February 29, 2008

No deficit for school budget this year... probably

Though school officials feared only a few months ago they might end the fiscal year with a $600,000 deficit, they’re now pretty sure they won’t dip into the red after all.
“We believe we will end the year in the black,” said School Superintendent Philip Streifer.
The Board of Education faces higher costs for special education, transportation and utilities.
But it refrained from filling the equivalent of six full-time jobs that were in its budget and also scaled back maintenance to lend a hand with the budget.
“We’re using the money where it needs to be,” Streifer said. He said the cuts were made without harming education.
“It’s not easy,” said William Smyth, the assistant superintendent for business, who’s retiring at the end of June.
Smyth said that is “pretty confident” the school budget won’t wind up with a deficit unless something unexpected comes up.
Ending the fiscal year in the black may help with the argument school officials plan to make for a 7.7 percent spending hike in the next budget, which would push education spending up to $103.3 million from its current $96 million level.
The new budget, which the school board plans to approve next week, would create a number of new positions to help deal with special education and the growing number of students from impoverished families
The struggle to pay for special education is putting the most strain on the school budget because, officials say, planning is so hard.
For instance, since July, 11 more special needs students have entered the school system, seven of them placed in Bristol by the state Department of Families and Children, according to school administrators.
That alone has socked taxpayers for $647,000 more than anticipated during this academic year, officials said.
“The state needs to pay for these excess costs,” Streifer said. “We bear a lot of the costs” for students who aren’t even from Bristol, he said.

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

February 28, 2008

Bristol getting $1.85 million in road improvements for Route 229


The state is giving Bristol $1.85 million to make long-planned improvements along Middle Street near the city’s new industrial park.
The funds will be used to widen Middle Street in Bristol to add left-turn lanes and a traffic signal at the intersections Industrial Park Road and Battisto Drive, according to Gov. Jodi Rell.
“It’s going to be widening [Route] 229 by the industrial park and also down by the fire house,” said state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Democrat whose 79th District includes the area.
Nicastro said that the money would also pay for new traffic signalization to keep traffic flowing smoothly.
“I’m tickled pink about it because that moves that industrial park further along,” said Nicastro, who pushed for creation of the industrial park during his 10-year stint as mayor.
State Rep. Ron Burns, a Bristol Republican from the 77th District, said the “improvements, coupled with the completion of the Route 72 extension project, will help make the business park a highly desirable location for new employers.”
“It’s absolutely necessary” to get the money, said Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director.
“The timing is good. That does mean they can begin construction sometime this year, if they can schedule it,” Rosenthal said. “But it has to be when DOT is able to work on it.”
Rosenthal said that he doubts the project will cost as much as the state is setting aside, but it’s nice to have a cushion in case of glitches.
“The improvements this grant will finance will ensure traffic continues to move smoothly along Route 229 and make the Southeast Bristol Business Park easier to market,” said state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes northwestern Bristol.
Hamzy said that ESPN and 229 Technology Park “have contributed significantly to economic growth in Bristol over the years, broadening the city’s tax base and creating thousands of new jobs. The governor’s and bond commission’s approval of this funding will help ensure that trend continues.”
Rell said the project is part of a statewide initiative.
“As Bristol grows, we need to make sure the roads and highways are keeping pace with the growth,” Rell said in a prepared statement Thursday.
“Our state’s economic success depends in part on our ability to move people and goods efficiently and effectively over our highways and rail systems, which is why improving the Connecticut transportation network has been such a high priority for my Administration,” the governor said.
“I am pleased to see projects like Route 229 move ahead,” Rell said.
Rell said the improvements are part of a $20 million package of upgrades to state roads and interstates other than I-95 that will be considered by the State Bond Commission today.

Here is the governor's press release:

Governor M. Jodi Rell today announced $1.85 million to make improvements on state Route 229 in Bristol at the intersections of Industrial Park Road and Battisto Drive.
The funds will be used to widen Route 229 – which is also known as Middle Street in Bristol – to add left-turn lanes and a traffic signal at the intersections.
“As Bristol grows, we need to make sure the roads and highways are keeping pace with the growth,” Governor Rell said. “Our state’s economic success depends in part on our ability to move people and goods efficiently and effectively over our highways and rail systems, which is why improving the Connecticut transportation network has been such a high priority for my Administration. I am pleased to see projects like Route 229 move ahead.
“I also want to thank state Representatives Ron Burns and Bill Hamzy for their strong advocacy on behalf of Bristol,” the Governor said.
The improvements to Route 229 are part of $20 million in upgrades to state highways and interstates other than I-95 expected to gain approval at the Bond Commission meeting on Friday.

And here's another release, from the state House GOP:
The State Bond Commission Friday is expected to approve $1,850,000 in state funding for various improvements to Route 229 to accommodate the Southeast Bristol Business Park, state Representatives William A. Hamzy, Ron Burns, and Frank N. Nicastro Sr., announced today.
The bond commission is expected to act on the funding at its regular monthly meeting Friday, February 29, 2008 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, the legislators said.
The improvements to Route 229 at Battisto Road and Business Park Drive include minor widening to provide turning lanes and traffic signal installation to accommodate the business park, the legislators said.
“The improvements this grant will finance will ensure traffic continues to move smoothly along Route 229 and make the Southeast Bristol Business Park easier to market. ESPN and 229 Technology Park have contributed significantly to economic growth in Bristol over the years, broadening the city’s tax base and creating thousands of new jobs. The Governor’s and bond commission’s approval of this funding will help ensure that trend continues,” said Representative Hamzy, R-78th District.
“The completion of the new turning lanes and installation of the traffic signal that will serve the business park will ease traffic flow and safety concerns that might be raised by companies interested in moving there. Those improvements, coupled with the completion of the Route 72 extension project, will help make the business park a highly desirable location for new employers. Governor Rell and the bond commission’s support for the Route 72 project, the downtown revitalization initiative and the development of the Southeast Bristol Business Park are all contributing to Bristol’s economic renaissance and I thank them for it,” said Representative Burns, R-77th District.
“When I was mayor and the business park was still in the pre-development stages, the city’s legislative delegation and I met with state Department of Transportation officials regarding the road widening and signalization improvements that would be needed to ensure easy access to and from the business park,” said Representative Nicastro, D-79th District. “The improvements will go a long way toward easing the concerns we had about traffic flow and safety in the area. I’d like to thank Governor Rell and the Bond Commission for their support for this important project.”
The Southeast Bristol Business Park will be developed on 51 acres of mostly vacant land on the east side of Route 229 and north of Redstone Hill Road. The business park will consist of 12 developable lots which will support a total building area of 677,968 square feet. Access to the Southeast Bristol Business Park will be via a new city-owned public roadway constructed between Route 229 (opposite Battisto Road) and Redstone Hill Road at a point 1,300 feet east of Route 229, the legislators said.
The Route 229 improvements will be completed at no cost to local property taxpayers, the legislators said.

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

Rising poverty may be a reflection of inflation, stagnant paychecks

City officials are worried that Bristol’s poverty rate may be rising more than 1 percent a month, a rate that would leave the community devastated within a few years.
Spurring the concern is the percentage of low-income elementary school students receiving free or reduced-price school lunches soaring by nearly 7 percent just since October.
But that number may be deceptive, say those on the front lines of the fight against poverty.
“I don’t know that Bristol is becoming a magnet for low-income people. I’m just not sure that is actually happening,” said Tom Morrow, director of the Bristol Community Organization.
What may be occurring instead, some say, is that struggling families are taking advantage of the opportunity to get cheap or free lunches for their children because they’re facing rising costs but stagnant paychecks.
“Families are having a harder time making ends meet,” said Linda Rich, director of the Family Resource Centers at three city schools.
“If they were just making it, they’re not making it anymore,” Rich said. “That’s very real.”
But having working parents who are scrambling to pay for heating oil, gasoline, milk, bread and other necessities whose costs have soared is not the same as having the poor flocking to town, overburdening existing social services, schools and other institutions on the front lines.
It doesn’t appear, at least not yet, that those on the front lines of dealing with poverty are seeing a crush of newcomers.
“We’re getting the same number of requests for help with rent” and other assistance, said Kit Plourde, the city’s social services director. “I can’t really say that we’ve had an increase.”
Morrow said, “There are, probably, more poor kids. The economy is certainly not doing as well as it has been.”
But he suspects the reason the school lunch program is seeing a dramatic rise is twofold: the squeeze that inflation has put on workers’ salaries and the use of electronic swipe cards at school cafeterias that has eliminated any stigma for students on the program.
“On the face of it, more kids are getting free and reduced lunch,” Morrow said. “But you have to look beyond the actual figures.”
The figures themselves certainly look scary.
Among Bristol’s elementary schoolchildren, 38.9 percent got a cheap or free lunch in February – up from 36.6 percent as recently as October.
“We hit the tipping point,” said John Smith, a member of the Board of Finance.
He said the city has to take steps “to begin to change the people who want to move into this community or we may never get out of the box” with efforts to revive Bristol.
Ron Messier, another finance commissioner, said it’s going to take a real commitment by the city to tackle the issue – and it’s likely to take years to solve.
What some officials fear – and Board of Education member Tom O’Brien has trumpeted – is the danger that Bristol could slide into more widespread poverty on the scale of New Britain or East Hartford if it can’t hold the line soon.
But it’s at least as likely that most of the increasing poverty is tied to slipping living standards among people who are already in Bristol.
While Plourde said “the numbers don’t lie,” she added that the poverty levels they show are probably an indication that working people are having a harder time paying for necessities and are searching for ways to cut costs.
Morrow said that last year, the applications for heating assistance rose almost 15 percent and are likely to go up as much this winter, too. That’s a clear sign that rising costs are crimping family budgets, he said.
Rich, too, said she’s seeing more requests for help with heating bills.
Working families that didn’t need help in the past, she said, are having a hard time making ends meet.
“Whether you are the working poor or living at or below the poverty level, when those basic things go up in price, it effects all of us, but it effects them more. Their income can only cover so much,” she said.
Rich said that those who have more income can cut back by eating out less or not catching the latest blockbuster, but for those with less money, there’s nothing to cut.
Searching for ways to stretch their money, Rich said, some are probably applying for the federal lunch program who wouldn’t have done so in the past.
In tough times, Morrow said, people do look for areas they can get assistance, including school lunch aid.
“They wouldn’t necessarily have done that before,” he said, “but now, with things being a little tougher, they will look into it.”

