November 1, 2008

Overview of the chief operating officer issue

Whether the city needs a chief operating officer or not comes down, in the end, to something akin to faith.

Those who support the measure on Tuesday’s ballot say that putting an experienced professional in charge of city administration will lead to savings that far exceed the position’s likely cost.

Those who opposed the charter change say that adding a post that’s likely to cost taxpayers about $250,000 a year – for salary, benefits and sundry – doesn’t make sense in the middle of a recession unless there is hard proof that it will produce savings.

Since only time can answer the doubts with proof that one side or the other is correct, it is virtually impossible to prove that adding a kind of city manager-lite to the structure of city government would have much impact. But voters still have to make a choice on the controversial plan Tuesday.

The Choose COO organization pushing the idea – headed by businessman Craig Yarde and former Republican mayoral contender Ken Johnson – said Friday that Bristol’s “present system is laden with cronyism and lacking accountability” and called on taxpayers to “get the professional leadership we need” by voting in favor of the proposal.

But Mayor Art Ward, a critic, called the move a “last minute push by a small group of political proponents who want you to believe that all of the ills of our community will be resolved by the presence of yet another level of government, a COO.

Though the plan got the unanimous backing of the bipartisan Charter Revision Commission, the Republican Town Committee and the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce, city councilors gunned down the proposal in June on a 5-2 vote.

The losing side opted to fight on, gathering more than 3,600 signatures from registered voters in order to give the public the last word on whether to make the change or not. That’s why it is on the ballot Tuesday as Question #5.

“It looks like a classic fight,” Yarde said. “The taxpayers who are looking for more efficiency  and cost containment in our city government and the union looking not to change the status quo.”

The Choose COO group has put up large signs in town describing the vote as one between taxpayers and unions, which critics say is unfair given that most city workers live in town and are both union members and taxpayers.

Still, a letter sent out to members by Local 2267 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees warned them that a chief operating officer “will not prove to be a friend of the unions.”

Officials who oppose the charter change say that the city runs pretty well now and there’s no need to add a vague new position that might muck things up.

 City Councilor Mike Rimcoski, a Republican, called the proposed chief operating officer “another layer of bureaucracy” that would cost taxpayers too much.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro, a former Democratic mayor,  said that the strong mayor form of government in Bristol has served the city well for nearly a century and there’s no reason to revise it. He said that arguments that department heads are out of controland need supervision  is “garbage.”

Critics argue that Bristol has managed to create a healthy rainy day fund, fully fund its pension trusts and provide a solid school system without socking taxpayers over the years. They say there’s nothing a COO add.

But city Councilor Ken Cockayne, a freshman Republican who favors the change, said, “People seem to be living in the past. We have to be looking to the future.”

Democratic city Councilor Craig Minor, who favors the position, said that asking how much the new slot will cost is fair.

I personally think that in the long run the COO will save us a lot more than he costs, but a better way to look at it is to think back to when desktop computers were just starting to become common in the workplace. Everyone wanted to know how much money would they save,” he said. “Well, as it turned out, they probably didn’t save a penny.”

“But they made it possible for us to provide much better service to our customers, and to do many things we never thought possible. They make us more productive. That’s what the COO provides,” Minor said.

Yarde said a COO “will help in the continuity needed to maintain a long term vision for this community,” which he said is needed because mayor and councilors can change every two years.

Yarde said that he’s also convinced the position will bring savings for taxpayers.

 “Believe me, there are millions of dollars of low hanging fruit that a COO can pick without sacrificing service or jobs,” Yarde said.

“We’re not the little town of Bristol anymore. It’s time for professional oversight,” Johnson said.

There are other questions on the ballot as well, including a controversial state referendum about whether to hold a constitutional convention to consider rewriting Connecticut government’s blueprint.

There are also four non-controversial charter issues in Bristol that haven’t received any opposition, including a move to extend the registrars’ terms to four years.

The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

What would a COO do?

The COO would supervise and evaluate the city’s 21 department heads, make recommendations to the mayor and the City Council, and ‘provide leadership and direction’ to city government on a range of issues, including the budget, technology initiatives and customer service.

Who hires the COO?

A hiring committee consisting of the mayor, one city councilor, the Board of Finance chairman and two citizens, one from each party, would pick the COO.

What qualifications would a COO have?

To apply, a COO prospect would need at least a bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field and have at least four years of experience as a city manager or its equivalent.

At least four city councilors said the standards ought to be higher.

How would a COO lose his job?

At any time, a vote by two-thirds of the City Council would end a COO’s term, which means that five of the seven council votes would be needed to fire someone in the job.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at


Anonymous said...

Dress it up, wrap it in a bow....but it's still just one more worthless layer of bureaucracy and another hand in the tax payers' pockets.


Anonymous said...

if minor got any more vague, he wouldn't have to say anything - wait, in reviewing his statement, he didn't say anything - oh, well.

Anonymous said...

And, there are still many incosistencies between the proposal and existing charter. Could end up with many legal battles.

Anonymous said...

Yard wants to be the power behind the throne.

Anonymous said...

It is so ironic that Democrats like Mayor coWard and company are saying we don't need another layer of bureaucracy, when all they want to do is tax and spend.

