March 31, 2008

Home invasion suspect on sex offender registry

Leslie Williams, the man fingered in Sunday's home invasion case in New Britain that left one woman dead, is on the Connecticut sex offender registry.
He registered on March 4, listing a Hartford address at 34 Huyshope Avenue. He is 6' 1" tall and weighs 180 pounds.

Here's the link to his page on the registry.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

No angled parking for Main Street ... yet

At least until the mall property is redeveloped, there won’t be any angled parking on Main Street.
The Bristol Development Authority recently rejected a plea from downtown merchants to create angled parking as part of a planned streetscape improvement.
Officials decided they should not make any solid plans for the west side of Main Street along the mall property, but indicated that perhaps angled parking can be added there once the 17-acre site is transformed.
In the meantime, though, they decided not to try angled parking on the east side of Main Street between Riverside Avenue and the railroad bridge because of safety and maintenance concerns.With angled parking, there would be room for 13 spaces there, officials said, instead of the six that are possible with parallel parking.
Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, said that either choice would leave a parking deficit that has to be addressed. He said officials have to deal with the larger issue soon.
Mickey Goldwasser, a BDA commissioner who favored the parallel parking idea, said that it’s safer than having people backing out into traffic.
Mayor Art Ward said there is more potential for angled parking on the west side of Main Street.
But Ken Cockayne, a city councilor who serves on the BDA, said that merchants in the area are “really in dire straits” because of the parking crunch created by the closure of the mall site.
“Angled parking there is better” for them, he said, and would double the number of spaces for customers to use.
The BDA voted 5-3 to proceed with parallel parking in the streetscape project that aim to create much the same ambiance on Main Street that a long stretch of North Main Street has had since a streetscape project in 2005 transformed the roadway.
Plans call for brick and architecturally pleasing sidewalks, lighting, granite curbing, benches and other improvements between Riverside Avenue and Center Street, with most of the amenities focused on the area between the Main Library and the Riverside.
Jack Driscoll, a longtime BDA commissioner, said that angled parking on the west side would “probably be less traumatic” for traffic flow.
Public Works Director Walter Veselka said it’s easier to maintain a street with parallel parking given how short a stretch was eyed for angled parking. A long stretch with angled parking would actually be easiest of all, he said.
He said, though, that public works could deal with either choice. It would simply be “a little more labor intensive” to go with angled parking on the east side.
Ward and Rosenthal each said the streetscape project will be done next year.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Body found in Bristol this morning

According to the Associated Press, the body of MaryEllen Welsh, the woman missing after yesterday's home invasion in New Britain, was found today in Bristol. She was shot to death, the wire service reported.
The body was found in a gravel pit on Old Waterbury Road near Rockwell Park.

Here's the AP story:
A woman missing after a home invasion was found dead, apparently from a gunshot wound, authorities said Monday. A suspect found driving her car was in custody.
MaryEllen Welsh was visiting a friend on Sunday morning when someone broke into the house, Sgt. Darren Pearson said. The friend she was visiting, identified as Carol Larese, 65, was shot and badly wounded but was expected to recover.
Police arrested Leslie Williams when he crashed Welsh's car in Watertown after a police chase about five hours after the home invasion, Pearson said.
Police said they later found Welsh's body in Bristol, about 10 miles from New Britain. Welsh, 62, had been undergoing treatment for cancer.
Williams, 31, has been charged with criminal attempt to commit murder, robbery, kidnapping with a firearm and other crimes connected with what happened to Larese, Pearson said. Police were preparing to charge him in connection with crimes against Welsh.
Pearson said it appeared Williams acted alone. He called it a "crime of opportunity." Pearson declined to comment on a possible motive.
Cynthia Holland, a friend of the victims, said the two were having coffee when the home invasion happened.
"She's a lovely person," Holland said of the then-missing Welsh.

Gov. Jodi Rell issued this statement Monday afternoon:

“Once more, all over Connecticut, decent people are reacting with horror and fury to a heinous, inexplicable and utterly reprehensible crime of violence. Understandably, the home invasion in New Britain on Sunday reawakens the shock and revulsion we felt after the crimes last summer in Cheshire and other such cases.

“I grieve for MaryEllen Welsh, who was brutally and senselessly killed while doing nothing more than visiting a friend for coffee, and my heart goes out to Carol Larese, who was wounded. Our thoughts and prayers are with both women, their families and their friends.

“As Governor of Connecticut, my resolve is ever stronger to deal sternly and forcefully with the vicious predators who would commit such outrages. We took real steps in January to strengthen our criminal justice systems – but the ghastly crimes in New Britain show us unequivocally that there is more to do and that there are some people who are so evil that ordinary measures will not stop them.

“First, I again call upon the General Assembly to pass legislation that will establish a clear and simple ‘three strikes’ law in Connecticut. The suspect in the New Britain case has a record that includes multiple burglaries and a sex offense involving a minor. He had been denied parole in 2006 and released on probation earlier this month after finishing an eight-year sentence.

“The time for excuses and rationalization has passed. We need a law that says if you commit three violent offenses, you will be sent to prison for the rest of your life. Period. It is time for action.

“Second, I am calling for legislation that will require any offender convicted of a second or subsequent sexual offense, regardless of the severity or degree, to face an automatic 50 percent increase in their sentence for that offense. No questions, no additional legal issues to prove in court, no unwieldy persistent offender statutes. Just an automatic 50 percent increase in sentence.

“I am also asking the Chief State’s Attorney, the Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court and the Commissioners of the Department of Public Safety and Department of Correction to attend a meeting in my office this week. The simple fact is this: We have laws already on the books – Megan’s Law, Jessica’s Law, persistent offender statutes and any other applicable laws – that are not being used in all cases. I want to know exactly what resources my Administration can provide that will ensure these laws are applied each and every time they can be. I also want to know what additional resources we can provide that will ensure that non-violent offenders and violent offenders who are unlikely to reoffend have the programs and services they need to remain on the straight and narrow.

“I will also be proposing that Pre-Sentence Investigations be mandatory in all cases involving sexual offenses. These full background checks of convicted criminals are sometimes waived. Yet it is clear one continuing problem we face is deciding which offenders are the most dangerous. The improvements we have made in Board of Pardons and Paroles operations are a start, but I believe it is absolutely essential that judges have the fullest picture possible of potentially dangerous offenders before they hand down a sentence that may not keep such a person in prison for the maximum period.

“Finally, I am calling on the Legislature to join me in restoring the funding for increased GPS monitoring of offenders on probation and parole – and to require GPS monitoring for all sexual offenders upon their release. I realize fully that this will have an impact on the budget – and yet I can think of no reason not to proceed.

“The crimes that took place on Sunday in New Britain offend us all. We must – and we will – react to these crimes in a resolute but measured way. The continuing, bipartisan effort to strengthen and enhance our criminal justice system is just such a reaction.”

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March 30, 2008

Downtown mall site, from the air

When potential developers come to town to see the site, this is what they'll see, pretty much. Ultimate Wireform's friendly flyer, Paul Blanchette, sent these along so we could take a look at how the 17-acre site appears from the air.
It's an interesting perspective.

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March 28, 2008

Maple End drainage project gets state OK

A notoriously flood-prone section of Route 6 will be fixed, thanks to funding approved Friday by the State Bond Commission.
The $8.2 million project will stretch from Maple End to near the Bristol Commons shopping plaza, according to state Rep. Frank Nicastro.
"That whole Maple End area has to be corrected," said Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat. "We have massive, severe flooding problems there."
The bonding funds will pay to replace a massive culvert between Burlington Avenue and the Northside Square shopping center on North Main Street.
The new culvert would cross the tracks and generally follow Route 6 to the west before cutting under the state road in front Best Cleaners and connecting to another culvert at Northside Square.
"It's something that's definitely needed," said Rep. Ron Burns, a Bristol Republican. "It's a good move to fix it up."
Now that the addition of commuter rail is a possibility on the tracks that cross Route 6 at Maple End, said Burns, it makes even more sense to fix the drainage problem.
"That's another additional benefit we'll get out of the correction of that intersection," said Burns.
Nicastro said other flood repair projects, including one on Lexington and Concord streets, have been stalled, waiting for the Route 6 work.
"This is a major breakthrough for the city," said Nicastro. "This is going to help us immensely."
While in progress, the project will no doubt cause some traffic headaches, Nicastro said, but the result will be a safer road.
Nicastro said he didn't have a projected start date and did not know how long it will take to complete the work once it is started.
The state cash, said Nicastro, should cover the whole cost of the project.
Press release from state Reps. Ron Burns and Bill Hamzy:

The State Bond Commission has approved $8,171,540 in state funding for a drainage improvement project on Route 6, which should alleviate flooding that occasionally impedes traffic flow and creates unsafe driving conditions during and after heavy rain storms, state Representatives Ron Burns and William A. Hamzy said today.
The bond commission approved the funding at its regular monthly meeting Friday, March 28, 2008 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
“Anyone who has driven through a three to four inch pool of water on Route 6 during and after heavy rain storms understands the need fir this long-overdue project,” said Representative Burns, R-77th District, whose district includes sections of Route 6. “When the storm drains back up and water pools on the street, traffic slows to a crawl. If the flooding gets worse, engines can stall and block traffic. After the work is completed, news photos and television footage of flooded streets and vehicles throwing up rooster tails will be a thing of the past.”
“Flooding on Route 6 has been a problem for as long as I can remember,” said Representative Hamzy, R-78th District, whose law offices are located on Route 6 in Bristol. “As someone who takes Route 6 to work almost every day, I am very familiar with the drainage problems there. In addition to interfering with traffic flow, even an inch or two of water pooling in the street can cause vehicles to hydroplane and result in serious accidents. I have driven through sections of Route 6 that become almost impassable during exceptionally heavy rainstorms. This project should put an end to those kinds of traffic hazards and make the road safer for commuters, shoppers and commercial vehicles alike.”
The project involves the replacement of a culvert between Burlington Avenue and the Northside Square shopping center on North Main Street. The culvert will cross the railroad tracks near the Whole Donut Shop and follow Route 6 to the west before going under the state road in front of Best Cleaners and connecting to another culvert at Northside Square.