Click here for an earlier story about concerns about poverty rising

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

February 27, 2008

Newspaper boxes may be regulated by city

What started as an effort to remove abandoned, trashy news boxes from downtown streets is on its way to becoming a complex new system of regulation by City Hall.
The Ordinance Committee is reviewing a proposed statute that would establish rules for placing newspaper boxes, establish insurance requirements for anyone putting out a box, require $12-per-box fees and more.
Because of First Amendment concerns, “we had to tread lightly” in drafting the proposed law, said Dale Clift, an assistant city attorney.
Clift said that the suggested change originally focused on the many free newspaper boxes – which typically distribute real estate and dating advertisements – that have been neglected.
But officials found they could not comply with constitutional provisions unless a local ordinance is “content neutral,” which essentially means the city can’t treat the boxes of a dating monthly any different than it would those hawking The Wall Street Journal.
Clift said that the regulations aim to make it easier for pedestrians to use sidewalks and for drivers to park their cars safely.
If the new ordinance is approved, it would be against the law in Bristol to put a newspaper box on public property unless the Public Works Department issues a permit for it.
The permits would give the green light to put a box at a specific spot, assuming that the company seeking to have the box has a mandated $1 million insurance policy in place for its boxes, officials said.
The rules establish standards for the installation and maintenance of newspaper boxes. Clift said some of them today are “kind of shabby.”
After City Planner Alan Weiner raised some doubts about provisions in the draft this month, city councilors opted to postpone action until they could review it further.
Weiner said he wasn’t sure that a section regulating the color scheme of boxes was proper. He said that some papers have specific color combinations that they use regularly to establish their brand identity.
If the city’s rules didn’t allow those colors, Weiner said, there could be a challenge.
In addition, he said that a provision barring boxes near “unmarked crosswalks” doesn’t make sense because he doesn’t know what an unmarked crosswalk is.
The draft ordinance also refers to commercial districts, which don’t even exist in Bristol’s land use regulation scheme.
But aside from some particulars that need revision, Weiner said, “the main concept is certainly a good one.”
The Ordinance Committee plans to take up the issue again at the end of March.
The soonest it could go before the City Council for a vote is in April.
To see the full PDF text of the proposed law, click here.

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

February 26, 2008

Appoint the city treasurer?

The Charter Revision Commission is eyeing a possible change to dump the elected, part-time treasurer.
Instead, it would establish an appointed treasurer's post with explicit qualifications laid out for the job.
The mayor and City Council would make the appointment.
Though I've listened to the discussions on this issue for several charter meetings, I still don't understand why the panel wants to make the change. I'm sure it will offer a detailed explanation at some point.
"I like the idea of still having the independent treasurer," Furey said. "I like the idea of not making a much bigger position than it needs to be."
The treasurer makes something like $5,000 annually and basically oversees a small treasurer's office, though the full-time deputy treasurer does that job admirably, by all accounts.
Do voters want to lose the right to elect the treasurer? I'll be curious to see if that happens.
Furey said the change would take effect after the current term is up so Bill Veits, who just won the office, won't get booted mid-term.
Al Marko, a charter commissioner, said he'd like to see a four-year term for the appointed post, which the rest of the panel is fine with.

Update at 9:35 p.m. - Furey just said the reason for the proposal is "to try to ensure somebody considered has basic qualifications. We want to have people with a business background in that position."

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

Chief operating officer still moving forward

I'm sitting at a stunningly dull Charter Revision Commission meeting where members are talking about the particularities of a possible chief operating officer who would oversee city department heads.
The panel chairman, Tim Furey, is pushing the idea hard. He said that adding the position would provide more oversight, more continuity and more efficiency.
Let me give you a flavor for this thing....
"Is this person going to have a term?" asked Ann Baldwin, an assistant city attorney. If not, she said, the term is automatically two years.
Furey said the contract could lay out the term and rights to any severance.
"It sounds like it's the better way to go," said Al Marko, a committee member.
Furey said that in business, the length of service effects their severance pay.
But that whole idea is now sort of dropped.
"We need to set up a special meeting to look at a fleshed out section for this," Furey said.
A public hearing will follow in March, officials said.
The panel's supposed to report to the council by April 4 so time is tight.
For a hearing, Baldwin said, the charter commission has to have a draft report finished so that people can read it before the final hearing.
Furey wants to know how simple the recommendations can be.
There doesn't need to be an explanation for the recommendations, Baldwin said, though perhaps a cover letter to the mayor and council will explain the rationales for changes sought by the panel.
Furey wants to know if the panel can refine its report after a hearing. The answer is yes.
Baldwin said that before the hearing, the panel needs to vote on what to include in a draft report.
After the hearing, the committee has to meet again so that it could make revisions in its suggestions, Baldwin said.
Furey suggests a meeting on Tuesday, March 11 and a hearing on March 18. The final charter meeting would be on March 25.
So by March 11, "by hook or by crook," Furey said he'll have something together for his colleagues to refine.
Now Baldwin is pointing out that March 11 is a council session.
Furey said he wants to finalize the COO position and prepare a report at the March 11 hearing.
The council would accept the report at its April 8 meeting and schedule its own public hearing on the suggestions.
Furey said the proposals will be fleshed out in time for the March 11 charter sessions.
I have no idea if the council supports the idea of a chief operating officer. It will be interesting to hear how that works out.
Anybody have any thuughts on this whole concept?


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

Finance commissioners take exception to O'Brien

The Board of Finance isn’t too happy with Board of Education member Tom O’Brien.
Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said Tuesday he takes “deep umbrage with Mr. O’Brien’s negative comments” about the fiscal oversight panel and its staff.
Miecznikowski said it is “inappropriate to suggest” that the finance board “does not understand the budgeting process” in terms of education spending.
During a school committee meeting Monday, O’Brien said the finance board is filled with newcomers and doesn’t understand that the school budget is different from spending plans submitted by other city departments.
"They're very confused," said O'Brien. "They don't truly understand how it works."
“Currently, all but one Board of Finance member has experienced at least one completebudget cycle of the city,” Miecznikowski said.
He pointed out that the other panel members “have many years of combined experience with the budget process” and some have helped shape school budgets directly because of positions they held at the Board of Education.
O’Brien was plotting strategy for winning finance panel approval for a $103 million school budget for the coming year, a push that might crimp efforts to hold down property taxes.
O’Brien said, too, that educators “have to address the impressions that certain members of the Board of Finance have been fed by the controller” and called for school officials “to be very clear and challenge” finance commissioners.
Mayor Art Ward defended the finance board’s role and called for school leaders to try to keep spending in check.
"The scrutiny of the budgetary process applies to all departments,” the mayor said. “Under the economic circumstances of the entire city, the Board of Education should look within its budget to control current and future costs and eliminate any non-essentialitems.”
Miecznikowski said that everyone needs to understand “that city revenues and other city resources that support the budget are stagnant at best in this recession prone economy.”
“With that said, it should be further understood that under these circumstances, all departments have to do with less. Costs to taxpayers are rising on many fronts and to compound the fact of increased costs this year is the implementation of a state mandated city-wide revaluation,” he said.
The finance chief said that his board “has provided for fully funded or near fully funded educational budgets at the request level for the past 3 years. To the best of myknowledge, that funding level has never been done for any other city department.”
Miecznikowski said that O’Brien is wrong about City Comptroller Glenn Klocko.
“The comptroller's office understands his role in his work with the Board of Finance and I feel confident that the comptroller also understands that the final budgetary decisions rest with the Board of Finance.”

