June 25, 2009

The Bristol Press is moving

If everthing goes according to plan -- and when does it? -- The Bristol Press will move into its new quarters on Main Street this weekend.
I have lots of conflicting emotions about it, but recognize the century-old building we're in now is set up for the industrial production of papers, which is no longer what we do. It's hard for a newsroom to hum in a largely empty building.
But still. It's kind of painful to pack up and move on, as we all know.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 24, 2009

Flags to fly at half staff to honor Korean War soldier

Press release from Gov. Jodi Rell:

Governor Rell Orders Flags to Half-Staff on Friday for Recently Recovered Korean Conflict Soldier

Governor M. Jodi Rell today announced that she is ordering U.S. and Connecticut flags to be flown at half-staff from dawn to dusk on Friday, June 26, to honor U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Lincoln “Cliff” May of Plainville, who was killed in action during the Korean War.

May’s remains were among several sets of remains sent to the United States by North Korea in 1993. They were identified this year by comparing DNA to samples provided by two nephews, Glenn and Cliff Block of Bristol.

“Several decades have passed since Sergeant First Class May left Connecticut to serve our country overseas, but today he is finally home,” Governor Rell said. “All of Connecticut honors his service and sacrifice. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sergeant May’s family and friends and we hope that his return will provide some closure to his loved ones.”

Funeral services for Sergeant May – who was killed in action in November of 1950 while serving with the First Cavalry Division – will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday at the O’Brien Funeral Home, 24 Lincoln Avenue, in Bristol. Burial with full military honors will follow in West Cemetery in Plainville.

May was born September 4, 1928, in Plainville. He attended local schools and was employed at the time of his enlistment in 1948 at manufacturer Landers, Frary and Clark in New Britain. Prior to being sent to Korea, he served as a military policeman atFort Dix in New Jersey and Fort Devens in Massachusetts.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Malloy backs ESPN, tech school, jobs

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Dan Malloy told party leaders recently that things have to change in Hartford.

“The mere fact that they almost chased ESPN out of town is amazing,” Malloy said.

The tax changes that ESPN opposed have been stripped from revenue plans developed by the Democratic-controlled legislature after critics howled, but Republican Gov. Jodi Rell never backed the tax hikes that lawmakers initially sought.

But Rell came in for plenty of criticism from the Stamford mayor who’s one of at least three Democrats angling to grab the governor’s office for his party for the first time in more than two decades.

Malloy said that Rell’s plans to shutter technical schools in Bristol and Stamford are short-sighted and expressed support for Bristol’s courthouse to remain open despite the governor’s proposal to close it, too.

“She’s clearly after you,” Malloy said.

Rell’s spokesmen have repeatedly said that no town has been targeted. They said that Rell is trying to spread the pain of closing an $8 billion budget gap as fairly as possible across the entire state.

They said that Rell doesn’t want to hike taxes so there’s no alternative except to close some courthouses, schools and other services in order to fund more crucial needs.

Malloy said that Connecticut has created jobs at a slower rate than any other state in the country since 1991, an indication that GOP control of the state’s top office is falling well short of what’s needed.

Focusing on the need to create more jobs, he said, is “how the Democrats are going to win” the 2010 governor’s race.

At least two other top Democrats -- Secretary of the State Susan Bysiezwicz and former House Speaker James Amman -- are also in the running for their party’s gubernatorial backing.

Malloy said that he would like to avoid a potentially costly primary fight this time -- he lost one narrowly in 2006 to New Haven’s John DeStefano -- and vowed to live with the party’s choice for its nominee if other contenders would do the same.

Malloy, who’s stepping down as Stamford’s mayor in November after 14 years at the helm, said he’s got a better chance this time around because “nobody knew me” in 2006. He said he’s ready this time to win.

Rell, whose standing in the polls remains high, hasn’t said whether she’ll seek reelection. No other Republicans have indicated a desire to take her place.

Jim Hopkins, a Democratic activist in Bristol, said that Malloy’s wrong about bowing to ESPN.

“If they’re not going to pay their fair share, who’s going to pay?” Hopkins said.

Malloy said the state needs a more progressive income tax so that the wealthy pay more.

But, he said, the state also has to “fight for every job” and can’t afford to risk losing businesses like ESPN to cheaper locales.

“It’s easy for them to leave,” Malloy said.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Veits, Block seeking reelection

City Treasurer Bill Veits is seeking a second term in the part-time post.

“I enjoy it,” Veits said. “I’m a numbers guy.”

Veits and city Councilor Cliff Block -- both Democrats -- recently declared their intention to run for reelection, resolving the last questions about the plans of incumbent politicians at City Hall for this year’s municipal races.

Veits said he loves working with the various departments in city government, serving on the Pension Board and overseeing “the girls in the treasurer’s office” who “basically do all the work.”

Block said he believes he’s making a difference on the council.

He said he hopes to stick around long enough “to spend some money one of these days” instead of simply figuring out where cuts should be made.

Veits defeated Republican Mark Anderson to capture the treasurer’s position in 2007 after the retirement of longtime Treasurer Patti Ewen.

Block took the seat vacated when longtime Councilor Art Ward opted to run, successfully, for mayor.

Also running in the 1st District is Republican incumbent Mike Rimcoski and Democratic newcomer Kevin Fuller.

Veits is a a self-employed enrolled agent and income tax specialist with a business in Southington.

