We respectfully request that the City perform their due diligence to certify these signatures and provide us with a full accounting of the results under the law.

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the petition circulators at 2:00pm this day, July 29, 2008, to the City Clerk of the City of Bristol,

Ken Johnson Ken Cockayne

Craig Yarde Craig Minor

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Petitions to be turned in Tuesday

Press release issued Monday:

Today, Town Clerk, Therese Pac was notified that on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 2pm City Councilmen Ken Cockayne (R) and Craig Minor (D) will be submitting petitions with over 4300 signatures in support of placing the Charter Revision Commission’s recommendation of creating a Chief Operating Officer (COO) on the ballot this November.

This past June, the Bristol City Council voted 5-2 against the proposal of placing the question of hiring a COO before the people. Councilmen Cockayne and Minor were the only members of the council supporting this change and in a collaborative effort, spearheaded a petition drive to force this issue to the ballot. The recommendation that Bristol modify its form of government to include a COO was made by the Charter Revision Commission (formed in 2007) with the basic premise being that a COO could oversee the day to day operations of the City.
“This has been a bipartisan effort with support coming from both sides. We found that people were angered by the fact that they were not allowed a voice in this discussion and that it was merely voted down by the town council. Initially the recommendation came from a bipartisan Charter Revision Commission so many people assumed it would have gotten more consideration. With the assistance of a small army of volunteers, lead by Bristol citizens, Ken Johnson and Craig Yarde, voters will now have a voice.

The success of this petition drive hinged on many factors, most importantly was the effort of all the volunteers. 10% or approximately 3200 signatures of registered voters in Bristol were required to bring this to the people this November. We have easily surpassed that number and will submit over 4300 signatures.

These numbers can be read in many different ways, but what they signify to me is that people want to participate in the process. Whether it is for or against, they want a voice in their government and they want to be heard. We as politicians can no longer base our decisions on the voices of a few well-organized groups, but we must consider all the voters. Practically speaking, there is no better way to do this, then to bring this to the people on the ballot in November.”

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 25, 2008

Petition drive passes 4,300 signatures; nearly all of the witness signatures are notarized

City Councilor Ken Cockayne just sent this out to supporters of the chief operating officer petition drive:

Hi Everyone,

Wanted to give everyone an update as to what is happening.

As of this email we have passed 4300 signatures on the petitions and more still coming in. 99% of all petitions have now been notarized and will be 100% over the weekend. If anyone has petitions please get them to me over the weekend or by Monday night at the RTC meeting. Notaries will be present to notarize any petitions.

None of this would have been possible without everyone’s help. This was a team effort and no one person is responsible. We had people volunteering from all parties. People of Bristol want the right to vote and want to be heard and with all your help that will be possible. Special thanks go out to both Stop & Shops, for letting us gather signatures outside the stories.

Have a great weekend,
Ken Cockayne

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Press parent company buys time

The company that owns The Bristol Press and many other Connecticut papers has bought some time to restructure. See this press release.
We still have no idea what happens in the long run, but lsince ife is a series of short runs, it's nice to survive and perhaps thrive in each of them. In the long run, of course, we're all dead.
Meanwhile, it's kind of amusing and sad to see that the company's stock price is up almost a third today - to more than 4 cents.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 24, 2008

Cuts coming at the Courant

Some very fine journalists are apparently on the list for departure at The Hartford Courant. It's heartbreaking for anyone who cares about newspapers in Connecticut to see.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Rell comes to Bristol to promote new energy savings program

Standing behind a broken podium in a Camp Street carport Thursday, with seven bird feeders dangling in the background, Gov. Jodi Rell announced a new program to help homeowners conserve energy and save money.
Rell said a new $5 million program will provide rebates for homeowners who replace their old furnaces with efficient new ones and another $2 million to provide loans for those seeking to pay for other energy conservation improvements.
The governor said they’re “a good deal for people who are improving their homes and trying to be fuel efficient.”
With soaring costs for everything from oil to food, Rell said that “some of our homeowners are going to be hard-pressed to make it through the winter” so she’s trying to find ways to lend a hand.
“Every day it seems like we’re getting additional hikes in everything,” the governor said.
Reggie Gorneault, 70, said he was happy to have the small ranch home that he’s lived in for 42 years serve as a prop for Rell’s announcement.
He said government loans made it possible a year and a half ago for him to replace leaking windows, replace a roof and put siding on the house – steps that cut heating bills and eliminated some mold that had grown beneath one bathroom window.
“This really saved us,” Gorneault said.
The new programs, he said, offer a helping hand for other residents across the state.
“There’s no one that couldn’t benefit from it,” Gorneault said.
“This is wonderful,” declared his wife, Fran. “I think this is something really great for the state of Connecticut.”
The new furnace rebate program, which is slated for approval at the next State Bond Commission meeting, will provide rebates of up to $500 to homeowners who buy Energy Star-rated natural gas furnaces or oil or propane furnaces that are at least 84 percent efficient. The rebates vary depending on the income of the homeowner.
“We’re really excited about this program,” Rell said. She said it is “a win-win situation” for both the taxpayers and residents who take advantage of it because of the energy conservation it will spur.
The $2 million for the loan program is meant to recharge the Energy Conservation Loan Fund that helps the owners of single and multi-family homes pay for energy saving improvements such as heat pumps, windows, thermostats and more.
Fran Gorneault said the program made it possible for them to do so many needed improvements. They pay a small amount monthly to cover the loans, she said.
Rell said that her family replaced an older oil furnace four years – without state aid – and “it’s been a godsend for us” in cutting heating bills.
She said she hopes that eligible homeowners will take advantage of the new opportunity.
“We’re doing our part,” Rell said. “Now we want everyone to step up.”
The rebate program will be administered by the state’s Office of Policy and Management.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Forestville Festival next week to raise money for Quinlan's Veterans Park

Former Republican city Council contender Bob Merrick asked me to post this. It sounds like a good cause and probably even a good time. They asked me awhile back if I'd go in a dunking booth for this. I said yes -- if I wasn't on vacation. Unfortunately for those who'd like to see me dunked, I'll be away.

Fund Raiser to benefit Quinlan’s Veterans Park
Saturday, August 2, 2008, Noon-6 pm
Nuchie’s Restaurant, 164 Central Street, Forestville, CT
(Rain or Shine)
· Tickets for Sale $20.00/Adult, $10.00/Child(ages 6-12), Free/Child (5 & under)
§ Tickets available at door $25.00/Adult, $15.00/Child(ages 6-12)
§ Price of ticket includes Food and Entertainment
· Pig Roast (serving from 1-4 pm)
· Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Side Dishes
· Beer, Wine and Soda for Sale (1 soda included in price per ticket)
· Entertainment – Band – RED LINE - (Playing from 1-5pm)
· Popcorn, Slush Ice, Desserts
· Kids Activities (face painting, dunk tank, moonwalk etc.)
· Door Prize
· Vendors
· Motorcycle Show (sponsored by Yankee Harley)
Contact Dave at Nuchies at 860-582-1108 or Henry Raymond III at 860-796-8023 for tickets.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Henry Raymond is McCain coordinator in Bristol

It's a good thing Henry Raymond normally has a smile on his face because it can't be easy serving as Republican presidential contender John McCain's coordinator in heavily Democratic Bristol. See this site to find the coordinators and GOP chairmen in each of Connecticut's 169 towns.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City seeking alternatives for oil

The city may form a task force aimed at reducing its energy use.
“The skyrocketing cost of fuel leaves us no choice but to look for alternatives to spending more and more money for less and less energy,” said city Councilor Craig Minor.
City councilors have unanimously agreed to have Bristol join a widespread movement by municipalities to search out new sources of energy and to reduce pollutants that contribute to global warming.
Mayor Art Ward said that he’s been contacting experts and beginning to take steps to carry out the council’s wishes.
“We’re on the road to it,” Ward said.
The council backed Minor’s call to create a task force with “a wide range of views, including the business sector and municipal land use boards” as well as those “with legal or technical expertise in energy consumption.”
Minor said the panel should review suggested actions in the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to determine which have “the best potential to reduce the cost of energy spending by the city and reduce the amount of global warming pollution produced by the city.”
The programs, he said, would “provide both economic and quality of life benefits” that include energy savings, open space preservation, better air quality, reduced traffic congestion, more transportation choices and economic development and job creation through conservation and new technology.
There are a number of avenues that city leaders have promised to explore.
Among them is upping the fuel efficiency of municipal vehicles and reducing their number.
The city is also looking bio-diesel fuel for its diesel trucks.
It is seeking to “make energy efficiency a priority through building code improvements, retrofitting city facilities” with better lighting and encouraging employees to find ways to save energy.
It hopes, too, to “increase the use of clean, alternative energy.”
The city is also investigating ways to adopt and enforce land use policies “that reduce sprawl, preserve open space and create compact, walkable neighborhoods.”
Also on the agenda are more transportation options, including possible bicycle trails, car pooling incentives, public transit initiatives and programs to reduce commuter trips.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol Press owner defaults on loans...

It appears that the Journal Register Co., which owns The Bristol Press and many other newspapers in Connecticut, is in technical default on loans that it owes, according to this story in Editor & Publisher.
What does that mean? I don't know. But it can't be a good thing.
I don't believe a major newspaper company has ever before found itself in this position. And the truly scary part is that a number of others, including the Tribune Co. that owns The Hartford Courant, are heading in the same direction.
What will a democracy without newspapers look like? I can't even imagine it.