For more information on the project, click here

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Gavlick property eyed for cleanup

Officials are pushing for help to clean up the massive old mill property off Terryville Avenue that once housed a New Departure factory.
Mayor Art Ward said that state economic development officials have expressed support for the idea of cleaning up the old mill site as well as the former J.H. Sessions factory on Riverside Avenue.
“There’s a ton of potential there,” Ward said.
The 7.3-acre site, which is technically on Franklin Street, is owned by the Stratford-based Gavlick Realty Co., which paid off a $251,000 back tax bill on the site in 2003.
Some of the old mill buildings are in pretty good shape while others are shabby, with their windows shattered and trees growing up around them.
Even so, officials said, there’s hope that the site could become a thriving enterprise again.
Roger Bergeron, a vice president of Pan Am Railways, pointed out that tracks still stretch into the complex from the little-used rail line that runs along the back of the buildings. He said they could be used again.
In addition, he said, the old buildings have high roofs of the sort that many companies are looking for so they can load and unload material easily.
Ward said that the Connecticut Development Authority and other state agencies are interested in the idea of cleaning up the site so that it could become a source of jobs and taxes again.
Getting state dollars to fund the cleanup “would prove invaluable,” Ward said.
New Departure manufactured ball bearings on the site from the early 1900s into the 1960s, records show. It had a foundry on the site.
Back in 2005, General Motors, the successor to New Departure, agreed to pay for for the cleanup of the site, where oil and PCBs were leaking into North Creek. It isn’t clear how much work GM did on the site or what remains to be done.
During last fall’s municipal campaign, city Councilor Mike Rimcoski said a major environmental problem still exists on the property.
"We've got a big problem there," Rimcoski said, and will need federal cleanup help to deal with it.
Until that’s done, Rimcoski said, "We can't touch it."

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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March 27, 2008

More trains may be headed down Bristol's tracks

State transportation decision-makers were all aboard Thursday for moving down the track on plans on a comprehensive study of the possibility of establishing passenger rail service between Waterbury and Berlin.
“We will do everything we can” to make rail service happen as long as the data shows it’s in the long-term interest of the state, said Albert Martin, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Transportation.
“It seems like a realistic proposal to me,” state Sen. Donald DeFronzo, a New Britain Democrat, told a Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency workshop session at Bristol’s Main Library Thursday.
“We have a window of opportunity here,” said the senator, who co-chairs the transportation committee.
Molly McKay, a Bristol native who lives in Mystic, said the public “is ready for this” and urged officials to keep moving aggressively forward.
McKay, transportation chair for the Connecticut Sierra Club, told officials, “What you’re saying today is music to my ears.”
James RePass, president of the Boston-based National Corridors Initiative, said that rail is “a green industry” and should be promoted much more heavily, for moving both passengers and freight.
He said he was encouraged to see local, regional, state and railroad officials working together to push the idea forward.
Ken Shooshan-Stoller, a regional planner, said the session was put together to see how the area can utilize the 24.5-mile rail line more fully.
“We want to be imaginative and we want to consider all the options that we have,” Shooshan-Stoller said.
Roger Bergeron, a vice president with Pan Am Railways, which owns the track, figured it would cost as little as $11 million to make changes that would allow for passenger service.
That doesn’t include depots or associated infrastructure, however.
Officials said that if passenger rail were to get rolling, there might be a need to make costly changes to prevent trains from tying up traffic on Route 6 in Bristol at Maple End or busy New Britain intersections.
Currently, there are four trains a day between Plainville and Berlin and one that runs between Bristol and Waterbury, Bergeron said. He said it could easily handle much more.
State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat who serves on the transportation committee, said he knows nothing can happen overnight, but he called for “less talking and more action” to get the trains rolling.
“Timing is of the essence. And the timing is now,” said Mayor Art Ward.
DeFronzo said he figures that an allocation for a comprehensive feasibility study could be made next winter and a report finished, perhaps, by the end of 2009.
At that point, he said, “we would have a real sense of where we’re going.”

Reporter's notebook:
Forget those images of a big black locomotive spitting steam, whistle wailing, churning down the tracks.
What we got instead was a GMAC 2500, a big SUV with Guilford Rail System’s logo on the side. But it wasn’t quite typical because, in addition to its normal tires, it also had train wheels that could grip the rails.
On a largely forgotten piece of rail line near Amtrak’s Berlin station, railroad vice president Roger Bergeron maneuvered the vehicle onto the tracks to begin a 24.5 mile odyssey through the industrial backyards and forests on the way to Waterbury.
City Councilor Cliff Block stood between the rusting rails, singing Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans,” while officials scurried to get ready for the journey.
I piled in to Bergeron’s pseudo-train along with Mayor Art Ward, state Rep. Frank Nicastro, Nicastro’s intern, Bergeron and a photographer.
“You want me to collect the tickets?” Ward asked Bergeron, who mustered a smile in response.
Most of the City Council and another reporter followed in a second specially equipped SUV.
As we started off down the line, we could hear – and feel – a low rumble, soon followed by the regular thump-thump-thump that came every time we hit a new rail.
“We’ll do about 25 miles an hour,” Bergeron said, and less at street crossings and whenever there’s a connecting line.
We headed off into New Britain, eyeing the heaps of debris behind shuttered factories.
“All that stuff is unbelievable,” Nicastro said.
As we crossed over Route 9, Bergeron complained that the railroad bridge there is poorly designed, allowing ATVs to dislodge the stones between the ties so that they fall onto the highway below.
“There’s no way to clean them up,” he said, aside from vacuuming up the rocks from grills that can’t be swept.
Between downtown New Britain and Plainville are countless concrete walls adorned with brightly colored graffiti that, for the most part, can only be seen from the tracks.
“Some of it’s really good,” said Josh Nolan, a Western Connecticut State University junior who’s interning with Nicastro in Hartford.
“There’s some great artists,” Nicastro added.
Even odder were the many variants of “Dump Bush” painted here and there, many of them obscene, almost none of them visible to anyone but the occasional railroad worker.
We saw a few people beside the tracks, some of whom gaped at the strange site of two SUVs hauling along. One man in Waterbury scratched his head, to Nicastro’s delight.
Heading into Bristol, we could see the Pequabuck River, trees and the backs of unidentifiable buildings.
“Bristol looks a lot different from the rail,” Ward said.
The SUV trains made a quick stop near the American Legion post on Hooker Court so that everyone could use a friendly restroom. Ward bemoaned the Legion’s recent decision to stop selling hotdogs at lunchtime.
As we rolled west, Nicastro looked longingly to the side.
“Greer’s is right over there,” the hungry politician said.
“He doesn’t make crispy chicken anymore,” the mayor answered.
In Pequabuck is a stunning site – a 3,800-foot tunnel bored almost a century ago through hard rock and lined with concrete, a project that Bergeron said would cost a fortune today.
Nicastro, who grew up in Bristol’s West End, said he remembered walking through it “four or five times every summer” as a child – sometimes to steal apples from a distant orchard.
His intern got a kick out of that.
On the far side of the tunnel, the tracks meander through the southern part of Plymouth, through some beautiful country.
Bergeron said one nice thing about train travel is the sudden shift in scenery from urban to rural.
What was obvious on the three-hour journey, which included a side trip on the line owned by Bristol on Chippens Hill, is that Bergeron is right when he calls the tracks underutilized.
Along the way are scores of factories, car dealerships and other businesses that rely on trucks to make deliveries and haul away products. At least some of them might well do better to try the rail, Bergeron said.
For Ward and Nicastro, it was a pleasant break from the routine of dull government meetings.
“I’ve been trying to do this since I took office,” Ward said, “to get on the right track.”