The treasurer serves a two-year term for a salary of about $5,000. Councilors, who also serve two years, earn about $10,000.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 23, 2009

Ward to give state of city speech next week

Press release from chamber of commerce:

BRISTOL -- The State of the City and Town breakfast meeting and beautification awards will be held on Tuesday, 8 a.m.. at Chippanee Golf Club on Marsh Road in Bristol.

Mayor Art Ward of Bristol, First Selectman Kathy Zabel of Burlington, Town Manager Robert E. Lee of Plainville, Mayor Vincent Festa of Plymouth, Town Manager Kathleen Eagen of Farmington, and Mayor Thomas Dunn of Wolcott have been invited and will give a briefing on the past year.

Also, Bristol Chamber’s Beautification Committee and the Men’s Bristol Garden Club will present their 2009 Beautification Awards.

For more information, please contact Cindy Scoville at (860) 314-2101, or the front desk at (860) 584-4718.

What do you think of the state of the city? What would your address say?

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Block is running again

No surprise, of course, but city Councilor Cliff Block is running for reelection. He's a 1st District Democrat.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Plainville soldier's remains return home

The U.S. Army brought home a hero Tuesday.
Escorted by a few government cars and the police, the flag-draped coffin of Sgt. 1st Class Lincoln Clifford May of Plainville lay in the back of an O’Brien Funeral Home hearse as it drove the Korean War soldier’s remains back from the airport.
May, who died in 1950 during a ferocious battle with the Chinese Army in Korea, will be buried Friday near his family in Plainville’s West Cemetery.
The wake is slated to for 8:30 to 10 a.m. Friday at the funeral home, with burial to follow.
May’s remains were among the boxes sent to the U.S. by North Korea in 1993. They were identified this year by comparing DNA to samples provided by two nephews, Glenn and Cliff Block of Bristol.
The funeral isn’t the only Korean War event this week.
The city’s Korean War veterans are marking the 59th anniversary of the start of the war with a ceremony on Memorial Boulevard at 11 a.m., Thursday.The ceremony will feature Bristol veteran Frank Parker talking about his experiences in combat during the Korean War in 1950 and 1951,A luncheon follows at the American Legion hall on Hooker Court. Korean War veterans are invited to attend.
To honor his uncle, Cliff Block said the Korean War veterans are raising money to purchase a commercial washer and dryer for the Veterans Home in Rocky Hill.
Donations can be sent to The Korean Conflict Veterans Association, c/o The American Legion Post #2, 22 Hooker Court, Bristol, CT 06010.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 22, 2009

Seeking World War II vets for a story

Anyone out there who can help me find a few World War II veterans who are willing to tell a story about their experiences? I have an editor who wants me to write up a few vets' stories -- and I have to do it right away.
The other thing is that we need pictures of the vets whose stories are used both from during the war and today.
So I'm looking for a few folks who are willing. You can contact me at scollins@bristolpress.com.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

BDA KO's intersection overhaul on Federal Hill

Five months after backing the possible realignment of High and Summer streets, city development officials opted Monday to abandon the proposal.
“It’s a fine idea,” said Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, but there’s no money to buy the necessary property.
“It’s not going further,” he said.
The Bristol Development Authority, which agreed in February to pay $29,250 to Beta Group, a design firm, to work up a plan for fixing up the troubled intersection, unanimously killed the project.
About $20,000 is left in the account following survey work, officials said. That money will be used to bolster the more than $1 million Main Street streetscape project
Rosenthal said the survey work will be helpful in the future so the money spent wasn’t squandered.
The streetscape project is slated to get underway during the fiscal year that begins July 1. It aims to revamp the appearance of Main Street between Riverside Avenue and the top of the hill so that it will roughly match the 2005 North Main Street overhaul.
Officials had hoped to buy at least one of the decrepit apartments at the corner of High and Summer, raze it and straighten out the juncture.
Rosenthal said that because there is no prospect of the city having the cash to purchase the building, demolish it and do the project, it made sense to kill it.
The project has the backing of business and neighborhood groups. The only opposition initially came from city Councilor Craig Minor, who called it “a waste of money” that should be used for more pressing issues.
Rosenthal and other city leaders said that until the project design was done, the city wouldn’t even know how much the realigned intersection would cost.
City officials have long eyed the possibility of razing some of the aging apartments on the west side of Main Street near the library because they have no parking and are so beaten up that they hold little attraction for the young urban professionals the city would like to attract downtown.
The Main Street streetscape, which has funding, would include trees, benches and other pedestrian-friendly improvements.The initial plan includes small plazas, traffic calming measures along the roadway, new sidewalks, distinctive crosswalks and other features similar to what’s been done on North Main Street.
Officials hope that improving the streetscape will lead to more commercial activity and a safer, friendlier environment for residents, a key element for pumping life into the city’s troubled downtown.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Democrats meet tonight

Dan Malloy, a gubernatorial contender, is talking to the Democratic Town Committee this evening.
We'll no doubt have some more City Council contenders before the day is through, too.
I'll try to get it all, but that's easier said than done. Candidates, be sure you let me know what you're doing. You can reach me at scollins@bristolpress.com or screaming my name on North Main Street until I hear you. I recommend dropping me a line.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Courant's woes

The Hartford Courant is dumping its redesigned front page in favor, probably, of one that looks more like the old version.
But its problems aren't merely cosmetic. If the paper wants people to think of it like they used to, it needs more news. Hire back all those fired reporters, editors, photographers and others who were so integral to the creation of a great Connecticut daily.
As it is, the Courant may still be the best paper in the state -- though it's arguable nowadays -- but every day it serves in part to remind us of how far it's fallen.
Sometimes, it seems like the forgotten stepchild of Channel 61, which is simply an awful fate for a newspaper that commanded so much respect only a few years ago.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 19, 2009

Back in the saddle...

