August 30, 2008

New Haven hurler hoopla comes to New Britain

Pint-sized pitcher Jericho Scott – the 10-year-old from New Haven whose league gave his whole team the hook to get him off the mound – stood on the pitcher’s rubber before Saturday’s New Britain Rock Cats with a serious glimmer in his eyes.
His mother, Nicole Smith, watched from the behind first base.
“There’s too much pressure,” she said. “He’s going to throw the ball and hit the dirt.”
But Scott reared back and fired one right down the middle in a ceremonial opening pitch.
As the beaming young ballplayer walked toward the dugout, John Willi, the Rock Cats general manager, told him, “We’ve got to talk about a contract later.”
The Rock Cats players bumped fists with Scott as they praised him for his poise in dealing with the New Haven Liga Juvenil de Baseball league’s decision this month to bar the youngster from pitching. The league disbanded the whole team when Scott’s coaches refused to obey.
Before the game, Scott tossed a ball back and forth with Steven Tolleson, the Rock Cats’ second baseman. Tolleson said that Scott had some zing in his fastball but he couldn’t compare it to other youngsters.
“I should get you to sign my glove,” Tolleson told Scott. “Keep up the hard work.”
The Rock Cats invited Scott and his entire team to attend the game against the Binghamton Mets Saturday. They sent a van to New Haven to bring the players to New Britain Stadium.
“It was such an injustice that was done to your son and the whole team,” Bill Dowling, the owner of the Rock Cats, said to Scott’s parents.
Eleven players took the field with Scott, standing next to the Rock Cats players during the National Anthem and collecting autographs from most of the team.
Scott, who turned 10 last week, joined right in, collecting signatures on a ball the Rock Cats gave him, but also emerging with a sweatband and batting glove from impressed professional players.
“Can you strike me out?” asked Rock Cats infielder Felix Molina. Scott just grinned.
Scott signed at least a couple of autographs himself.
Jason Bouchard of Glastonbury handed Scott a poster and asked him to sign it for him.
Asked why, Bouchard said, “I don’t know. He can throw 45 miles an hour.”
Ed Santiago, one of Scott’s coaches, said that the entire hoopla surrounding Scott – who’s been the subject of discussion on ESPN Radio and appeared on television shows – is “just crazy.”
He said Scott is “better than average” on the mound, but not so dominating that he should have been barred from pitching.
“I threw five no-hitters,” Scott said, and once struck out 12 batters. “I never hit nobody” with a wayward pitch, which is more than most big leaguers can say.
But he played on a second baseball team this summer and wasn’t even the top pitcher, his coaches and parents said.
He said he became a good pitcher by “practice” all the time and he feels “bad” about all that’s happened.
“I think he’s overwhelmed,” said his mother.
Leroy Scott, the boy’s father, said his son can be determined.
“He taught himself to ride a bike,” the father said. “He just rode in the backyard until he stopped falling off his bike.”
Though Scott said his favorite team is the New York Yankees, it’s possible the Boston Red Sox have nothing to worry about.
“My favorite sport is basketball,” Scott said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Neighbors want to close off Pine View Street

Worried about “clowns flying down” a small, one-way dirt road that runs between Summit Street and Terryville near the Barnes Memorial Chapel, neighbors are seeking the city’s permission to close off the century-old byway.
And they’re likely to get it.
Eight years ago, some of the neighbors along Pine View Street asked the city to shut off access to the tiny road. Attorneys said at the time that it couldn’t do it because the property didn’t belong to the city.
This time around, neighbors intend to close off access themselves.
“You don’t have a problem here,” city Councilor Mike Rimcoski told two residents who came to a recent city meeting to find out if they could shut down the passageway.
The street was laid out by Seth Barnes in 1889, according to research by Jeff Steeg, an assistant city attorney, with the intention of creating “an open public passway.”
But the street falls well short of city standards today and was never accepted as a municipal road in the past, Steeg said.
Steeg said the city has no need for the street and has never used it.“We don’t do anything with it,” Steeg said.
As a result, Pine View Street’s fate is up to the abutting property owners, who appear to agree that the best thing that could be done with the private road is to put some kind of wall or gate across it so that people can’t cut through any longer.
Dom Bradigo, one of the neighbors, said people use the street all the time for no good reason.
He said that the road is 5 feet higher than surrounding properties so a speeding vehicle could easily fly off into someone’s yard.
Frank Johnson, another neighbor, who is also chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., said that residents of the area “just want to stop the traffic that goes through there.”
“There are clowns flying down there,” Johnson said.
He said he wants to make sure that if neighbors block off the road, they won’t have any problems with the city.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro, who heads the Real Estate Committee, said his panel will respond to the request with a letter saying the city doesn’t care if the road is shut off to traffic.
Steeg said that because the city doesn't own any rights on Pine View Street “any action requiring blocking this passway rests with the abutting property owners."

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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August 29, 2008

Republican convention

With the GOP gathering in the Twin Cities for next week's convention and an obscure Alaskan governor about to become one of America's best known politicians, it's time to open a thread here to talk about the Republicans. Have at it.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

August 28, 2008

Klapatch is stepping down this year

I think I have neglected to mention that longtime Republican Registrar Ellie Klapatch is going to retire this year.
She's such an institution that it seems scarcely possible that she would move on, but that's what she's doing, years after she began talking about the possibility.
The GOP is backing Sharon Krawiecki, an assistant registrar who's gotten high marks, to take Klapatch's post.
The Democrats are once again supporting Bob Badal as their registrar.
I'll have a lot more to say about Klapatch's departure in the weeks ahead.

Here, though, is a story from July 2000 that provides a little bit about her background:

Klapatch says next term is last

The longest-serving elected official at City Hall -- Republican Registrar Ellie Klapatch -- plans to step down in two years from the post she has held since 1971.
"Time does fly by fast," Klapatch told local GOP leaders Monday after they unanimously endorsed her for what may prove the last time.
"If anybody deserves a vacation, it's this young lady," said former Mayor Stretch Norton, who has known Klapatch since their jitterbugging days at Lake Compounce.
In GOP circles, Klapatch serves as a sort of mother hen, the expert to rely on for information on
decades of city politics and arcane election rules.
She;s met every Republican president and presidential contender since Thomas Dewey in 1948 and is friends with governors, senators and scores of people across town.
Klapatch said she is determined to give up the registrar's job in 2002 so she can spend more
time with her family, including a son in Oregon.
She said, though, she'll keep up her politicking until she can't do it anymore.
"I could never stay home," Klapatch said.
The city has two full-time registrars, one from each party, who are elected every two years in what amounts to an uncontested election. The registrar's office's major job is to keep tabs on who is eligible to vote, about 30,000 people locally.
The city's first woman registrar, Klapatch shattered many of the traditional male bastions over the years.
In 1987, Klapatch was the first woman to run for mayor locally for a major party. She lost a three-way race.
She was also instrumental in bashing down the doors at the annual Crocodile Club dinner at Lake Compounce.
Klapatch and a small group of women marched into the formerly all-male dinner and sat down for a meal with the nation's oldest eating club. The sex barrier fell on the spot.
Norton said the GOP has "no harder worker" anywhere than Klapatch.
He said it's going to be "very hard to replace her" at City Hall when the time comes.
Klapatch said she's always tried to give everyone who walks into the registrar's office, of whatever political persuasion, the best service possible.
She said the toughest task in the next couple of years will be to revise local records to reflect whatever redistricting is dictated by the state in the wake of the new census.
"Redistricting will be a big challenge," said Klapatch, who has already dealt with it after the 1970, 1980 and 1990 censuses.
Much as she loves the work -- and the challenges -- she said she's about ready to have the chance to take summer vacations and spend her autumns outside the office for a change.
Klapatch said, though, she's not done yet.
"For the next two years, you know where you can find me," Klapatch said, in her familiar office on the first floor at City Hall, in a room decked with pictures of her standing with political bigshots and a bookshelf weighted down with all manner of Republican elephants.
When the time comes, she said, leaving won't be easy.
"I'll miss it. I really will," Klapatch said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