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

Congressman Larson Mourns Loss of Anthony Savino

Press release from U.S. Rep. John Larson:

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01) issued thefollowing statement today on the passing of Anthony Savino of Bristol, Connecticut.
"The passing of Tony Savino is a profound loss for the City of Bristol, the State of Connecticut. It is also a great loss for my office and for me personally."
"Tony was a tireless public servant with impeccable character. He always thought of others first. In any situation of need, he was the first to try to figure out a way to help. He earned the respect of everyone he encountered.
"Tony's record of public service is one of the most impressive I can remember. He served 40 years in the U.S. Army and Connecticut ArmyNational Guard. For the last 16 years of his military service, he was the state Command Sergeant Major -- the highest ranking enlisted Soldier of the Connecticut National Guard. He set the standard for training and helped many of the state's soldiers become great leaders.
"For all ofhis military service, Tony was rightfully inducted into the ConnecticutVeterans Hall of Fame in March 2007.
"Tony volunteered and served countless hours leading community effortswith the Bristol Town Council, Bristol Veterans Council, AmericanLegion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars(VFW), AMVETS, the Bristol Community Organization, the Bristol Adult Resource center and my office's 1st Congressional District Military Academy Nomination review board. Tony was one of the most respected and dedicated men I have had the opportunity to work with, from his time working for the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency to the community issues in Bristolto which he dedicated himself.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Tony's wife, Deana, daughter Cathy, son Tony Jr. and the entire Savino family. I hope it is a comfort to them that so many people mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time."

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

Former city Councilor Tony Savino died this morning

Tim Gamache, who should know, sent out this sad note a few minutes ago:

"Bristols' Veterans, and the city as a whole, have lost a GIANT today. CSM Athony V. Savino passed away at approximately 01015 hrs.,Tue.(Feb.26).It is hard for me to put into words what he meant to me,and everyone he touched.Suffice to say I (we) will miss him dearly.For myself, there was NO fellow veteran in my 20+ years of service that I admired/respected more."

Many of us will miss his gentle spirit.

Update at 11:15 a.m., from Mayor Art Ward:
"Tony was an icon of an individual - someone who always gave far more than he would ever receive and that is the way that he always wanted it to be.He was a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a patriot, a soldier, a former member of the Bristol City Council, a civic - minded contributor and participant and a friend who wanted nothing more in life than the best of everything for everybody."

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

Mocabee "really f-ing mad" at Ward's comments about campaign finance fine

City Republican Party Chairman Art Mocabee said Tuesday that he is “really f-ing mad” that Bristol’s Democratic mayor chose to blame the Republicans for his own failure to obey campaign finance law.
Mocabee said “it makes no sense” for Mayor Art Ward to blame the GOP for filing a complaint rather than simply accepting responsibility for the flawed forms produced by his own campaign – an error that led to a state-imposed $1,500 fine against the mayor’s campaign treasurer.
“Our mayor broke the law,” Mocabee said.
What’s more, said the GOP chief, the Republicans only filed the complaint after unidentified members of the Democratic Town Committee last summer urged them to take action on Ward’s shoddy campaign finance disclosure forms.
The Democratic leadership in Bristol “knew what was going on,” Mocabee said.
“They made the snowball and we threw it,” he said. “They were looking to get Mr. Ward in a bunch of trouble and they succeeded.”
“The information got to us quite clearly. And they were absolutely right,” Mocabee said.
The questions about Ward’s error-plagued campaign finance forms arose last July and August, Mocabee said, at the same time Ward and former city Councilor Ellen Zoppo were locked in a tight mayoral primary race.
Mocabee said that Ward is a 14-year veteran of city politics and “knows campaign finance is critical.”
He said that even though he filed the complaint that led to the fine by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, he had no desire to tar Ward with it. He said he didn’t tell the press about the fine and was content to let the matter slide.
Mocabee said that when a reporter called to ask him about it Monday, he tried to show understanding to both Ward and Robert Dunlap, the mayor’s former campaign treasurer, instead of attempting to score political points.
But Ward lashed into him anyway.
Mocabee said he was stunned that Ward proclaimed that the GOP boss “should be ashamed of himself” for blowing the whistle on campaign finance problems.
Using that argument, said Mocabee, “every voter in Bristol should be ashamed of themselves because the mayor and his campaign manager broke the law. That’s the logic of our mayor right now. That makes absolutely no sense.”
Mocabee said it isn’t reasonable to say he ought to be hanging his head because Ward “failed to follow the law.”
Mocabee, who promised to try to send me electronic copies of Ward’s problem-plagued campaign finance reports, said that the forms have blanks on them for the campaign to fill in the full name, occupation and contribution amounts of each of its donors.
Ward’s forms only listed the donors’ first names, he said.
“How shameful is that? How idiotic is that?” Mocabee asked. “Anyone in their right mind can fill in name, address, city, state and zip code. I mean, c’mon.”
Still, Mocabee said, the state may have “gone to extremes” in its effort to crack down on the potential for corruption. He said he agrees that finding campaign treasurers may be a bad idea because it’s going to become difficult to find anyone willing to do the job if there’s such a risk attached to it.
Dunlap was required to pay the $1,500 fine himself, with no help from Ward.
Mocabee said, though, that he “wouldn’t be surprised if some cash gets exchanged somewhere along the line so Mr. Dunlap can take his vacation” this summer.
Mocabee said he’s glad that Ward is casting the blame for the mistakes on Dunlap.
“It’s admirable that the mayor is standing by his man. And the fact of the matter is, he should,” Mocabee said.

Update at 3:55 p.m.: Once Mocabee learned it would cost $50 to get copies of the relevant forms, he decided not to get them after all. I don't blame him. That was pretty much my thinking, too.

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

Board of Finance members "very confused" and need educators' guidance, O'Brien says

The Bristol Board of Finance is filled with newcomers and doesn't understand how the school budget is different than other city departments, said Tom O'Brien, chairman of the school board's finance committee.
O'Brien said it is up to the board and district administrators to educate finance commissioners and convince them of the need to fund a $103 million school budget this year.
"They're very confused," said O'Brien. "They don't truly understand how it works."
The budget, approved by O'Brien's committee Monday, shows a 7.67 percent increase over the existing budget. It will be presented to the full school board next week.
As he and other board members reviewed a budget presentation by Superintendent Phil Streifer, O'Brien coached Streifer on how the case should be made to the finance commissioners.
"This is a marketing program," said O'Brien. "It's not just a budget request."
Finance commissioners should hear how much surrounding towns spend on education, as well as how much the urban districts in the region shell out, O'Brien said.
"We have to address the impressions that certain members of the board of finance have been fed by the controller," said O'Brien. "We have to be very clear and challenge the board of finance."
O'Brien told Streifer to limit the numbers and wording on his PowerPoint presentation to the finance board.
"More pictures, less words," instructed O'Brien. "If we do presentations with words and numbers, people tend to fall asleep."
To help principals be "instructional leaders" instead of "disciplinarians and bureaucrats," said O'Brien, the district should add four assistant principals. He said he wants to make sure he gets at least one.
O'Brien urged Streifer to talk about Bristol children in poverty and how poverty impacts educational costs.
"We cannot go backwards," said O'Brien. "We cannot afford to level off."
The school district's budget must cover unfunded state mandates, said O'Brien, especially with regard to special education.
If the school budget isn't fully funded, O'Brien said, "more and more of our budget will go to special education students, leaving less and less for everyone else."
That's how school systems collapse, said O'Brien.
The school district isn't like the police department, public works or the parks department, O'Brien said, because those aren't ordered to spend money on such mandates.
"We're getting hurt by the state," said O'Brien.
The board is also adding a small amount to the budget for Renzulli Learning, a computer program from the University of Connecticut for gifted students. Deputy Superintendent Susan Moreau said the $16,000 subscription would cover all the kids in the program in elementary and middle school, serving about 500 students in grades 4-8.
The school board meets next on March 5. The district has a budget hearing with finance board members March 27.