Addendum: I really should mention that what's particularly frustrating is that the Press, the Courant and most of the other papers that are struggling these days are actually making money. It's just that their parent companies are so laden with debt that they are having a hard time paying back money borrowed for stuff that had nothing at all to do with the papers we work for. So the owners squeeze what they can from their costs -- paring employees, wiping out sections of the paper, nickeling and diming at every turn -- and hope they can find a way to stay in the game. It's a sickening downward spiral that has all of us in journalism shaking our heads.
And I'm afraid there's a lot more at stake than whether the local paper lives or dies.

Update: The company's stock closed at 3 cents a share today. That makes the total market value of the company $1.3 million. One consolation, I suppose, is that it can't get much lower.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 23, 2008

More than half the petitions are notarized

City Councilor Ken Cockayne said that most of the chief operating officer petitions that were circulated in recent weeks have been signed in front of a notary public.
He said he spent most of the day tracking down circulators and seeing others in his office.
Cockayne said that he's not concerned that the more than 4,000 signatures collected won't be counted because of problems with notarizing the petitions.
He said that a dozen notaries offered to help him witness petition signings and about 30 people came to his office today to sign the petitions themselves.
Organizers expect to deliver the petitions to the city clerk next week, before the July 31 deadline.
After they're delivered, the clerk's office has the unenviable job of checking to make sure at least about 3,200 signatures are valid and from registered voters in Bristol. It will take awhile.
On a personal note, I want to say that I'm disgusted with some of the things people have written in their comments on this blog about City Clerk Therese Pac, who has always been a professional in her dealings with me and, as far as I know, with others. I've had to kill a number of especially vile comments about her that are so inappropriate that I am frankly staggered that people would write them. Why are some of the anonymous posters on here so eager to write sickening crap about women?

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Councilors back second contract for Rockwell work

The unanimous approval by city councilors Wednesday for a second contract for the renovation of Rockwell Park should add as much as four weeks to the time workers will have to get things done this year, Park Director Ed Swicklas said.
The contract calls for paying the Schulz Corp. for $2.3 million to carry on the second phase of the park’s overhaul. It got $1.6 million for doing the initial part of the massive project, which is nearly complete.
Swicklas said that speeding up the project is also likely to save money for taxpayers because the cost of materials is escalating daily.
“We tried to save as much as we could,” he said.
The first part of the project focused on improving the parking lots and constructing a new entrance.
In the second phase, the contractor will install a new and fully accessible playground, divided into a section of toddler and another for older children.
More lighting, accessible walkways, a new restroom and a spray park are going in as well, located between the skate park and the Little League fields to the west – one of which will be lighted.
The old stone tower near the playground will be renovated and may be used to hold the mechanicals for the spray park.
There will also be horseshoe and bocce courts, plus two sand volleyball courts and two new picnic pavilions.
Swicklas said that with the approval of the second phase contract, park officials will turn their attention to the final phase, which would include the reopening of the historic lagoon.
Plans call for filling half of it and turning the eastern half into a wetlands, perhaps with an education boardwalk through them.
There won’t be swimming or a beach, officials have said.
The skatepark is slated to open by early fall on the site of the former basketball court. Construction on it should be underway soon.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Colapietro finds state help to fix Hiker statue

The state will likely cover most of the cost of repairing the statue of a Spanish-American War soldier that vandals mauled last month on Memorial Boulevard.
City councilors unanimously agreed Wednesday to seek a $15,000 grant from the state Office of Policy and Management that’s apparently set aside for special projects.
The city would have to chip in $5,000 or more to cover the rest of the anticipated expense, said Park Director Ed Swicklas.
Mayor Art Ward said that the possibility of getting the money was brought to his attention this week by state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat.
“It will help the taxpayers,” the senator said Wednesday.
Swicklas said that he hopes to get the cash in time to have the statue repaired by Veterans Day this fall.
The damaged statue is currently in storage and would need to be sent to a foundry for repairs.
Ward said he’s glad that Colapietro “stepped up to the plate” with the offer to get assistance for the city’s repair bill.
“That’s definitely going to do a lot to expedite the repair of that monument,” Ward said.
Colapietro said that he thought it was “atrocious for something like that to happen” because it violated an important civic space on the boulevard.
As he contemplated it, Colapietro said, “I thought that maybe it was just possible I could help.”
Asking around in Hartford, Colapietro said that he found state Sen. Don Williams, the Senate president, was willing to lend a hand.
“It looks really good” that the state cash will be available, Colapietro said.
“The Hiker” statue is one of 52 bronze casts by Alice Ruggles Kitson made to commemorate the Spanish-American war. The statues show an eight-foot tall “hiker” – a common term for Spanish-American War veterans – dressed in khaki, holding a rifle and looking as if he were resting after a long trek.The one on the boulevard was donated to the city a quarter century ago to honor World War II veterans.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 22, 2008

About signatures and petitions

Having gathered signatures for candidates and causes in my younger days, I know the drill. I recognize that many people sign them mostly to be nice to whoever is circulating them and that much of the time those who pen their names have little or no idea what they just endorsed.
However, there are also people who sign because they want very much to register their approval for whatever it is the petition is calling for - a fireworks display on the Fourth of July, a congressional candidacy or even a referendum on whether to have a chief operating officer.
Many of those commenting on this blog -- and probably some city officials -- are more concerned with the technicalities of who witnesses a signature on a petition than they are with the people who put their names to the petitions. What's truly important is not whether circulator X has his witness signature notarized or not. It's that 4,000 or more ordinary citizens signed the petitions seeking a referendum on this issue. That's a gigantic number (assuming, of course, that it's true). And city leaders ought to remember that what the law intends is for the people to have their say if they can get enough signatures. It appears that they did.
I remember in New York seeing candidates for public office disqualified because they put staples to hold their petitions together instead of paper clips -- or maybe it was the other way around. This was considered politically acceptable. But it was ridiculous, a way of turning our democracy into a sham.
Does Bristol need a chief operating officer? I don't know.
But I do know that when the people want to vote on it, they ought to get the chance, regardless of whether circulators screwed up or city officials put up roadblocks or lawyers decide to nitpick. And God forbid that the police wind up investigating this sort of sideshow when there are murderers on the loose and all sorts of serious crimes that don't get the attention they need.
Just put the people first, folks, and everything will be fine.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Civil rights panel needed in Bristol, some black leaders say

Bristol should have a civil rights committee that would “investigate civilian complaints against city employees” and endeavor to protect minority rights, a group of black leaders said Tuesday.
“Although we cannot change the past we can, however, change the future,” said a paper released by former NAACP President Monica (Ervin) Fore.
Fore and other black leaders are slated to meet today with Mayor Art Ward to discuss a request for a public forum on hate crimes in Bristol and to raise the issue of creating the new panel.
“I’m expecting to listen to what their concerns are,” Ward said. “I’m open to listening to hear more details as to everything and anything that’s proposed.”
Before endorsing anything, the mayor said, “my position is to sit down and hear what the concerns are” and to analyze the recommendations made to see if they are the best course for the city to take.
Though city officials deny that hate crimes have happened in Bristol for a long time, the report cites a handful of incidents between 2002 and 2006 that include vandalism in which swastikas were painted on a Jewish cemetery, the Beals Community-Senior Center and a golf club.
“Minorities in the city believe Bristol does have a problem,” the report said.
“It is sad that racism is still a very powerful subject that Americans argue over in this decade,
years after our forefathers marched through city streets and in Washington to change
the way minorities” are treated in America, the report said.
“At some point in time, change must occur because the future of our country is at stake,” it stated.
“We must come together and work to build a strong united front or we will be overtaken by our
enemies who desire to come into this country to blow up our buildings and kill as many people as possible,” the report continued.
“Our presidential candidates have recognized that the new president will have to address this problem as it has been one of the main focuses in this presidential campaign,” the report said.
“Together minorities and city officials in the city of Bristol, Connecticut can start this change that everyone is talking about and show our brothers and sisters across the country that change is possible,” it said.
The proposed minority affairs committee “will kick start this change in Bristol and ensure that everyone is respected and receives equal protection under law as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution of America,” the report said.
The mission of the new panel would be to try to ensure “there is no violation of an individual’s civil and human rights” in Bristol, the report said.
The committee would investigate charges about city employees, including the police, “and shall be responsible in reporting its findings to the mayor and proper authority for action.”
“The committee shall work with city officials to build stronger relationships with minorities in the community,” it said, and its members would become familiar “with policies and procedures of the various departments within the city in order to ensure that a fair review of the complaint brought to its attention takes place.”

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

New chamber president: Mike Nicastro

On the Open Solutions website, there is this on the background of Mike Nicastro, a younger brother of former Mayor Frank Nicastro:

Michael D. Nicastro
Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer
Prior to joining Open Solutions in 1994, Mike Nicastro spent 10 years with the Data Services Division of the NCR Corporation in the marketing and management of micro based financial systems, leaving NCR as the National Product Manager of Platform/Branch Automation. While with NCR, Mr. Nicastro was one of 15 employees worldwide to win the “Chairman’s Customer Satisfaction Award.” Mr. Nicastro spent the nine years prior to NCR working in the banking industry with Connecticut based Bristol Savings Bank, as well as New York based Citicorp. During his tenure with these organizations he held positions in branch management, lending, underwriting and marketing. Mr. Nicastro holds a Bachelors Degree in Marketing from Central Connecticut State University and a Juris Doctor from Western New England College, School of Law.