GOP set to take a stand on chief operating officer idea

Republicans plan to take a stand on the proposed chief operating officer position at City Hall.
Though the GOP’s town committee played a key role in helping secure signatures to put the measure on the ballot, it’s far from certain that the Republicans will endorse the proposed charter change.
The two Republican city councilors, Mike Rimcoski and Ken Cockayne, are split on the issue, with Cockayne a strong supporter and Rimcoski a strident critic.
Tom Barnes, the city GOP chairman, said the party threw its support behind the signature drive to put the issue on the ballot because members believed the public should get a chance to vote on it. But the party didn’t take a position on the ultimate outcome.
At least two of the people who gathered signatures, Henry Raymond and Mickey Goldwasser, said that many who signed the petitions did so for the same reason the GOP backed the referendum effort. They said many residents simply wanted the right to decide.
Barnes said he wanted the Republican Town Committee to vote on the question this month, but turnout for the meeting was so light that officials thought it was best to wait another month.
“It would be nice if all the members came,” said Sharon Krawiecki, who is running for registrar this year.
The chief operating officer “would be someone sitting below the mayor” at City Hill and would serve as the mayor’s “right hand man,” Barnes said.
He said that creating the post would allow for a professional administrator to handle day-to-day oversight of city government and leave the mayor free for ceremonial functions, meetings and larger policy decisions.
The idea, Barnes said, is to have “a better organized and better run city government.”
Critics say the position is poorly thought out and likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars extra each year, with no guarantee of a more efficient operation.
Both sides are gearing up for educational campaigns to sway the public to their way of thinking.
The Charter Revision Committee unanimously backed the proposed change to the city government’s blueprint, but councilors gunned it down on a 5-2 vote in June.
By state law, those backing the recommendation had 45 days to gather signatures from at least 10 percent of Bristol’s registered voters in order to force a referendum over the council’s objection.
They pulled it off by mobilizing petition gatherers in June and July to round up more than 4,300 signatures at grocery stores and beyond. In the end, they got several hundred valid signatures more than they needed to meet the state standard.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Chief operating officer on Nov. 4 ballot

Without opposition, city councilors decided last night to put the proposal to create a chief operating officer at City Hall on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Mayor Art Ward said the main sticking point was how the city would pay for the position if voters opt to create the new city manager-lite slot to oversee administration since there's nothing in the budget for it.
Ward said, though, that there's never going to be money in the budget ahead of time for a positio that won't exist unless voters support it.
He said that if the public backs the charter change to create the new job, then the city will have to dip into its reserves and come up with the cash.
Councilors could have chosen to hold the referendum any time until the general election in November 2009, but decided that it made the most sense to put the question to the voters during this year's presidential race.
Both supporters and opponents of the idea say they expect a tough campaign as each side tries to convince voters to agree with its stance.
The referendum is needed because supporters gathered more than 3,600 valid signatures to claim a spot on the ballot after the council rejected the Charter Revision Commission's proposal in June.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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August 27, 2008

Plowing through the bureaucracy

Mayor Art Ward is pushing to lower the cost of plowing snow in Bristol.
He's working with officials from public works, the park department and the schools to try to change the system currently in use so that fewer private plows are needed.
Ward said, for example, that it may make sense to use the park plows on city streets for some storms to help clear them for morning commuters and then shift the focus onto park property, perhaps with help from public works plows.
The same logic would apply to snow plow equipment used by the schools, the mayor said.
By figuring out what plows are available in each department and then working out the most efficient way to use them, Ward said, the city ought to be able to use fewer private contractors to fill the gap.
Since private plow operators are going to need more money this year to pay for fuel, Ward said, reducing use is the key to keeping snow removal costs from soaring out of control.
Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the last couple of winters have been relatively easy on city finances "so we're due."
Ward said that snow plowing is merely the first of many areas he's looking at in the hope of reducing duplication of services and cutting costs for taxpayers.
The mayor is even talking to the leaders of neighboring towns about looking for potential savings by checking into providing some services on a regional basis.
So far, there are no solid changes slated, but the effort could lead to less spending at City Hall.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Yard waste program costs to rise sharply

The cost of participating in the city’s yard waste collection program is set to rise sharply.
Those choosing to participate in the green waste collection program will pay 70 percent more next year than they have had to shell out for the past several years.
A city panel recently agreed to hike the fee from $50 to $85 annually in order to cover the expense of running the program.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski, who voted for the change in committee, called the increase “ridiculous” and insisted that the City Council should have a shot at trimming it back.
Rimcoski said that with so many residents scrimping to pay for fuel and taxes, there’s no excuse for hitting up residents for such a whopping increase in one program.
Mayor Art Ward said he wishes that the cost didn’t require such a large percentage increase.
But, he said, it’s important that a voluntary program covers its costs so that taxpayers as a whole don’t wind up subsidizing a service that is not required.
The mayor said that city officials need to do a better job of staying on top of rising costs so that increases are done regularly instead of waiting for years and then socking taxpayers with “phenomenal increases.”
“It’s not fair to the taxpayers to experience sticker shock,” Ward said.
Bristol is one of the few municipalities in the state to offer curbside yard waste collection.
The city started offering the fee-based, curbside program a decade ago after state environmental regulators barred anyone from tossing grass clippings, tree branches and other yard-related leftovers in the garbage.
Most towns have done nothing to help residents cope with the state-mandated ban on yard waste in trash.
The $50 annual fee has been in place since at least 2001.
Officials said when they began the program that giving people the chance to put out one big barrel of yard waste weekly is a benefit to many.
They also said they would continue the program as long as it supported itself. They said they wouldn’t subsidize its expense.
But as fuel costs rose and employee salaries went up, the fee remained the same until this year.
Ward said that he hopes every department at City Hall will take a look at its services and make sure that the fees charged cover as much of the cost as they should.
That’s one way to hold down next year’s budget and limit tax hikes, he said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

You gotta serve somebody

Press release from Mayor Art Ward, hot off the presses:

Mayor Arthur J. Ward announced today that he is seeking names of citizens to fill positions on the City’s boards and commissions. “This administration is committed to bringing new ideas and perspectives to the many boards and commissions which oversee the vast array of functions that are needed to run a city of 60,000 residents,” said Ward.

Ward continued, “We know there are many bright, committed men, women and youth in Bristol who have a great deal to contribute to the betterment of our City. Bristol is rich in diversity, but that needs to be reflected more in the makeup of our boards and commissions for a fair representation of Bristol’s needs.”

The Mayor is urging residents to become involved, now. Ward stated, “This is the time to become involved. There is so much potential to rejuvenate Bristol and make it a destination, not a pass through.”

If you are interested in applying for a position, you are asked to submit a letter of intent stating your reasons for applying and any qualifications or experience you feel would be of assistance to this board or commission. At this time, there are openings on the following boards and commissions: Commission for Persons with Disabilities, Bristol Parking Authority, Bristol Transportation Commission, Mayor’s Task Force on Energy Consumption and the Library Board. Please direct your correspondence to Office of the Mayor, 111 North Main Street, Bristol, CT 06010, Attention: Board and Commission Appointments.

If you have any questions, please contact the Mayor’s office at 860-584-6250 or visit the City website at and click on Boards and Commissions.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

August 26, 2008

New industrial park is nearly finished

The city’s new industrial park beside the former Superior Electric Factory is “essentially complete,” said Mike Rivers, chairman of the Bristol Development Authority’s industrial committee.
One company has already bought a lot in the Southeast Bristol Industrial Park and another is likely to buy a second soon, officials said.
The combined industrial park has about a dozen lots, ranging from a little more than an acre in size to 11 acres.
Though there have been problems along the way, from a too-early start on construction that devastated protected wetlands to misaligned roads that had to be fixed, the most serious appear to be resolved.
The city has received complaints from neighboring condominium owners who would like to see a better buffer between the industrial park and their homes.
Ray Rogozinski, an assistant city engineer, said that some are concerned about young people using ATVs on the city-owned land and cutting through the condominiums. The condo owners have suggested a fence.
But Rivers said that a fence would be costly. He said that the city has complied with the promises it made about leaving a buffer between the park and the nearby residences.
Rogozinski said that the trees and bushes have been left in the buffer area, but are “a little thin” in appearance in spots. He said the city might be able to transplant some small trees to fill in the gaps a bit.
Officials said that the problems will likely cease once there are tenants to fill the industrial park.
“Once we get tenants in there, it will be different,” Rivers said.
The city will probably close off the new industrial park road until there is a need to open it, officials said, to help limit use of the property in the meantime.
Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, said he will ask the police to monitor the problem and issue warnings and tickets as required.
The first tenant in the new park will be CMI Specialty Products, which makes electro-magnetic iron products, and plans to begin constructing an 11,000-square-foot headquarters at the corner of Redstone Hill Road and Business Park Drive within days.
It paid $137,475 for the lot this summer.
Rosenthal said that it “looks pretty solid” that a second company will buy a lot soon.
There is a third firm eyeing the possibility of erecting a 55,000-square-foot building on the site, Rosenthal said, but it’s not a sure thing. It’s been talking with the city for two years, Rosenthal said.
The industrial park was built in two phases, each of them nearly finished.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Scalia has rejected offer of about $1.5 million for its land