Sorry for the lack of posts. I was under the weather -- I think we were all in danger of becoming toadstools -- but am doing a bit better today.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 16, 2009

Strange politics at play

Taking into account that Gov. Jodi Rell is a Republican, it's strange that she's taking aim at a Bristol technical school championed by GOP stalwarts.
There are no shortage of state institutions in Democratic districts, after all, and the logic of the proposed closure of the Bristol Technical Education Center is shaky at best. The $2 million savings Rell anticipates almost certainly don't exist.
The school is located in state Rep. Bill Hamzy's 78th District. Hamzy, a former state GOP chairman, is an increasingly respected figure within state Republican circles who doesn't appear to have any personal conflicts with Rell.
He's also a big backer of the school.
And the head of the state's technical high school committee is yet another Republican with ties to Rell: Bristol's Beverly Bobroske. She's also a strong supporter of the school.
Throw in the insistence by the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce and a host of businesses throughout the region that hire the school's graduates and the political logic of targeting it gets even more odd.
The school has bipartisan backing, to be sure. Democrats say they love it, too, and have shown over the years that they mean it.
So what's the deal with it? The only critics of the place only argue that if something has to close to save painful cuts somewhere else, then shut it down.
But if there are no real savings from closure and political powerbrokers on both sides of the aisle want it to stay open, what's really going on?
It's hard to believe that Rell would, in the end, stick it to the Republican lawmaker who represents the school and shutter a school whose overseer is one of her GOP allies. That's just not how politics works.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Rationale for Bristol tech school unclear

It’s not clear why Gov. Jodi Rell is trying to close the Bristol Technical Education Center.
The chair of the state Board of Education’s Technical High School Committee, Beverly Bobroske, said the state panel never recommended its closure and believes “very, very strongly” that it should remain open.
Bobroske, a former head of Bristol’s Board of Education and an unsuccessful Republican contender for state Senate in 2004 and 2006, said the school serves a crucial need.
Gov. Jodi Rell’s proposed budget would shutter the two-year school in order to save taxpayers $2 million annually, a figure that remains unexplained. Rell said that painful cuts such as the closing the technical school are needed to close a monstrous budget hole without resorting to tax hikes.
State Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat whose 77th District covers the northeastern section of town, said that sacrifices are going to be necessary to address the budget.
“But sacrificing the future of our children, sacrificing the future of our state, is not the way to do that,” Wright said.
The claim that closing the school will save $2 million annually doesn’t appear to hold weight to those who know the institution.
Because of labor agreements reached between the state and its unions, which agreed to wage cuts in return for a no-layoffs guarantee, the staff of the school will remain on the payroll. They’d simply be shifted to one of the other technical schools for at least the next two years.
“No one will be laid off,” said Abigail Hughes, the superintendent of the technical high school system.
Since labor costs make up the bulk of the expense at the technical school, officials said, it’s hard to imagine how closing it could lead to significant savings.
The governor’s budget cites the savings from laying off 30 people to explain its purported cost-cutting. But few if any of the personnel at the school can be laid off due to the deal Rell made with state workers.
The other technical school targeted by Rell, Stamford’s Wright Technical School, is suffering from dwindling enrollment and aging infrastructure.
Bobroske said the state school panel indicated in December that it might suspend the Stamford school’s operations for a couple of years while an agreement about its future could be worked out with a nearby community college.
Even that, Bobroske said, was done reluctantly.
But nobody ever considered shutting down the Bristol school, she said.
Students at the school Tuesday who have toured other technical schools said that Bristol’s technology is much better the norm and its educational program superb.
“There is no reason or justification as to why a school that creates so many life-changing opportunities and gives back so much to the community should be closed,” said Kyle Orde, an adult student who attends it.
Ben Russell, who teaches manufacturing, said the school provides the basis of a solid career for its students.
“Get a foundation and you can go anywhere,” Russell said. “It’s a great little school.”

Between October and May, only one technical school in Connecticut saw its high school age enrollment rise: the Bristol Technical Education Center.
Among the other 17 technical schools in the state, the average class lost 3 percent of its students.
Only Bristol, where the number rose from 108 to 113 students, saw an increase in those attending during the course of the school year, according to statistics provided by the state Board of Education’s Technical High School Committee.
Bristol also has another 22 adult students who paid more than $64,000 in tuition to attend this year, a number that’s slated to rise to more than $105,000 next year when 34 adults have been accepted.
Bristol’s technical school also has 106 students on its waiting list for the academic year that begins in August.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Pleading the case for Bristol tech school