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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March 26, 2008

New anti-blight law heads to City Council on April 8

A tough new proposal that aims to ease the way for City Hall to crack down on messy, unsafe properties is on the fast track to approval.
The city’s Ordinance Committee unanimously backed the proposed statute Wednesday, opening the door for the City Council to enact it on April 8.
The move won the endorsement of both Bristol Hospital and the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce this week, which helped spur the three-person panel to act quickly.
“This is an important step,” said former Mayor John Leone, president of the chamber. “We are going to set the bar higher.”
What officials hope the new law will do is allow them to pressure recalcitrant property owners to clean up or fix up their property before it drags down the surrounding neighborhood.
Dale Clift, an assistant city attorney, said there is “a lot of overlap” between the existing blight ordinance and the code enforcement effort. The new proposal would combine them so that both can be more effective, he said.
One reason the push has won such strong support is that residents are happy with the way Building Official Guy Morin and police Officer Tom Lavigne, who deals with code-related issues, have handled enforcement in recent months.
“It’s tremendous to see the difference it’s made,” said Sue Roesch, a Federal Hill resident.
Karen Pio, president of the Greater Bristol Property Owners Association, said the pair has done a good job of offering suggestions to owners on how to comply with the law, not just cracking the whip.
She said they don’t make landlords feel like slumlords. They’re just trying to get people to comply with the rules.
But they’ve also issued many citations to violators, including two they gave to Pio.
Pio thanked them for singling her out. “It got my son my son off his butt end,” she said.
Tim Furey, chairman of the hospital board, said that the hospital has seen “a spiked increase” in the use of its emergency room by people who may be living in substandard dwellings.
He said the community’s health is being affected and the new law is “vital” so that medical care focused on the wellness of the entire community can continue.
The ordinance panel, chaired by Councilor Craig Minor, opted not to go along with a provision urged by Pio that would let the city give 90-day extensions to those targeted if they are making good faith efforts to comply but have limited resources.
With the economy sagging, she said, “there are going to be people crying” who simply can’t afford the expense involved.
“They are going to be hard-pressed to fix everything,” Pio said.
But councilors said that enforcement agents such as Lavigne have the discretion to come down hard on some while quietly lending a hand in other situations.
Lavigne said that discretion is a key part of law enforcement.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Ethics panel sympathetic to Cockayne's request, but doesn't take his side

In response to a complaint filed by freshman Republican city Councilor, the city’s Ethics Board has ruled that several officials won’t violate ethics rules if they participate in votes on whether to shift pension funds into a new health benefits account.
However, panel members “do have concerns about the appearance of any such vote,” said Jim Donovan, the chairman of the board, wrote in an email to Mayor Art Ward.
Cockayne had questioned whether Ward and city Councilors Frank Nicastro and Kevin McCauley would have an ethical problem if they voted on a proposal to move the money from one fund to the other because they are either receiving or likely to receive pension money.
Donovan wrote to Ward that the ethics code “does not prevent” the three from participating in the issue.
Cockayne said he still believes there is an ethics problem that should make the three abstain from the matter.
But, he said, the ethics panel “took the time to understand my issue”and discussed it seriously.
“That’s why the Ethics Board is there,” Cockayne said. “Now we move forward.”
“The rule is the rule and hopefully the people involved will vote in the best interests of the taxpayers,” Cockayne said.
He said he intends to keep looking out for taxpayers, even if it troubles some of his council colleagues. Cockayne added that he won’t hesitate to seek opinions from the ethics panel in the future if the situation calls for it.
The city needs to sock away about $77 million to pay health benefits for its workers when they retire, city Comptroller Glenn Klocko said.
The best way to get the money, he said, is to tap the overfunded pension trust fund.
The most obvious alternative is to hit up the taxpayers for more money every year, which finance officials view as a poor choice since there’s more than enough money in the pension fund to cover both obligations.
City unions are pushing for a negotiated policy change that would reward their members for going along with the fund shift.
It is unclear what’s going to happen next on the issue, but several city leaders have said they anticipate the question may reach the front burner soon.

Update on April 1:

Here's the text of the Ethics Board decision, courtesy of Donovan --

Interpretation of Article V Section 2-126, 2-129 (c) & 2-132 Definitions


The City of Bristol’s Ethics Board issues this advisory opinion in response to a request for an opinion submitted by a current Councilman with the City of Bristol. This is in concert with the spirit and intent of Section 2-130 of the City of Bristol Code of Ordinances. In the request a Councilman with the City of Bristol asked for an interpretation of whether a conflict of interest would exist regarding GASB45 and future votes related to Pensions and Post employment benefits (OPEB) presented to the City Council and Mayor.
Within the 3/3/2008 documented request the Councilman, Ken Cockayne of the City of Bristol asked for an interpretation of whether a conflict of interest could exist and questioned the participation when called upon to vote of Councilman Kevin McCauley, Councilman Frank Nicastro Sr and Mayor Art Ward (hereinafter “Respondents”) regarding the aforementioned topics. Before discussion of the issue two matters pertaining to the request need clarification.

1) Kevin Ward, the Mayor’s policeman son, is not relevant under the code
(Sec. 2-132) as he is not a member of the mayor’s “immediate family”.
2) GASB45, OPEB & GASB25

(a) GASB is the Government Accounting Standards Board, (b) 45 is the specific statement number assigned to an accounting and financial reporting provision requiring government employers to measure and report the liabilities associated with other than pension post employment benefits, (c) 25 is the specific statement number assigned to an accounting and financial reporting provision for Defined Benefit Pension Plans and (d) OPEB is Other Post Employment Benefits.
GASB45 and GASB25 establish standards for accounting and financial reporting with the goal in mind to more accurately reflect the financial effects of Defined Benefit Pension Plan(s) and OPEB transactions.


Under the code of Ethics Section 2-126. Responsibilities of Public Office
(a) It shall be the responsibility of officials to carry out their duties to the best of their abilities and with the highest moral and ethical standards, regardless of personal considerations. Their conduct should at all times be for the public good and within the bounds of the law, should be above reproach, and should avoid a conflict between public and private interests and responsibilities.

Section 2-129 Conflict of Interest;
(c) No official who has a financial or personal (beneficial) interest, either individually or as a member of a group that has a financial or person interest, direct or indirect, in any transaction or contract with they city, or decision or board, body or commission, or in the sale of real estate, material, supplies or services to the city, on which he may be called to act upon in his official capacity, shall vote upon or otherwise participate in the transaction or contract or decision and shall excuse himself from the proceedings in accordance with Section 55 of the Charter of the City of Bristol.

Section 2-132 Terms & Definitions;
A financial interest means any interest that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of the official’s duties or employment in the public interest and of the official’s responsibilities as prescribed by the laws of this state and city, if the official has reason to believe or expect that the official, the official’s spouse or dependent children or a business with which he is associated, as defined herein, will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss as the case may be by reason of the official’s official activity.
Any such official does not have an interest that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of the official’s duties in the public interest and of the official’s responsibilities as prescribed by the laws of this state and city if any benefit or detriment accrues to the official, the official’s spouse or dependent child, or business with which he, his spouse or such dependent child is associated as a member of a profession, occupation or group to no greater extent than to any other member of such profession, occupation or group. This section was taken intact from the State Code of Ethics
Immediate family means any spouse, children or dependent relatives who reside in the individual’s household.


If the transfer of money from a pension fund to a new post employment benefits health insurance fund for current and former city employees was presented to the City Council members and the Mayor for a vote, would an active vote by Kevin McCauley, Frank Nicastro, Sr. and Mayor Art Ward result in a conflict of interest?


After hearing comments and input from Councilman Ken Cockayne it was clear in his remarks that he believed there to be a genuine need to raise the awareness regarding this subject matter.
All three of the “Respondents” are either receiving their pension, beneficiaries of the fund, are contributing to their pension or have an immediate family member who is doing so. Clearly all three “Respondents” “have a financial interest” in the pension as stated in Section 2-129. In addition, as elected city officials, all three have a duty to the taxpayers and voters of the City of Bristol. Absent the highlighted language of Section 2-132 this situation would clearly present a conflict of interest for the “Respondents”. However, the following must be considered...
Kevin McCauley, Frank Nicastro, Sr. and Mayor Ward, thru his wife, are all members of a group or profession that will not be affected, to any greater extent, than they themselves will be, by voting on this issue. That group consists of City Employees who are beneficiaries of the City pension. Upon the advice of the State Ethics Commission, this is how the State would interpret this question. As the highlighted language of Section 2-132 was taken right from the State’s code, we reasonably concluded that the writers of the Bristol Code intended it to be interpreted the same way.


It is the opinion of the City of Bristol’s Ethics Board that the absence of a financial benefit would not preclude the aforementioned officials from voting on the topic of GASB45 or GASB25. A policy decision on “how to “ fund a Defined Benefit Pension Plan(s) or Other Post Employment Benefits would not change the actual benefit received by the aforementioned individuals in the present or in the future to any greater or lesser extent than any other beneficiary of the pension..