The owner of a sandpit off Barlow Street that the city hopes to use for a new school site has rejected the price that two appraisers determined the land is worth, two city councilors said.
“They just refused the numbers we presented,” said city Councilor Mike Rimcoski.
The rejection of the approximately $1.5 million price tentatively offered to Scalia Construction creates a situation where city leaders need to decide whether to pick a different site or opt to take the property by eminent domain instead.
A decision may be made within weeks when a joint session of the City Council and the two school building committees is held to review the status of the negotiations.
The city plans to build two new 900-student schools, one in Forestville and one in West Bristol. The former Crowley auto dealership on Pine Street has been targeted for the Forestville site.
The status of negotiations with Crowley is less clear, but several officials said that the property there may have to be taken by eminent domain as well.
An appraisal done in January, by Aldieri Associates, pegs the Scalia land’s value at $1.5 million, according to a report given to the Press by an anonymous source.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said the second required appraisal for the 36-acre site picked a value “very close” to the one by Aldieri Associates.
Cockayne said that despite the refusal by Scalia to accept the appraised price, the deal is “moving forward.”
“Not really,” countered Rimcoski, who has long expressed skepticism about the site.
Rimcoski said the city has to pick up the pace if it wants to finish the architectural plans and begin construction by the “drop dead date” of June 13, 2010 – a date set by the state for the project to get started if Bristol wants to receive 73.9 percent of the funding for the two schools.
Tom O’Brien, the Board of Education member spearheading the effort to build new schools, recently called eminent domain “the fairest and most appropriate way” for the city to take ownership of the land needed for them.
Cockayne said that with the Scalia property, taking the land would not displace families or anyone.
“We’re just fighting over numbers,” Cockayne said.
Rimcoski said he agrees there is “a huge difference” between taking vacant land for a school and kicking families out of their homes for an industrial park or other municipal project.
Another key difference, Rimcoski said, is that if the city takes the land for the schools, it can begin working on the projects immediately.
The court cases that will follow about the price that the owners should receive, he said, won’t delay the work.
The two school panels are currently reviewing proposal from 19 architects interested in doing the detailed work needed for construction on both sites.
City Purchasing Agent Roger Rousseau said that officials “have a good amount of information to go through” just to weed down the number to determine who the finalists are.
The school system’s long-term plan calls for closing Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older elementary schools – O’Connell, Greene-Hills and Bingham.Students in the other two middle schools, at Northeast and Chippens Hill, would not switch to a kindergarten to eighth grade system when the new schools open, educators have said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

August 25, 2008

Wright endorsed by AFSCME Council 4

Press release from Democratic state House candidate Chris Wright, who's running in the 77th District against Republican Jill Fitzgerald:

Chris Wright, the Democratic candidate for State Representative in Bristol’s 77th Assembly District, has been endorsed by a key labor union, Council 4, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) representing 35,000 state members.
The announcement was made by Sal Luciano, AFSCME County 4’s Executive Director.
“We are pleased to support Chris for state representative, a candidate we believe will work to further the cause of Connecticut’s working men and women,” Luciano said.
“I welcome and appreciate AFSCME Council 4’s endorsement for state representative,” Wright said. “The support of working men and women is important to me and AFSCME Council 4 represents not only employees statewide, but Bristol workers who are our fellow residents and neighbors.”
“The goals and interests of working people are very important to me,” Wright said, “I will be fighting for health insurance that people need and can afford along with honest wages and a better quality of life for working families, goals I know that AFSCME and its members have been engaged in for so many years.”
“I look forward to working with AFSCME Council 4 and all the union’s members and together we can win in November,” Wright said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

August 24, 2008

Fitzgerald has new website

Republican state House contender Jill Fitzgerald has a new website here and actually takes the giant technological leap, for Bristol anyway, of embracing Twitter while she's at it.
I'm pretty darn sure that no other candidates around here have turned to Twitter yet so she gets points for leading the way. It's a pretty good way to keep up with things if you're kind of nutty about technology.
Any other candidates for office this year who are reading this should let me know as soon as possible about their websites or other online endeavors so I can put up some links in a more permanent spot until Election Day. I know that voters will be looking for this kind of thing later in the campaign and want to make it easy for them to find your sites.
While we're at it, if you know of any interesting Bristol-related websites, tell me about them. Thanks!

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Democratic convention

I'm not sure if anyone from Bristol is going to the convention in Denver, but I'm sure many will be watching off and on (more off than on, no doubt). Here's a thread to weigh in on what you're seeing and hearing, the good and the bad.
Please try to contain the slams against each other and just write comments that reflect what you think about the convention and the related politics.
I'll do the same when the Republican convention rolls around.
PS: If anybody's there, or going, let me know. You can always write to me at

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

August 22, 2008

Eminent domain may be used to take property for new schools

There’s a growing likelihood that the city will use eminent domain to buy at least one of the two proposed sites for new schools.
Relying on eminent domain to take the sites eyed for the new 900-student schools in Forestville and West Bristol may prove “the fairest and most appropriate way” for the city to take ownership of the land needed, said Tom O’Brien, the Board of Education spearheading the effort.
The city has two independent appraisals of each of the locations under consideration for the schools, officials said, and would have a hard time justifying paying more than the highest value assigned to either site, officials said.
But taking the property by eminent domain would allow the property owner to try to convince a judge that the price ought to be higher, O’Brien said.
The sites selected for the schools are the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street and a former sand pit owned by Scalia Construction off Barlow Street.
Only one of the four relevant appraisals has leaked. A secret appraisal done in January by Aldieri Associates of the 36 acres on Barlow Street pegs the land’s value at $1.5 million.
It isn’t clear why the other appraisals have not been released since the property owners have seen them, several officials said. Real estate negotiations can, by law, remain secret.
O’Brien said that the state is willing to pay 73.9 percent of the cost of the school project, including the purchase of property for the buildings.
However, it won’t pay anything at all for anything the city pays over and above the figure in the highest appraisal for either parcel, he said.
That means that if the city can’t convince a property owner to sell the land for the highest appraised figure, it only has three options: to pay more out of its own coffers, to use eminent domain or to pick another site.
If the city uses eminent domain, the state will pay 73.9 percent of whatever price a court eventually pegs as the land’s value, which could be substantially higher than any of the appraisals have figured.
As a result, at least one of the property owners – Scalia Construction – has indicated it would prefer to try to get more money in court than to accept the appraised value for its land, several officials said.
It isn’t clear if Crowley is content with the appraised figure or not.
City councilors and the two school building committees working on the project are slated to hold a joint session in the coming weeks.
Chris Wilson, a Board of Education member who sits on the West Bristol School Building Committee, said the goal is “to move the process forward” by sharing information.
The school panels are currently advertising for architects who can produce the detailed work that will be needed for construction on both sites.
The long-term plan calls for closing Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older elementary schools – O’Connell, Greene-Hills and Bingham.Students in the other two middle schools, at Northeast and Chippens Hill, would not switch to a K-8 system when the new schools open, educators have said.
It appears the soonest that construction could begin on new schools would be the summer of 2010, which would put the earliest possible opening day for new schools in 2012.
The last time the city relied on eminent domain for a significant project was the seizure of the Bugryn family’s Middle Street land to create a new industrial park. It wound up taking years and a lengthy court case to resolve.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Schools end year with $800K surplus

The city’s hard-pressed taxpayers caught a big break this week.
After fretting last winter that the school system might run short of cash, educators clamped the lid on spending tightly enough to wind up with a $798,000 surplus by the end of the fiscal year in June.
“I’m glad we ended up on the right side of the ledger,” said Superintendent Philip Streifer.
The extra cash will help bolster the city’s end-of-the-year financial statements, City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said Friday.
That will help Bristol’s standing in the bond marketplace, where experts pore over the fiscal statements to try to ascertain the financial well-being of municipalities looking to borrow money.
Klocko said that with the school surplus locked in, the reports “will look very fine” to Wall Street.
But, he said, the high price of heating the schools this winter is likely to require an infusion of city cash so several hundred thousand dollars of the surplus will probably wind up heading back to the Board of Education.
“It’s going to be dissolved quickly” given the economic conditions facing the community, Klocko said.
Streifer said that with fuel costs up and “a built-in deficit” in the school budget this year, “I would urge them not to spend” the excess cash.
Klocko said the Board of Finance will almost certainly agree to sock the money away to help ensure that the city can cover its bills during the current fiscal year.
“This year is going to be just as difficult as last year,” he said, or perhaps harder.
Streifer said that educators froze the school budget in March after discerning that the money might run short before the June 30 end of the fiscal year.
By doing so, he said, they saved $1 million in salaries and benefits, cut oil bills by $76,000 by turning down thermostats and managed to pare special education spending sharply.
“There are things we didn’t do,” Streifer said, in order to pull it off.
Streifer said that education overseers could do more to control spending if the computer system they rely on – which is based at City Hall – could provide more timely information.
He said he would like to be able to get up-to-date reports each week.
This year’s school budget totals about $100 million, not counting grants that aren’t included in the operating budget.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

August 21, 2008

Listen to American Legion games is broadcasting all of the American Legion tournament games over the internet. It is WOHS