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

February 25, 2008

Ward's mayoral campaign pays $1,500 fine for violating state election laws

The state recently socked Mayor Art Ward’s campaign with a $1,500 fine for breaking election laws during last year’s mayoral race.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission levied the fine – which has to be paid personally by Ward’s campaign treasurer – and ordered the campaign to return another $500 along with correcting its campaign spending and donation forms to comply with state statutes.
The state smackdown – the result of a complaint filed by the city Republican Party’s chairman – is one of the largest fines ever issued against a Bristol political campaign. It may be Bristol’s biggest ever.
“It’s just horrendous,” Ward said Monday. “This was politically motivated.”
Ward said there is “a difference between people sincerely trying to do the right thing” in a volunteer position and politicians trying to get away with something shady.
Filing a complaint for minor mistakes that led to a fine that only the treasurer can pay out of his own money is “dastardly,” Ward said.
The campaign’s disclosure forms failed to report the full names, addresses and occupations of donors, improperly paid out petty cash to some campaign workers and failed to specify what it was spending all of its money on.
The problem was that Ward’s campaign treasurer, former city Board of Finance member Robert Dunlap, “was not too well-versed in the procedures that are required to account for a candidate’s finances,” said Art Mocabee, the GOP chairman who filed the complaint.
Mocabee said the mistakes were flagrant and the paperwork “a mess.”
“Yeah, I screwed up, but it had nothing to do with the mayor,” Dunlap said. “I didn’t pay enough attention to the rules and regulations as I should have.”
Dunlap said the problems were “my fault, unintentional, unfortunate, and rather costly to me.”
“I’m not very happy about it,” he said, adding that it cost him his vacation this year.
Mocabee said he doesn’t blame Ward for the errors.
“It’s certainly not Art’s fault. He was probably just assuming Bob knew what he was doing,” Mocabee said.
He also called Dunlap “a great guy and a smart fellow” who just didn’t know the details of the laws governing the reports.
Mocabee said that the errors are “not anything too serious” in the big scheme of things, but they do allow critics to wonder, fairly, if Ward’s aides are “this haphazard” accounting for campaign dollars whether they’ll do any better with the public’s money.
“In an era where ethics is so important, the campaign financing reports cannot be taken lightly and they have to be scrutinized for the highest level of ethics possible,” Mocabee said.
He said the public wants to know for sure that public servants are held accountable.
“If you don’t make the grade, will you make the grade in more serious areas?” Mocabee asked.
The state panel determined – and Dunlap agreed – that nearly $5,000 in reimbursements from the campaign to Ward were not itemized to explain what the money was for. Subsequent filings clarified the spending.
The campaign also took in three donations directly from labor unions, two of them from the Bristol Police union. That’s not allowed, the state agency said, and ordered the money returned to the unions.
Mocabee said he viewed it as one of his jobs as the GOP’s city chairman to check the reports filed by Republican candidates “to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”
He said he looked over Ward’s filings “to make sure the other guys are doing the right thing.”
When he saw that they were not, Mocabee said, he filed the complaint with the state regulatory agency that monitors campaign finance disclosure.
Ward said that filing the complaint was “very cavalier” of Mocabee because he knew the stakes for Dunlap. He said that the GOP chairman should have just called Dunlap and asked him to correct the forms.
Ward said Mocabee “surely should be ashamed of himself.”
The mayor said that most of the campaign finance forms filed by municipal candidates in Bristol have mistakes that would lead to fines if anyone filed a complaint. But those involved in the process understand, he said, that volunteers who are not campaign professionals don’t always know exactly what’s required and they make allowances.
Ward said that if the state is going to be so stringent, fewer people will run for office and those who do will wind up having to pay professional campaign finance outfits to make sure the reports are done to the strict standards apparently required today.
He said state lawmakers should step in to prevent people such as Dunlap from getting socked personally for trivial errors.
“I can’t even describe how I feel about this whole situation,” said Ward.
“I’ll stand by my treasurer,” the mayor said. “I know that everything he did was done with the utmost of integrity.”
“I apologize to him for his efforts being paraded as if he purposefully created some errors,” Ward said. “That’s sad. It’s really sad.”

Click here for PDF of the full report from the Elections Enforcement Commission

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

Visconti promises an "over the top" race against Larson

Rough and tumble Republican Joe Visconti, a musician who captured a West Hartford town council seat last year, is prepping for a congressional run against longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. John Larson.
“I consider him [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s pit bull,” Visconti said. “And I’m not going to be a Golden Retriever.”
Visconti said he’s “still in the process of taking a good, hard look” at the logistics of taking on the popular East Hartford Democrat who has represented the 1st District since 1998.
But the GOP hierarchy is counting on Visconti to challenge Larson – and Visconti doesn’t sound like a man with many doubts.
“I don’t believe that a normal, blue blazer Republican will beat” Larson, said Visconti, who promised his campaign “will be over the top.”
"If Joe Visconti plans to run,” said state Republican Chairman Chris Healy, then “John Larson better get on the Stairmaster."
Visconti, who had to beat the GOP establishment in a primary in West Hartford last fall in order to get on the municipal ballot, said he drives a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and normally wears jeans and construction boots.
He vowed to make the race “the most entertaining” Larson has had and to dazzle the public along the way.
But, Visconti said, he’s also taking the campaign seriously and plotting how to run it “at a very high level.”
The Republicans intend to pick their candidate at a May 10 convention. Visconti said he would make a formal announcement of his intentions in March.
“For me, it’s really issues and ineffective government,” he said.
“I won’t go into this half-baked,” Visconti said. He said he’ll offer new ideas and solutions to the voters so that even if he comes up short, he can make a difference to the nation’s policy debate.
Visconti said that people treat Republicans as an oddity in “the blue dragon” that is New England, but the GOP has more support than most people appreciate.
“If he is the Republican nominee,” Healy said, Visconti “will show many people they have a chance to elect someone who is more interested in them than the trappings of power in Washington, D.C."
Healy called Visconti “a business man, elected official, single parent” and fighter for taxpayers who brings “a real life perspective” to the issues.
Bristol Republican Chairman Art Mocabee, who serves as the party’s second vice chairman in the 1st District, said that Visconti plans to seek the GOP nomination.
“As you learn more about Joe, you will discover many refreshing things about him that will serve the constituents of the 1st. District far better than our current congressman,” Mocabee said.
“For example, Joe supports our military and their efforts to keep terrorists out of our country and other countries around the world. This is good policy for us as Americans as well as for those of us who work in this state's defense industry which is quite large. To be anti-military in Connecticut is to be anti-job in Connecticut, which is a peculiar position for our current Congressman to represent us from,” Mocabee said.
Visconti said he is “dealing with a lot of personal stuff” at the moment, which is “the reason I didn’t come out swinging” as soon as his name surfaced this weekend on the Bristol Blog.
Visconti is well known in West Hartford for his vehement opposition to the recently opened Blue Back Square project as well as increases in town spending. He calls himself a champion of the taxpayers – and hasn’t been afraid to stake out rhetorical territory that most politicians avoid.
For example, in challenging the town’s school spending last year, Visconti said on the West Hartford Blog that those who see his point are “not the Bleeding Heart, Union Brainwashed, 28 kids to a class is too many, Duplicity Addicted, Educational Cartel controlled Zombie Yes Voters this Company called West Hartford has as a Majority.”
Despite his primary win, Visconti still tallied the lowest vote total of any of the Election Day winners for the town council in November. He has never run for a higher office.
It is possible other Republicans may be interested in running against Larson, who has never had a congressional opponent get more than 41 percent of the overall vote. The general election is in November.

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

Coming soon: Joe Visconti speaks

Possible Republican congressional Joe Visconti talked with me about his plans. I'll post the story a bit later.

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

February 22, 2008

John Larson, watch out! Joe Visconti's coming after you

Over in West Hartford, one of the more colorful characters in Republican politics is a fellow named Joe Visconti.
Visconti, who once rode a horse through West Hartford Center to try to rally support for whatever cause he was pushing at the moment, managed to get elected to the town council last fall, to the astonishment of most of the establishment politicians.
But it seems he's not content with a junior role on a town council.
I'm told that Visconti is planning to take on U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes both West Hartford and Bristol.
Visconti didn't call me back today, but when I asked the state Republican Party chairman, Chris Healy, for a comment about Visconti's possible candidacy, he sent me this from his always-at-the-ready Blackberry:

"If Joe Visconti plans to run, John Larson better get on the stair master. Joe Visconti. If he is the Republican nominee, will show many people they have a chance to elect someone who is more interested in them than the trappings of power in Washington, D.C." Joe Visconti is a business man, elected official. single parent and has fought for taxpayers. He brings a real life perspective."

Now that's not definitive. Healy doesn't say Visconti is running, only that if he runs, Larson better watch out.
For a Republican, the 1st District is a bitter, hard place. Democrats don't go down easily no matter how tough the challenger.
But Visconti would, at the very least, make it an interesting race.
And that's something.

Listen here to the first couple minutes of Visconti's song "America." Visconti bills himself as a musician. I'll let readers judge that for themselves.
Here's a story that ran not too long ago in The Hartford Advocate about Visconti, which gives you some flavor for the man. And here's a picture that ran with that story:



Update: Saturday, 3 p.m. -

From Art Mocabee, second vice chair for the Republicans in the 1st District:

Since you have done your homework and come up with Joe Viconti's name and a few other events, I now can confirm that Joe intends on seeking the Party's nomination as the Republican 1st Congressional District's candidate.
As you learn more about Joe, you will discover many refreshing things about him that will serve the constituents of the 1st. District far better then our current congressman. For example, Joe supports our Military and their efforts to keep terrorist out of our country and other countries around the world. This is good policy for us as Americans as well as for those of us who work in this state's defense industry which is quite large. To be anti- military in Connecticut is to be anti-job in Connecticut, which is a peculiar position for our current Congressman to represent us from.
Stay tuned as I am sure you will for more about Joe VISCONTI and his candidacy.

Here, by the way, is Visconti's own website.

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

School budget subject of Monday meeting

Agenda:

The Bristol Board of Education will hold a Special Finance Committee Meeting on Monday, February 25, 2008 at 2:30 p.m. in the Superintendent’s Conference Room of the Board of Education Administration Building, 129 Church Street, Bristol, Connecticut.