James Murdock, an electrical contractor for the past 43 years, said Tuesday the Bristol Technical Education Center is crucial for young people looking to get into the trades.
“We need people who can do things with their hands,” Murdock said.
But the fate of the school depends less on how well it educates the next generation of skilled workers than how well the school’s backers can make its case in the corridors of the Capitol in the coming days.
House Speaker Christopher Donovan, a Meriden Democrat, stood in front of a battery of television cameras in front of the school Tuesday to declare that closing it would “the wrong thing to do.”
“We need to cut fat, not muscle,” Donovan said, “and this is muscle.”
Gov. Jodi Rell has targeted the school for closure in a bid to save the money needed to cope with an $8 billion budget gap. She said that finding the cash requires some painful cuts, including shuttering the school in Bristol.
Mike Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, said the tech school is needed.
“We still have a manufacturing base here. We need to supply that base,” Nicastro said. “Why would we kill such an integral, important piece of this community?”
Plymouth resident Cindy Scoville said the Bristol-based New England Spring and Metalstamping Association has had “a brother-sister” relationship with the school since it opened.
The idea of closing it “just boggles my mind,” Scoville said.
“I don’t even understand why we would ever think of dismantling the shining example of regionalization,” Mayor Art Ward said, pointing to the more than two dozen towns whose students attend it.
The state representative whose 78th District includes the school, Republican Bill Hamzy of Plymouth, said its unique two-year program has proven itself worthwhile.
Michael Suchopar, who heads the Bristol Boys and Girls Club, said it helps students whose potential can “go untapped in a public school.”
Closing it, he said, would “close the doors to the future for many of these students.”
“It serves a purpose even greater than we recognize,” Suchopar said.
Former Burlington First Selectman Theodore Scheidel said that “to have it go away would be very sad for the community.”

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Dems back off plan to hike taxes on ESPN

State House Democrats have abandoned a plan to eliminate tax breaks that ESPN said are important to its future in Connecticut.
Tossing out the tax credits the sports giant said it wants is off the table, said state House Speaker Christopher Donovan, a Meriden Democrat.
“We’re putting them back” in the budget, Donovan said Tuesday.
Mike Soltys, an ESPN vice president, said the company is “very appreciative the House leadership has recognized our concerns and the detrimental impact this could have on our business” if the tax increase was enacted.
A tax package approved by a legislative committee in May would strip sales tax exemptions on broadcast equipment, end the tax waiver for purchase of time using satellite or fiber signals and a couple of other breaks that help hold down ESPN’s tax bill.
The tax credit changes sought by the panel are “off the table,” Donovan said during a stop at the Bristol Technical Education Center.
Mayor Art Ward hailed the move.
“Needless to say, it’s good for Bristol and for ESPN,” Ward said. “I’m ecstatic they recognize the contributions of a business such as ESPN.”
The sports giant has grown from a tiny enterprise into one of the world’s broadcasting powerhouses during its 30 years in Bristol. It is easily the city’s largest taxpayer and employer.
“Our world headquarters is in Bristol and we’d prefer to grow right here in Bristol,” Soltys said.
Donovan credited the city’s legislative delegation for pushing to leave the tax breaks sought by ESPN in place
Donovan said that state Reps. Chris Wright and Frank Nicastro, both Bristol Democrats, pushed for ESPN’s agenda.
“They said this is important to us and we said we hear you,” Donovan said.
“Because of their input, it is likely the credits will be restored,” he said.
Gov. Jodi Rell has frequently cited her opposition to any tax increases as officials seek ways to close an $8 billion budget gap. The lieutenant governor, Michael Fedele, warned that if the breaks weren’t left intact, ESPN might leave the state.
Though ESPN never said it might move out, it did say that removing the tax breaks could cause it to reconsider where it opts to grow in the years to come.
There is no budget deal yet between Rell and the legislature. The House and Senate Democrats are not necessarily on the same page either, officials said, but the Democrats will pass a budget by month’s end one way or another, Donovan said.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 15, 2009

Rell taps Mike Nicastro for state post

Press release from Gov. Jodi Rell's office:

Governor Rell Appoints Bristol Resident

To State Panel

Governor M. Jodi Rell today announced she has appointed Michael Nicastro of Bristol as a member of the Board of State Academic Awards. The Board grants degrees through Charter Oak State College. As a nontraditional college, Charter Oak is designed to provide adults with an alternate means to earn degrees that are of equivalent quality and rigor to those earned at other accredited institutions of higher learning.

Nicastro is the president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce serving Bristol, Burlington,Farmington, Plainville, Plymouth and Wolcott. Prior to that, he was Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer forGlastonbury-based Open Solutions, Inc. Nicastro holds a bachelors degree from Central Connecticut State University and a law degree from Western New England College School of Law.

“Mike’s business background and his passion for improving the quality of life in our state will make him an asset to the Board,” Governor Rell said. “I thank him for his willingness to serve the State of Connecticut.”

Nicastro will serve until the sixth Wednesday of the next regular session of the General Assembly, or until a successor has been appointed and has qualified, whichever is longer.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol getting hammered?

With both the courthouse and the Bristol Technical Education Center slated for closure under Gov. Jodi Rell’s proposed budget, the governor is “really taking a sledgehammer to Bristol,” according to state House Speaker Chris Donovan.

The Meriden Democrat said that Rell’s call to shutter the last two significant state institutions in Bristol – while also slashing the family resource centers from Bristol – shows her lack of concern for the Mum City.

“They’re closing the whole town down,” Donovan said.

One of Gov. Jodi Rell's four spokesmen, Chris Cooper, said that the proposed spending cuts are spread across the state.

"There's no singling out of anybody," Cooper said. "The governor is trying to spread the pain as evenly as possible.”

State Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat who represents the 31st District, said that he’s not sure “if it’s just Bristol, but I know we’re getting hammered.”

“Bristol’s being targeted way too much,” the senator said. “How much more can Bristol lose? Why don’t they just make a ghost town out of us?”

Mayor Art Ward said he understands the need to share the pain “but it just seems that Bristol is being earmarked for more of the share than communities of equitable size.”

“I’m definitely not happy with the proposals that have been presented to us so far,” Ward said.

Ward said he’s not sure why Rell appears to be targeting Bristol “but I’m hoping our local delegation can step forward and present sufficient arguments to the governor whereby she can comprehend the effect on the community if these cuts are exercised.”

State Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes northwestern Bristol, said that he agrees on the need to preserve the technical school.

“It’s a good program,” Hamzy said. “It achieves the objective that we set out for it. That’s not just because it’s in Bristol.”

“That’s up to us to make that point” to the governor, Hamzy said.

Colapietro, an ardent technical school backer, said that losing the courthouse would hurt downtown, drying up business for restaurants and other enterprises that are trying to hang on in the city center.

Hamzy said that people need to keep the larger financial problem in context, blasting the Democratic leaders of the legislature for choosing to rile up residents with a series of press conferences rather than presenting a spending plan that would address the $8 billion shortfall facing the state.

“Beating up on Gov. Rell’s proposals is easy,” Hamzy said, but offering an alternative is tough.

Hamzy said the recently completed session marks the first time that the General Assembly hasn’t endorsed a budget, a move he said that leaves him “totally amazed.”

Colapietro said that people don’t realize how hard it is for the legislature to make cuts because everyone has different ideas about what’s worth saving.

“People yell cut, cut, cut,” he said, but they don’t realize the consequences.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Colapietro said. “You might get it.”

Targeted for closure


Bristol Technical Education Center

Already closed

State social services office

State labor office

Division of Motor Vehicles office


Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

DMV made a mistake

This just in, from the Department of Motor Vehicles:

A DMV employee on Saturday - when the administrative offices were closed - mistakenly advised Mr. Collins that a reporter could not walk around the public area of the building to speak to customers. I routinely receive calls from reporters and they are allowed to enter the public areas and speak to customers. There is no policy prohibiting that opportunity. While a reporter cannot walk into the secure areas where license tests are done or behind counters where employees process transactions, they can enter the public areas or hang out in the parking lot to take still pictures or video, or speak to customers. We are reminding our staff today about it. We apologize for that mistaken information.

Bill Seymour
Director of Communicaton
Department of Motor Vehicles

And that is that. I knew the 'policy' made no sense. I'm glad to see that it's not even the policy.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 14, 2009

Kicking out the press

Inside the New Britain DMV office yesterday were more than 140 people clutching numbers and waiting for their turn at the counter. Most of them were sitting in little waiting areas -- not bad for a government office but still excruciating.
I met one guy who'd been there for three hours already, waiting for his turn at the counter.
I talked to a few people, who were pretty nice, before a fellow walked up to me, identified himself as the manager and asked me if I was a reporter.
I said yes.
He said that he was sorry, but that the Department of Motor Vehicles doesn't allow reporters inside their buildings to wander around talking to people.
I couldn't believe it, since the people inside were just sitting there, bored out of their minds, but I didn't quarrel with him.
I told him I understood it wasn't his rule and that I'd take it up with the DMV on Monday.
Let's consider this for a second, though: There I am in an office slated for closure, talking to the people who use it and I'm booted out?
It's not as if I was interfering with the operations of the place, or even bothering anybody. This isn't the sort of story that I'm going to get in someone's face and insist that they tell all. If they wanted to talk, fine. If they didn't, fine. I just moved on, quietly and respectfully. That's usually how I am anyway.
Why would there be a policy -- a potentially unconstitutional one, by the way -- to limit access to a public waiting area in a public building?
I can't wait to hear the rationale for it.
Given that the state constitution specifically says that "no law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press" I'm particularly eager to hear how throwing reporters out of the DMV waiting rooms isn't a restraint on the press.
It strikes me as yet another example of government prefering to do its work as far from prying eyes as possible.
In this case, it's simply nuts, since everyone I talked with had kind words for the employees, no real problems with the DMV and as far as I could see, the New Britain office was humming along efficiently. It was just mobbed.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 13, 2009

Simmons isn't the only one taking on Dodd

Connecticut Local Politics has a good overview here.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Why the New Britain DMV office?

The state targeted the Department of Motor Vehicles office in New Britain for a number of reasons, according to Michael Cicchetti, deputy director of the Office of Policy and Management.

Cicchetti said Saturday the office was picked for closure because it is leased rather than owned, which means the state can save on rent if it’s not open.

It is also reasonably close to the full service offices in Wethersfield and Waterbury, he said, along with AAA offices in West Hartford and Plainville that provide some of the services.

Moreover, Cicchetti said, more of the DMV’s business will be able to be done online soon, necessitating fewer trips to the actual offices.

Registration by mail and longer times between license renewals have already helped cut down on the use, he said.

Because of those factors, Cicchetti said, officials thought the New Britain DMV could be closed “without having a huge impact on service.”

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Greener trucks for public works

The Connecticut Clean Fuel Program last week awarded $72,000 to the city to help it may for hybrid public works vehicles.

The city got money to cover the difference between a conventional trash truck and dump truck compared with the hybrid version.

Mayor Art Ward said the new trucks will help save energy while bolstering the public works fleet.

Funded by the Federal Highway Administration, the Connecticut Clean Fuel program distributed more than $645,000 to municipalities across he state last week.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Democrats may pass own budget

State lawmakers said Saturday they hope to reach an agreement on a new state budget soon.
But if they can’t cut a deal with Gov. Jodi Rell, House Speaker Chris Donovan of Meriden said the Democrats will pass their own spending plan before month’s end.
Donovan said that Rell dropped the latest round of proposed cuts on the legislature two weeks ago and hasn’t been willing to talk about possible tax increases.
“They’re proposing the biggest tax increase in Connecticut history,” said Adam Liegeot, a spokesman for Gov. Rell.
Liegeot said Rell can’t go along with Democratic plans to hike income, sales, corporate and other taxes while abolishing the property tax credit.
Donovan said he hopes discussions about the particulars can pick up seriously this week.
But if they don’t, Donovan said, “we can do our own budget by the end of the month.”