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

A solid showing for Bristol students

Despite a “fairly dramatic” increase in the test scores needed for students to show adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, city schools posted such a strong showing that Bristol remains the only priority school district in Connecticut that isn’t under state control.
Preliminary results from the state indicate that “the overall picture” in Bristol’s schools “is quite positive,” said Superintendent Philip Streifer.
Though the district as a whole met the proficiency targets with room to spare, some subgroups in particular schools failed to meet testing targets.
That means that seven city schools – Northeast Middle School and six primary schools – are likely to land on the “needs improvement” list because a subgroup didn’t do well. Subgroups include special education students and minority students.
O’Connell School, on the other hand, posted results that should get it off the list entirely.
Susan Moreau, deputy superintendent, said the numbers there “just stunned me” because more than 90 percent of its students demonstrated proficiency in math despite drawing from an area with many children from low-income families.
She called O’Connell’s results “really extraordinary.”
School officials said that “high expectations, effective instructional programming and outstanding staff” are the reason that Bristol students are able to score so well on tests in spite of a rising percentage of students from struggling families.
The overall level of success means that “Bristol is not required to offer school choice for any of our schools,” Streifer said.
One of the No Child Left Behind requirements is that parents have the option of moving their children out of failing schools into other schools in the district where students are doing better.
The tests were taken in the spring and the numbers released this summer.
Streifer said that district officials have much more to analyze to make sense of all the results, but are pleased with what they’ve been able to discern so far from the numbers.
The six elementary schools with subgroups that appear to have scored low enough to land the school on the “needs improvement” list are Bingham, Hubbell, Ivy Drive, Jennings, Mountain View and Southside.
Streifer said some of them missed passing “by a smidgeon.”
In general, the superintendent said, if just 10 percent of the students in each subgroup could better their scores, then all of the subgroups in each school would show adequate yearly progress.

Test results
Test State target Bristol’s results
CMT Math 82 87
CMT Reading 79 79
CAPT Math 80 90
CAPT Reading 82 95

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Fitzgerald backs GOP energy plan

Press release issued last night by Jill Fitzgerald, the GOP candidate in the 77th House District, where she is running against Democrat Chris Wright:

With many middle class Bristol families struggling financially because of soaring electricity, heating oil and gasoline prices, 77th District Republican candidate Jill Fitzgerald today urged state legislators to approve several energy relief proposals that were unveiled at a capitol news conference Tuesday.
The Connecticut General Assembly will meet in special session Friday to act on measures to address high heating oil costs. The initiatives announced Tuesday by Republican legislators are in addition to proposals developed by Governor Rell and other lawmakers that are expected to be considered during the special session.
The GOP proposals would use an additional $9 million from the state surplus to increase the Operation Fuel account to $15 million to help middle class families earning up to $94,000 a year and add $5 million to the Energy Conservation and Load Management Fund.
“Many middle-income families in Bristol who already are struggling with record-high gasoline prices and rising electricity costs will be facing real financial hardship because of sharp increases in the cost of home heating oil, said Fitzgerald who attended the news conference on Tuesday. “I’m hoping aid for the neediest among us as well as for middle income families will be approved on Friday.”
"The proposals that were unveiled by House Republican Leader Larry Cafero and Senate Republican leader John McKinney at Tuesday’s news conference were offered in a bipartisan spirit and are intended to make the heating cost proposals that will be considered Friday more comprehensive and compassionate,” Fitzgerald said. "Many middle class families whose incomes make them ineligible for current state and federal heating assistance programs will be hard-pressed to find the extra money needed to keep their families warm this winter without some help from the state.”
‘One of the Republican proposals would give small businesses some badly-needed tax relief this winter as well,” Fitzgerald said. “Small businesses, which provide most of the jobs in the Greater Bristol area and elsewhere in the state, also are having trouble staying afloat in today’s economy. Substantially higher energy prices are increasing the cost of doing business in Connecticut and forcing consumers to cut back on their spending. Small business owners are increasingly being forced to make some difficult choices in order to survive, including layoffs and hiring freezes. The Republican proposal to increase the electricity sales tax exemption for businesses would give them badly-needed breathing room and help preserve jobs.”
“Almost everyone is hurting because of high energy costs,” Fitzgerald said. “Bristol residents and families throughout the state will be best served if the state legislature acts in a bipartisan manner and votes on all of the proposals that will be offered during the special session based on their merits – not on who proposes them.”
The Republican initiatives would:
• Expand Operation Fuel to provide $15 million in home heating assistance for working and middle-class families. The measure would allow a family of four earning up to $94,000 a year to qualify for assistance under the program.
• Provide $3 million to help struggling families pay their electric bills.
• Increase the electricity sales tax exemption for small businesses from $150 to $500 per month.
• Add $5 million to the Energy Conservation and Load Management Fund, which rewards conservation efforts, to help make small businesses and homes more energy efficient.
• Cap the wholesale price of gasoline subject to the state’s Gross Receipts Tax at $3.42 a gallon to prevent built-in increases in the tax when the price of gasoline goes up.
“If these proposals are not adopted during Friday’s special session, I will make enacting them one of my top priorities for the 2009 legislative session if the people of the 77th District elect me to be their voice at the State Capitol in Hartford,” Fitzgerald said.

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Teacher contract negotiations underway

School Superintendent Philip Streifer said that the negotiation process between the Board of Education and the teachers' union "is now ongoing."
Taxpayers, of course, have a huge stake in the outcome. Teacher salaries make up the bulk of the $101 million school spending plan so every increase in their pay makes a major difference in the budget.

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August 20, 2008

Kern Park eyed for softball complex

Tired of getting batted around to different fields across town, a new girls softball league is eyeing the possibility of creating a softball complex at the long-neglected Kern Park.
“We just want our own facility,” said Tom Tabacco of the Bristol Girls Softball League. “The girls don’t have anything in this town.”
The Park Board agreed Wednesday to have one of its subcommittees explore the possibility of allowing new softball fields at Kern Park, which is located between Ivy Drive School and the Big Lots store on Farmington Avenue.
“The space is available and nothing is there at the present time,” Mayor Art Ward said.
He said the softball complex, which would initially include two fields and a concession stand, would help “clean it up” and put the park to use.
But Mary Rydingsward, an environmentalist who helped preserve the park when the city considered selling a chunk of it to a developer, said that the entire 29-acre park is a crucial watershed ecosystem that shouldn’t be turned into playing fields.
There are about 200 girls playing Little League girls softball, Tabacco said.
The new league was created this year, he said, to replace small softball programs that each of the three traditionally boys Little Leagues in town had developed for girls.
He said there is a major donor who will help building the new fields and state grants are also likely.
The way it is now, Tabacco said, is that the girls teams are shuffled all over town to grab fields that aren’t in use by one of the many baseball teams. They don’t have a home of their own, he said, and until this year they also had to make do with equipment castoffs from the boys.
Though the softball league is a newcomer, its all-star teams competed well with other leagues in the state. Its 11 and 12-year-old team came within one game of winning the state title, Tabacco said.
He said the league would like to get space for as many as four fields, even if only two are slated for construction for now, as well as enough parking.
“We’re just trying to get something for girls,” Tabacco said. “We’re just looking for land.”
Tabacco said he’s never even been to Kern Park. He said that Ward and Park Director Ed Swicklas suggested it as a potential site.

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Mall site restaurants eyeing future

Two fast food retailers that have property bordering the city-owned property where the downtown mall once stood are apparently eyeing a move.
An assistant city attorney said that both McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts have made informal inquiries “about possibly moving their location.”
Jeff Steeg, one of the city’s part-time attorneys, said that the restaurants haven’t made any sort of request in writing.
The city’s Real Estate Committee agreed that it would be best to have the two restaurants speak with the nonprofit Bristol Downtown Development Corp. about any ideas they have.
Frank Johnson, the chairman of the BDDC, said he has talked with the owners of the McDonalds about future plans.
It isn’t clear what either restaurant may have in mind, though city leaders have long said that McDonalds would like to replace its aging building.
Mayor Art Ward said Wednesday the city has let the restaurants know it doesn’t see any reason a developer wouldn’t want them to stay on as part of the revitalization project.
Ward called them a “consumer generator” that helps draw people to come downtown.
The McDonalds property is located in an awkward spot for the redevelopment of the 17-acre downtown mall site, officials have long said.
They said they always expected that a new restaurant would be built on the perimeter of the property as part of any overall project to revitalize the key downtown parcel.
It’s less obvious what Dunkin’ Donuts may be contemplating since its property is just north of the city-owned site and would likely remain a prime location if the city’s grandest dreams for the site were to come true someday.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski said he would like to see “the white elephant” dealt with.
“It’s not white anymore,” Johnson countered. “It’s gone.”
The city ripped down the decrepit mall last winter, leaving a large vacant lot where it once stood.
An effort to secure a developer this spring came up short when the only bid came from a mysterious Florida company with no solid track record. The BDDC rejected it.
The city bought the mall property in 2005 for $5.3 million. It has spent about $8 million in all, when consultants, demolition, lawyers and other costs are included.
The nonprofit company was created during Mayor William Stortz’s administration to oversee the redevelopment of the mall property.

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Windmills on the mall site?

When a resident suggested yesterday that the city consider installing windmills on the former mall site downtown in order to create more electricity, city Councilor Mike Rimcoski offered the obvious response.
"There's enough hot air coming out of City Hall," he said, to keep the windmills churning.