Despite the Code allowing the “respondents” to vote on this matter, the Ethics Commission would strongly recommend that City officials remain cognizant of Section 2-126 “Responsibilities of public office”, prior to casting any vote so as to avoid a public perception of a conflict of interest.

Submitted by Helen G. Sneed and Jim Donovan on behalf of the City of Bristol Ethics’ Board

Attorney Jim Donovan, Chairperson

Dated 3/28/2008

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Architects estimate Boulevard School theater project will cost $8 million

Putting a community theater at Memorial Boulevard will likely cost about $8.1 million, according to a preliminary estimate by the architects that city officials plan to hire Thursday.
The Simsbury-based Schoenhardt Architecture + Interior Design was far and away the top pick of city officials who reviewed submissions from 14 firms to carry out the initial design work for the project.
Both City Purchasing Agent Roger Rousseau and City Councilor Craig Minor said the firm put an impressive amount of work into its initial proposal to the city.
The Community Theater Committee plans to recommend hiring the firm for $72,900 at its meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in the meeting room on the first floor of City Hall.
The architects included a time schedule that estimated detailed plans could be done by year’s end, with construction bids solicited next spring. A new theater could open as soon as the summer of 2010, the firm indicated.
However, it’s unclear at this point where the $8.1 million would come from, particularly given Comptroller Glenn Klocko’s recent recommendation that the city refrain from taking on any elective projects until Bristol’s debt load decreases.
Schoenhardt’s plan calls for putting an addition on the rear of the existing Boulevard School stage that would include a loading dock, performers’ space, an office, storage for props and other equipment and more.
It also eyes the possibility of putting another small addition on the north side of the school that would serve as a lobby and ticket office for the theater.
In a preliminary sketch included with the firm’s presentation, the lobby appears as a glassed-in structure that blends with the historic architecture of the school only in part.
The rear addition would be much closer to the existing style of the post-World War I building that originally served as Bristol’s high school.
According to the architects’ estimates, it will cost about $2.2 million to renovate the existing building, $2.7 million to add the rear addition, $500,000 to put up the lobby, $1.1 million to renovate the stage and theater and $600,000 to purchase needed theater equipment, furniture and fixtures.
All of the fiscal estimates are subject to change as the experts delve more deeply into the project, perhaps discovering alternatives that would cheaper, or perhaps more costly.
Schoenhardt has extensive experience working with theaters and schools. It designed the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center, worked on the lobby of Hartford Stage, designed the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School and worked on renovations at the Thomaston Opera House, the Bushnell Theater and the Newport Opera House in Newport, R.I.
The theater committee’s recommendation would head to the City Council in April for final approval.
Rousseau said he’s working on the contract terms with Schoenhardt so that the architects can get to work quickly once the city gives the green light.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Take a hike on sales tax increase, local officials tell Hartford

Though big city mayors in Connecticut are pushing lawmakers to give them the option of hiking sales taxes to cover rising municipal expenses, the idea doesn’t have much backing in Bristol.
State Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, called the idea “ridiculous,” but said he isn’t opposed to letting cities choose whether to add a penny to the sales tax rate.
However, Colapietro said, “I would definitely go to another town” to make purchases if Bristol opted to hike its sales tax rate to 7 percent. “I can't imagine a city wanting to do this,” he added.
Raising the 6 percent sales tax to 7 percent, with the extra money going to municipalities that choose to enact it, would bring in millions for many cities. Bristol would likely rake in more than $1 million in additional revenue annually, officials said.
But Mayor Art Ward said he is opposed to “this type of legislation” because it allows the state “to avoid their responsibility of addressing fiscal responsibility” and adds to the tax burden of hard-pressed city residents.
“If anything, it would create adverse competition amongst cities who choose to employ this method and those communities who opt not to follow this path thereby forcing shoppers to travel to the least expensive community for their goods and services, ultimately, short-changing their cities and towns,” Ward said.
State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat who represents the 79th District, said that if the bill comes out of committee, he will not vote for it.
“ People are leaving this great state, and for that matter our fine city, because they have had it up to here with taxes,” said Nicastro, who is also a city councilor and former mayor.
“ It's about time that government starting at the federal level and working its way down through the State to the municipalities did what they should be doing , simply providing tax relief,” Nicastro said.
“There are too many taxes in this state already and even a penny more is wrong,” he said.
City Councilor Craig Minor called the sales tax regressive – which means it hits lower income people harder than richer residents – “so I would be very reluctant to adopt one in Bristol.”
However, Minor said, another option in the bill before the finance committee does interest him: the possibility of enacting a local income tax.
“That would be worth having a community discussion over,” Minor said. “But let's wait and see if this bill even gets out of the finance committee before we get too excited about it.
Four mayors – from Stamford, New Haven, Bridgeport and New London - asked the General Assembly this week to give them the authority to raise local sales taxes in order to close looming budget deficits.
Bristol’s elected leaders said they’re more concerned with preserving the extra conveyance tax revenue, which is set to expire this year, than they are with adding new taxes.
Comptroller Glenn Klocko said that losing $430,000 or more in conveyance taxes when property is sold would be a big hit to the city’s bottom line as it begins a new budget year in July.
Legislators are weighing the impact of the tax and may decide to roll it back to traditional levels for the 18 cities that were given the chance to hike the tax five years ago. Bristol waited a year before adding the conveyance tax increase, but has come to rely on the revenues from it.

Update at 12:30 p.m., Wednesday --

State Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes northwestern Bristol, weighed in with this:
"I'm not sure if these mayors realize this or not, but Connecticut already has the highest tax burden of any state in the country. People who live in our major cities already pay some of the highest property taxes in the country. How on earth could they think this will help those residents? If they put as much effort into focusing their attention on the expense side of their budget as opposed to the tax side, we could get a handle on this problem."

Update at 11:30 p.m, Wednesday --

State Rep. Ron Burns, a Bristol Republican whose 77th District includes northeastern Bristol, sent this along:

"I would not support this bill. As state legislators we should not abdicate the responsibility we have to the taxpayers of Bristol. Rather than allowing the city to add an additional penny to the sales tax to offset their expenditures, we should be taking a hard look at the mandates we, as state legislators, have placed on municipalities and take action to remove those that are unnecessary. We will only be chasing people out of town to purchase their goods. I highly doubt that our Mayor or city councilors and taxpayers would believe that by passing this bill we would be giving them a helping hand."

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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March 25, 2008

Chief operating officer post wins charter panel backing

City charter commissioners unanimously backed a proposal Tuesday to create a chief operating officer to handle the administrative oversight of municipal departments.
The plan heads next to the City Council, where its fate is uncertain. Some councilors have expressed support for professional management while others have said they oppose it.
The report from the Charter Revision Commission, which will be submitted formally next week, also calls for the city to cease electing its treasurer, extending the registrars’ terms to four years and other minor matters.
But it’s the chief operating officer concept that is sure to generate the most attention because it involves a drastic change from Bristol’s 97-year history of leaving administration control in the hands of the mayor.
Though the proposal calls for the chief operating officer – a sort of city manager-lite – to report to the mayor, it lays out duties within the charter that leave it clear the position would have at least some independence from the city’s top elected official.
Once the council receives the report, it is obligated by the charter to hold a public hearing within 45 days and to make a decision soon after about whether to accept the recommendations, ask for revisions in them or reject them entirely, according to Edward Krawiecki, the city attorney.
If the council wants changes, which it normally does, a joint session would be held with councilors and charter commissioners hashing out what’s possible, officials said.
Tim Furey, the chairman of the charter panel, said that after the joint meeting, a final charter report can be filed.
At that point, the council would either accept the final report or reject it.
If it’s accepted, the proposals for charter changes would be placed on the November general election ballot so voters would have the final say
The city charter is the basic blueprint for city government, laying out the rules of how it is structured and how it is legally obligated to operate.
The charter commission has been reviewing possible changes since last year, tossing out most of the ideas before settling on the creation of a chief operating officer as its hallmark issue. If the plan succeeds, it would mark the most drastic change in city government since the creation of an elected Board of Education more than 15 years ago.
Furey praised the seven-member panel that has worked on the charter.
“Everyone’s worked very hard and done a great job,” Furey said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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March 24, 2008