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Pushing to keep the New Britain DMV on the road

On Saturday morning, more than 140 people packed the Department of Motor Vehicles office on North Mountain Road in New Britain, clutching numbers and waiting impatiently for their turn at the counter to register cars, renew driver’s licenses and a host of other bureaucratic hassles.
“It’s no fun,” said Shelby Moynihan of Southington, “but sometimes you have to come here.”
If Gov. Jodi Rell has her way, though, the 11-year-old DMV office that attracts more than 160,000 people a year will be shuttered soon in a bid to close an $8 billion budget gap that has flummoxed state decision-makers and left Connecticut’s next spending plan on the drawing table as the June 30 fiscal year deadline approaches.
Democratic legislators, including the speaker of the state House, spoke outside the DMV office Saturday to protest Rell’s plans.
Shutting down the office “might save money,” said New Britain resident Francis Gialluca, “but they’ll put people out of work and make it very inconvenient” for residents of Central Connecticut who need to go to the DMV.
“I don’t even know which is the closest one” if New Britain’s office is shuttered, said Davey Murdock of Bristol, who was among those waiting in line to get a number so he could wait again to be called to the counter.
Paul Kay of Bristol said he suspects he’ll have to go to already busy DMV offices in Waterbury or Wethersfield.
“You might as well bring a picnic lunch and plan on being here all day” if that happens, Kay said. “It’s just going to pack ‘em in.”
House Speaker Chris Donovan of Meriden said the New Britain DMV office is the fourth busiest in the state. It is one of 10 full service DMV locations. There are also four satellite offices.
“Closing it is the wrong move,” Donovan said, adding that the governor’s proposal “is ill-conceived.”
“This is so, so important,” said state Rep. Betty Boukus, a Plainville Democrat whose 22nd District reaches into both Bristol and New Britain. “We definitely need to get together and make sure this doesn’t happen.”
The proposed move is “an outrageous and un-thought out cut,” said state Rep. John Gerogosian, a New Britain Democrat who represents the 25th District.
“I’m not going to agree to irresponsible cuts that cost jobs,” Gerogosian said.
State Rep. Tim O’Brien, a New Britain Democrat who represents the 24th District, said the governor’s effort to shut down the DMV office is in keeping with her targeting of services that help poor and middle class residents rather than seeking a small tax hike on the wealthy.
Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Rell, said the governor recognizes that the cuts she’s seeking “are painful, but they’re necessary” in order to avoid tax hikes on residents and businesses that would contribute even more to the economic woes facing the state.
Cooper said that “most people would rather drive a couple extra miles” to a DMV office if that’s what it takes to preserve the property tax credit and hold off tax increases.
State Rep. Peter Tercyak, a New Britain Democrat who represents the 26th District, said he’s not sure what the logic could be for taking aim at New Britain’s DMV office when it’s always so busy.
“It’s another thing they want to take away from New Britain. The state regards New Britain as a non-city,” said Gialluca. “Why should they close it?”
Cooper said he didn’t have any information about why Rell targeted the New Britain office rather than another one elsewhere in the state. It was probably based on regional considerations, he said.
A DMV manager told a reporter that he could not question anyone inside the building because of departmental policy and asked him to go outside.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

'Taking a sledgehammer to Bristol'

The speaker of the state House, Democrat Chris Donovan of Meriden, said this morning that Gov Jodi Rell is "really taking a sledgehammer to Bristol" with her proposed budget.
Donovan said that Rell's decision to close the courthouse and technical school in Bristol -- along with slashing the family resource centers at its schools, upping bus fares and reducing Dial-a-Ride funding -- show her lack of concern for the Mum City.
Donovan said that shutting down the technical school "doesn't make any sense" in an economy where so many are struggling already.
Before blasting the governor's decision to shutter the Department of Motor Vehicles office in New Britain, which is used by most Bristol residents, Donovan told a handful of New Britain lawmakers it could be worse.
"It's not like Bristol, where they're closing the whole town down," Donovan said.
I've asked the governor's press office for a response. When I get it, I'll post it here.

Update at 2:45 Saturday --
One of Gov. Jodi Rell's spokesmen, Chris Cooper, said that the proposed spending cuts are spread across the state.
"There's no singling out of anybody," Cooper said. "The governor is trying to spread the pain as evenly as possible."
Putting aside the merits of closing the courthouse and the technical school, it's really quite breathtaking to consider how much the state has abandoned Bristol over the past couple of decades.
Help me out with this folks, but off the top of my head I know the state closed the labor office in Bristol, shut down the social services office in Bristol, locked the doors on the Armory and shuttered Bristol's DMV office,
It has cut back on the use of the courthouse, but it remains open, for now.
The federal government has sought, so far without success, to shut down the Social Security office, too.
And don't be surprised if the looming cuts in the U.S. Postal Service have an impact in Bristol as well. The Forestville post office could easily wind up on the hit list.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 12, 2009

A reminder

Please don't copy copyrighted stories and paste them in as comments. That's theft and I won't allow it. If you want people to read a story that appeared somewhere other than the Press, please put a link to it. That's just fine.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

June 11, 2009

City hires two architects to design a pair of new schools

More than six months after school building committees picked architects to design two new schools, city councilors have endorsed the picks.