Agenda:
1. Discussion and recommendation of the 2008-2009 Budget. «

« = Action Item


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

City aims to fight blight with a new committee

A decade after the city launched a so-called war on blight, the special committee formed to spearhead the effort may soon close up shop.
Instead of having a Blight Committee, city officials are planning to enact new legislation that would fold the panel into Bristol’s code enforcement effort.
The change will make it “so we can move in a quicker, more defined manner,” said Guy Morin, the city’s chief building official.
City leaders have long complained that the blight panel could not force property owners to spruce up their holdings without going through a long, costly legal process.
The new system that city councilors plan to create relies on code enforcement officials writing citations that rack up fines quickly. They also have more clout to order cleanups fast – or make sure the work is done by someone at the owner’s expense.
Councilors plan to approve new legislation to make the statutory revision at their March meeting. It would take effect in the spring.
Generally, code enforcement has been a priority for the city for the last few years, with a focus on forcing property owners to keep up the structural integrity and safety of buildings, especially rental apartments. The crackdown led to a new housing code and beefed up citation powers.
The new wording proposed by the Ordinance Committee would add language requiring property owners to keep up the outside appearance of structures as well.
The proposed law says that all structures should be free of abandoned vehicles, nuisances, refuse, pollution and filth.
Under the terms of the proposed statute, the exterior can’t have broken glass, loose shingles, holes, cracked or damaged siding, crumbling brick or other conditions “reflective of deterioration or inadequate maintenance.”
Most of the officials who have served on the Blight Committee will also serve on the code enforcement panel.
The sole exception is the Bristol Development Authority’s director, who is getting dumped from the committee. The fire marshal, who has been on the blight panel, may continue to serve. It’s up to the fire chief to choose someone from his department.
Getting added to the oversight panel are the police chief, public works director, zoning enforcement officer and the police officer assigned to code enforcement work.
City Councilor Kevin McCauley, who has been championing the change, said that “blending these two committees” will make it easier for the city to clean up troubled properties and ensure neighborhoods are protected from creeping blight.
Officials said the panel will try to work with property owners to help them comply with the law.
Only those who won’t take care of their property will wind up facing fines of up to $90 a day.

Who would serve on the Code Enforcement Committee?
* Police Chief
* A police officer designated to do code enforcement
* Zoning enforcement officer
* Health director
* Fire chief or his designee
* Public works director
* Chief building officer
* A citizen appointed by the mayor

Click here to read the proposed law (please note that the final section, 5-57, remains in committee while councilors reconsider its language; the rest of it, however, is headed to the council for final approval)

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

Rockwell's transformation underway

In less than a year, much of Rockwell Park will be transformed.
There will be more parking, more lighting, a water spray park, a new playground, a new skate park, a new entranceway and new courts for bocce, sand volleyball and basketball.
The first phase of construction, which is underway, should be done by July, when the next phase is slated to get started.
David Dixon, a consultant from the Cheshire-based Milone & MacBroom, said that most of the work in both phases will be done before winter rolls late in 2008.
“They could be just about done” by the end of the year, Dixon said.
The overall plan, costing about $6.5 million, aims to draw people back to the park by improving its appearance, safety and recreational offerings.
In the first phase, most of the focus is on the parking lots and “trying to get the roads redone,” Dixon said.
When it’s done, the two main parking lots will connect to each other via a roundabout.
“This will pay dividends at the end of a game at Muzzy Field,” Dixon said, because cars will be able to depart from the lots in more directions. It should serve “to take the edge off” the post-game congestion, he said.
A new sign at the Park Street entrance will be made of river cobblestone of the type used extensively for buildings, columns, towers and more within the historic West End park.
A new basketball court is going in behind Muzzy’s centerfield fence. The former court site is slated to become a skate park.
The second phase of construction, which will cost about $2 million, will put in a new playground, divided into a section of toddler and another for older children.
The new playground will be fully accessible with safety surface, Dixon said. But he’s not sure what material will be used. That will depend on how much money there is, officials said.
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.
The old stone tower there will be renovated and may be used to hold the mechanicals for the spray park, Dixon said.
There will be horseshoe and bocce courts, plus two sand volleyball courts. Two new picnic pavilions are also planned, Dixon said.
The old maintenance road on the south side of the playground will be paved and about 49 parking spaces added there, with a turnaround near the lower of the two Little League fields.
Officials said one idea is to renovate and light that field and perhaps add irrigation as well.
A small parking lot outside the fence in left field will be improved somewhat and organized better, Dixon said. It will be gravel, not paved, to help the environment.
The final phase of Rockwell Park’s renovation will likely begin in 2009 and will focus on the lagoon area, which has been neglected for a decade. Details of the final phase are not complete, but they include filling in about half the lagoon and creating a wetlands environment on the eastern portion of it.

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

February 21, 2008

Read proposed laws for yourself

I'm not sure why the city itself doesn't do this, but I've uploaded the drafts of three of the proposed statutes that the Ordinance Committee recommended the City Council adopt next month.
Here they are, in PDF form:

Combining the blight and code enforcement committees (please note that the final section, 5-57, remains in committee while councilors reconsider its language; the rest of it, however, is headed to the council for final approval)

Barring convicted child sex offenders from parks and schools

Cracking down on wayward shopping carts

And here's the text of a proposed legal change that's still under consideration by the Ordinance Committee, which seeks to regulate newspaper boxes:

Newspaper box regulation

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

Colapietro is running for reelection

State Sen. Tom Colapietro told me this morning he's going to run for another term.
The Bristol Democrat said that he's going to stick around no matter how much the Republicans want to see him go.
Colapietro's represented the 31st District since 1992, when he defeated former Mayor Mike Werner to claim the seat. The past two elections, he's beaten GOP challenger Beverly Bobroske, a former Board of Education chairwoman.
The Republicans haven't said anything yet about who their candidate might be this time around.

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

Tunxis takes flight... and looks for more

FARMINGTON - Don Cassin remembers the “little shopping center” with a bank building beside Scott Swamp Road where he used to get his hair cut.
Cassin, a Bristol resident who once served as the state’s public works commissioner, also recalls the day almost four decades ago that he started the state’s overhaul of the retail complex so it could become Tunxis Community College.
For most of its history, the college looked like it was squeezed into an old shopping center. But it’s not that way anymore.
Gov. Jodi Rell showed up for Thursday’s celebration at the growing school for a ceremonial ribbon cutting on a $34.4 million renovation that has transformed the college’s appearance, providing state-of-the-art classrooms, study areas, a modern library, a Cyber CafĂ© and more.
“We’ve come a long way since that bank building,” Rell said. “The future is here – and the future is Tunxis.”
“We will never again be invisible,” said Cathryn Addy, the college’s longtime president. “We believe this is the beginning of yet another new era of quality education.”
“It’s a better learning environment,” said Wendy Tordonato, a student from New Britain. “I love it. I think it’s great for the school. It’s long overdue.”
She said the newer, fresher buildings “bring a new life to the school, which is important. This is bringing the school more together as a community.”
“It shows this college really does care about its students,” said Southington’s Mike Cordani, the student government secretary.
Looking around inside the library, state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican, said, “It’s incredible. This is… wow!”
Rell told a crowd of about 250 who packed into the new library that the Tunxis project “is a symbol that we believe in education” in Connecticut.
She said that some say there are “no magic bullets” to solve the problems facing the state, but she’s not sure that’s true.
“If education isn’t a magic bullet, then I don’t know what is,” the governor said.
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, the 5th District’s Democratic congressman, said that Tunxis has done a terrific job educating students for many years, but having new facilities will make it easier.
“Walls and bricks and mortar do matter,” Murphy said, in boosting morale and making life better for the students, faculty and staff who play such an important role in educating thousands of area residents.
“This isn’t just a school. This is a community,” Murphy said, adding that it serves as the lifeblood for Plainville, Bristol, Plymouth, Farmington and other nearby towns whose people flock to Tunxis to further their educations and careers.
The new construction is “phenomenal,” said Bristol’s mayor, Art Ward. He said it will help provide educational opportunities for many residents who might not have a chance otherwise.
“Community colleges make dreams into realities,” said the chancellor of the Connecticut community college system, Marc Herzog.
For state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat who represents the 31st District, the college offered him his first chance to learn about computers. He learned the old DOS operating system at Tunxis years ago, he said, and it’s the reason he’s shelled out so much money on computers ever since.
Colapietro said he tried to learn to type at Tunxis, too, but never got the hang of it.
Officials praised the architects and construction firm for providing a first-class project that’s been partly in use since last summer. They also heaped praise on Rell for supporting the project.
But it was clear that Addy played a key role.
Addy “has a gentle persistence,” Herzog said. “I’m a little black and blue.”
Addy made a point of point of highlighting the work done by Tunxis’s building director, John Lodovico of Bristol.
“None of this would have been possible” without his efforts, Addy said. “John is absolutely the best that I can imagine. He is never going to be allowed to retire.”
After about 50 minutes of speeches, area lawmakers, college officials, Rell and others connected to the construction gathered behind a crepe paper ribbon for a ceremonial dedication of the new library.
As the ribbon fluttered to the ground, Addy was beaming.