My understanding is that Nicastro will take John Leone's place -- as if anyone could -- at year's end.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Cockayne blasts Ward, Rimcoski

City Councilor Ken Cockayne said the two politicians who voted against putting the chief operating officer proposal on the ballot and then signed petitions calling for a public vote are "trying to play it both ways."
Mayor Art Ward and Republican city Councilor Mike Rimcoski each gave the idea a thumbs down when the City Council voted on it last month.
But they subsequently signed petitions asking that the plan be placed on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
"Typical politics as usual," Cockayne said.
Cockayne said that if Ward and Rimcoski had wanted the plan on the ballot, all they had to do was vote for it. That would have saved hundreds of people many hours of time and trouble, he said, gathering the required signatures to put the idea on the ballot.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Downtown commissioner calls for school on mall site

Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this:

After a year and a half of trying to develop the failed downtown mall property, the answer may be to build a school there after all, said board member Thomas Cosgrove of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp.
Cosgrove – the lone voice on the board for a change to the school concept – said the city-owned site could be vacant for eight to 10 years if the board holds out for retail.
"We're really dead in the water," said Cosgrove. "Maybe it's time to open up an alternative."
Cosgrove argued that the primary goals of the BDDC are to recoup the money the city spent to buy and clear the mall property – a figure he put at $6.5 million – and to create an attractively developed site as soon as possible.
[Note from your friendly blogger: The city has spent at least $8 million on the mall so far when you throw in legal fees and consultants.]
He researched the property using city records over the last decade and realized the average revenue from the property for the years it wasn't owned by the city averaged $89,500, Cosgrove said. At that rate, he said, it would take 18 years to get the money back.
The city, which is in the process of securing sites for two new, 800-student, K-8 schools, would get its money's worth by using the old mall site, which Cosgrove said could be an attractive property with gardens and waterfalls.
"It definitely is a solid alternative," said Cosgrove.
Cosgrove's fellow board members disagreed, some vehemently.
Ultimately, the BDDC rejected his proposal and agreed to send out a request for qualifications in the coming months in a new search for a possible developer.
"I don't think it's a good idea," said board member Jennifer Janelle.
Board member John Leone said they shouldn't give up on finding a developer. Leone said building a school there would "just about wipe out" any hope of a viable downtown.
BDDC board President Frank Johnson said the clear message from the residents of Bristol during public forums about the site was that the board shouldn't "settle," but rather hang in there for something good.
Janelle said the BDDC needs to hear from developers as to what they think would work there.
Board member Dick Kallenbach said he's hearing from people in town that they want the former mall property back on the tax rolls, not used for a school.
"They're adamant about it," said Kallenbach. "People are not very happy with that school system."
Board members said the lagging economy is working against their efforts to lure a developer.
"We didn't stumble," said Leone. "The economy stumbled. We may get a lot more action than we think down the road."
Johnson said the board now has "the luxury of time now" to find the right fit.
While Cosgrove spoke of a banking crisis that will keep investors from sinking money into the Mum City for at least five to seven years, Leone said the bankers he knows are out there lending money and doing deals.
"We've got to stay the course," said Kallenbach, calling the property a "gem."
But Gardener Wright, another board member, said they had to take a hard look at the city's demographics and see what kind of development could work there.
"Cheerleading for what we would like is not going to give us a realistic picture of what we have," said Wright, who said the development would primarily serve local people. He said the city needs a long term plan that takes the whole downtown into account, not just the old mall property.
While it might look nice, Leone said, schools shut down in the summer and are really only busy when parents drop off and pick up their children.
The city doesn't have many large parcels of land left, several board members said, which makes the 17-acre downtown piece valuable.
Cosgrove remained unconvinced.
"What I hear is a lot of soft talk," Cosgrove said, when the board really should be figuring out how to recover the city's investment and develop the site.

Here's an overview that Cosgrove wrote up explaining his stance:


The BDDC was created by the City Council as a single purpose entity (with minor exceptions), to redevelop the Bristol Center Mall site. To date it has hired counsel, hired an executive director/consultant, and hired an environmental engineering firm. The site is legally controlled by the City and studies to date suggest it is clear of environmental concerns. Public hearings have allowed the public and governmental officials to voice their valuable opinions about the site's future. The City Council and Mayor have efficiently cleared the site.
I believe the BDDC has two goals: 1) Recoup the $6.5 MM of tax money required to gain control of the site and clear it; 2) Create an attractively developed site that represents a good use for the citizens of Bristol as soon as possible.


1. Route 6, not Downtown, is the Commercial Center of Bristol!!

2. Recent American Urban Development Theory is based on multiple car families and FREE PARKING. Buckland Hills, West Farms, Route 6.

3. Connecticut Downtowns ARE NOT commercial centers in the 21st century. When was the last time anyone packed their family in the car and drove to downtown Hartford, New Britain, Waterbury, Torrington, Middletown, New Haven, Bridgeport, Meriden,,,,,,to SHOP. While Route 72 will be a major improvement, it will NOT carry "outsiders" to Bristol to shop.

4. The Couture Administration overpaid for the site. Why is irrelevant; the result is that BDDC must deal with the fact and its consequences.


I would like to thank the Tax Office, the Assessor's Office, and the City Clerk's Office for their gracious assistance. The research information sought went back 10 years -- assessments, tax revenue, and "mall sale" transactions. City of Bristol bought the Mall on March 21, 2005 for $5.299MM. There have been no tax revenues since and today it is assessed for $6.561MM of which the LAND is $3.44MM. The seven year average tax revenue was $89,500.

The real estate transactions are far more helpful. The following is my best non-professional reading of the records. Mario Ottaviano and Mike Tehrani "bought" the Mall for $10 and a $2.2MM "non-recourse" loan backed by leases (Book984,Page235) on 2/2/90. If correct, they bought the mall for $10 and a loan. Hartford National Bank and its successors were able to write their loan down to $2.2MM performing rather than zero and got "real estate managers" to take over. On 11/9/98 (Book1269,Page87)

Galleria at Bristol Mall LLC (Gatto) bought the mall from Bristol Centre Mall, Limited Partners for $2.5MM.

Ottaviano and Tehrani realizing a diminishing cash flow, sold the mall, paid off the mortgage and walked away with $300K.

DID RUDY GATTO DO ANYTHING TO THE PROPERTY TO ENHANCE ITS VALUE IN HIS 6 YEARS OF OWNERSHIP?? While it is assessed for $6.5MM, I would ballpark its value at $2.5-3.0 MM. If true, we have a 3.0 MM loss or more to deal with on the land.


The two developers who came to our showing and did not bid were quoted in the Hartford Courant as saying "mixed use" will not work, retail is the game for that site. At this juncture I do not believe retail will work on the site. While I said at our September, 2007 meeting we had a "perfect storm" in our favor to create a commercial center, I now believe, 10 months later, we have a "perfect storm" against us.
Tier I malls such as Westfarms, Meriden, and Buckland Hills have their highest vacancies in 10 years. Retail bankruptcies are growing. The Bush Administration's 2005 Bankruptcy Bill has greatly diminished "debtor in bankruptcy" financing (WSJ), causing liquidations rather than restructurings. The internet is here -- Amazon, Ebay et.al. Home Shopping Network is here. 1950 Downtown Bristol is not coming back. Most potential tenants are on Route 6.

Bank stocks are down 60-75% from their highs. Banks will not start financing malls for 3-4 years.Bristol Downtown prospects will be 2-3 years out from that point. I believe if we try to go retail, the site will be vacant for 8-10 years -- 2016-2018. Remember Cohen- Front Street- Hartford??? Having a developer does not insure development. Cohen is gone. Nothing happened for 5 years.

The September, 2007 Bristol Press Cover Story quotes Mayor Stortz as saying the school site location consultant picked 3 West Side sites for a K-9 school, "Depot Square" was #1. It is possible that an architectural rendering exists. BDDC can turn the Downtown into a beautiful Government Center with a $50MM school. The whole $6.5MM land cost to the city could be recouped by using it as an in kind contibution (city share of school costs).