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August 19, 2008

Ken Johnson addresses successful petition drive

A note that former GOP mayoral candidate Ken Johnson sent out this evening to supporters of the chief operating officer petition drive:

Dear friends:
It’s official! The City Clerk’s office reports that they have completed the signature validation process and we’ve succeeded! Therese Pac stated that her office validated 3661 signatures vs. the 3176 required to put the City Manager/COO question onto the ballot. Congratulations to each and every one of you who helped collect signatures. Please help me extend a generous thank-you to other supporters not on this distribution list and to everyone who signed the petition.
You have all participated in a process that has given voice to the citizens of Bristol. Your effort has paid off and the result is an historic reversal of Bristol City Council action. I ask you to join me, too, in acknowledging the efforts of every member of the City Clerk’s office and the Registrars office. You know the hours we expended in gathering these signatures. Imagine the enormous undertaking of going through thousands of signatures, one at a time, cross checking names and addresses against the voter rolls. An interesting aside that Therese shared with me is that our petition drive helped clean up the voter rolls a bit. Over 100 people gave addresses that were different from their address on the voter registration list. Once each name and address was validated, the Registrars were able to correct their list to reflect the new addresses.
If you’re interested in the math, here’s a little analysis of the numbers. When we set out to collect signatures, we knew we had to get nearly 3200 validated signatures. Anecdotal information shared with us indicated that we could expect 15% to 20% of the signatures we’d collect to be invalidated (for a variety of reasons from ‘can’t read their handwriting’ to ‘they said they’re a voter but they’re not’). For that reason, we felt we needed a 25% ‘cushion’ to be safe. So, instead of aiming for 3200 signatures, we aimed for 4200 in hopes of creating that ‘safe’ margin.
In total, we turned in 4378 signatures. Of that number, 717 were invalidated which works out to 16.4%. So the 15% - 20% estimate turned out to be very accurate. Based on the signatures turned in, 27.5% would have had to be rejected for the petition drive to fail. As it turns out we had a very comfortable and IMPRESSIVE 485 signature cushion.
So, you ask, what happens next? My understanding is that the council will convene to vote to place the question on the ballot. According to Therese, the council can choose to put the question on this November’s ballot or next November’s ballot or on a special ballot. You all know what the correct answer is and I expect the council will be able to figure that out, too. The next step after that isn’t quite as clear to me. The question must be crafted – but by whom? Therese stated that it does not appear to fall under her office in this instance. I’m supposing that perhaps it would be written by Corporation Counsel or the City Council. I’d like to see Tim’s Charter Revision Commission write it. (Or maybe we, the people, get to write it! …any submissions?) Ultimately, absentee ballots including the COO question must be available by Oct. 3rd.
The next step for our group is clear. I’m thrilled that the people will get the opportunity to vote on this very important question about the form of their municipal government. I’m thrilled irregardless of a ‘YES’ vote or a ‘NO’ vote in November. But we must now turn our attention to educating voters on the subject and making a persuasive case for the City Manager. So, you see, we’ve still got lots of work to do… any volunteers?

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Controversial charter issue will be on the Nov. 4 ballot

For the first time, a charter change that city councilors rejected is going to wind up on the ballot anyway.
After the city clerk certified this week that supporters of a proposal to create a chief operating officer at City Hall who would handle administrative oversight of the municipal bureaucracy had collected enough valid signatures, the only question is when the public vote will take place.
It appears, though, that city councilors next week will agree to put the controversial measure on the November 4 general election ballot.
“It’s time to put it to bed,” said Councilor Mike Rimcoski, an opponent of the idea. He said the public vote is likely to be close.
City Clerk Therese Pac certified that 3,661 of the more than 4,300 signatures submitted last month were valid, nearly 500 more than supporters of the proposal had to collect in order to force the referendum.
“I’m very happy. Ecstatic. Jumping for joy,” said former Republican mayoral contender Ken Johnson, one of the leaders of the effort to overturn the council’s rejection of the Charter Revision Commission’s unanimous recommendation to create the post.
Had the council favored the suggestion, it would have reached the ballot without the need for a petition drive.
But because councilors gunned it down in a 5-2 vote in June, supporters had to gather certified signatures from at least 10 percent of the city’s registered voters in order to get the measure on the ballot.
The council has scheduled a tentative meeting for 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 27 in order to pick a date to hold the referendum.
But since a majority of the council said Tuesday they prefer to put it on the November ballot, it doesn’t appear that alternatives will be seriously considered. They could wait as long as the 2009 general election to hold the vote.
Mayor Art Ward, who opposed the plan, said there is no reason to “belabor the issue” by delaying the public vote.
“The most people are out in a general election,” he said, particularly in a presidential year.
Ward said he is “not really surprised” that supporters got the signatures they needed because people sign petitions for lots of reasons. Not all of them actually back the proposed change, he said.
In any case, Ward said, he anticipates there will be an intense campaign between now and November as both sides try to sway the electorate.
The winners will be the ones who do best in getting their message out to the voters, Ward said.
Critics say the position will wind up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, intrude on the mayor’s ability to lead the city and contribute little to greater efficiency in government.
Supporters argue that a chief operating officer will find ways to streamline the bureaucracy and deliver services cheaper, easily justifying the added expense of the new position.
“I believe it will pass,” Johnson said. “It’s the right move at the right time.”
“We’re not the little town of Bristol anymore. It’s time for professional oversight,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that Pac and her staff, along with the registrars’ office, deserve credit “for tackling a really monumental task” in checking over all of the signatures gathered thi summer.
“It was an enormous undertaking,” Johnson said, and it was handled professionally.

More information:
Councilors who want the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot include Ward, Frank Nicastro, Rimcoski, Ken Cockayne andCraig Minor. For all I know, Kevin McCauley and Cliff Block also back it. I couldn't talk to everyone today.
I'll add some links below that go into more detail about the proposal, which will obviously absorb a great deal of attention in the weeks ahead as well.

Here are the draft Charter Revision Commission reports, which I believe were never changed:

Draft report - Final report of the Charter Revision Commission

Draft report - Citing major changes eyed by the commission

Draft Report - Showing entire charter with changes indicated throughout

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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August 18, 2008

Signatures for referendum confirmed?

Mayor Art Ward just told that he understands the city clerk's office has confirmed that there were enough valid signatures to force a referendum on the chief operating officer issue.
I have a call in to the city clerk to make sure, but it appears the matter will be on the November 4 ballot.

Update at 5:45 -
City Councilor Craig Minor said he doesn't know if the required signatures have been checked yet or not. He said that City Clerk Therese Pac told him the other day that the checking would likely be done this week.
Minor said it might be done already, but he hasn't heard.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne, who probably isn't on Pac's Christmas gift list these days, said he doesn't know either.
Anyone have any solid information?

Update at 6:10 -
This strikes me as a good opportunity to explain one difference between this blog and a news story in the paper. As it is, I have only Mayor Ward saying that he understands there are enough valid referendum signatures to have a referendum on the issue. But since he's not directly responsible for doing the work, I need another source before I'd feel comfortable writing a news story about it.
On here, I think it's sort of interesting sometimes to let you all in on stories as they unfold, to go from the initial word through other phone calls and information until we get to the last word for that day's story (for example, see the blog pieces about the Millionaire Maker who wanted to buy the mall).
This is one of those cases, where I don't really know for sure what happened, but it's not really hurting anyone to let you know what I know, even if it's not yet solid enough to reach print, so here it is, for what it's worth.

Tuesday, 9:50 am. -
City Councilor Ken Cockayne just sent me an email that says Pac told him this morning the signatures were certified. More to come later, but that's the second source I needed.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Statewide political forum slated for Bristol next month

A two-day statewide political forum devoted to discussion about “how to stop the destruction of the Constitution” and the erosion of American liberties is slated to take place next month in Bristol.
The founder of the new Connecticut Liberty Forum, Deborah Stevenson of Southbury, said that rights are eroding in many area and the hope is that by networking together with others, it will be easier to “protect our liberties.”
Judy Aron, a West Hartford home schooling activist, said that the forum offers “a great opportunity to have so many wonderful speakers” in one place that a wide range of issues can be explored.
“It is also a call to action,” Aron said, aimed at spurring people to stop government from eroding the Bill of Rights.
The purpose is “not just the talking” with experts and activists, Steveson said, but for people to leave with empowering ideas and an intention to put them into action.
Slated to start on Saturday, Sept. 27 at the Clarion Hotel, the conference will feature a number of speakers, including the founder of the Minuteman Project, Jim Gilchrist and two New London homeowners who fought unsuccessfully to keep their homes in the face of eminent domain used to spur New London development initiative.
Susette Kelo and Michael Cristofaro from New London are slated to receive the group’s first Connecticut Freedom Fighter Award for their “heroic efforts to combat eminent domain abuse here in Connecticut and across the land.”
Stevenson, executive director of National Home Education Legal Defense, said that she and Aron are doing the forum because they have long been involved “in trying to protect our parental rights from being eroded” by authorities who want to regulate home education.
In doing so, Stevenson said, they realized that in many different areas, there are people struggling to keep the government from nibbling away at basic American freedoms.
Pulling everyone together at one forum, she said, will allow people to build connections that should help preserve freedom.
She said that in everything from free speech to eminent domain, freedom is in trouble.
Stevenson said that citizens and the government need to respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, to pay attention to the threats to liberty and to try to keep them at bay.
“To me, as an attorney, the rule of law is very important,” Stevenson said.
Though there is certainly a conservative and libertarian bent to the forum, Aron said, it is “not a partisan event” and people of every political persuasion should find it helpful and interesting.
“We’re hoping a lot of people can make it,” Stevenson said.
Aron said that Bristol should be “a great location” because it’s centrally located in Connecticut and not far off the highway.
For information, please see or phone Stevenson at (860) 354-3590 or (203) 206-4282 or contact Aron at (860) 523-7257.