Though the contracts won’t be signed until the city completes the purchase of property on Matthews Street eyed for one of the 900-student schools, officials expect the deal to go through within a couple of weeks.

Councilors agreed to hire the Hartford firm of Tai Soo Kim, Partners and Architects for $2.14 million to draw up the detailed plans necessary to move ahead with the school slated for construction on the former Crowley dealership site on Pine Street.

The Massachusetts-based Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc. was tapped for the West Bristol school. It will earn $1.8 million for its work.

Superintendent Philip Streifer said the school building panels each thought it best to hire different firms for the two projects, on the assumption that it would be best to have a firm focused on a single school.

City Councilor Mike Rimcoski, who serves on the Forestville School Building Committee, was the only councilor to vote against either architect.

Rimcoski renewed his plea for colleagues to award the Forestville contract to DRA as well because it would cost taxpayers $350,000 less.

With the economy struggling and a new fiscal year about to begin, he said, “I don’t think we’re starting out right by blowing through $350,000” for no good reason.

Ken Cockayne, the only other Republican councilor, said he would normally agree with Rimcoski but in this case, he said, councilors should take the advice of the committee members who actually slogged through the many applications from different firms.

Councilor Kevin McCauley said the Crowley site for the Forestville school offers a unique challenge because Greene-Hills School and Peck Park are next door and must continue operating during the construction period. That takes expertise, he said, that Tai Soo Kim offers.

Rimcoski said he plans to use the council’s votes against hiring DRA for both projects to his advantage during the municipal election campaign this year.

DRA was not the low bidder on the West Bristol site either, officials said, so they’re not sure why Rimcoski favored it there.

 Deadline waived

With a push from state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat, the state Department of Education has told city officials that the June 2010 deadline for beginning construction on the new schools can be waived.

Nicastro said the city merely has to ask for the waiver and it will get it.

Superintendent Philip Streifer said the extra time will help.

“With all these pieces falling together, we’ll be in very good shape,” Streifer said.


About the school project
Cost: $132 million
Two new K-8 schools sought
Closing:  Memorial Boulevard Middle School and Greens-Hills, O’Connell and Bingham elementary schools.
Projected completion

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

No smoking zones coming to Bristol

The passage of a new law that allows the city to designate public streets and sidewalks as no-smoking zones clears the way for Bristol Hospital to push for a smoking ban along the municipal roads bordering its property.

Though the new ordinance approved unanimously by the City Council recently opens the door for smoke-free zones, officials say it’s likely they won’t see too many requests to impose the bans.

Bristol Hospital has led the charge on the issue because it wants to keep smoking away from its doors.

With no power to prevent people from lighting up on the city sidewalks just outside, the hospital’s executives said they were stymied unless the city made it possible to ban smoking there.

Marc Edelman, the hospital’s vice president of operations, said that establishing a smoke-free zone around the hospital would safeguard the health and well-being of its staff, patients and visitors.

City Councilor Craig Minor said that before an area can be designated as a smoke-free zone, the council would need to agree to send the request to the hearings and assessment committee that would review the pros and cons.

 If the hearings panel recommended the creation of a smoke-free zone, Minor said, the council would again consider the issue, this time to back the decision or turn it down.

City Councilor Frank Nicastro said the hospital would be able to follow the necessary procedure to get what it wants.

But officials admit that it would take unusual dedication for smaller operations or individuals to seek similar designations for public byways bordering their property.

It’s possible that parks or schools might follow the hospital’s lead in a bid to keep smoking away, officials said.

The smoking ban that’s on the table includes language to ensure that Bristol doesn’t impose prohibitions in areas that state law specifically allows smoking, such as outside some restaurants.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Blog is no longer blocked

Somebody's paying attention at City Hall.
The blog is no longer blocked.
Ah, victory.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City blocks the blog

City Hall is reeling today after somebody decided to block access to the Bristol Blog from municipal computers.
First, of course, I'll have to find out who made that decision and why.
Then we're going to have a swell debate on the First Amendment, which I maintain prevents the government from taking any action to block the free press. Even the courts agree that government can't tamper with press freedom unless there's a damn good reason for it.
I hope the move to block the blog is just a mistake, but if city leaders want a fight about freedom, let's have it. I'm game.

Update at 2:30 --
Well, I got hold of Mayor Art Ward.
So why's the blog blocked?
"I don't know," he said. "I don't have an answer."
Then he said that he did hear earlier today that the information services division had installed new filtering on the web this morning.
Ward said that's probably why the blog is blocked. I should talk to MIS, he said.
So I will.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Another take on the city budget

This was sent to me by resident John Cullen:

This may not be the most appropriate location to post this, but the topic is reference and is all part of the same morass…




City of Bristol Budget 2003                                                        $135 million


City of Bristol Budget 2009                                                        $170.8 million


Average annual increase                                                        4.2% over 6 years*


Total increase over 6 years                                          $35.8 million


Total % increase in past 6 years                                          26.5%


Projected budget in 2012 @ 4.2%/year                            $193.2 million (3 years)


Increase from this year’s budget                                          $22.4 million


These figures consider the fact that the budget for this year is a virtual duplicate of last year. In other words, the increases over the past 5 years have been spread out over 6 years, which lowers the total as well as the percent. Much rhetoric has been expressed that with this budget, Bristol is simply postponing expenses that will have to be “made up” in future budgets. Consequently, if the pattern of increases over the past reflects more ‘normal’ years, the budget will be increasing at an even more rapid rate.


