Instead of opting for a new chief operating officer for City Hall whose pay, duties and ability to get things done remain murky, Mayor Art Ward said he’d rather see a couple of mayoral assistants added to the staff to help cope with the workload.
Ward said he’d consider backing a plan that would let the mayor hire an assistant and to have the City Council hire another assistant to work in the mayor’s office.
With more help, he said, Bristol’s top leader would have a greater ability to attend hearings in Hartford, send representatives to community meetings and more.
The possibility of adding assistants stands in sharp contrast to the controversial proposal offered in a Nov. 4 charter referendum that calls for creating a chief operating officer to oversee city department heads.
Supporters say that a professionally trained chief operating officer will bring more efficiency to City Hall, along greater continuity. They say they have no doubt the creating the post will save money for taxpayers.
Ward said that those pushing for the new post need to “tell the people exactly what is wrong with our present position” at City Hall.
He said that Bristol has a fully funded pension plan, a solid bond rating, a Board of Finance that has kept spending under control for decades and an educational system that is admired across the state for delivering high test scores despite “relatively low spending” on the schools.
“Nobody has demonstrated to me the dire need for reform,” Ward said.
Ward said that if the mayor’s job is so burdensome that it needs the relief offered by a chief operating officer’s help, then hiring a couple of assistants would accomplish the same result for less money.
New Britain, he said, has five assistants for its mayor and other cities the size of Bristol have much larger staffs for the mayor than Bristol, which offers him only an administrative assistant.
Under former Mayor Gerard Couture, who served from 2003 to 2005, the city had a part-time aide for the mayor as well, who earned $25,000 annually.
But Couture’s successor, William Stortz, opted not to fill the post.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the mayoral assistant’s position is no longer in the municipal budget.
Ward said that letting the mayor pick an assistant and having the council pick a second assistant would ensure that the choices “were not just dictatorial.”
He said that having assistants who could pick up some of the slack would allow a mayor to spend more time in Hartford attending key hearings and talking to the state officials who decide how much aid comes to Bristol and its projects.
Ward said there’s no doubt that it’s necessary “to tweak” city government regularly, to keep it functioning as well as possible.
But, he said, adding a chief operating officer whose focus would be solely internal wouldn’t be much help.
Ward said he sees merit in the argument that city needs greater continuity in its leadership, one of the reasons touted for a chief operating officer.
He said he would like to see mayors have four-year terms instead of facing reelection after just two years.
That would allow a mayor time “to accomplish a set agenda” before his term ends.
Ward said that city councilors should have three-year terms, with their terms staggered so that all of them would not be up for reelection in the same year.
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