Here's the press release that the Connecticut Liberty Forum sent out:

For the first time in CT's recent history, people are gathering to map out a plan to save our Constitutional rights. Not since the 1700's, when the colonists gathered together in taverns to discuss the formation and ratification of the Constitution, have citizens felt the need to gather together once again to discuss Constitutional issues. This time, they are gathering to discuss how to stop the destruction of the Constitution.

On September 27 and 28, 2008, some of the most pre-eminent people in their field, leaders in the fight against erosion of our Constitutional rights from all across the country, will be gathering at the Bristol Clarion Hotel for Connecticut's First Annual Liberty Forum. They will be holding workshops addressing every aspect of our Constitution, including but not limited to erosion in the areas of freedom of speech, eminent domain, U.S. sovereignty, and parental rights.

The purpose of the forum is to promote liberty, to increase education concerning our Constitutional rights, and to create a call to action to protect those rights.

The CT Liberty Forum Registration and other information is now available online!

Feel free to post this event on your listserv's - egroups - blogs - and other group emails.
Listed is the schedule of events, speakers and speaker bios, hotel information and exhibitor information. We have a great line-up of speakers, and we have a wonderful schedule of events.

We will be presenting the first ever CT Freedom Fighter Award to Susette Kelo and Michael Cristofaro for their heroic efforts to combat eminent domain abuse here in CT and across the land, and while they have lost their homes to developers in New London, they have spurred on a movement across this country that has resounded from sea to shining sea. Come hear Mr. Cristofaro's story at our Saturday luncheon.

Our Saturday evening Keynote Speaker is Jim Gilchrist, Founder of the Minuteman Project will speak about his efforts to protect our borders.

On Sunday morning our keynote breakfast will feature Robert Levy of the Cato Institute who will talk about Supreme Court Rulings that have damaged our liberties.

There will be many other outstanding speakers and this event promises to be exciting and informative.
We will even be broadcasting live on Saturday morning on WDRC Radio - on The Talk of Connecticut with Brad Davis.

People can register online and use a credit card to pay through PayPal or Google Checkout, or they can register through the mail with payment by check.

Anyone wishing to have their liberty minded company be an exhibitor, or purchase ad space in our program guide can also participate in this event.

Circle the date on your calendar and register today to catch the Early Bird special pricing ! This is an event you will not want to miss! For more information contact: Attorney Deborah Stevenson , (860) 354-3590 or (203) 206-4282 or contact Judy Aron at (860) 523-7257

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

August 16, 2008

Bristol native wins silver at Olympics

Congratulations to Bristol native Michelle Guerette, who earned an Olympic silver medal in the women's single sculls rowing competition today in Beijing. Pretty darn impressive.

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August 15, 2008

Bristol moves to take on CL&P over past billing errors

The city is angling to overturn a state ruling in hopes of nabbing more than $300,000 beyond what regulators agreed that Connecticut Light & Power owes Bristol for past billing mistakes.
To get the cash, city attorneys and consultants will have to convince Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the state Department of Public Utility Control or a state court to reopen the issue and allow it to make the case that the $86,000 offered by CL&P for streetlight billing errors is inadequate.
“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” said city Councilor Cliff Block.
Municipal Energy, the consultant hired by the city to handle the issue, says it has found more than $400,000 in past billing errors – money it says the taxpayers should get, plus interest that could swell the total.
Mitch Gross, spokesman for the power company, said that after “a very thorough process” that met with the approval of the attorney general and the DPUC, the company issued checks to municipalities that had been overcharged, including Bristol.
Because there had been “some shortcomings in our process” for billing on streetlights, Gross said, “We did what we had to do to clarify the situation.”
“We dug deep into our records to bring this to a conclusion. Regulators were satisfied with our accounting. When we issued checks, we closed the books on this issue,” he said.
What Bristol is aiming for is to convince authorities to reopen the books.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski said that CL&P demonstrated “very poor bookkeeping and mismanagement” over the years.
The utility “is not a friend of the people” in the way it has handled the entire issue, he said.
“Mike Tyson went to jail for what CL&P is doing to the citizens of Connecticut,” Rimcoski said.
Tyson, a former heavyweight boxing champion, served three years in an Indiana prison following his 1992 conviction for rape.
Gross said he didn’t want to respond to Rimcoski’s comments.
Rimcoski joked that he’ll have to keep a close eye on his electricity bills in the future.
Ken Johnson, president of Municipal Energy, said that the city “has been absolutely wonderful” in its cooperation with his firm to nail down past mistakes on the streetlight billing.
Johnson’s firm represents 50 cities and towns that are challenging CL&P’s refunds. Bristol is one of the first to reach the point where it is ready to make a formal appeal to change the ruling.
Block said that any extra money won’t come for a long time.
The first step, he said, is to convince Blumenthal to side with the municipalities that believe they were shortchanged by the DPUC decision.
“Ultimately, we need to make a very convincing case” that can sway Blumenthal and others to the belief “that CL&P has not provided a full and fair settlement.”
It’s likely to take at least a couple of years to complete the appeal, Johnson said.
Municipal Energy was hired a year and a half ago for $10,000 plus 15 percent of whatever the city earns above $86,000 originally offered by the utility giant.
Bristol has been in the forefront of the fight over streetlight billing because its public works department kept old billing records that showed in detail when lights were installed or removed and how the billing took place.
Few municipalities have anything close to the detail available in Bristol’s records.

Here are a number of reports from Municipal Energy that lay out in detail what's at the root of the controversy. The company's president, Ken Johnson, kindly provided them at my request.

Municipal Energy Report to the Streetlight Committee (April 3, 2008)

Energy's Bristol's Refund Calculation Summary

Municipal Energy New Found Report on March 2, 2008

Municipal Energy New Found Lights (March 7, 2008)

Municipal Energy's New Found spreadsheet

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August 14, 2008

Watch Larson on C-Span

For true political junkies, there's nothing like C-Span. But to keep the focus on Bristol, as we must, take a look here to see U.S. Rep. John Larson speaking on the channel. His most recent talk was last month and leaned heavily toward discussion of energy prices.

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City hangs on to Riverside Avenue property

Six years after buying Riverside Avenue property in order to build a new parking lot and pedestrian bridge over to Memorial Boulevard’s war monuments, the project remains stalled.
But city councilors this week unanimously agreed to stay the course.
What’s holding up the project is the lack of a permit for the proposed bridge across the Pequabuck River that needs to be issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Robyn Bugbee, the city’s grants coordinator.
“It is frustrating,” said Mayor Art Ward. “The wait is longer than any of us anticipated.”
Bugbee said the division that would issue the permit is short-staffed, but has assured her that the permit application remains on the table.
The city’s hope is to erect an 80-foot long pedestrian bridge that would span the river between a city-owned parking lot on Riverside Avenue and the boulevard.
There is also a small, vacant store on the property – which once housed Hubbard’s Florist – that might someday become a meeting space for veterans and perhaps other community organizations, officials said.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro, who heads the Real Estate Committee, said he’s been approached by several potential purchasers interested in the site.
But, he said, “I don’t see selling it.”
Councilors unanimously backed Nicastro’s contention that the city should hang on to the property.
Councilor Kevin McCauley said the project hasn’t been forgotten.
“We are still working on it,” he said.
Public works officials said years ago they did not expect much trouble with regulatory agencies because the bridge abutments on both sides would be located outside the river’s channel.
The prefabricated bridge walkway would be more than 3 feet higher than the expected flood crest of the worst storm in a century, according to permit paperwork.The city used downtown revitalization money to acquire the Riverside Avenue property for $179,000 during Mayor Frank Nicastro’s tenure in 2002 and tapped Community Development Block Grant aid to pay the $43,000 demolition fee to knock down the old Hubbard & Co. Feeds & Fertilizer building there in 2003.State Sen. Tom Colapietro got a $150,000 state grant to help the project along a few years ago. Some of the money was used for a parking lot for the boulevard, but there is still some cash left for the bridge project.
Bugbee said the state recently gave the city another three years to use the funds.
Bugbee said, too, that she’s not sure the city could sell the Riverside Avenue property at this point.
She said the grant money that Colapietro nabbed provides that it would remain public property for at least 10 years.