Project facts
Cost: $34.4 million
Construction began: Spring 2006
Size: 95,000 square feet
Buildings: Two
Architect: DuBose Associates, Inc. of Hartford
Contractor: M.A. Angeliades, Inc. of Trumbull

What’s next for Tunxis?
The college is hoping to move on to Phase 2 of the project soon.
The next phase would demolish some older classrooms that remain and construct a much-needed auditorium and faculty offices, college officials said.
The price tag is $15 million for the next construction phase, said the chancellor of the Connecticut community college system, Marc Herzog.
Herzog said, though, that less than $5 million in design work is needed first. That money is already approved, but needs the governor’s green light to make the State Bond Commission agenda, officials said.
“Get in line,” Gov. Jodi Rell said Thursday. But, she added, she would think carefully about doing it.
Rell said that with so many people competing to get projects on the state list so they can move forward, it’s never easy to choose.
Tunxis President Cathryn Addy jokingly mentioned the bond agenda in a letter she put in a time capsule that’s slated for opening in 25 years. She asked future officials if the next phase had yet made it past the bond panel.
Rell laughed, but made no promises.
“It would be nice to see the rest of the building done,” said Mike Cordani, a student from Southington. “But it all comes in time.”

For more information, check out Tunxis' website about the project

Here's what Phase 2 is supposed to look like:

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

February 20, 2008

Ordinance panel decisions


I'll have more on some of this in the coming days, but here's a quick update on what the city's Ordinance Committee decided at tonight's meeting:
1. To recommend the City Council approve a new law that would bar child sex offenders from city parks and schools.
2. To urge the City Council to set a hearing date next month for a proposal that would combine the Blight and Code Enforcement committees.
3. To support a new law that would make it possible to offer retirees in the city's main retirement fund a one-time cost-of-living adjustment. This still needs City Council approval and the numbers have yet to be chosen.
4. To back Mayor Art Ward's call to shift the starting time for regular City Council sessions to 7 p.m., a half hour earlier than they currently begin.
5. To suggest that city councilors enact a new law that would crack down on shopping carts taken from store property.
6. To delay action on a proposal to regulate newspaper boxes for at least another month to consider possible changes to the statute wording.
I plan to put copies of the relevant proposals online here sometime soon. And I'll explain more about the decisions, too, when there's time to write up what happened.

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

"Child safety zones" to be be created in Bristol

City councilors plan to enact a new law next month that would bar child sex offenders from school, parks and other public places where young people congregate.
The ordinance would allow police to issue citations if registered sex offenders who have abused children are found at recreational facilities or schools, which would be designated “child safety zones.”
Offenders would face $90 fines.
“I don’t think it goes far enough,” said city Councilor Mike Rimcoski, a sentiment shared by his colleagues on the Ordinance Committee.
But the legislation the panel is urging the City Council to adopt in March is focused only child sex offenders – those who have committed a sex-related criminal offense against a minor.
Though city lawyers are still investigating their options, it appears the measure won’t bar other registered sex offenders – let alone convicted criminals who have committed other types of offenses against children – from entering the new child safety zones.
Officials said they also need to figure out whether to allow child sex offenders onto school property in unusual circumstances, which can include students who are on the registry or parents who have convictions in their past.
Generally, councilors said, they believe they can include language in the proposed statute that would let offenders into child safety zones as long as it fits with whatever probationary rules apply to the individual in question.
The measure, which largely copies one already in place in Danbury, was initiated at the request of city Councilor Frank Nicastro. Nicastro was angry that a convicted sex offender allegedly raped a 13-year-old in Brackett Park in September.
“Our parks should be considered safe havens for the youth of our city,” Mayor Art Ward said at the time.
At any given time, there are about 100 registered sex offenders living in Bristol. It isn’t clear how many of them were convicted of a crime involving a minor.
Dale Clift, an assistant city attorney, said that the new law would require Police Chief John DiVenere to send written notice of the ordinance to everyone on the registry who lives in Bristol.
Police officers who find a child sex offender within a child safety zone are required to provide them with a written warning to stay out of the areas. Only if they ignore the warnings would they face the $90 tickets, under the terms of the proposed law.
Rimcoski said he is “110 percent in favor” of the proposed ordinance but would like to see it made even tougher.
“I want it against anybody” who is on the sex offender list, Rimcoski said.
City Councilor Kevin McCauley said he, too, would like to see it apply more broadly.
But both Rimcoski and McCauley agreed with the panel’s chairman, Councilor Craig Minor, that it was best to recommend the council approve the ordinance next month.
Officials said it can always be changed later.
“It’s a start,” Rimcoski said.

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

Is anyone taking on John Larson this year?

The Republicans are making a bit of a fuss lately about U.S. Rep. John Larson, the East Hartford Democrat who rolls over GOP challengers like the rest of us might step on ants. It makes me wonder if they're just going through the motions of being an opposition party or if perhaps they have someone ready to tackle Larson in the 1st District who might prove a worthy contender.
As I look at potential foes for the congressman, it's hard to see why the Republicans could imagine they'll have better luck this year than they have in the past. But it could be they have someone up their sleeves who could at least make things interesting.
Anyone know who it might be?

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

City sells first lot in the new industrial park

The city recently agreed to sell the first lot in its new industrial park to CMI Specialty Products for $137,475.
The company, which makes electro-magnetic iron products, plans to construct an 11,000-square-foot headquarters at the corner of Redstone Hill Road and Business Park Drive.
“We’re very happy to welcome our first company to the industrial park,” said Mickey Goldwasser, a member of the Bristol Development Authority.
Joseph Bozzuto, who founded the company in 1980, said it began as a research firm that developed a propriety product called electromagnetic iron that’s now used in a wide array of magnetic control devices.
At one point, he said, the company had 150 employees working around the clock to manufacture the product, but these days it contracts out the work to firms in Waterbury and in Ohio.
There are only four people needed initially for its corporate office, Bozzuto said, where there will be administrative work, shipping and receiving and a bit of light manufacturing.
“The manufacturing of the product is definitely in our past,” he said. “We make a whole lot more money that way.”
Bozzuto said the new facility will be almost entirely for distribution.
“We could do this anywhere,” he said, but Bristol is close to home.
Bozzuto said the material is sold to companies in many nations, including China and India. “We ship this product all over the world,” he said.
The city’s Board of Finance and City Council recently agreed to give CMI a $65,000 aid package to move from Cheshire to Bristol. The grant would give the company $60,000 when it moves to town and as much as $5,000 for new jobs, with the money awarded at a rate of $1,000 per job over five years.
The new building would sit on a long, narrow lot formally identified as 105 Redstone Hill Road. Trucks would enter and exit from the business park road on its eastern edge.
Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, said that land use boards will review the plans before anything is built. But the BDA gave its blessing to the deal.
Rosenthal said it will take at least several months to complete the section of the industrial park eyed by CMI. He said he anticipates it will be done in May.
Construction of the new building is likely to begin this summer.

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

Proposed ordinances on agenda today

The city's Ordinance Committee will consider a handful of proposed municipal laws today.
First up for a public hearing, at 5 p.m., is a proposed statute aimed at keeping shopping carts from winding up in odd places.
Then, at 5:15, the long-delayed proposal to regulate the placement of newspaper boxes will be considered. I'm pretty sure they'll ignore my call for the city to pay for Bristol Press boxes on every street corner, but, hey, you never know.
At 5:30, the panel will consider Mayor Art Ward's request to move the starting time of the monthly City Council meetings up a half an hour so they can begin at 7 p.m. in the future.
Finally, at 5:45, the committee will take up a proposal to restrict registered sex offenders from going to city parks and schools.
It's possible there's another one at 6 about possible cost-of-living pension hikes for retired city employees. I didn't see that on the city's notice board, but the panel chairman, Craig Minor, said he thought it was slated to come up tonight, so it probably will.
The regular Ordinance Committee meeting is slated to begin at 6:30 in the meeting room outside the council chambers on the first floor of City Hall.
Anyone can come speak at the hearings, which won't start before the scheduled time, but could wind up beginning later if the earlier ones produce any delays.

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

February 19, 2008

Draft RFP for potential mall developers online now

I just uploaded a PDF of the draft proposal put together by the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. A final version will likely be sent out early next week.
You can read it by clicking on this link

(By the way, those of you with documents that the public might find interesting can fax them to me, anonymously if necessary, and I'll do my best to get them posted as PDFs. Just send me an email to scollins@bristolpress.com and I'll write back with the fax number to use.)

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

Name the mall site something, well, nice

Instead of calling the 17-acre, city-owned parcel in the middle of downtown “the failed mall site” or some variation on the phrase, city leaders are hoping to come up with a new name with a more positive spin.
They look at Adraien’s Landing in Hartford, named for an early Dutch explorer, and Blue Back Square in West Hartford, named for a Noah Webster book, and figure that Bristol ought to be able to come up with something unique as well.
To narrow it down, the Bristol Public Library is sponsoring a naming contest for children to come up with a trio of possibilities for the nonprofit downtown corporation to consider.
The youngster whose project name gets picked will walk away with $200 and the two runners-up will each get $100.
“This is going to be excellent,” said Frank Johnson, chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp.
Generally, officials want to bury the negative feelings the community has for its failed mall, which is in the process of being demolished, by using a new name to symbolize a new, fresh beginning for the property.
Library Director Francine Petosa said the library agreed to take responsibility for running the contest. “We thought we could do it,” she said.
Contest forms and boxes are available at both of the city’s libraries. The deadline for entries is March 15.
John Leone, president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce, said the downtown corporation would like to have a name picked out before the pre-bidding session with developers at the end of March.
Officials admit, though, that a developer might well choose a different name for the project.
Leone said that young people might want to do some historical research on downtown to get some ideas.
“This would be a good family project,” Petosa said.
Gardner Wright, a member of the BDDC board, said he would like those putting in entries to explain why they chose the names they did.
“They could write a sentence or two about why they think it would be a good name,” Johnson said.
An anonymous donor is chipping in $200 for the contest and the chamber is tossing in $100 in “chamber bucks” that can be spent at establishments that belong to the Bristol chamber.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said he was so pleased with the idea that he donated $100 to the contest as well. The lawyer for the BDDC also offered to give $100, which leaves it a little unclear where the extra $100 that was pledged is going.
The BDDC will consider the three top picks forwarded by the library, officials said, and then pick one of them.
“There’s only one winner,” said John Lodovico, a BDDC board member.
Johnson said it’s great that the library took on the assignment to run the contest.
He said it is “part of the heart of downtown” so it’s appropriate to have the library involved in something as important as naming the site.
For more information, call the Children’s Department at the Bristol Public Library at (860) 584-7787 ext. 2021.