Wright enters 77th District race

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of his well-known father, Christopher Wright declared this week that he plans to seek election to northeast Bristol’s 77th state House district.
Wright, 35, said he wants to represent the area in Hartford so he can “fight for cleaner air and cleaner water, better schools and better healthcare for all our citizens so that we can continue the promise made by those who came before us to leave our children a state better, stronger, cleaner and healthier than the one we live in today.”
Wright, one of former state Sen. Gardner Wright’s children, is eyeing the seat currently held by state Rep. Ron Burns, a first-term Republican who snatched the district from Democratic hands two years ago.
Burns, who knocked out longtime incumbent Roger Michele, has not said whether he’ll seek re-election in the heavily Democratic district.
It is unclear whether any other Democrats may vie for the right to seek Burns’ seat. At this point, Wright said, he doesn’t know of any other contenders.
Wright said he’s jumping into the race because he’s concerned that government is doing too little to balance its books, protect the environment and ensure affordable, quality healthcare for everyone.
He said Republicans have failed ordinary Americans because the GOP has “cut tax rates for only the very wealthiest in our society, ballooned our public debt to levels that not even Ronald Reagan or the first George Bush could not have imagined and have left working Americans with incomes that are, at best, stagnant and in all too many cases shrinking when compared to the rate of inflation.”
Wright said the state needs to preserve “the last remaining remnants of open space” that it has. “We lecture other countries about the destruction of their forests, yet we plow over ours to build bigger and bigger McMansions,” he said. “What kind a legacy is this leaving for our children?”
He called for environmental policies “which encourage the reclamation and reuse of brownfields instead of the destruction of green fields” as well as policies fuel efficient vehicles, cleaner emissions and sustainable economic growth.
Wright said healthcare needs more attention, too.
“The fact that 10 percent of the population in the state which calls itself the insurance capital of the world goes without health insurance in unacceptable,” he said.
Gardner Wright, who serves as one of the city’s downtown commissioners, is a former city councilor, state House member, congressional candidate, city Democratic leader and chairman of the state Commission on Hospitals and Health Care. He represented the 77th District in the 1970s and early 1980s, until he gave up the seat in an unsuccessful bid to win an open congressional slot.
“One thing my father told me was ‘Son, all you have in life is your name, so never do anything to harm it,’” Christopher Wright said.
“Of course, he also once told me ‘Son, don’t be humble, you’re not that great,’” the son added.
“It must be that which gives me the gumption to stand in front” of the town committee to “tell you why you should help elect me Bristol’s next state representative,” Wright said.
Wright grew up in the district, attending Mountain View, Ivy Drive and Northeast Middle schools before graduating from St. Paul Catholic High School. He earned a degree in economics from Central Connecticut State University in 1991.
After college, he earned a paralegal certificate and attended a seminary for a time before putting in eight years with the Federal Deposit Insurance Company. He currently works in registration for St. Francis Hospital.

Speech given Monday night by Christopher Wright, a Democrat who announced his intention to seek election to the 77th House seat currently held by state Rep. Ron Burns, a Bristol Republican:

Good Evening. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Christopher Wright and I am standing before you today to announce my candidacy for State Representative from the 77th district. As many of you know, I have a long personal history with the 77th. Growing up, I attended Mountain View, Ivy Drive and Northeast before graduating from St. Paul. In 1991 I graduated from Central Connecticut with a degree in Economics and later earned a certificate in paralegal studies from Hartford College for Women and attended seminary for a time. For eight years I worked for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, helping to clean up the havoc reaped on our banks and savings and loans by the Reaganomics of the 1980’s. Currently, I work in registration at St Francis Hospital, and I see firsthand the struggles people in Connecticut have finding affordable health insurance for themselves and for their children.
I come from a very working class background. All four of my grandparents worked in factories around town; New Departure, Ingram’s, Bristol Brass and GE. A union man, my grandfather Wright would go out on strike three times, something which my grandmother was never happy about. But they understood the importance of fighting for working families, a philosophy which I intended to bring with me to Hartford. My parents both grew up in town, my father on Davis Drive and Union Street and my mother in a house on Tulip Street which her family owned for forty five years. They were each the first members of their families to attend college and instilled a belief in the importance of education and a strong work ethic into their children. One thing my father told me was “Son, all you have in life is your name, so never do anything to harm it.” Of course, he also once told me “son, don’t be humble, you’re not that great.” It must be that which gives me the gumption to stand in front of you and tell you why you should help elect me Bristol’s next State Representative.
I seek this office for one reason, because I am concerned with the world that we are leaving for our children. I look at our economy and I am concerned. After a period of economic growth in the 90’s which saw the incomes of most average Americans rise at the same time our federal debt was being paid down, we have since 2001 seen a Republican administration and Republican Congress pursue economic policies which have cut tax rates for only the very wealthiest in our society, ballooned our public debt to levels that not even Ronald Reagan or the first George Bush could not have imagined and have left working Americans with incomes that are, at best, stagnant and in all too many cases shrinking when compared to the rate of inflation. The results of these borrow and spend policies of the Republicans are all too clear; rising levels of credit card debt and home foreclosures, an American dollar which is now worth less than the Canadian dollar and an overwhelming national debt that our children’s children will be paying off. And what is the Republican’s response to this crisis? The same old tired cry of Ronald Reagan, that we need to cut the taxes of the richest Americans even more and hope that somehow, someway, some of that wealth will trickle down to the rest of us. Well, my friends, I don’t need to tell you that the only “benefits” that have been coming our way are lower wages, more debt and fewer well-paying jobs. But this hasn’t been a trickle, it’s been a downpour.
What we need to do is to follow the example of President Clinton and the Democrats who, in 1993, set fiscal and tax policies that lowered tax rates for most Americans yet still managed to bring in more money and allowed the government, in the years that followed, to balance the budget and even begin to pay down on the national debt, while at the same time providing our country with an unprecedented eight straight years of economic growth. We need to recognize that economies grow from the ground up and pursue fiscal policies that benefit the vast majority of Americans who happen not to be wealthy and we need to stop being the state with the highest per capita debt in the nation. There is a not-so-old saying that states “We used to do things for posterity. Now we do things for ourselves and bill posterity.” I ask you, what kind of a legacy are we leaving for our children?
With an eye to the future, I look at our environment and I am concerned. Connecticut is a small state with limited land and I believe that we need to be asking ourselves “How do we protect the last remaining remnants of open space that we have?” The naturalist John Muir once wrote “The forests of America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God, for they were the best ever planted.” What has become of those forests? We lecture other countries about the destruction of their forests, yet we plow over ours to build bigger and bigger McMansions. What kind a legacy is this leaving for our children? Do we really want future generations growing up in a state without forests or meadows and almost devoid of wildlife? What we need to do is start living by the Native American belief that we do not inherit the land from our parents but borrow it from our children. We need to pursue policies which encourage the reclamation and reuse of brown fields instead of the destruction of green fields. We need to institute tax policies that promote the use of the most fuel efficient vehicles by the public and by the state. We need to accelerate the replacement of greenhouse gas emitting energy plants with cleaner technologies. We need to encourage economic growth in our state that is both sustainable and beneficial to all of our citizens. It is only by instituting these policies now that we can provide our children with a world that is, we hope, cleaner than the one we have today.
I look at my nephews, and I am concerned about the state of our educational system. The boys, who have received most of their schooling during the “no child left behind” era, complain about all the time they spend preparing for tests. In today’s fast-paced computer-driven world, we need an educational system that emphasizes quick thinking and nimble mindedness over rote memorization. We need to make sure that our teachers are provided with the materials and support that they require to bring our children up to their full potential because have no doubt; without a highly educated population America’s position as the world’s greatest superpower will be in jeopardy. Is a legacy of crushing debt, a Grand Canyon like chasm between the rich and the rest of society and a public school system that struggles to educate its charges really what we want to leave to future generations? America is about equality and opportunity; about all of its citizens being given an equal chance to succeed or fail based on their own skills and their own merit. That process begins in the public schools.
My last, though certainly not least, concern that I want to bring before you tonight is healthcare. That fact that ten percent of the population in the state which calls itself the insurance capitol of the world goes without health insurance in unacceptable. I see these people every day when they come into the emergency room with complaints that should be taken care of in a doctor’s office. But since these people have no insurance, they have no access to a private physician and they wind up in the ER, often waiting hours on end to see a doctor. Many of these people are the working poor, people with full time or several part time jobs. The problem they face is that fewer and fewer employers today provide healthcare benefits and those that do charge their employees ever increasing premiums and copays. And the workers who receive no benefits are not eligible for state assistance because they doing what they are suppose to be doing and going out and earning a living. In fact, the gulf between the insured and the uninsured is growing so wide that a patient I was recently registering told me of a trip she made to an emergency room in another state where the two groups were actually placed in separate waiting rooms. Is this really the legacy that we want to leave to our children? It is time for us to take a stand and insist that access to affordable health care is something that all Americans should have, regardless of income or occupation. And the best part is that this should bring about a reduction in healthcare costs because people who receive regular medical care are less likely to develop serious, costly illnesses; costs which today hospitals are forced to transfer to patients who are insured just so that they can keep their doors open.
My friends, we can do better. Send me to Hartford and I promise that I will do all in my power to work for the betterment of everyone in our city and in our state. I will fight for cleaner air and cleaner water, better schools and better healthcare for all our citizens so that we can continue the promise made by those who came before us; to leave our children a state better, stronger, cleaner and healthier than the one we live in today. Thank you.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Architects are next hurdle for school building project