It seems to me that trying to come up with another $22 million dollars over the next three years is likely to cripple this city. With State contributions to Bristol’s bottom line likely to be diminishing, with a pension funding dilemma still on the horizon, with landfill leakage cost issues and sewage infrastructure and treatment issues ready to rear their ugly heads and a $2 million ‘rainy day fund’ dip having been made, not to mention this concept that two new schools need to be built…wow. Hold on to your wallet. And the tax income from the ‘Technology’ park isn’t going to put a dent in things if it makes a contribution at all. And ‘Downtown’ continues to become an ever expanding wasteland. And the band plays on...




ESPN has been a very important force mitigating Bristol’s budget increases. If you take their assessed property value as determined in 2006 of $240.7 million, adjust for tax purposes (x.70 = $168,500,000) and multiply that by the mil rate of 25.99 (Please just round a number like that off. Gas stations have been pretending for years that folks are a bit slow and don’t understand that once you get to .99, it is time to bump it up to the next whole number. That increase in the budget is $17,800. Not worth the hint of deception it conjures.), they would be responsible for $4.379 million of the City budget. That would be close to a mil (approx. $4.176 million). They evidently get some tax breaks, but these numbers solely reflect their maximum possible property tax contribution at their listed valuation multiplied by the 25.99 mil rate. The other fees they pay, the property tax their employees who live in Bristol pay and other ways they indirectly contribute to the Bristol economy likely make it a low ball estimate that they are worth a mil on the budget. (I would love to see analyses of these kinds of data, since we seem to be so hard pressed to fund industrial parks and help businesses monetarily. It would be great to know if we get our money back. Seems we make all kinds of projections but I have never seen a cost/benefit analysis done in this regard ‘down the road’ to analyze whether projections panned out – perhaps I missed them.)


ESPN has an assessed value that is greater than the next nine of the top 10 assessed taxpayers combined. So even if we give the top 10 a 2 mil impact, the other 24 mil (25.99 – 2) is coming from ‘elsewhere’. Your pocket is rapidly becoming a larger and larger source of the ‘elsewhere’ money. And that is not just through property taxes, but it will be reflected in state and federal contributions (and your funding of those entities will no doubt accelerate) as well that we cross our fingers will be ‘rebounded’ to us. Lots of luck…


With the last revaluation, I recall hearing from city officials that the over all tax burden in Bristol had shifted somewhat to the private property owner and away from the business/commercial sector. If that is the case, individual taxpayers will be asked in the coming years to contribute largely to the escalating costs of running the city. And even with the conservative increase projections of what will be needed listed above, the addition of another ‘sugar daddy’ like ESPN in that short time would not even fill the gap ($4.379 million x 3 = $13.137 million, the amount another ESPN might contribute if it magically appeared tomorrow versus the $22 million that will likely be needed.) Individual tax payers will be expected to take on a very large burden to maintain Bristol in the future.




I can’t comprehend this happening. The well is not deep enough. There is no other choice but to decelerate the rise in the budget, if not eliminate increases in the next three years all together. There is no other way to do this than to reduce costs. The gravy train has been derailed. We can wait until this is hammered home like the inevitable collapses of many private companies, or we can start facing reality now and get a head start on making Bristol an attractive place to live financially as well as service wise. If we don’t, people with sense will move to communities that do decide to do so. And the problem will be exacerbated.


This city critically needed a manager to run it, and an opportunity to move in that direction was lost recently. We now have an embarrassing situation regarding our Corporation Council office involving both personnel and budget matters. We have an ongoing joust between the city and its Economic Development Director, under whose direction exactly what has been accomplished to mitigate this fiscal bind we are in? We have an ever growing list of empty buildings and lots, most notably down town, and will contribute further to that dilemma ourselves when Bingham, O’Connell and Memorial Boulevard schools are boarded up. We can pound our chests all we want about the ‘ratings’ folks like Moody’s and Fitch and S&P have given the city, but please recall they had rated such corporations as CitiGroup, MBIA, Ambac, AIG… highly before they were impolitely flushed to the bottom of the financial sector cesspool. Our fiscal situation can turn on a dime, and unless something is done, it will.


There have to be workforce reductions and pay scale and benefit adjustments made. There have to be increases in efficiencies – people, equipment and technology have to work harder and produce more for less. There has to be better management of city departments as well as the city as an entity, and more realistic and innovative approaches implemented to get accomplished what needs to be accomplished quickly and efficiently. There needs to be a greater level of voluntarism and participation in government, and leaders should assist this in all manners possible and assure that any obstacles to allowing the community to assist in city affairs and/or directly contribute time and expertise be removed. We pay too much to get too little accomplished, and changing that reality is the only way this city has any chance of surviving in a manner we might all like and be proud of.


It is not really complicated. But it does mean that there must be people in charge who will make the hard choices, hold everyone accountable and have the opportunity to see things through. As nice as it would be if the good times kept rolling, the fact is they have contributed as much as anything to the depths of these bad times. An increase in laziness, selfishness, a sense of entitlement and the growth and spread of unrealistic expectations were a big part of those ‘good’ times, and ultimately put an end to them. It's time to get back to reality, and the quicker, the better.


Ps please excuse any inaccuracies in my numbers and set me straight if I am really off the mark. The city budget is not a simple thing to understand and the contributions to the ‘entire’ budget ($177.9 million vs. the $107.4 million we need to come up with – I think) from the state and other sources make it even more complicated and difficult to compare year to year. And I am not a ‘numbers guy’. I do think it is very important that we all start understanding the budget, revenue sources and debts a bit better, and that simple summaries and analysis be provided to us to facilitate that.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com