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

Rules for recycling

The city's public works department just sent this out to help residents do better than the City Council when it comes to recycling:

The City of Bristol has made progressive changes in its efforts to increase recycling participation within the community. The Public Works Department would like to clarify recycling information for Bristol residents.

Why recycle?
Recycling is mandated by law in the State of CT and by Ordinance in the City of Bristol. The City of Bristol must pay disposal fees for both recyclable materials and rubbish. Disposal of rubbish costs $65.50 per ton, while processing of recyclables costs $33.50 per ton. The heaviest recyclable materials in most households are paper products. Recycling is also an investment in the future as it reduces the amount of waste that must be incinerated at out waste-to-energy facility or disposed of through other venues. Recycling also prevents or reduces the amount of air and water pollution as these materials are reused instead of being disposed of.

How does Public Works enforce recycling?
In an effort to ensure full participation in recycling and compliance with state and local mandates, the City of Bristol Public Works Department will randomly audit the contents of rubbish barrels to ensure that recyclable materials are not being disposed of with rubbish. If recyclable material is found in rubbish barrels, residents will be notified of the violation as an educational measure. Repeated offenses can lead to citations/fines.

What should be recycled?
Food and Beverage containers:
Clean glass, tin foil, and metal, plastics #1 or #2 (stamped on the bottom) food and beverage containers; paper milk/juice cartons and aseptic beverage containers (juice boxes). Empty aerosol food containers (like whipped cream or cheese spread) should also be recycled.

Paper and Cardboard Recyclables:
Newspapers, junk mail, magazines, corrugated cardboard (cut or folded to 3’ x 3’), office & computer paper, catalogues, phone books, shredded paper, soft cover books, brown envelopes and packing paper.

What should be shredded?
Public Works recommends that you shred any documents that contain personal, health or financial information, social security information, and other documents that might identify you and leave you vulnerable to identity theft. Shredded paper should be recycled by placing it in a paper bag (to avoid being blown by the wind and becoming litter) and including it with your other paper recyclables.

What is Bristol doing to help increase recycling?
Bristol currently has 2 separate recycle pilots underway. The first, in the Burlington Avenue area, has a large barrel for all paper and cardboard products. All other recyclables are still placed in recycle bins in this area. The second pilot area, in the Redstone Hill Road neighborhood, has one large barrel for all recyclable materials (called Single Stream recycling).
Both of these pilot areas are being closely monitored to determine the effectiveness of the pilots. Results of both pilots have been favorable, and show increased recycling by the residents in these areas.

In areas not participating in the recycle pilots, newspapers and other paper recyclables can be placed in a separate bin or in paper bags. Recycle bins are available, free of charge, at Public Works (City Hall – Ground Floor) Monday through Friday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and Saturday mornings at the Transfer Station.

What about businesses, apartment complexes or condominiums?
Everyone is required to recycle by CT State law. For those residents that do not qualify for residential curbside collection from the City (i.e. commercial properties, dwellings with more than 5 living units) arrangements must be made with a private collector. More information is available from the CT Department of Environmental Protection by following the link from the Public Works web site at: Link

If you have any questions, or want more information about recycling, please contact Public Works at (860) 584-6125.

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

New West End website created for city study

This is just in from the city's planning office:

A website devoted to the city's West End Neighborhood Study is now online. [Click here to see it.] Developed collaboratively by the city's Land Use Office and The Capstan Group (the project consultant), the website will serve as one of the primary means of keeping all interested parties informed about the study as it proceeds over the next several months. The website is also expected to serve as an ongoing means of communication between the public and the study team during the study.

The website includes a timeline, news about the study, and a page from which all study documents will be available for downloading. The website will be updated on a regular basis throughout the study as new materials become available, e.g, data summaries, meeting announcements, and draft reports.

The West End Neighborhood Study Website can be accessed from either the City of Bristol's Website at http://www.ci.bristol.ct.us/ (run your cursor over "Land Use" on the left side of the page and click on "West End Neighborhood Study" at the bottom of the pop-up menu) or The Capstan Group's Website at http://www.cpstn.com/ (click on "West End Study" on the left side of the page).

Please feel free to forward this announcement to anyone you know who might be interested in this study. For more information, you can contact the Bristol Land Use Office by telephone at 860/584-6225 or by e-mail at landuseoffice@ci.bristol.ct.us.


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

City Council to consider Scalia site on March 6

Note from the mayor's office, moments ago:

A Special City Council Meeting has been scheduled for March 6 at 6 PM in City Council Chambers.

The recommendation for the Scalia property for the new West Bristol School proposal will be the only item on the agenda.

The meeting will include public participation.

If you have any questions, please contact the Mayor's office at (860) 584-6250.

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

Only seven years late, a skatepark should be done by October

The skatepark slated for completion at Rockwell Park by October will be one of the best in the state, officials claim.
“Bristol will have a class one skatepark upon completion,” said David Dixon, a consultant from the Cheshire-based Milone & MacBroom. “My hope is that this becomes the envy of every other town in Connecticut.”
The skatepark will consist of a smooth, concrete plaza with a small bowl, Dixon said, and will include multiple layers with obstacles that skaters will be able to use freely.
The idea is to incorporate some of the urban terrain elements – ledges, rails, benches and the like – that have long drawn hordes of skateboarding fans downtown illegally.
The city is currently soliciting help from contractors who know what they’re doing when it comes to making topnotch skateparks.
“Concrete workers who know how to do sidewalks don’t necessarily know how to construct to the same type of standards that you have to do in order to make this skate-able,” Dixon said. “We’re going nationwide” to find a good contractor that knows what to do, Dixon said.
The 16,000-square-foot skatepark will be put on the former site of the basketball court, near the parking lot and pool. But it will be bigger than the court was.
After the design is finished, officials said, they’ll put out another bid solicitation to see how much it’s going to cost. “We’re constantly watching the costs,” Dixon said.
To help, Park Director Ed Swicklas is seeking a $25,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation. Tony Hawk, perhaps the most famous skateboarder in the world, told The Tattoo teen newspaper in 2001 that Bristol should have a skatepark, which helped spur interest in creating it.
Dixon said that he construction to begin after July 1 and take about three months to finish. He said it should be done by October.
Michael Suchapar, a member of the Park Revitalization Committee, said he assumes there will be a requirement that kids wear safety equipment.
But Swicklas said the city plans to treat the skatepark the same as it does other park property.
“If they don’t wear” safety equipment, Swicklas said, “there’s not going to be a penalty for not having them.”
He said there will be signs warning boarders to wear proper safety equipment.
At least initially, Swicklas said, there are no plans to fence in the skatepark in or charge a fee top use it.
He said that skateboarders will likely keep a pretty good eye on each other to make sure that vandalism and damage is kept to a minimum.
“These kids and users are very unique in terms of skateboarding,” Swicklas said. “They police themselves” and have a great passion for it.
“We’re hoping they follow the rules,” he added
Building a skatepark has been on the city’s agenda since 2001 when city leaders promised to put one somewhere after ESPN’s X Trials at Lake Compounce drew attention to the sport.
But the plan ran into a major hurdle when officials could not find a place to build it that didn’t meet with opposition. A plan to put it at Page Park fell through when neighbors rallied to block it.
There has been relatively little opposition to putting it at Rockwell Park.

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

February 18, 2008

Recycling story slated for tonight on Fox 61

After speaking with a pleasant fellow journalist from Fox 61 TV this afternoon, I can let you know that the Bristol recycling story that put the spotlight on local pols is scheduled to air at about 10:30 tonight on Channel 61's 'News at Ten.'
Though I never watch TV, I'll probably tune in for that. It's fun to see politicians squirm.
Here's last week's Bristol Press story about it.
And here's my blog piece saying that I don't think the station broke any laws.

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

GOP says public should be "outraged"

Press release today from the Connecticut Republican Party:

Connecticut’s Congressional Democrats’ failure to set a vote for reauthorization of wiretapping terrorists is pay back to their financial supporters and not in the interests of national security, according to Republican State Party Chairman Chris Healy Monday.