Ten or more architectural firms are likely to meet the minimum qualifications needed to bid for the right to design the two new schools the city plans to build soon.
That’s less than half of the 23 firms that responded to the city’s request that interested firms provide proof that they can handle the anticipated $115 million project to construct two kindergarten to eighth grade schools that will house 900 students apiece.
City Purchasing Agent Roger Rousseau said that some excellent firms fell short of meeting the standards because the city said only architects that have already done at least three $20 million construction projects would be considered.
Some “didn’t meet the bar that we had set,” Rousseau said, despite strong tracks records on other projects.
Those that are ultimately accepted as qualified bidders will receive detailed school proposals and will be asked to name their price to do the work, officials said Monday.
Whichever of the qualified firms offers to do it for the least money will get the nod, they said.
William Smyth, the assistant superintendent for business, said that a new state law leaves no alternative.
In the past, officials were allowed to interview prospective architects and find one that combined the best blend of price and compatibility.
The new law, said Board of Finance member Don Soucy, is ridiculous.
Smyth and Rousseau said there are efforts underway to convince lawmakers to revise it, but they are unlikely to make headway soon enough to change the selection method for the two schools.The city plans to ask the qualified architects to give a price to do each school separately and a price to do both projects. That way, Rousseau said, officials can decide whether it’s better to have a single firm do both schools or if dividing the work is best.
The city is looking to build 121,600-square-foot schools in Forestville and West Bristol. They would open by 2012 unless plans are derailed.
The Board of Education intends to shut down four older schools when the new ones open. Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older primary schools would close: O’Connell, Bingham and Greene-Hills.
Before deciding which architecture firms can bid, a number of officials are reading through a two-foot pile of applications from contending firms.
Smyth said it is “a tedious job,” but necessary.
“I could never do that, all that reading,” said city Councilor Ken Cockayne, expressing happiness that he’s not on the subcommittee weeding through the material.
The subcommittees for both the West Bristol and Forestville school building committees will report the qualified bidders within a few weeks, officials said, after which bids will be sought.
“Well, now the hard part starts,” Soucy said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Nicastro, Boukus running again

State Reps. Frank Nicastro of Bristol and Betty Boukus of Plainville, both Democrats, said Monday they're running for re-election.
"I'm going to work my tail off to win reelection to the House," said Nicastro, who has represented the 79th District for the past two years.
Boukus has represented the 22nd District, which includes a sliver of Bristol, since 1994.
Already seeking another term is state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat who has held office in the 31st District since 1992.
The city's two Republican state representatives, Bill Hamzy in the 78th District and Ron Burns in the 77th District, have yet to declare their intentions, though both are widely expected to seek another term.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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New political party leaders in Bristol

Accepting his party’s unanimous backing to become the new Republican Party chairman in Bristol Monday, TJ Barnes said the volunteer post “is not a fun job.”
“It’s like herding cats through a fence,” Barnes told the GOP’s town committee.
Democrats also united Monday behind a single candidate to serve as their town chairman: Elliott Nelson, a 25-year veteran of the city’s Fire Department.
Both men are low-key, behind-the-scenes leaders who are unlikely to follow the fire and brimstone style of some of their predecessors.
They will, no doubt, experience some of the same headaches that party chairs always face – clashing ambitions, warring factions and trying to find solid candidates in long-shot races.
“Sometimes the chairman is a thankless job,” said city Probate Judge Andre Dorval, a longtime political veteran on the Democratic side.
Nelson, 53, has been the Democrat’s treasurer in recent years and has helped out on many campaigns.
“Our party needs to be unified and I can’t think of a better person to do it,” said Mayra Sampson, a former Democratic chair. She said that the party is “constantly under attack” from the GOP and needs to stand up to the assault.
But Barnes, though a Republican loyalist whose family has deep roots in the city, isn’t likely to be the point man on many attacks.
Barnes, a former Republican chairman, said he reluctantly agreed to take the helm again because he wants to help improve the party’s standing in the community.
“I really think we have an opportunity here in Bristol to change how we’re viewed,” said Barnes, 35, who runs the investment arm of the Bristol-based Valley Bank.
Both men praised their predecessors, Republican Art Mocabee and Democrat Dean Kilbourne, each of whom chose not to seek another two-year term.
But they promised to bring different agendas and directions to their parties.
“I’m not the Art Mocabee style, definitely not front and center,” Barnes said.
Barnes said that while he can get “pretty enthusiastic and get out there and do the hard work,” he’s going to concentrate on building up the Republicans, not tearing down the Democrats.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Coming down the tracks

Here a few stories that reporter Jackie Majerus and I wrote about trains in Bristol:

Bristol and state officials are climbing aboard a plan to bring passenger train service back to the Mum City.
"We've been looking at it," said state Sen. Donald DeFronzo, a New Britain Democrat who chairs the legislature's transportation committee.
DeFronzo said lawmakers are studying the possibility of relieving congestion on Interstate 84 by re-introducing commuter trains that would carry passengers from Waterbury to Berlin, with stops in Bristol and New Britain.
"It would be a longer term possibility, but certainly one that is worth looking at," DeFronzo said. "The right of way is there."
The tracks already run through Waterbury, Bristol, Plainville, New Britain, Berlin and Hartford, said DeFronzo.
State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat and also a city councilor, spoke in favor of the idea.
"We'd be saving big dollars and we'd be taking people off the highway," said Nicastro.
The railroad tracks are now used for freight, but for years, they carried passenger trains.
"You got tracks running through the center of Bristol," Nicastro said.
Nicastro said he thinks a commuter train would prove more popular than a busline for Bristol riders.
"Believe me, a lot of people would take that train," said Nicastro. "Commuters enjoy taking trains a lot more than buses."
Bristol Mayor Art Ward also said he likes the idea of passenger trains running in Bristol again. He said he's encouraged by recent talks with railroad officials.
It's unclear how much it would cost to ready the tracks for passenger use.
"We're trying to get a fix on what the real cost might be," said DeFronzo.
DeFronzo said it would involve upgrading the rail and some of the rail bed.
"I think we should look at it. It does have potential," DeFronzo said. "It would require a major investment of funds."
The busway project, which uses old railroad rights of way for a bus to take commuters from New Britain to Hartford, is a "similar project" to the commuter trains, said DeFronzo.
"It, too, is using an old, defunct rail line," said DeFronzo.
If something were to derail the busway project, said DeFronzo, "This would be a realistic and immediate back up to that plan."
In order to move toward adding a commuter train, DeFronzo said, the state would first have to have a feasibility study done.
"That would be the linchpin for future deliberations," said DeFronzo, who said a study could be done as early as next year.
If the study found it to be reasonable, said DeFronzo, "We would probably pursue it."
DeFronzo said there would be some issues with crossings, which include one over Route 6 in Bristol and another on Main Street in New Britain. The trains don't run often now, so the interruption isn't great, but DeFronzo said if passenger trains ran many times a day, those high traffic crossings may need a bridge or tunnel.
To use the rails for passenger trains, DeFronzo said, they'll have to improve them so the trains can move more quickly.
Currently, it's a low speed line, he said, with trains sometimes traveling just 15 or 20 miles an hour.
"Years ago, it was a primary freight line," said DeFronzo. "It's still used now, but it's very underutilized."

Tracks can take passenger trains
There’s nothing to prevent passenger trains from using the Pan Am Railways track through Bristol, a top railroad company executive says.
“We work well with passenger and freight on the same line,” said Roger Bergeron, the Massachusetts-based railroad’s vice president for special projects.
The track in Bristol heads west into Plymouth before dropping south to Waterbury. To the east, it runs through Plainville and New Britain to the main Connecticut Valley line in Berlin.
Bergeron said that some improvements would be needed to make passenger service practical, but he suspects the cost would be reasonable.
Along the Haverill, Mass., Pan Am has 38 MBTA commuter trains that share the tracks with 20 freight trains and 10 Amtrak trains, Bergeron said. He said it’s just a matter of scheduling.
Bergeron said that studies have been done in the past about the potential for passenger service on the line in Bristol, but they focused on the commuter possibilities for people heading to and from New York City.
He said there are “a lot of opportunities” for passenger service in the area, but only if the rail line is included in state planning so that necessary station sites, upgrades and design can be considered early on.
“It’s entirely possible and reasonable” to have passenger rail between Waterbury and Berlin, Bergeron said. The line could connect with the planned busway at the Berlin end, officials said.

