May 31, 2009

Ward plans to nominate Krawiecki

Mayor Art Ward said Friday he intends to ask the City Council to endorse his selection of Edward Krawiecki, Jr as an assistant city attorney.
Ward said he'll advertise the open city attorney position and another assistant city attorney slot, but in the meantime the legal office needs some help so he's going to press ahead with Krawiecki's nomination.
Councilors had informally agreed to back Krawiecki for the part-time post as part of a package deal that filled the city attorney post, too. But when that fell apart, it wasn't clear what would happen next.
Now we know: Ward's going to ask the Democrat-dominated council to vote for the Republican lawyer who last served as Mayor William Stortz's city attorney.
It's unclear whether the council will go along, but Ward acknowledged that it might not.

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

May 29, 2009

Parker aims to solicit ideas from the public

A long-time Democratic Party activist, Terry Parker, is taking aim at capturing one of two open City Council seats in this fall’s municipal election.

“From the time I was in high school, I’ve wanted to serve the city,” said the 53-year-old file room manager for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Both of the 3rd District’s incumbents, Democrats Frank Nicastro and Craig Minor, have said they won’t seek another term. That leaves the race wide open for the first time in years.

One other Democrat is in the race already, 29-year-old lawyer Kate Matthews. The Republicans have one contender as well, Derek Czenczelewski, a political newcomer.

But other candidates are expected to enter the contest before the July 27 nominating conventions for both parties, perhaps setting up primary fights for the part-time, $10,000-a-year jobs.

Parker sia the economy is clearly the biggest issue facing the district.

He said that more needs to be done to figure out how to take advantage of the soon-to-be-completed Route 72 extension, to use it to help downtown and to bring growth along its length.

That’s something, Parker said, the city should do in party by soliciting ideas from residents.

“I’m going to be the guy who says, ‘OK, what does everybody else think?’” Park said, rather than trying to impose his own policies.

Parker said the city should hold more public hearings so that it can actively solicit suggestions from residents.

Parker said he thinks that Mayor Art Ward “has done a very fine job of trying to direct this community in a very tough time” and he plans to help the mayor succeed.

He said that residents do have to understand the city can’t do everything, particularly in hard times.

“We’re not Santa Claus,” Parker said.

Parker said he would like to see more happening in Forestville’s center. “It’s silly not to see what we can do to make that a more viable area,” he said.

He said he’s ready to go along with both of the new schools sought by the Board of Education, especially the one proposed for the former Crowley site on Pine Street.

Parker graduated from Bristol Central High School in 1974 and earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy and government from Eastern Connecticut State University.

He has worked for the state government for 26 years, half of them at the DEP, where he in charge of the department’s records.

Married to the former Susie Pierce of Bristol for 25 years, they have one daughter, Amanda, who is a student at Boston University.

Parker has been a Democratic Town Committee member for 31 years and has played a role in many political campaigns beginning with former state Sen. Steve Casey’s 1978 run.

Parker has talked about running for office on occasion, but has only run once, in an unsuccessful Board of Education bid in 1991’s chaotic race to serve on the first elected school board.

The 3rd District spans the southern third of Bristol. It is one of three council districts in town, each with two representatives. They serve two-year terms. The election is Nov. 3.


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

Mixed reaction to tech school closure proposal

Reaction to the proposed closure of the Bristol Technical Education Center ranged Friday from vows to fight for its doors to stay open to acceptance that it may need to shut down as part of the state’s bid to close a multi-billion dollar deficit.

School Superintendent Philip Streifer said that given the magnitude of the cuts the state needs to make to balance its books, "something has to give somewhere."

Though he said he “would certainly hate to have those kids lose that opportunity,” Streifer said the loss of the Bristol technical school may be necessary in order to spread the financial pain.

Mayor Art Ward said it would be "very shortsighted" for the state to shut down the school in its quest to save money.

"The Bristol tech school was really starting to come into its own," Ward said, and deserves to remain open to educate young people and adults for whom learning a trade can be the ticket to a successful career.

Frank Johnson, director of the Manufacturing Alliance of Connecticut, said that closing the school would disappoint its students, faculty and the city.

But, he said, “technical students did get an education before that school was there and they would still get one.”

Closing the school is “one of the ideas that has to be looked at if you’re going to cut state spending,” Johnson said. “It’s not an inexpensive venture to have that satellite school there.”

Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state’s education department, said it would like to keep Connecticut’s vocational system intact.

Murphy said officials hope that the proposed closing of the Bristol tech school “won’t happen.”

But, he said, they also recognize the difficult economic times and the need by upper level decision-makers to tackle some tough choices as they try to deal with the financial crisis.

“We’re hoping for the best,” Murphy said.

If the school is closed, he said, the state may try to reopen it when the economy is better.

Murphy said the Bristol school offers one or two years of vocational training – along with core academic subjects – but doesn’t confer degrees. That’s still done at the hometown high schools of the 110 students who attend the technical school, he said.

The other technical school on the chopping block – in Stamford – has suffered from a sinking enrollment for years, he said. It only has a third of its 600-student capacity and just 30 students have sought so far to attend next fall.