“For Democrats in Washington, money talks even when it comes to this nation’s security,” said Healy. “Congressmen Larson, DeLauro, Murphy and Courtney have failed a basic test of leadership by their failure to act to protect his nation.”

The current Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) expired Saturday and Democrats have stalled a simple vote on its reauthorization. The vote would make permanent the current FISA law, leaving our intelligence community hamstrung with 30-year-old laws. One of the key provisions in the FISA proposal would provide legal protection from lawsuits against telecommunications companies that provide technical assistance to monitor calls from potential terrorist threats.

“It is easy to see why the Democrats oppose this reasonable tool to prevent attacks on America – special interest money from trial lawyers,” said Healy. “As they say ‘follow the money’ and the truth will be revealed.”

The following are records of the total amount each Connecticut Democrat has received in campaign contributions to date:

Larson : $329,000 in career receipts from law firms Link

DeLauro: $404,000 in career receipts from law firms Link

Murphy: $283,000. in career receipts from law firms Link

Courtney: $250,000 in career receipts from law firms: Link

“In case Democrats don’t know it, we are at world with an enemy that knows how to use modern technology to communicate,” said Healy. “The failure of Congressmen Larson, DeLauro, Murphy and Courtney to see it and act should give every Connecticut reason to be outraged.”

Just a note: The only Connecticut congressman that Healy failed to mention, U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, who is a Republican, has taken in $335,364 from law firms during his career. I thought some might be interested in the comparison. Link

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

Top 50 Wage Earners for City of Bristol

The average take-home pay for the city’s Top 50 wage earners last year was a record $117,726, more than double the median family income in Bristol.
The annual list, provided by the comptroller’s office, shows the top earns include 29 school administrators, 17 police officers and four city supervisors.
Fourteen of the Top 50 earners were women last year, all of them employed in the school system, which is a big increase over the previous high. There have never been more than nine women on the list in the past.
The highest-paid city worker was Police Lt. Joel Estes, who raked in $149,575.
Oddly, Estes has been inching closer to the top for years, moving up one slot a year since 2003, when he was fifth on the tally. The following year, Estes placed fourth. Then in 2005, he was third. A year ago, Estes was the runner-up, coming in second.
This time around, though, Estes easily landed at the top of the heap.
Police officers who earn extra pay by pulling extra shifts and taking on private duty assignments guarding grocery stores, traffic control at construction sites and the like can vastly increase their annual pay. Thirteen of the top 20 city earners come from the ranks of the police.
But school officials generally have the highest regular pay.
William Smyth, the assistant superintendent for business, pulled in $142,129 in his last full year on the job to claim second place on the yearly tally. He’s planning to retire this summer.
Perhaps most surprising, though, is that former School Superintendent Mike Wasta managed to earn $135,554 – and secure a fifth place finish – despite retiring at the end of June.
The highest paid worker at City Hall, easily topping the mayor’s salary, was Comptroller Glenn Klocko, who pulled in $113,827, a bit more than Fire Chief Jon Pose.
Police Lt. Mark Moskowitz, who is number six on the list, has earned about $130,000 a year for the past decade by racking up overtime. That was enough to put him at the top of the tally for six years in a row, but school salaries have escalated enough to have drop from the leading slot because his pay has remained static.
Though the private duty overtime earned by police officers shows up on city wage reports, taxpayers probably save money from the practice.
The city bills the private employers for officers' time -- and adds 12 percent to the tab to cover administrative expenses -- and doesn't count the extra pay for pension or other purposes. Taxpayers only foot the bill for officers' normal city work.
The city comptroller’s office compiles the annual list of the top 50 earners by checking its year-to-date accumulators report for 2000 to indicate how much each employee takes home.
The numbers are close, but not necessarily the same, as the figures listed on the W-2 forms given employees each January. Comptroller’s office personnel said the accumulators report is a more accurate measure.

Here's this year's list:

1. Joel Estes, police lieutenant, $149,575.11
2. William Smyth, assistant to superintendent for business, $142,129.25
3. Susan Moreau, assistant superintendent, $139,760.61
4. Anthony Malavenda, school personnel director, $137,988.43
5. Michael Wasta, superintendent (retired 6/30/2007), $135,553.72
6. Mark Moskowitz, police lieutenant, $130,177.00
7. Jack Michaud, police lieutenant, $128,855.43
8. Everett V. Lyons, Eastern High principal, $127,550.57
9. John McNellis, police sergeant, $127,457.91
10. Richard Brown, police lieutenant, $126,168.07
11. John Sassu, police sergeant, $125,370.27
12. Stephen Tavares, police sergeant, $125,242.28
13. Kevin Morrell, police lieutenant, $125,029.45
14. Edward Spyros, police lieutenant, $121,860.18
15. Denise Carabetta, director, Office of Teaching & Learning, $121,678.49
16. Paul Hines, police detective sergeant, $121,638.62
17. Christopher Lennon, police detective sergeant, $120,976.63
18. Catherine Carbone, Chippens Hill principal, $119,898.40
19. John Divenere, police chief, $117,386.55
20. Rodney Gotowala, police sergeant, $116,267.05
21. Gail Gilmore, Jennings principal, $115,569.53
22. Roseanne Vojtek, Ivy Drive principal, $115,569.53
23. Martin Semmel, Central principal, $115,474.45
24. Glenn Klocko, city comptroller, $113,827.29
25. Jon Pose, fire chief, $113,724.80
26. Walter Veselka, public works director, $113,724.80
27. Peter Wininger, Central assistant principal, $113,628.33
28. Kim Hapken, director, special services for Board of Ed., $112,891.83
29. Jean Andrews, Hubbell principal, $112,559.53
30. Steven Bent, Bingham principal, $112,559.53
31. Gary Maynard, South Side principal, $112,559.53
32. Dennis Bieu, Mt. View principal, $112,559.53
33. Catherine Cassin, Stafford principal, $112,163.52
34. Peter Gaudet, Greene-Hills principal, $112,151.53
35. Michael Audette, O'Connell principal, $111,809.53
36. Carly Fortin, supervisor of Teaching & Learning for 6-12, $111,569.86
37. Angela Rossbach, Edgewood principal, $111,424.03
38. Donn Watson, police lieutenant, $111,328.90
39. Daniel Viens, Eastern assistant principal, $110,581.97
40. Daniel Sonstrom, Central assistant principal, $110,185.97
41. Marciann Jones, Memorial Boulevard principal, $109,414.62
42. Christopher Cassin, Chippens Hill assistant principal, $108,211.53
43. Teresa Debrito, Northeast assistant principal, $108,199.53
44. William Wolfe, streets superintendent, $107,784.15
45. Andrew Langlais, police lieutenant, $107,283.57
46. Daniel McIntyre, police captain, $106,709.45
47. Rochelle Schwartz, K-12 science supervisor, $106,102.41
48. Martha Nowobilski, Memorial Boulevard assistant principal, $105,655.66
49. Richard Gagliardi. technology supervisor, $105,423.53
50. Christopher Michaud, police officer, $105,110.03

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

February 15, 2008

Vision 2010 hopes to bolster Bristol's image

Aiming to take advantage of the looming completion of the Route 72 extension and downtown revitalization, business leaders hope a new marketing push can pump up the city’s image.
“The stars are aligned for this community to do a lot,” said former Mayor John Leone, president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber’s Vision 2010 initiative is looking at ways to seize what its members see as a great opportunity to improve Bristol’s reputation. Leaders said the town’s tired image doesn’t capture its many good qualities.
A group of about 65 business and government officials gathered recently to identify “the very positive things that are happening” in Bristol and put their heads together to see how they could perhaps be tied together to sell the city, according to John Smith, who’s heading up the initiative.
Finding a way to tell Bristol’s story, Smith said, is a key to attracting new businesses and residents who have the potential to help Bristol get even better.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko, who hailed the effort as “one of the best visionary meetings” he’s seen in years, said everyone agreed that a crucial first step is for people to “stop the negativity” and focus on what Bristol does well.
One idea that appears to have strong support is for the city to hire a marketing director, or a marketing consultant, who would take charge of pulling together the many different strands and present a coherent package about Bristol’s selling points.
“We want to see the city step up,” Leone said.
Smith said the city has a lot going for it, from a solid educational system to “outstanding city services.”
With a thriving Bristol Hospital, ESPN, Lake Compounce, museums and more, Bristol has more going on that even most of its residents realize, Smith said.
At the same time, Bristol remains “very affordable,” he said.
With the Route 72 extension slated for completion in a year, the downtown mall coming down and a new industrial park opening, this is the time to “tell the story” about Bristol so that it can take advantage of the opportunity, Smith said.
After the initial pulse-taking, some themes are already clear.
“Bristol really is a sport-oriented town,” Smith said.
It’s also family-oriented, Klocko added, with more cultural and entertainment options than even most residents realize.
It’s hard to avoid the city’s connection with ESPN, officials said, and perhaps there is a way to tie the sport giant and nearby Lake Compounce amusement park into any marketing campaign.
The general goal for Vision 2010, Smith said, “is to get one focus so we can market what we have here.”
“We need to send a good message,” Leone said. “It really is time and we’re going to miss an opportunity if we don’t do it.”

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