The BDDC has a diverse, well trained Board. Public hearings have broadly reached into the community and unified the City Government in support of the project. The BDDC's first effort to find a developer failed although it was well conceived developed and executed. Consequently, I believe BDDC has to consider alternative uses for the site. Using the site for the K-9 school fulfills 2 goals: it recoups taxpayer expenditures for the site and it fills the site with an enhanced use quickly.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 21, 2008

City likely to buy Dutton Avenue house next month

City councilors are likely to approve a $218,000 deal to buy an old stone house next to Rockwell Park at their Aug. 12 meeting.
“This is great” for the city, said Councilor Frank Nicastro, chairman of the Real Estate Committee.
The city has already bought an adjacent lot for $63,000, a purchase that lawyers completed this summer after the council backed it months ago.
Officials have been eyeing both the house and the lot for a couple of years but wanted to make sure that the city wouldn’t land in the middle of a family dispute about the disposition of the property.
A judge gave Jan Bevivino until late June to buy the house that her family had long owned or else it would be sold to the city or a private buyer. Bevivino said she would still like to purchase the house, but couldn’t meet the deadline.
Lawyer Salvatore Vitrano, who represents the rest of the family in the case, said in a letter to the city that her failure to come up with the money gives the city a green light to move ahead with the deal.
The real estate panel, which consists of Nicastro and Councilors Kevin McCauley and Mike Rimcoski – unanimously urged the council to take the offer in August.
Nicastro said that buying the house would open up the entrance to Rockwell Park even further, leaving only a former gas station and a small apartment building for future city purchases to clear the way to both the park and Muzzy Field.
It appears the city would likely tear down the house once the purchase becomes final.
“It looks like it would come down,” McCauley has said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Petition drive organizers angry

With more than 4,000 signatures gathered, organizers of the drive to let the public vote on whether to create a chief operating officer thought they had overcome the final hurdle.
Then they learned Monday that the city might require they go back and make sure every petition circulator signs the paperwork in the presence of a notary public.
“I don’t really see it as a big deal,” said Dale Clift, the city attorney, because there’s still plenty of time before the July 31 deadline for submitting the signatures. Only a little less than 3,200 valid signatures are required.
But two of the organizers of the drive, Republican city Councilor Ken Cockayne and businessman Craig Yarde, said the new requirement poses massive headaches and denounced them as an unfair dirty trick to try to stymie the referendum.
“This is absolutely unfair,” Yarde said.
Because some of the petition circulators are on vacation, Yarde said, “I will not be able to count hundreds of signatures of citizens who signed” in good faith.
Cockayne said that he's upset that the city is "changing the rules in the middle of the game" just days before the deadline.Clift said the decision about whether to require a notary is City Clerk Therese Pac’s call. Pac was unavailable Monday.
Clift said, though, that Pac wants the petitions witnessed legally to ensure that those signing the petitions are aware they are attesting to the truth of a statement that says the circulator personally saw each of the signatures and had reason to believe the identity of those who penned their names.
“I think she’s well within in her rights to be cautious in this matter,” Clift said. “It’s a caution on her part to take a step to ensure that these petitions are above board and without question, that the circulators meet the qualifications.”
Cockayne said there were between 75 and 100 people who circulated petitions. Some gathered only a few names while others gathered hundreds.
He said that had Pac told the organizers weeks ago that the forms would need to be notarized, he would have had no trouble with it. In fact, he said, he is a notary and would simply have done the appropriate steps as the petitions were turned in.
Instead, organizers have to try to track down each circulator and have them sign again in the presence of a notary.
“Things like this, I believe, are what turns people off,” Cockayne said. He said that ordinary citizens stepped up to help by signing the petitions or circulating them and now their efforts may not be included at all.
“This just puts a sour taste in peoples’ mouths and they say ‘why even get involved?’. This is what is turning people off about our city and Bristol,” Cockayne said.
“This is a great example of why we need a chief operating officer,” Yarde said. “That's what you get when you have 21 department heads doing whatever they want because they don't have anyone who's managing them.”
Yarde said that people “should call Mayor [Art] Ward and tell him to manage his people and let the citizens of Bristol decide if they want a COO rather than trying to put roadblocks” in the way.
The Charter Revision Commission, which recently completed its work, recommended the city create a chief operating officer post to handle administrative oversight and provide long-term planning.
Supporters of the position said it would bring greater efficiency to City Hall and save taxpayers money in the long run.
But Ward and four of the six city councilors rejected the idea. They said it wouldn’t help or it would cost too much money.
If the council had approved it, the public would have the final say on the proposed charter change. It would have been on the November 4 ballot.
If the petition drive succeeds, voters will still get the chance to have the last word.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Yarde says "absolutely unfair" to require notaries

Businessman Craig Yarde just sent along his reaction to the news that the city may require the chief operating officer petitions to be notarized:

This is absolutely unfair. I have circulators who are on vacation and therefore I will not be able to count hundreds of signatures of citizens who signed. Never mind I have to return forms back to over seventy people and find a way to get a them to see a notary. All this in five days because I have to go to Chicago for a corporate Reliance meeting next week. It's not fair for the city to impose this one week before they are due. They have never did this before. This is a great example of why we need a chief operating officer. I can't believe Mayor Ward would authorize this. Well, that's what you get when you have 21 department heads doing whatever they want because they don't have anyone who's managing them. Who made this call. The citizens should call Mayor Ward and tell him to manage his people and let the citizens of Bristol decide if they want a COO rather than trying to put road blocks.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Better test scores tied to higher home values

Here's an interesting CMT analysis by an unusually thoughtful Realtor, Amy Bergquist, who has correlated home prices with test scores for many nearby towns: LINK
Bristol's median house sold for $199,500 during the second quarter, according to Bergquist. As a whole, 62.5 percent of 8th graders in Bristol met goal on the CMTs. With those numbers, you can see where Bristol falls on the spectrum.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Petition drive tops 4,000 signatures

City Councilor Ken Cockayne said that organizers of the drive to have a referendum on the chief operating officer have now collected more than 4,000 signatures - well above the total needed to meet their goal, if the signatures hold up after a review.
There's a possible hitch, though.
Cockayne said that City Clerk Therese Pac has told organizers that the witnesses who signed the petitions -- attesting to the fact that all of the signatures were gathered in their presence -- must also be notarized.
That would mean going back to more than 100 petition gatherers and having them sign in the presence of a notary, which is possible but a pain in the ... well, you know.
Cockayne said that he's upset that the city is "changing the rules in the middle of the game" just days before the deadline.
He said the secretary of state's office told him that the law only requires that witnesses sign the forms. There's no provision for mandating that notaries are involved, he said.
It's not clear, though, that Pac or the city attorney, Dale Clift, are actually insisting that the forms are notarized.
The only reason I can think of for requiring a notary is to prevent witnesses who sign the petitions from claiming later they didn't really sign the forms. That may mean that somebody at City Hall thinks some signatures may have been gathered improperly, a problem that knocked out the most recent petition drive and caused talk at the time of the possible arrest of some petition gatherers for make a false statement.
Anyway, I'll update this when I know more.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Agenda for Wednesday's special City Council meeting

City Council Members
City Hall
Bristol, Connecticut


There will be a Special Meeting of the Bristol City Council to be held on Wednesday,
July 23, 2008 at 5:30 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers, 111 North Main Street, Bristol, Connecticut.


1. To discuss the administration and maintenance of Lake Avenue Cemetery, consider the recommendation dated July 14, 2008 from City of Bristol Cemetery Commission regarding extension of Contract 2007-087 with West Cemetery Association of Bristol, Connecticut, Incorporated for period through
June 30, 2008, and to take any action as necessary.

2. To introduce a proposed amendment to Bristol Code of Ordinances Chapter 23 Sec. 23-3 Appeals and Citation Hearing Officers and to set a Public Hearing, and to waive the reading of the ordinance, and to take any action as necessary.

3. To approve Contract 2008-111 with alternate no. 3 Volleyball Court Lighting and alternate 6, Bituminous Concrete Sidewalks, with Schultz Corporation for Improvements to Rockwell Park Phase II in the amount of $2,316,235.33, as approved by the Board of Park Commissioners and to authorize the Mayor Arthur J. Ward or Acting Mayor to sign any and all documents.

4. To accept the storm water retention facility on Margaret Way, including all property rights and endowment into the Storm Water Control Trust, and to take any action as necessary.

5. To adjourn.

Per Order Mayor Arthur J. Ward, Chairman
DATED this 18th day of July, 2008.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 18, 2008

Test scores should be more accurate

Despite all the fancy graphics and solid-looking numbers, the state isn't providing the one thing that would really tell us how students are doing: Scores that show whether particular students who remain in one district are improving from year to year.
That's the real test, after all, of education.
Bristol is trying pretty hard to come up with just those sorts of numbers, in part because officials are convinced that by tracking individual students they can prove the schools are doing well by those students who stick around.
What we've seen so far seems to show that they are doing just that.
But the state as a whole ought to be able to provide a far more comprehensive look at test results when it finally gets around to tracking each student, wherever he or she goes.
It would help policy makers and others to know, for instance, whether students who stay in the same home all the way through school do better than those who move frequently (something we know must be true, but can you prove it?).
Is all-day kindergarten worth it? The test results for students years later ought to show it one way or another.
Anyway, there's a ton of stuff we could learn, but can't, because the numbers are too broad. Let's hope that gets fixed soon.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Mostly lackluster results on CMTs in Bristol