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Blaschke warned by Cockayne

During this week's City Council session, unsuccessful council candidate Mark Blaschke criticized Republican Ken Cockayne for supporting a $70,000 reduction in the city's aid to the Bristol Visiting Nurse Association.
Blaschke, who lost an independent bid for council last year, said "a whole lot of people" are hurting and the cuts won't help.
Cockayne defended the budget move as necessary and pointed out that the VNA has a large reserve to cope with emergencies.
Then Cockayne ripped into Blaschke.
He said that Blaschke left a rambling, threatening phone message at his home following July's council session.
Cockayne warned Blaschke that "if you ever leave a message like that again, I'll call the police."
"Do not threaten me," Cockayne said.
A police officer was present at the meeting in case their confrontation got ugly. The officer left after Blaschke departed.

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August 13, 2008

City clerk defends handling of chief operating officer petitions

City Clerk Therese Pac said her office is still checking over the more than 4,300 signatures submitted last month in a bid to force a referendum on the proposed chief operating officer for City Hall.
Pac also defended her handling of the issue, which some criticized sharply because of her insistence that the petition gatherers have their own signatures notarized if organizers wanted them to count.
“It’s my duty to make sure it gets done properly,” Pac said.
Organizers needed to turn in slightly less than 3,200 valid signatures in order to require an Election Day referendum on the proposal to have the city create a sort of city manager-lite who would oversee administrative matters currently done by the mayor.
After city councilors rejected the Charter Revision Commission’s unanimous recommendation to create the position, supporters fanned out to collect signatures that would put the proposal on the ballot anyway.
Pac said she learned two weeks into the campaign – during a Saturday afternoon conversation at a vegetable stand – that those pushing for the referendum were collecting petitions that hadn’t been notarized properly.
As soon as she heard it, she said, she let organizers know the rules so they would have plenty of time to fix the problem.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said at the time that he was upset the city was “changing the rules in the middle of the game" to make it harder on those handling the petition drive.
Others went further, accusing Pac of trying to torpedo the entire effort.
Pac said this week that if she wanted to undermine the petition drive, all she had to do was remain mum. Then all of the petitions would have been thrown out and the referendum would be a dead issue.
Pac said that because she spoke up, organizers were able to turn in nearly 260 pages of signatures – all notarized properly.
“The defect was fixed,” she said, and isn’t an issue.
Cockayne said he doesn’t agree with everything that Pac said in her defense.
But, he said, he doesn’t want to elaborate on his concerns while the clerk’s office is reviewing the signatures.

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Taxpayers could get clobbered by school mistake

A mistake by the Board of Education could wind up socking city taxpayers for about $700,000 that the state would typically pay toward the cost of two school roof projects, city officials said Wednesday.
“It’s human error,” said Dale Clift, the city attorney who raised the issue this week after the failure to follow normal procedures came to light.
For school projects, the state normally covers perhaps 70 percent of the tab, but only if the city submits the necessary paperwork ahead of time.
Somehow, the paperwork wasn’t sent in by school administrators for an $880,000 roof replacement at Memorial Boulevard School or a roof repair at Jennings School at may cost $300,000, officials said.
That means that unless the state legislature or the State Education Department takes steps to waive the normal rules, city taxpayers would end up shelling out the entire cost for the two projects.
“The city is on the hook for the whole, 100 percent project,” city Councilor Ken Cockayne said, unless special legislation is enacted next winter
“We’re talking close to a million dollars if the state opts out of it,” Mayor Art Ward said.
The mayor said it would be “absolutely devastating” to the city’s budget if the state doesn’t come through with the cash in the end.
Ward said the city has no choice except to push ahead with the work because officials “have to look for the safety of the students” above all.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro, who is also a state representative, said that he “will do everything in my power to see that we get reimbursed” for the money.
But, he said, it’s too bad that proper procedures weren’t followed all along so the city wouldn’t be in such a precarious situation.
Nicastro said he doesn’t want to see taxpayers “eat a million plus dollars” because education officials failed to follow the proper procedures.
“I think that’s dreadfully wrong,” Nicastro said.
Ward said he understands these kind of mistakes have happened in the state before “and the state has honored the obligation.”
“It’s probably 95 percent we’re going to get the money,” said city Councilor Mike Rimcoski.
But, he said, if the state doesn’t come through, he’ll seek to have educators pay the lost cash out of the allocation already made for schools. Rimcoski said taxpayers in town shouldn’t have to cough up extra when they’re already struggling.
Ward said he’s going to try to ensure that similar mistakes don’t happen again.
“I definitely think that provisions should be made” to prevent it from occurring, he said, perhaps by adopting a checklist that officials can follow on any major project that ensures that necessary filings are done at the correct time.
“It is a concern,” Clift said. But, he said, there are procedures in place that were not followed.
“There needs to be accountability,” Cockayne said, adding that the paperwork screw-up demonstrates once more why the city needs a chief operating officer at the helm who can make sure procedures are followed.
Cockayne acknowledged, though, that the error was made by the Board of Education, not anyone at City Hall.
He said, though, that he doesn’t understand why the roof work on Jennings school has already begun even though there is no signed contract in place for anybody to do the job. That is a serious mistake as well, Cockayne said.
Nicastro said that he’s concerned that the Board of Education isn’t on top of other projects, too.
“It makes me question what the heck is going on,” Nicastro said.
He said that the $120 million plan for two new schools may also be lacking in its paperwork and background.
Nicastro said that “we don’t get correct figures” on important issues from school officials and he’s worried that taxpayers could wind up in the hole even further if councilors aren’t careful.
“The council has to have more input with the money,” Rimcoski said.

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The latest on the financial struggles of the company that owns The Bristol Press

Here's an overview from Editor & Publisher about the current situation with the Journal Register Co. It's not a pretty picture.

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August 12, 2008

New schools back on the agenda

Brushing aside concerns from two veteran politicians that the move is designed to sidestep a committee that could pose an obstacle to the $120 million school project, city councilors agreed Tuesday to hold a special meeting soon to review potential sites for two new buildings.
The goal is to make it possible for everyone involved to gather so that each of the decision-makers will learn all of the necessary information to support or reject particular locations for the proposed 900-student schools.
“We don’t have much time,” said city Councilor Cliff Block.
The council unanimously agreed to hold a joint session with the West Bristol and Forestville school building committee behind closed doors to discuss “negotiations for land.”But councilors said they have many questions that don’t involve secret negotiations so the session will almost certainly include a wide-ranging public discussion about the project as well.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro, who heads the Real Estate Committee, said it is “very clear to me” that the request to have the council meet as a whole instead of relying on the three-person real estate panel was made because supporters of the project feared his committee “will squash this” project.
“I’m not foolish,” Nicastro said, adding that there “is no reason to usurp the Real Estate Committee’s authority” to make a recommendation to the council.
Another veteran councilor, Republican Mike Rimcoski, said he’s also sure the plan was meant to sidestep the regular real estate panel. He said that the Board of Education is circumventing normal procedures.
But Mayor Art Ward said that he thinks the move merely eliminates an unnecessary step in the decision-making process.
Having everyone in the room, said city Councilor Ken Cockayne, ensures “everyone would be in the loop.”
The school project, which the council and Board of Finance gave tentative backing to last year, aims to build two kindergarten to eighth grade schools that would replace four aging buildings.
Two sites are under consideration for the schools: the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street and a closed sand pit off Barlow Street.
Block said that multiple appraisals have been done to determine their value, but there has been no public indication of the cost to purchase the land.
Ward said the appraisal process is a major reason for the lack of progress on the project this year.
“It does take time and it does stagnate the process,” the mayor said.
Ward said that he wants the council to take up the issue soon so that it won’t have to scramble next spring to make a decision before a state-imposed deadline.
“This is the next step,” Block said.

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State to scrutinize new school construction more closely

A recent state audit found many districts are failing to follow the proper procedure to show the need for new schools.
They are not using correct projections for future enrollment, the state auditors found in the
audit, beginning on page 11.
I'm not sure Bristol's projects relate much to enrollment, since the main goal is to replace old schools with new ones, but it's still an interesting development that could come into play as this project rolls forward.

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Colapietro endorsed by pro-choice group

The NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut PAC just released a list of candidates it's endorsing this year who are "deemed by the PAC to be 100 percent pro-choice."
Only one Bristol candidate appears among those endorsed - state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Democrat who has represented the 31st District since 1992.
"All candidates endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut PAC pledge, if elected, to vote against anti-choice bills, including those that would restrict access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services – from contraception, to carrying a healthy pregnancy to term, to choosing a safe and legal abortion. Pro-actively, endorsed candidates support comprehensive, age appropriate sexuality education that is based on medically accurate information, and all support equitable and timely access to emergency contraceptionm," according to the group's press release.
“We are so pleased to have so many candidates who are advocates for women’s reproductive health,” said Cari Carter, PAC chair, according to the release.
"The NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut PAC is confident that if elected, each and every one of our endorsed candidates will protect choice, work to improve access to emergency contraception, and defend against amendments and bills that attempt to chip away at our reproductive freedom.”