Economic development opportunities
There may be economic development opportunities connected to Bristol’s railroad tracks that could be pursued, officials said.
“We see a good opportunity to use the railroad,” said John Leone, president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce. “The rail, we think, is an unsung hero.”
“Our railroad is an underutilized asset, even for us,” said Roger Bergeron, vice president for special projects for the Massachusetts-based Pan Am Railways.
“We want to put capacity into the line,” said Bergeron, who made clear that the tracks in Bristol could handle many more trains.
“We have a great relationship with this town. We’d like it to be better,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron said there are some opportunities for more railroad-related development in Bristol.
There is “a tremendous potential” to bolster the use of the tracks leading up to the former General Motors factory on Chippens Hill, already home to two major users of the rail line, Firestone Building Products and Clark Steel.
He said that one problem the railroad has is that it doesn’t maintain a database of available property near its line so it can’t necessarily help companies that are looking for space beside the tracks.
“We constantly get inquiries,” Bergeron said.
For example, Bergeron said, there are big paper mills in Maine that are searching for warehouse space near a train line where they could store massive rolls of paper.
Another possibility for Bristol is assembling train cars that are brought in by ship but need to specialized work before they can be used, including a chance to roll on the line to make sure they operate properly, Bergeron said.
Bergeron mentioned, too, that the railroads are facing a growing shortage of skilled workers to make sure tracks are safe, locomotives can run and more.
Jon Lodovico, an administrator at Tunxis Community College, said that perhaps the Farmington college could start a training program.

Bristol railroad facts
Line is owned by the Boston and Maine Corp.
Rail operations are done by the Springfield Terminal Railway Co.
Pan Am Railways (formerly Guilford Rail System) owns both the Boston and Maine and Springfield Terminal Railway
Railroad line built in 1848

History of the railroad in Bristol
Passenger rail service wouldn't be new if lawmakers decide a commuter train is the ticket for resolving congestion on Interstate 84.
Passenger trains have a long history in Bristol, according to Bristol Historical Society President Steven Vastola.
Vastola recently gave a presentation on trains in Bristol at the historical society.
In part because of the rocky terrain, it took five years to lay the track in Bristol, according to Vastola, who said passenger service began in 1855.
The tracks that run through Bristol have had many owners, according to Vastola.
Early investors in the rail system in Bristol were the manufacturing powerbrokers of the day, according to Vastola, including clockmakers.
"They needed the train to keep their other companies going," he said.
In 1957, they were investors in the Hartford, Providence and Fishkill Railroad, Vastola said, the line that came to Bristol.
From 1876 to 1895, the New York and New England Railroad owned the tracks, which by then made it to the Hudson River.
But there was no bridge crossing the river, Vastola said, "They actually ran the freight cars onto barges. They ran 600 freight cars a day on ferry boats across the river."
There were two depots in Bristol, one downtown and one, built later, in Forestville.
In 1886, the Bristol Depot, the first one built downtown, burned, he said. A second one opened the following year, and the Forestville station opened in 1888.
From 1895 to 1968, J.P. Morgan's New Haven Railroad held Bristol's tracks.
Around the turn of the century, Main Street was lowered and the track put on the trestle above the street.
A three-rail electric train – with a deadly third rail – ran from Bristol to New Britain every hour from 1898 to 1907, said Vastola.
The Terryville tunnel, a mile and a half long, was built in 1909, according to Vastola.
"It's the longest train tunnel in the state," said Vastola. "It's still used today."
The railroad took some hits later this century, including the Flood of '55 and the President Eisenhower's interstate highway system, which Vastola called "the next big coffin nail for the railroad" because moving freight by trucks hurt the trains.
In 1960, passenger service ended in Bristol, and from 1968 to 1976, the Penn Central Co. held the rails.
New Departure's threat to leave Bristol during those years prompted the city to add a rail spur to Chippens Hill that hit the old Carnation plant and the ball bearings factory.
Though the industries there have changed, the line is still in use today, said Vastola.
Other railroad companies that owned the tracks in Bristol, according to Vastola, were Conrail from 1976 to 1982 and after that, the Boston & Maine Guilford Rail System, which has now become Pan Am Railways.

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A look at ... school funding

Given the looming budget battle, I thought some of you would be amused by Tattoo cartoonist Justin Skaradosky's new cartoon at Skaradosky is a junior at Bristol Central High School.
The Tattoo got a little update today to add Justin's cartoon and a review of "The Bluest Eye" by Bristol Eastern junior Rachel Glogowski. (The cartoon, by the way, looks better on The Tattoo's website than it does here on Blogger.)
For those who don't know, The Tattoo is a teen-written, online newspaper that Jackie Majerus and I have been running since 1994. It's got young writers all over the world and has helped hundreds of teens get into college, win scholarships and learn to write better.
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March 21, 2008

Birge Pond dam can't be used for walkway, experts say

The century-old dam at the spillway for Birge Pond can’t be used to support a planned pedestrian walkway along the shore.
Engineers who looked at the dam as part of a $300,000 project to improve the Hoppers-Birge Pond Nature Preserve “don’t feel comfortable” using it for the project, said Brett Poi, a landscape architect for the Meriden-based BL Companies.
Poi said there is “some deterioration” evident, but the main problem is that dam is likely more than 100 years old and there are no detailed plans showing how it was constructed.
Because the dam and its abutments can’t be used, the consultant is looking into the possibility of putting a pedestrian bridge below the dam, through a flat, swampy area.
Though the experts are wary of using the dam as part of the project, they don’t see any reason to be concerned about its fundamental soundness.
“No one has raised any red flags about the state of the dam,” said Poi, who is the project manager for BL Companies.
“That dam’s not going anywhere,” said Jean Letourneau, who has been involved in efforts to protect the nature preserve for two decades.
Letourneau said it was constructed by New Departure long ago out of scrap iron and concrete.
The consultant considered putting a pedestrian bridge over the entire dam so that it wouldn’t infringe on it in any way, but gave up on the idea because it would still involve an extra, complicated approval from state regulators.
The rest of the project consists of overhauling the existing parking lot, adding handicapped accessible paths along the south end of the pond, putting in picnic tables and installing some parking along Ambler Road.
There project also includes improvements to the old gatehouse slab that juts into the pond slightly. New flooring and rails would be put in there, Poi said.
It’s likely that at least a little lighting would be added, but Park Director Ed Swicklas said he’s not sure how much.
Patricia White, a co-chair of the Hoppers-Birge Pond Committee, said lighting would help deter vandalism.
But Swicklas said that’s not clear.
“We have lighting at Rockwell Park,” he said, “and they break the lights.”
Officials hope there may be enough money to make improvements to the walking trails around the rest of the pond.
A continuous trail around the pond would be nice, said Pat Nelligan, a park commissioner.
The city hopes to complete the project this year.

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March 20, 2008

New Democratic and Republican chiefs?

The new town committees are set to elect new chairmen soon.
Truthfully, I've paid remarkably little attention to the whole thing, mostly just listening quietly to rumors.
But I did ask Elliott Nelson a few days back if he was interested in the Democratic Party chairmanship. He confirmed that he is, indeed, seeking the unpaid position.
I don't know if Dean Kilbourne, the current chairman, wants to stay on or if anybody else is vying for the slot.
On the Republican side, there's lots of talk, but the only sure thing is that Art Mocabee is moving on. He's pitching in on the district level instead.
I wouldn't be surprised if TJ Barnes is willing to be GOP chairman again, but that's mostly a guess. A few insiders have told me he might do it. I haven't asked him.

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Colapietro praises money allocation for Route 6 drainage project

New press release from state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat:

Improvements to drainage systems are on the way to Route 6 in Bristol as the State Bond Commission is slated to approve $8,171,540 for the repairs when it meets next week, news that state Senator Thomas A. Colapietro (D-Bristol) today welcomed.

The project includes installation of a new, large culvert to catch water where the railroad tracks intercept Route 6. It also includes another connected culvert and several other improvements to the roadway.

“I’m very glad that this money is on the bond agenda and that this road will get the drainage repairs that it needs,” said Senator Colapietro, who sits on the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee. “The flooding in that area is dangerous for drivers and pedestrians.”

Little more than a year ago, Senator Colapietro worked with former city councilman Tom Levine to try to broker a deal for the repairs. While those efforts were unsuccessful, Senator Colapietro today said that the important thing is that the roadway will finally be repaired.

“That piece of road where it meets the railroad tracks has been a problem for quite a while,” said Senator Colapietro. “While we tried to work with the railroad before to make the repairs, the important thing is that the plans are on file, the funds are on their way, the construction can get going and this road can finally drain properly.”

The funding is part of a $30 million allocation for road repairs across the state and is part of the Fix-it-First road and bridge repair and replacement program authorized by the General Assembly last year.

The State Bond Commission is scheduled to meet on Friday, March 28, at 10:30 a.m. in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

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City projects decision put off

Today’s meeting of the Five-Year Capital Improvement Committee wasn’t anything earth-shattering.
Mayor Art Ward said the panel agreed to fund projects that state projects money would cover and then tabled the rest of the potential projects for the moment.
“We’re not up against the wall,” Ward said, and members wanted to review the minutes of last year’s session before taking action this time around.
He said the next meeting will likely be in about a week.