With the exception of a whopping gain among third graders, Bristol’s students posted lackluster results on the statewide Connecticut Mastery Tests taken in March.
As a whole, student test scores in Bristol rose slightly. But take out the third grade results and the showing may be downright disheartening for educators who have been trying to pump up test scores for years.
The percentage of fourth graders who achieved the state goal in writing, for example, plummeted 26 percent over last year, falling to 53.8 of the class citywide.
Nonetheless, in 11 of the 18 categories in which students this year can be compared with those taking the tests last year – which include math, reading and writing – city scores rose. It’s just that they didn’t go up much, except for third graders.
The annual CMT tests are given to about 250,000 students across the state every year to assess their achievements in core subjects. This year, two grades were given science tests for the first time, but math, reading and writing have been staples for years.
The highest percentage of students achieving goal came on the seventh grade reading test, on which 71.1 percent of the test takers in Bristol met or exceeded the goal.
The worst showing came on the new fifth grade science test. Only 45.6 percent of city students met the state goal on it.
In general, the scores were higher than the districts against which the state compares Bristol, but trailed well behind the districts that Superintendent Philip Streifer said he wants to see Bristol compete against, including Southington and West Hartford.
It isn’t clear yet how individual schools in the city stacked up compared to previous years.
Here are the results for each grade, with the first number showing the percentage of students who met the state’s goal and the number in brackets showing the gain or loss from the previous year:
3rd grade – Math – 70.2 (+9); Reading – 52.4 (+4.6); 69.4 (+12.2)
4th grade – Math - 59.7 (-5.2); Reading – 52.8 (-4.6); Writing – 53.8 (-14.2)
5th grade – Math – 62.5 (-3.4); Reading – 60.9 (+1.4); Writing – 61.4 (-5.3); Science – 45.6.
6th grade – Math – 66.3 (+3.5); Reading – 65.2 (+2.6); Writing – 54 (-3.8)
7th grade – Math – 60.4 (+0.7); Reading – 71.1 (+2.7); Writing - 57 (+1.8)
8th grade – Math – 63.1 (+5.1); Reading – 67.7 (-2.5); Writing – 59.3 (-1.9); Science – 60.2.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City's poverty rate appears to be escalating

Students in Bristol are more than 5 percent more likely to be living in low-income families now than they were in 2006.
In a side-by-side, citywide comparison of the same classes in school two years ago and this year, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced price school lunches rose for each of the four grades where comparisons were possible.
For instance, 36.8 percent of third graders in 2006 were eligible for cheap or free school lunches. This year, that same class, who are now in fifth grade, saw 40.9 percent of the students qualify.
The percentages of students who receive free or lower-priced school lunches is one of the breakdowns available to study the results of the Connecticut Mastery Tests that are given to nearly every student between third and eighth grade.
Because some students move, the makeup of classes changes from year to year, but the overall trend remains clear.
The fourth grade class in 2006, 34.9 percent of students were eligible for the lunch benefit. By the time they got to sixth grade this year, 37.9 percent of the class qualified.
The fifth grade class in 2006 had 33 percent of its students qualify. This year, 33.5 percent were eligible, the smallest increase among the group.
The sixth grade class two years ago had 33.6 percent of students eligible. This year, 35.7 percent of students made the cut.
The increasing rate of poverty has implications for the city's economy as a whole as well as for the educational system.
Students who come from low-income families are much less likely to score well on tests and educators say it takes more money to teach them because they are often lacking the skills that peers from richer homes possess.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol CMT scores a mixed bag

Bristol's scores on the Connecticut Mastery Tests, which are given yearly to students between third and eighth grade, appear at first glance to be a mixed bag. I can't see anyone doing happy dances over them anyway.
Here are numbers for each grade for each of the past three years:

3rd grade

4th grade

5th grade

6th grade

7th grade

8th grade

Website with all the scores for all the districts, with the ability to search in different ways.

If anyone comes up with any interesting analyses, I'd love to hear about them. There's a lot that can be extracted by comparing year-to-year and against other districts - much more than I can hope to do today.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol CAPT scores - a graphic change this year

With a little help from my son, whose Excel education far exceeds my own, I graphed Bristol's CAPT test score trends since the new generation of the test went into effect at the turn of the century. It clearly shows that this year's results are a big step up from the normal ups and downs, proving either that the schools are doing something right or that there were some especially bright sophomores this time around.
Anyway, take a look at the numbers and the graph of Bristol sophomores meeting the state CAPT goals each year: GRAPH (PDF)

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 17, 2008

Minor says petition drive has over 3,000 signatures

Press release, just in from city Councilor Craig Minor:

City Councilor Craig Minor announced that the bipartisan petition drive to put the Chief Operating Officer question on the November ballot has hit a significant milestone.
“We had an extremely successful petition drive this past weekend,” said Minor, “and in tallying the results, we have now collected over 3000 signatures.”
After the Bristol City Council voted 5 – 2 in June against a proposal to put the question of hiring a City Manager before the people, Minor and fellow City Councilmember Ken Cockayne organized a petition drive seeking to get the proposal on the ballot anyway. The Charter Revision Commission, formed in 2007, recommended the City change the form of Bristol’s City government to include a professional city manager with the title of Chief Operating Officer (COO) to oversee the day to day operations of the City.
For the drive to be successful, 10% of the City’s registered voters, or approximately 3000 people, needed to sign the petition. Minor and Cockayne and Bristol residents Craig Yarde and Ken Johnson have been spearheading the drive.
Minor stated that the petition drive continues this weekend. Bristol voters interested in signing the petition can do so at the Bristol and Forestville Stop & Shops on Friday from 4 to 8pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 3pm.
“The people of Bristol deserve to have their voices heard.” Ken Johnson said. “We’re excited that our ballot initiative will give people that chance in November.”

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Visconti says to tap nation's emergency supply

Press release from Republican congressional hopeful Joe Visconti:
Joseph Visconti, Republican candidate for Connecticut's First Congressional District Thursday proposed utilizing some of the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to provide Americans with emergency heating fuel this winter.

Visconti's proposal differs significantly from calls by his Democratic opponent to open up the Strategic Reserve to the marketplace to increase gasoline supplies in an effort to reduce gas prices.

The Democrats' suggestion, Visconti said, would "simply provide more profits for the international oil cartel by placing the oil on the open market, and does nothing to address the enormous tax burden the state and federal governments have placed on gasoline."

"The Strategic Reserve contains American oil, already bought and paid for by the American people." Visconti said. "It was created to provide petroleum for our military in the event of a national emergency, and temporary relief from economic and natural disasters."

"Americans freezing in their homes this winter would certainly be a disaster, brought on by economic conditions that are directly traceable to inaction by Congress. But that is our oil and it should be made available to the states, so it could go directly to Americans who would use it to heat their homes."

American Oil on American Soil

Visconti cautioned, however, that using the strategic reserves would be a viable solution only when coupled with a decision by Congress to lift its restrictions on drilling offshore, for shale oil in the Rocky Mountains, and in a barren and desolate tract of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

"We need to drill our way out of this for the near future as we combine clean and safe drilling with clean and safe nuclear, and a concerted effort to replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources.”

"The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the oil in ANWR, off the U.S. coast and in the Rockies is American Oil on American Soil," Visconti said. "'We the People' still defines our form of government. In America the people are the government and this oil is ours!"

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created in the mid-1970s in response to the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, to provide oil for the military and vital industries if all other sources were closed. When full, the reserve contains one billion barrels of petroleum, roughly a 50-day supply for all users.

Visconti said that releasing the oil directly to the states for emergency heating oil supplies would "keep American oil in America where it would directly benefit Americans.

This is the emergency

"This is the emergency we planned for when American taxpayers bought that oil," Visconti said. "Why should it go on the market, where international speculators can manipulate the price for their profits?"

Visconti further proposed a massive expansion of the Strategic Reserve with supplies to come from all oil production in areas controlled by government leases. “Each lease approved by the government should have a provision to deposit a portion of all oil pumped from those areas into the Strategic Reserve until America has made the transition to alternative non-fossil fuels.

"In essence the Strategic Reserve would kept full by those sources of oil, and if expanded would give America a real buffer against natural or man-made disasters."

Visconti's opponent, incumbent John Larson, has been a staunch opponent of any new drilling, either offshore, in shale or in ANWR.

Larson, the vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, Wednesday led 14 Democrats from New England calling for an additional $10 billion in oil-related taxes; a $9 billion increase to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, more than tripling last year's budget, as well as another $1 billion for weatherization assistance. Larson said he didn't know where the money would come from, but Visconti noted, “If John Larson doesn’t know where the money would come from for his own plan, he is delusional at best, if he thinks it will be in any form other than tax and fee increases.

"Americans already are paying far more than they should in taxes, fees, interest, add-ons and hidden costs," Visconti said. "We don't need more taxes and more bureaucracy. We need action that will directly benefit those who need it most, without charging them or any other Americans for oil that already belongs to us."