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August 11, 2008

School project backers seek to buy sites

Hoping to push the stalled $120 million project to build two new schools, officials plan Tuesday to ask city councilors to agree to hold a special meeting soon to go over potential sites for the buildings.
“They’re trying to expedite the process and get some decisions on the locations,” Mayor Art Ward said Monday.
The two school building committees, charged with overseeing construction of new 900-student schools in Forestville and in the West End, are asking the City Council to hold a joint session with them to go behind closed doors to discuss “negotiations for land.”
It isn’t clear where things stand in terms of negotiations for either of the sites currently on the table: the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street and a closed sand pit off Barlow Street.
Spurring action may be a worry that unless the pace picks up, the city’s June 2007 request for state funding of about 70 percent of the project might be thrown out.
Ward said he understands there is a two-year limit for the city to find acceptable locations in order for its initial funding application to remain valid.
School officials have expressed frustration at the lax pace of the site selection process, which narrowed in on two locations months ago.
Since then, however, there has been little public indication of any activity, though at least some behind-the-scenes negotiations have taken place, according to several officials.
What isn’t clear, though, is whether the city and the landowners are in the same ballpark in terms of the value of the sites eyed.
Both the West Bristol and the Forestville school building committees asked the council to schedule a joint session with them soon.
They also asked that the council agree to meet as the Real Estate Committee – normally a three-person subcommittee of the council chaired by former Mayor Frank Nicastro – because the site selection law gives the real estate panel a key role in approving any deal.
Two members of the real estate panel, Nicastro and Councilor Mike Rimcoski, voted against the school sites recommended by the committees and are considered less likely to favor moving ahead with the project at all.
The motion sought by the two school panels asks that the joint meetings be held in executive session, which would make the proceedings secret, a move that is legal because it involves land negotiations.
There is no legal requirement, however, that the meetings must be held in secret. That is a choice that city leaders are allowed to make.
How much the public will learn about the status of the projects remains unknown.
The city and the Board of Education plan to construct two kindergarten to eighth grade schools that would each house 900 students. When they are ready, four existing schools would be closed: Memorial Boulevard Middle School and Bingham, Greene-Hills and O’Connell elementary schools.

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Congressional candidate ready to pull country out of the toilet

Green Party congressional hopeful Steve Fournier of Hartford offers a strikingly different agenda than the ones put forward by major party candidates.
“I think our country is in the toilet and I'm willing to go in there and pull it out. Cleaning up Congress is a dirty job, I tell them, and somebody has to do it,” Fournier said.
Fournier, 62, said that volunteers have collected more than 3,000 signatures in the 1st District that “make it all but certain” that he’ll be on the November ballot against U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat, and Republican challenger Joe Visconti of West Hartford.
To reach the ballot, a petitioning candidate needs 2,050 verified signatures from registered voters, a determination that should be made soon.
Fournier’s campaign aims “to vindicate us with our grandchildren. They will certainly defile our graves if we don't make big changes now.”
Fournier, a community activist, said he personally got 900 signatures – and talked with those who signed.
“The people I've been talking to are angry, but they're also afraid. Afraid to dissent and afraid to look powerless and foolish,” he said.
Fournier said that people are looking away from what the nation’s leaders have done to the country during the past generation.
“The criminals who govern us have injured our earth, damaged our republic, put us in mortal danger, and we go on as if everything were fine, seemingly unaware of our dire situation,” Fournier said in a pamphlet.
“My conversations tell me that we are not unaware and that we are seething with repressed rage. Witnesses to an atrocity, we turn away because we feel unable to act,” he said.
“We're told that enemies are in our midst,” Fournier said, “and our biggest fear is not that any of the million or so terrorists out there will do us any harm but that we will be counted among them.”
“And so we take off our shoes in the airport and buy newspapers that lie to us and pretend to support the troops and stay away from political gatherings of all kinds,” he said.
“It’s not that people are apathetic or complacent. We're damaged and discouraged,” Fournier said.
Fournier, a Vietnam veteran, said that “racketeers and their henchmen now govern America.”
“The two major political parties have been complicit in the racket and have furthered it by trashing the Bill of Rights, undermining the rule of law, and effectively repealing all checks on executive power,” he said.
“Most recently, our leaders have waged two wars to advance their political ends and lost both of them, as all responsible authorities predicted they would,” Fournier said.
“They have long since quit regulating the big, anti-national corporations that control public policy, resulting in the widespread abuse of workers, poor quality goods, mass export of jobs, declines in public health and happiness, environmental pollution, the concentration of wealth in a few hands, and a failing economy,” he said.
“These problems can't be addressed until Americans undertake the restoration of Constitutional government,” Fournier said. “This candidacy--the candidate is a troublemaker and whistleblower--is an expression of urgency.”
Fournier said he’s been active in politics since he left the Air Force in 1970 and got involved in the anti-war movement and left-wing politics. In the years since, he said, he’s been a Democrat, a Republican and a Green Party member.
With the exception of a brief stint on the Hartford Board of Education a decade ago, when he helped convince the state to take over Hartford’s troubled public schools, Fournier’s been an activist and outsider.
Larson has rolled over challengers since winning the 1st District in 1998. He’s represented Bristol since a redistricting in 2002 expanded the size of each of Connecticut’s remaining five congressional districts.

Fournier’s agenda
- Withhold all military funding until there is “an acceptable timetable” to withdraw troops from Iraq.
- Uncover wrongdoing in the executive branch and military, including the ouster and punishment of “those responsible for 9/11/”
- Crack down on economic misconduct by the rich and powerful.
- Enact universal health care at least as good as Medicare.
- Create a mandatory national service for all Americans to serve in the armed forces or improving public assets.
- Crack down on pollution.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Still checking COO petition signatures

City Clerk Therese Pac said today that her office is still checking the signatures submitted on the petitions calling for a referendum on the proposed chief operating officer position. She said she's not sure when the work will be done.

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Back from vacation

Just a quick word to let you -- cranks and faithful readers alike - know that I am back from a two-week vacation. I had a nice time, thank you very much.
So what'd I miss?

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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August 10, 2008

New commuter lot opens Monday

Press release from the state Department of Transportation:

The Department of Transportation announced today, that a new Commuter lot at Lake Avenue in Bristol will open on Monday, August 11, 2008. In conjunction with the opening of the new lot, the existing commuter lot at Todd Street will be closed. Signs have been posted and pamphlets distributed to notify commuters of this upcoming change. This new commuter lot is part of the ongoing Route 72 Relocation project in Bristol and Plainville.
Work on this $40 million project is being performed by Manafort Brothers, Inc. of Plainville, Connecticut under contract with the Department of Transportation. The anticipated completion date for this project is in November 2009.
Motorists are urged to obey the posted speed limit and proceed with caution through this and all other construction work zones.

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Hamzy aims to free up cash for Lake Compounce

Press release from state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes northwestern Bristol:

State Representative William A. Hamzy is working with Governor Rell and the state Office of Policy and Management to get $3.3 million in state funding that would clear the way for the expansion of the water park at Lake Compounce placed on the State Bond Commission agenda for its September meeting.
The funding, which was included in the bond authorization act (P. A. 07-7) approved by the state legislature during the June 2007 special session, amounts to $3.3 million. The grant must be approved by the bond commission before it is released.
The $3.3 million would pay for the relocation of a 3,000 foot section of Mount Vernon Road from the Bristol city line to Welch Street in Southington. The project would clear the way for a six-acre expansion of the water park to more than 10 acres, said Representative Hamzy, R-78th District.
“This is a win-win proposal for the state, for Lake Compounce and for Bristol and Southington,” Representative Hamzy said. “If the bond commission approves the $3.3 million to pay for the relocation of a portion of Mount Vernon Road in Southington, for utility upgrades and other related improvements, it will lead to the investment of about $20 million by Lake Compounce for the expansion of the water park.”
“This relatively modest investment in a public infrastructure improvement project will significantly benefit the towns, the region and the state. When completed, the Lake Compounce expansion project will help Bristol and Southington by creating jobs and attracting more visitors to the amusement park - many of whom will patronize local businesses. It also will enhance the state’s rapidly-growing tourist industry, which is becoming a significant contributor to the state’s economy, generating millions in revenues and hundreds of new jobs every year,” Representative Hamzy said.
“Although getting an item included on the bond commission agenda is a difficult and competitive process, I believe state funding for this project is fully justified under whatever criteria are used to evaluate it. It is important to the economic future of our towns and our state. That is why I am aggressively pursuing the funding necessary to make it happen,” Representative Hamzy said.

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