Anonymous said...

minor and cockayne only want someone who they can control because it is evident that they are real wing-nuts.

Anonymous said...

5:01 - Maybe everyone's just totally mentally exhausted from listening to the holier than though likes of Ken "rabid chicken" Cockayne, Fuzzy Minor, and Temper tantrum Johnson prattle on and on, and on, and on about their miracle-working, spectacular, superduper, stupendous, amazing COO....

Dear God, my ears are bleeding. Let's send them packing - Vote no COO!!!

Anonymous said...

c'mon, give minor what he wants or he'll say how stupid everyone else is - AGAIN - give cockayne what he wants or he'll go into his "mad-dog" act again and use your leg for a fire hydrant -AGAIN - give ken johnson his way or he'll threaten to resolve the municipal energy issue by not being the company's president - AGAIN.
Not a lot of credibility displayed with this trio, for sure.


Anonymous said...

Support the COO.

Anonymous said...

Simple question:
Who would the COO try to keep happy so that they could keep their job, the Mayor, Council, Mayor, who have a vote, or the people who do not have a vote?

Answer that before you vote.

Anonymous said...

take a look at the newspaper article and realize that nicastro, a 10 year mayor and ward the incumbent mayor both agree that the COO isn't needed but it is being backed by people such as craig yarde and ken johnson who have never held elective office - johnson couldn't even handle showing up for meetings when he was on the water board and got thrown off as a result, versus 2 people who have/are experiencing the duties.
as for minor, he justs thinks that everyone is stupid so he wants to push this so that he looks so much brighter than everyone else - in his own mind.

Anonymous said...

Still no answers, fromm COO COO, or the media.

And one questions why people have lost faith in the process!!!

Anonymous said...

Please 10:23, stop insulting the intelligence of the citizens of Bristol. Save your "simple question" and give us the answers to the complex questions that we've been asking for....

vote NO COO!

Anonymous said...

Many questions have been asked regarding the COO proposition. Very few have been responded to, let alone answered.
The City lawyer, Lacy, claims that city officials cannot get involved, which seems somewhat unrealistic.
However, the COO/GOP has a lawyer in their camp, ATTY Krawiecki, who is very knowledgeable and learned in this area.
I am surprised that he has not provided any input or responses, unless he knows that the proposition is flawed.
Why else would he keep silent? He is not a city official, I don't think, and is a part of the GOP who is behind this effort.

It would be nice if he would give us the benefit of his experience and knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I have heard the GOP has an army of people going out to the polls on Tuesday to off set the union folks for the COO question. The union better be ready because I have heard its a rather large group of Republicans, and I have also heard that there will be some city workers out at the polls supporting the COO question. This is going to be interesting!

Anonymous said...

poster 1:51

Not too worry! The Unions will have the poles packed with there people, paid of course!!

We all know they dont want anyone they will have to answer too! They like it just the way it is now! Having Ward, Nicastro and McCauley doing what they want!

Anonymous said...


Look at the Union Hacks all getting nervous this will pass!

I remember when you all said the Pro-COO wouldn't get nearly enough signatures. Accually Tom Riganni said he would eat his hat if they did it taste? Then you said the signatures wouldn't get certified and they did! Now you say it won't pass!!

Wait till Tuesday night!! IT WILL PASS! People are tired of this town being run into the ground by all you union hacks!

Vote Yes for COO!

Anonymous said...

"I have heard"....yawn! Once again, never believe what you've heard and only half of what you've seen....

Anonymous said...

3:25 ~ save the champagne for New Years....the citizens of Bristol are no where near as gullible as you think....

Anonymous said...


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Anonymous said...

9:08 - Great argument! That pretty much sums up the COO concept. We don't get any real information about it, but we should just vote for it, right?

No thanks,


Anonymous said...

Less than substantial explanation.

Anonymous said...

The COO would supervise and evaluate the city’s 21 department heads,

You really need to stop printing this. It isn't true. The COO could only have the power to supervise non-bargaining employees. So pretty much that the COO would only be able to supervise people that have no decision making power.

Steve Collins said...

If the measure passes, the city charter will say that the 21 department heads report to the COO. If that conflicts with union agreements, then obviously, the city is going to have renegotiate those terms to match the legal requirement in its governmental blueprint.

Anonymous said...

If it has to be negotiated, and contracts take precedence over the charter, what will be the cost?

How long will it take?

And what happens in the interim?

An example of total lack of research and understanding by the COO people.

What else lies in front of us?

Anonymous said...

4:08pm - what should be said is, "what lies will the coo proponents lie about when they continue to lie about the lies that they have been lying about?"

Anonymous said...

Hi Ho, Hi Ho - down with the COO

Hi Ho Hi Ho - no go for COO

Hi Ho Hi Ho - proponents know where they can go

Anonymous said...

If that conflicts with union agreements, then obviously, the city is going to have renegotiate those terms to match the legal requirement in its governmental blueprint.


It does conflict with union agreements, so yes, the union would have to AGREE no renegotiate. The City can't force them to, charter or no charter change.

So in the mean time, you have a 6 digit paid employee that can't do a thing.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this the kind of problem that Stortz was referring to and did not get any response from Ward?