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Vandalism at city parks isn't slowing

Since the mauling of The Hiker statue on Memorial Boulevard last month, the vandalism at city parks hasn’t let up.
Though there haven’t been any high-profile acts of destruction, the steady pace of smashed lights and other destructive acts has officials up in arms.
“We’ve got to start initiating action. It’s absolutely ludicrous that his is going on,” Mayor Art Ward said.
In just the past few weeks, lights have been broken, a fence cut through at the Rockwell Park pool, basketball backboards spraypainted and more.
“It’s quite evident that it’s not stopping,” Ward said.
“I’m very upset at the vandalism,” said city Councilor Mike Rimcoski. “We’ve got to put the hammer down.”
Officials said, though, that catching the culprits is tough – and prosecuting them is hard, too, since many are underage.
Two young people, for example, were caught by lifeguards kicking out equipment at the Rockwell Park pool. Their names were taken and they were thrown out, park officials said.
City leaders said that the police have been given the information and more action is likely to follow.
Ward said, however, that when minors are involved, the city can’t provide any information to the public so the deterrence value is lessened. He said he hopes that some adults get caught for vandalizing park property one day soon.
The city hasn’t yet taken any action to fix the damaged Spanish-American War soldier that stood on Memorial Boulevard. It is likely to cost tens of thousands of dollars to make repairs, officials have said.
Rimcoski said that officials may want to explore adding extra lighting for the monuments and memorials along Memorial Boulevard to make it a little harder for vandals to strike.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Organizers seek to "blow the lid" off the chief operating officer with push this weekend

The petition drive to force a referendum on whether to create a chief operating officer at City Hall is only a couple of hundred signatures short of what’s needed, one of the chief organizers said Thursday.
After last weekend’s “petition blitz,” former Republican mayoral contender Ken Johnson said the drive has gathered more than 3,000 signatures. It needs a little less than 3,200 by the July 25 deadline.
“The naysayers said they’ll believe 3,000 when they see it. Well, they’re seeing it,” Johnson said in a note to supporters.
If those seeking a referendum on the chief operating officer position are successful in gathering enough valid signatures, voters will have the final say on the issue at the polls on November 4.
The City Council last month rejected the Charter Revision Commission’s recommendation to create the new post to provide greater administrative oversight of city government. A majority of councilors said it was too costly and unnecessary.
But the two councilors who supported the idea – Democrat Craig Minor and Republican Ken Cockayne – announced a plan for a bipartisan push to force a referendum on it. The city’s GOP has been heavily involved in gathering the signatures needed.
Minor said Thursday he has “no idea” how many signatures have been collected so far.
“I’m one of the worker bees on this project,” Minor said.
City Clerk Therese Pac said her office hasn’t received any petitions yet. But, she said, the city attorney has ruled that the petitions have to be submitted all at once rather than piecemeal in order to meet the legal requirements for pushing charter changes that the council has turned down.
Johnson, who fell short in last year’s mayoral contest, said that organizers are aiming “to give ourselves plenty of breathing room” by collecting 20 percent more signatures than they must.
Leaving a margin of error, he said, allows room for some of the signatures to be disqualified because the people who signed are not registered voters in the city.
The petition drive is going on this weekend at the two Stop & Shop grocery stores in town from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.
Johnson said those promoting the drive are hoping for a strong showing in the final days of the effort.
“With your help, we will blow the lid off this thing this weekend and send a strong message to City Hall,” Johnson told supporters.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Petition drive claims more than 3,000 signatures gathered so far

Note sent a few minutes ago by former Republican mayoral contender Ken Johnson to backers of the petition drive to force a referendum on the chief operating officer positition:

Dear Friends:
First, I wish to congratulate you all for an unbelievable effort!
With our petition blitz this past weekend, we have passed the 3000 signature mark!
So what do we do now? WE GO OUT AND GET MORE!! The nay-sayers said they’ll believe 3000 when they see it. Well, they’re seeing it. I expect each of you as volunteers saw the same thing I saw – an overwhelmingly positive response! I noted at times we were collecting as many as 50 signatures per hour last Saturday.
So, “Why continue?” you ask. The most fundamental reason is this:
· We need 10% on the registered voters in town to sign (approximately 3000 signers). When we turn in the signatures (the deadline is the 25th), the City Clerk’s office must certify that each signature is from a bona fide registered voter in the City of Bristol. To give ourselves plenty of breathing room (because believe it our not, there are people who DON’T want the voters to have a say in their form of City government!) we are going to factor in a 20% margin for error. Let me illustrate: If we collect 4000 signatures, even if 20% (800) are disallowed, we will still have 3200 signatures – enough to force the ballot question. So…

The petition drive continues this weekend at the Bristol and Forestville Stop & Shops. Note the change in schedule from last weekend: We are looking to cover Friday afternoon/evening to pick up a block of voters we haven’t spoken to yet. Plus, we a starting at 8:00am on Saturday and Sunday at both Stop & Shops to pick up the early morning shoppers. Henry Raymond tested this last week and found it very successful.
We are looking for volunteers for this final push. Please e-mail me at
abuyersmarket@comcast.net or call me at 796-6635 if you can lend a hand.
For those of you who have petitions to turn in, please bring them to me or Ken Cockayne at the Bristol Stop & Shop or to Henry Raymond at the Forestville Stop & Shop this weekend. If you have suggestions for other locations where you know people will be gathering this weekend, let me know that as well.
Thank you to all! With your help we will blow the lid off this thing this weekend and sent a strong message to City Hall.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

New chamber prez to be announced Tuesday

Well, well, who will it be?
Though it's hard to imagine the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce without John Leone, a former mayor, it's going to happen.
His successor is supposed to be announced on Tuesday.
The trend has been to pick former mayors -- Mike Werner and Leone come quickly to mind -- but it's hard to believe that Frank Nicastro, Gerard Couture or Bill Stortz would make even the short list. They're not quite of the Werner-Leone mode.
So who they gonna pick? It could be quite interesting, particularly given the clout that the chamber has in town.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Special City Council meeting on Wednesday

It doesn't appear to be any sort of blockbuster gathering -- well, except for the presence of Bristol's illustrious city councilors -- but some might be interested in knowing there is going to be a special City Council session slated for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23.
Among the items likely to be discussed are the administration and maintenance of the Lake Avenue cemetery and the contract for the second phase of the Rockwell Park project. But there may be more before the day rolls around.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 16, 2008

Rockwell Park's renovation continues to move ahead

Above, the lagoon and bathhouse as they are today.

Historic view of Rockwell Park.

By the time school ends next June, most of the Rockwell Park renovation will be done, officials said Wednesday.
The city’s Park Board unanimously backed the hiring of the Schulz Corp. for $2.3 million to carry on the second phase of the park’s overhaul. It got $1.6 million for doing the initial part of the massive project.
By next summer, Park Director Ed Swicklas said, the city should be ready to embark on the last part of the $6.5 million reconstruction of the historic West End park, including restoring a section of the long-drained lagoon.
The City Council is likely to give its blessing to the contractor at a special meeting next week, which would allow the company to plow right into the next round of work.
Among the items included in the second phase are a new playground, a volleyball court, lights for one of the existing ball fields, landscaping of the skatepark and a host of other improvements aimed at making the park safer and busier.
Swicklas said the timing is working out perfectly.
Because the new contract will be in place as the contractor is finishing up the first phase, he said, Schulz can continue to work seamlessly, making it possible to get a substantial amount of the project done before winter.
During the cold months, Swicklas said, the contractor can do some work inside, then finish everything up in the spring.
The skatepark’s construction, which is being done by a California company, is expected to begin at month’s end and take less than 90 days.
At the moment, the new parking lots are largely finished, new sidewalks are taking shape and a new entrance to the park is rising to the east of the old Spanish-American War statue on Park Street.
Swicklas said that a substantial amount of topsoil has been made ready for plantings, too.
He said the first phase of the work “should be substantially complete” by the second week of August.
The renovation of Rockwell Park reached the city’s agenda during the brief administration of former Mayor Gerard Couture, who pushed a far-reaching plan to pump life into most of the city’s parks.
Though plans for Page Park fell by the wayside, the commitment of the city to the Rockwell Park project has never faltered, not even when $4 million in anticipated state aid never materialized.
City officials said the park needed the work anyhow and if the state wouldn’t contribute, it would still get done. But officials are also still lobbying for the cash from Hartford.
Rockwell Park, which is on the National Historic Register, was created almost a century ago to provide a place for working people to get out and enjoy nature in a rustic setting. For decades, it was one of the most thriving spots in town.
But during the past twenty years, it has become increasingly forgotten and neglected. Its much-loved lagoon was drained a decade ago after swimmers came down with a mysterious rash and health officials recommended the end to swimming there.

Here's an earlier blog entry with more details about the project.

Here's a brief history of Rockwell Park by Gail Leach.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Visconti falters in fundraising

Republican congressional candidate Joe Visconti failed to raise anywhere near the money that serious challengers typically rake in by mid-summer.
His campaign treasurer wrote on July 9 to the Federal Election Commission that Visconti, a West Hartford businessman aiming to unseat U.S. Rep. John Larson, had neither raised nor spent $5,000 yet.
If he had met that minimum threshold, Visconti would have been required to file a more detailed report that listed his donors and spending.
Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol, had raised more than $700,000 by April. He had $232,00 of that money still available in April.
In three of Connecticut's five congressional districts, challengers taking on incumbents have raised at least $319,000 so far.
Only U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a New Haven Democrat, is facing s easy a challenger as Larson. Her Republican challenger in the 3rd District, Bo Itshaky, has also reported no money to the FEC yet.
Most of Larson's contributions came from political action committees, with the insurance industry giving him about $1 out of every $9 he raised, according to a breakdown on opensecrets.org, which analyzes federal campaign filings.
A third party challenger, Stephen Fournier, also raised less than $5,000.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Wright is first to qualify for public financing

Press release issued last night by 77th District state House contender Chris Wright, a Democrat:

Chris Wright, the Democratic nominee for State Representative in the 77th District, is Bristol’s first legislative candidate to qualify for public financing under the state’s new campaign finance law.
Wright has been notified by the State’s Election Enforcement Commission that he qualified under the new Citizen Election Program. He qualified for the new program by receiving contributions from more than 200 people and raising more than $5,000.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the many people who have supported my candidacy by contributing to my campaign,” Wright said. “Under the new law, I will not be taking any money from lobbyist or special interests. The only special interest I will be fighting for are the voters and residents in our district.”
Wright said he looks forward to a campaign based on issues and the concerns of voters.
“Property tax reform, providing affordable health care and job creation are goals I plan to fight for when elected. I plan to go door to door in the district and hope to hear from as many residents as possible in the weeks ahead,” Wright said.
If you have any questions for Chris, or if you would like to help out with his campaign, you can reach him at home at (860) 261-7656 or by e-mail at

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 15, 2008

Educators do 'the happy dance' over test scores

The share of the city’s 10th graders who mastered basic skills on annual statewide test soared this year.
"In Bristol, we have fantastic results across the board," said Susan Moreau, deputy superintendent. "I did the happy dance this morning."
The percentage of the city’s sophomores who scored at or above the statewide goal soared in three of the four areas tested: math, science and writing. They held their own in reading.
Perhaps the most startling results came among the 132 students who qualify for free or reduced price school lunches – an indicator of poverty.
The percentage of students from low-income families who met the state goals rose about 40 percent in both math and writing. They also posted solid gains in science and reading, the test scores show.
The scores as a whole showed that the goals set by the district and the strategies in place to meet them paid off, according to Moreau.
"This is the proof of the pudding," said Moreau
Moreau said 90 percent of the Bristol students scored proficient in reading, 91 percent in writing – tallies she found thrilling.
"They're just really phenomenal results," said Moreau. "To have gone over 90 percent in two areas is very exciting to us. That tells us that even our most needy learners are growing and becoming proficient."
The district showed a huge growth over last year's 10th grade students, said Moreau, who scored 87 percent in reading and writing.
"Statewide results are up somewhat as well," said Moreau, "but not to the extent that ours are up."
Across Connecticut, 41,700 students took the CAPT, said Moreau. In Bristol, there were 609 high school sophomores who took it. That’s 30 fewer students than took last year’s exam.
The high scores this year are a tribute to administrators, teachers and students, said Moreau.
Unless students are willing to put in the effort needed to learn and score high, the district won't see these kinds of results.
The test measures skills that will be needed for life, said Moreau.
"If you can't read and you can't write and you can't compute," Moreau said, the future economic outlook isn't as rosy.
The district spends a lot of time helping teachers learn new ways of reaching students. Teachers meet to collaborate with others teaching the same classes, or the same grade level, Moreau said.
If one teaching method doesn't work, Moreau said, a teacher will then have "a bag of tricks to try to teach that student in other ways."
In Bristol, about 10 to 12 percent of the students are in special education, according to Moreau. Of those students, Moreau said, just 1 or 2 percent take something different than the CAPT.
Federal law mandates that the special education students take the same tests as the rest of the class, Moreau said.
"No Child Left Behind doesn't distinguish," Moreau said. "By 2014, all students in all U.S. schools are to be 100 percent proficient in reading and mathematics."
She said more than half the special education students are now proficient in math, but scores in other areas aren't as good."Nationally, No Child Left Behind has focused attention on student achievement," said Moreau. "There are positives."

Bristol sophomores meeting state CAPT goals

2007 – 51.5
2008 – 61.9

2007 – 40.8
2008 – 52.3

2007 – 50.2
2008 – 50.2

2007 – 50.2
2008 – 63.4

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol CAPT test scores up sharply

Haven't had a chance to analyze this yet, but it appears that in three of four categories, Bristol's CAPT test scores rose by about 20 percent in all.

Here's a PDF of last year's scores and this year's scores

Link to find the scores of any Connecticut districts

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 11, 2008

Feds may be able to help the Bristol VNA

There may be alternative sources of funding for the Greater Bristol Visiting Nurse Association’s charity program.
Mayor Art Ward said Friday that he believes that U.S. Rep. John Larson, the East Hartford Democrat whose district includes Bristol, may be able to steer the group to new sources of revenue.
“There might be an alternate source of funding for them,” Ward said.
The mayor, the VNA and Larson’s staff plan to meet Tuesday to explore options, the mayor said.
“It’s definitely worth exploring,” Ward said.
The city wiped out $70,000 worth of aid to the nonprofit this year – leaving just $100 in its budget for the VNA – as part of an effort to pare spending and hold down property taxes.
The move shocked VNA officials, who are as a consequence eyeing a big reduction in the free and reduced price care they can offer to the city’s poor.
The organization provides well child clinics that offer immunizations to uninsured children and hundreds of home care visits to the city’s indigent or underinsured to try to help them remain in their homes.
Ward said the VNA, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, performs “a great service and I think it’s invaluable to the community.”
But, he said, the city can’t come up with aid for the group this year.
Municipal officials have asked the VNA to dip into its $1.5 million rainy day fund to cover the lost revenue this year, but the association’s leaders said that doing so would be fiscally irresponsible.
The city itself has more than $17 million in its rainy day fund. It didn’t tap into the cash for its budget this year because finance officials said that touching the money would hurt Bristol’s credit rating and ultimately cost taxpayers more.
Ward said the city would review its funding for the VNA during the next budget cycle in the spring and might be able to restore the help.But, he said, it would be better if the state or federal government stepped in to fill the gap since they have far more resources to bring to bear.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Ward says he's still pushing for Krawiecki to get job

When the city asked for lawyers interested in serving as one of its assistant corporation counsels, it received five resumes from Republican lawyers interested in the part-time position.But Edward Krawiecki, Jr, the former city attorney, wasn't one of them.Personnel Director Diane Ferguson and Mayor Art Ward confirmed this week that Krawiecki didn't apply.
That’s a major reason why Ward pulled Krawiecki's nomination for the assistant city attorney job at the last minute last month - a nomination the mayor knew the Democratic-controlled City Council would likely refuse to confirm anyway.
Ward plans to try again to fill the vacant city lawyer’s post in a few months. He said Friday he assumes Krawiecki will want the job and that he’d back him once again.
The mayor said he hopes that councilors “will see the significance” of Krawiecki’s experience in dealing with state development officials, school land purchase negotiations and other key issues facing the city.
“It’s a plus-plus for everybody” to have Krawiecki in the city attorney’s office because of his extensive background, the mayor said.
“Ed had a handle on exactly what we were doing,” Ward said.
Ward said that he has no problems with any of the five attorneys who applied for the position. “I know them all,” he said, and respect each of them.
But, he said, Krawiecki has specific knowledge of the issues the city is facing now that nobody else can match.
Last week, Ward said he'd try again in the fall to round up resumes for the job.
He said Friday that he thought Krawiecki had applied for both the city attorney’s position and the assistant city attorney’s slot last time around.
It was only after the deadline, he said, that he learned from Ferguson that Krawiecki wasn’t among the applicants.
At that point, Ward said, he showed her Krawiecki’s resume but never asked her to accept it. He also said he never intended her to consider it after the deadline passed.
“When she said he did not put in for the assistant corporation counsel’s position, it was over,” Ward said.
The push for Krawiecki to take the job is likely to lead to a showdown between Ward and the council, which has four Democrats and two Republicans, over the possible appointment of the GOP mainstay to fill the last vacancy in the legal office.
The majority Democrats have said they don’t mind picking a GOP lawyer to fill the final slot in the five-person office, but they maintain that they won’t back Krawiecki for the job.
All of them have informed the mayor they would support Tom Conlin, a Republican who once served on the Board of Finance and did apply for the post. Conlin is a legal partner in Bristol with state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican.
The legal office currently has two part-time attorneys, including Corporation Counsel Dale Clift, and two full-timers, Ann Baldwin and Richard Lacey. The other part-timer is Jeff Steeg.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Ax city's Personnel Appeals Board?

Whatever the Personnel Appeals Board may be, it's safe to say it isn't busy.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro said the panel hasn't met in at least 12 years.
Personnel Director Diane Ferguson and Richard Lacey, a city attorney, said there was a time when it tried to have a meeting, but members couldn't get a quorum so the session never happened.
Nicastro said that the Salary Committee - which consists of three city councilors -- should look into taking over the functions of the appeals board to simplify city government.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 10, 2008