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The price of fish makes fishing derby pricey

Fish are getting downright pricey.
As city officials plan for the annual fishing derby at Page Park, they’re trying to figure out how to cope with the soaring cost of stocking the pond.
Park Director Ed Swicklas said the city paid $1,700 for the fish in 2001, but costs have escalated so much that getting the same number of fish today will cost about $2,900.
With labor and other expenses on the rise, he said, holding the derby will cost nearly $4,000.
The Pequabuck River Watershed Association, which stocks the river with brown, rainbow and golden trout every fall, recently complained that fish prices have tripled in the past dozen years.
Swicklas said the city is looking for contributors who might help defray the cost of the event.
He said the Bristol Fish and Game Association has donated $500 toward the event’s tab for many years, but the money doesn’t go as far as it once did.
The 57th Annual Perry J. Spinelli fishing derby for youngsters 13 years of age and under is slated for Saturday, April 26 at the Page Park lagoon, which was recently dredged. It is held from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Prizes are awarded in many different categories, ranging from smallest fish to largest fish.

Here's a notice from the city about the upcoming fishing derby:


The 57th Annual Perry J. Spinelli fishing derby for youngsters 13 years of age and under will be held on Saturday, April 26, 2008 at the Page Park Lagoon from 7:00 to 10:00 a.m. This very popular event for youngsters from the Bristol/Forestville area is being co-sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department and the Bristol Fish and Game Association. Many local fishing experts are expected to be on hand to give suggestions and tips on how to catch the big one. Prizes will be awarded in many different categories ranging from smallest fish to largest fish. The rules for the fishing derby are as follows:

1. No fishing at Page Park Lagoon until 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 26th. All participants must obtain a Fishing Derby Permit on Saturday, the 26th at the control station on the deck of the Page Park Pavilion. Permits will be issued from 6:30 a.m. on.
2. Participants must be residents of Bristol/Forestville 13 years of age
or younger.
3. Each youngster may use only one pole, one hook, one bobber, and
any legal bait. (Live bait may be used.)
4. Artificial Lures are not allowed during the derby.
5. Gang hooks are strictly forbidden.
6. Parents may assist in casting only. Youngsters must land their own fish.
7. Catch limit is 3 during the derby, and daily after that.
8. No pets are allowed near the pond.
9. All fishing must be done from the shore. No one will be allowed to enter the water at any time.
10. Prizes will be awarded at the conclusion of the derby. Winners will be announced at 10:15 a.m.
11. The decision of the Judges will be final.

Each participant must obtain a fishing derby permit. Permits will be issued beginning at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 26th at the control station on the deck of the Page Park Pavilion. Permits must be worn at all times while fishing at Page Park.

After the derby, youngsters aged 15 and under may fish at the Page Park Lagoon daily. For further information please call the Bristol Parks and Recreation Department weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. at 584-6160.

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Water restrictions ease as reservoirs overflow

After weeks of wet weather, the city is lifting the voluntary water restrictions it imposed last fall.
City reservoirs have been overflowing for the past two months, long enough to put aside the conservation measures mandated by its emergency plan.
Both Mayor Art Ward and Water Superintendent Robert Longo said the restrictions were no longer needed.
Even so, Ward said, the city is still asking residents to make “an effort to conserve” as warmer days approach.
Longo said residents should continue to adhere to the odd-even use of outside water, for everything from gardens to washing cars.
The odd-even system, which is voluntary, allows for properties with an even street number to water on even days of the month while those with odd street number use outside water on odd days of the month.
As recently as September, the reservoirs were down 30 percent from capacity, short almost 3 billion gallons. That was the trigger point for the voluntary restrictions called for last fall.
Back in 1999, during a drought, the reservoirs were only half full and officials banned watering and other unnecessary uses of water. A hurricane rolled in just in time to prevent an even more serious clampdown.
Longo said the wet weather and “great cooperation from our customers” made it possible for the reservoirs to fill again over the winter.
With the reservoirs now at capacity, the water department is beginning its annual hydrant flushing program on Monday.
A list of areas that will be flushed will be posted on the department’s website and in the newspapers, as well as on Nutmeg TV, the public access station for cable television.Anyone with questions about the city’s water supply or the hydrant flushing program may contact the Water Department at (860) 582-7431 or visit the department’s website at

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March 19, 2008

Learn about Bristol's railroad history at Thursday night lecture

Local historian and current Bristol Historical Society President Steven Vastola is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Thursday about "Bristol's Railroad."
Vastola, who will be speaking at the historical society at 98 Summer St., will give a presentation and slideshow about the unique and interesting history of the railroad in Bristol, including "some amazing images available nowhwere else."
The address is free to historical society members and $3 for guests. Those attending are invited to stay afterward for coffee, snacks and to take a peak our permanent exhibit “Made in Bristol”.
For more information, send an email to

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Maple End flood control project on tap

An $8.2 million drainage improvement project along Route 6 is likely to gain approval from the State Bond Commission this month.
At least most of the money is earmarked to replace a massive culvert between Burlington Avenue and the Northside Square shopping center on North Main Street.
“That’s been on the table a long time,” said Mayor Art Ward. “That will be great to get that cleaned up.”
Gov. Jodi Rell announced Wednesday that $8.2 million in funding for the Route 6 drainage improvements will be on the March 28 bond commission agenda. Almost everything that reaches the bond panel is approved.
“This investment will make Route 6 a safer road,” Rell said in a prepared statement. “Fixing the drainage problems on Route 6 in Bristol will not only help in preventing accidents on that stretch but will also benefit businesses in the area.”
According to plans that have been on file with the city’s public works department since 2006, the state plans to intercept water along the railroad tracks beside the Whole Donut shop and funnel it into a new culvert, which would also capture other water in the area.
The new culvert would cross the tracks and generally follow Route 6 to the west before cutting under the state road in front Best Cleaners and connecting to another culvert at Northside Square.
Many related improvements are also shown on the plans.
“It’ll be a big improvement,” said City Engineer Paul Strawderman.
Though officials warn the area will be a mess during construction, they say that once it’s done, businesses, residents and motorists will benefit from a safer, dryer road.
Ward said that flood control projects in nearby neighborhoods have been on hold for years until the state could fix the Maple End flooding woes.
Once the state work is done, he said, the city can begin to address other concerns in the vicinity.

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The piggy bank is empty at City Hall

When the city’s project review committee meets tomorrow, it might not have much to do.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said Wednesday that about $16 million worth of new projects sought by various departments can’t be done without forcing an unacceptable tax hike and possibly undermining Bristol’s solid bond rating.
“We can’t afford it,” Klocko said.
Mayor Art Ward said he has spoken with Klocko in anticipation of today’s Five-Year Capital Improvement Program Committee meeting and understands the fiscal realities are going to make it tough to do much.
Klocko said that after a decade of generally approving what departments say they need, this time it’s not possible.
“This year, we have to take a break,” Klocko said.
The comptroller said the city is carrying $51 million worth of debt that has to be paid off and has already authorized $15 million more. Next year, he said, it will have to add about $30 million to cover the city’s share of the $115 million proposal to build two new schools.
If the city were to approve this year’s projects as well, Klocko said, it would push up annual repayment costs to an untenable level.
The school project alone is going to force about a three-quarters of a mill property tax hike, Klocko said, so it’s crucial to hold down other project spending as much as possible to keep the burden manageable.
What that means is that if the committee agrees with Klocko’s request, a number of flood control measures, culvert replacements and other infrastructure needs would be delayed.
Pushing them off to future years doesn’t mean the project won’t happen, merely that they wouldn’t get going during the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
Klocko said that his primary concern is that credit rating agencies, which are skittish now after a series of debacles, won’t look kindly on a spike in city bonding that could have been controlled.
In practical terms, though, a clampdown on projects would mean that the move to renovate firehouses won’t happen for at least a few years. It would also mean a postponement of the proposed community theater project at Memorial Boulevard School.
Klocko said he doesn’t like saying no, but there’s no choice.
“They have to get in line,” Klocko said.
He said people need to keep in mind that city issues bonds that are paid off over 17 years so taxpayers will be paying off past projects for a long time. Among the projects that were done with bond money were the library renovation and the mall purchase.
The comptroller said that that several million dollars in projects can be done, probably including a scheduled roof replacement at one of the schools and perhaps the replacement of a damaged track at one of the high schools, which may pose a liability hazard.
The projects committee is meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

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Ward's flight to be paid for by the city

After some anonymous posters on this blog questioned whether it was ethical for Mayor Art Ward to have the American Legion pay for his trip to Indianapolis to make a pitch for the 2010 American Legion World Series, the mayor asked about the issue.
Ward said today that he asked the city attorney for an opinion. He said that Ed Krawiecki, the city attorney, told him that all of Bristol's lawyers agreed it would be best if the city paid for the travel by the mayor and Park Director Ed Swicklas.
Ward said that he had thought it made more sense for the Legion to pick up the tab, since it was the applicant, but that if taxpayers have to shell out the money, it remains well worth it.
Ward said both he and Swicklas are still planning to go to Indiana in early May and do exactly what they would have done. But their travel costs will be paid by the city, the mayor said.

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