Project for two new schools moving ahead slowly, if at all

Since settling on two sites for two new schools months ago, there’s been little sign of any progress on the $120 million project.
“Things are stagnant right now,” said Cheryl Thibault, a Board of Finance member who serves on the Forestville School Building Committee.
Mayor Art Ward said that it takes time to negotiate the land purchases necessary for the plan to build two new kindergarten to eighth grade schools to move ahead.
“We’re in the initial, preliminary stages,” the mayor said. “We’re going through the process.”
Officials are eyeing the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street and a former sand pit operated by Scalia Construction off Barlow Street as potential sites for the 900-student schools.
The Board of Education had hoped to open one as soon as 2010, but it appears that even 2012 is looking optimistic at this point. Because of the massive redistricting involved in closing four existing schools and opening two new ones, educators would prefer to have both schools done at once.
Though city officials are saying it in public, they admit privately they’re content to let things drag a bit because of the hardship of coming up with the cash during a recession, particularly when so many residents have seen their property tax bills soar already.
Constructing the new schools would add about half a mill to the property tax rate even though the state is likely to pay about 70 percent of the overall tab.
Thibault said that she would like to see her state taxes used to help put up new schools in Bristol instead of paying to erect them in other towns.
She said that new buildings would help attract the young families that can bolster the community instead of the absentee landlords who have been snatching up rental property in recent years and perhaps contributing to the city’s decay.
“Invest in our community,” Thibault told city councilors recently.
Rookie city Councilor Cliff Block said that without new schools “nobody will want to live here.”
Ward said the city can’t proceed any faster than it is.
“There’s nothing you can do but wait,” he told Thibault.
The chairman of the city’s Real Estate Committee, city Councilor Frank Nicastro, said that his panel would have to approve any land purchases for schools before deals can be struck.
“But nothing’s been brought to us,” Nicastro said.
It’s not clear how much bargaining has been going on behind the scenes between the city and either Crowley or Scalia. A number of officials have expressed concern that the Scalia site in particular won’t work out because the owner wants too much money for it.
The long-term plan calls for closing Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older elementary schools – O’Connell, Greene-Hills and Bingham.
Students in the other two middle schools, at Northeast and Chippens Hill, would not switch to a K-8 system when the new schools open, educators have said.
Instead, they said, there would be a dual system in Bristol for at least a few years.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Resident to City Hall: Take care of your property

Sheffield Lane resident Ed Lee told city councilors this week that "it pains me as a veteran and it embarasses me as a citizen" to see the rusty, unlit flagpole in front of Jennings School.
He also pointed out that a city-owned lot near the New Britain Water Company property near St. Gregory's has very tall grass growing.
"The city's not maintaining their own property," Lee said.
Mayor Art Ward said that with all the rain this year, crews have a hard time keeping up.
"It's totally green and totally growing," the mayor said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Minority community demands action on hate crimes

A group of minority residents has called on city leaders to crack down on hate crimes.
The Rev. E.J. Moss of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church urged authorities this week “to take a stand against any and all hate crimes that are perpetuated in the city of Bristol.”
Surrounded by 10 black and women from the community, former Bristol NAACP leader Monica Ervin told city councilors this week there should be a public forum so minority residents “can voice our concerns.”
Mayor Art Ward said his door is always open and he’s more than willing to talk to people who are concerned about hate crimes.
Police Chief John DiVenere said that he doesn’t know of any hate crimes occurring in the city for years.
But Ervin cited the “constant desecration” of buildings around town with offensive words as a growing and significant problem that officials need to act on.
She said that it is “disturbing” that city leaders reacted with such outrage to the vandalism of a Memorial Boulevard statue while remaining mum about “the constant vandalism” that violates the civil rights of many in the community.’
Moss said that any hate crime “is a crime against every citizen” and should be taken seriously.
He said there have been many incidents around the state in recent months.
Moss pointed to the racism complaints lodged against the police in 2006 as examples of the problems in Bristol, complaints that the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated but took no action.
Moss said the law enforcers “march to the drumbeat of a different drummer” when it comes to taking hate crimes seriously.
He said there is “a slippery slope” trend by the police and the city government toward accepting hate crimes that “inevitably leads to the continuation and perpetration” of them.
Moss said that the mayor, police chief, fire chief and others need “to do what is right and not that which is expedient” to prevent hate crimes from occurring in Bristol.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

July 9, 2008

Fire Department gets federal funds

Press release from U.S. Rep. John Larson, the East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol:

Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01) announced today that the City of Bristol Fire Department has won a $24,320 grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Program. The Bristol Fire Department will use the funds to train all of their active firefighters to operate fire trucks and equipment. With the training, the 80 firefighters of the Bristol Fire Department will be in compliance with the National Fire Protection Association’s standards for operating a fire apparatus.
“I am thrilled that the Bristol Fire Department will receive this funding. It will provide critical training for Bristol’s firefighters and improve the safety and security of one of our local communities,” said Larson. “The Assistance to Firefighters Program provides fire departments across the nation with the ability to serve their community. It is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that essential programs such as this continue to be funded and supported.”
Bristol Mayor Art Ward said, “The City of Bristol and its fire department greatly appreciate the work of Congressman Larson to address the professional needs of the city’s fire department, especially in this time of budgetary constraints.”

In Fiscal Year 2008, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program will award approximately $500 million directly to fire departments and EMS organizations around the country to enhance their response capabilities, meet NFPA compliance guidelines and to effectively protect the health and safety of the public and emergency response personnel with respect to fire and all other hazards.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Federal Hill a long time ago

This is an old tintype that shows one of the earliest pictures taken in Bristol. You know what I love most about it? The white fence. It's about a zillion times better than the ugly split rail fences that adorn Memorial Boulevard and other public places around town now.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol to poor and sick: we can't help you

Claiming the city is struggling financially, city councilors refused this week to reconsider a decision to wipe out the city’s $70,000 contribution to the Greater Bristol Visiting Nurse Association.The move may mean that the nonprofit VNA will cease offering free or reduced price care to chronically ill poor people in Bristol.
“We’re really at a loss about what to say to the Bristol community,” said Maryellen Frele, the acting chief operating officer of the association.
Mayor Art Ward hailed the century-old group’s work but insisted that it could tap into its $1.5 million in reserves to make up for the virtual depletion of city aid this year – a move that VNA officials said would be fiscally irresponsible and could jeopardize their existence down the road.
Ward said that slashing the aid offered by the city to just $100 was “an economic action that had to be taken” as part of an effort to reduce spending and hold down property taxes.
“Our backs are up against the wall,” Ward said.
But Ruth Tubbs, a Bristol resident, said that people need access to visiting nurses.
Tubbs said she’s had a visiting nurse for three years.
“She’s always there and she’s always taking care of me,” Tubbs said. “I have had the best care that anyone could give me.”
“What are we going to do?” Tubbs asked.
City councilors and Ward said they want the VNA to shoulder the cost this year and then, with luck, the city can renew its commitment to help in 2009.
Ward said Wednesday that he’s scheduled a meeting next week between the city, the VNA and the office of U.S. Rep. John Larson, the East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol, to see if any additional funding may be available from other sources.
Anne Dolson, the association’s president, said the VNA is facing a shortfall already this year and can’t be expected to pick up the entire tab for nearly $300,000 worth of free and reduced cost care for the poor.
“Historically, the burden of providing for indigent care has rested with the city,” Frele said. “It is the city’s responsibility to provide for its indigent, not the VNA’s responsibility.”
“In this time when the average person is suffering from serious economic constraints, it is unconscionable for the city of Bristol to turn its back on its poor and deny them home health care,” Frele said.
Yet city leaders said they have no choice.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said he spoke this week to an 85-year-old resident who’s facing a $1,200 property tax increase. He asked how he could tell that man to pay more in order to subsidize someone else’s health care.
“What are you going to say to seniors who need home health care?” Frele answered, adding that the VNA doesn’t have the resources to subsidize care the city has traditionally paid for.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro said the problems facing the VNA are “just the tip of the iceberg” as a sinking economy leaves government at all levels pinching pennies to try to cope with the downturn.
Nicastro said that nobody is happy about the cut to the VNA “but it had to be done.”
Comptroller Glenn Klocko, who initially recommended the cut, said that the nonprofit’s budget information showed it had a $200,000 surplus in the previous year. It also listed a contribution of $17,000 from the United Way in its books but never mentioned Bristol’s much larger donation, he said.
Klocko said the city can’t subsidize every worthwhile organization that asks for money.
Frele said that her association’s income goes up and down depending on reimbursement rates for its care, but that it’s looking at a $50,000 loss this year.
She said the available assets in its rainy day fund would only cover three months of operation, money it may need someday if there’s a changeover in the way the government handles visiting nurse care.
Frele said that if the VNA begins dipping into its reserves, the day may come “when we have to close our doors.”
Tom Morrow, the director of the Bristol Community Organization, said Wednesday he doesn’t know what will happen to the VNA’s patients if the group ceases serving the uninsured poor.
“I don’t know of any other resource that these folks could turn to,” Morrow said.

Who loses out?
Though the Greater Bristol Visiting Nurse Association can’t disclose specific information about its patients, officials described in general terms a recent case referred to the organization by Bristol Hospital.
A 53-year-old widow was left without income or insurance after her husband dropped dead in front of her eyes, Maryellen Frele, the acting chief operating officer of the association, said.
As a result, she couldn’t buy her diabetes medication, “which gradually put her into diabetic ketoacidosis, the first step toward a diabetic coma,” Frele said.
At Bristol Hospital, the woman got treatment and doctors switched her from oral medication to injectable insulin.
Before discharging the widow, the hospital asked the VNA if it would take her on since she lacked insurance, Frele said.
Because her diabetes posed a “high risk,” Frele said, the nonprofit agreed.
“The patient required home health for skilled nursing assessment and teaching so that the patient’s diabetes would stabilize and she would become independent in her diabetes management,” Frele said.
“This patient is typical of the kinds of Bristol community residents who are referred to the VNA because they have no insurance, but are in dire need of home health services,” Frele said.
It’s likely, though, the group is going to refuse similar cases in the weeks and months ahead because of the city’s decision to slice its aid.
There appears to be noplace else for people who need the help to turn.

Update on Thursday: Here's a PDF of the Bristol VNA's Form 990 for 2006, which lays out most of its finances at that point.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com