Bristol is “close to capacity,” Murphy said, and both students and their parents have been happy with it.

If the school is shut down, the students would return to their home high schools, Murphy said.

Mary Ellen Pacific, who called herself the “substitute principal,” refused to allow a reporter or photographer to talk to anyone at the school Friday or even to observe classrooms. She had no comment on its possible closure and said Murphy alone could say anything.

State Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, said Friday that people go to the school “so they can learn a career.”

“That’s one of the best schools in the state,” Colapietro said.

For those who are laid off and attending to learn new skills, the senator said, “What are they supposed to do? Bury them?”

He said he’ll fight hard to keep the school open.

“If I have my way, it’s not going to happen,” Colapietro said.

Streifer said that the regular school systems across the state are facing what amounts to a substantial cut in aid if they receive the flat funding that officials appear poised to deliver. Given that costs are up, that means there's less money to spend to provide education to the vast majority of students.

Streifer said the state's vocational education system has to share in the sacrifices.

If that means closing the Bristol technical school, Streifer said, "so be it."

He said the crucial issue is that the General Assembly and Gov. Jodi Rell make the tough choices and let municipalities and school systems know what to expect.

"The legislature needs to act and we need to know," Streifer said.

Johnson said there will need to be spending cuts and reasonable tax hikes to pull it off. If there are going to be cuts, he said, there will be pain involved.

The mayor said that given the country's manufacturing decline, it doesn't make sense to gut the educational institutions that can help turn the economy around. He said businesses need the school to help get the trained workers they need.

Ward said he understands the state's desire to trim spending, but doesn't believe that closing the school is the way to balance the budget.

The mayor said he's been at the school at least four times since taking office and seen firsthand how it helps some students develop hands-on skills that can turn them into tomorrow's plumbers and other tradespoeple.

"Not everybody's college oriented," Ward said, and it doesn't make sense to turn away those who need other options if they are to contribute as much as they can to society.

"We need the plumbers. We need the HVAC technicians," Ward said.

He said the school is the first step for many to get "a meaningful occupation" that can make them successful and productive members of the community.

Ward said he hopes the city's legislative delegation manages to keep funding for the school in the final budget, which is slated for adoption within days.

Johnson said it’s difficult for politicians to make cuts in order to balance the budget, particularly if it involves items in their districts.

“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die,” Johnson said.


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

Final phase of Rockwell Park renovation poised to start in July

The final phase of a $7 million overhaul of Rockwell Park – which includes refilling the long-drained lagoon – will get underway this summer and ought to be nearly finished by winter.

Park Director Ed Swicklas said the final part of the three-year project to renovate the historic West End park calls for fixing the lagoon area as well as repairing stone towers and the columns on the bridge across the Pequabuck River.

A Bristol company, Mastrobattisto Construction, won the $2.33 million contract to carry out the final phase of the project by submitting the lowest of five bids for the work.

“This economy almost did us a favor” by holding down the expense, Swicklas said, allowing officials to get more work done for a better price than expected.

The second phase of the renovation, which focused mostly on Mrs. Rockwell’s Playground and some recreational facilities nearby, is nearly done.

Swicklas said they should be complete by the end of June.

“We’re right on track, hopefully, to bring that park back to life,” Swicklas said.

The $500,000 skatepark that opened last fall has already served to bring people back into the park. Swicklas said it’s attracting as many as 500 young people daily.

The toughest part of the remaining project is to get the planned wetlands that will take up the eastern half of the lagoon done correctly, officials said. It will be hard to have it exactly right, they said.

The plan for the final phase calls for extending the stone wall around the entire lagoon area and filling about half of it with more than 9 feet of water. The other half would be turned into a wetlands area that would allow visitors to view a swampy habitat and the creatures that live in one, including birds.

Rockwell Park, which is on the National Historic Register, was created almost a century ago to provide a place for working people to get out and enjoy nature in a rustic setting. For decades, it was one of the most thriving spots in town.

But during the past twenty years, it became increasingly forgotten and neglected. Its much-loved lagoon, which older residents remember as a summertime staple, was drained a decade ago after swimmers came down with a mysterious rash and health officials recommended the end to swimming there.

The project’s goal is to pump life back into a dying park, to bring people back into one of the city's crown jewels, an 87-acre park that industrialist Albert Rockwell donated during the Progressive Era.


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

Colapietro takes a poke at Waterbury paper

When state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, proposed the idea of a super lottery to raise some extra money for a cash-strapped Connecticut, critics pounded him.
The Waterbury Republican-American, in particular, lashed into the 31st District senator for turning to gambling, a traditional vice, to secure some funds to close a growing budget hole.
Now Gov. Jodi Rell is pushing Keno, a Bingo-like electronic gambling game that she says might bring in $60 million to state coffers.
Colapietro said he wonders if the critics will pound her as they did him.
"Why isn't the Waterbury rag crucifying her the way they did to me?" Colapietro said. "How come I got crucified and she doen't?"
He said that his plan wasn't a bad idea and Rell's may be fine as well. He said he doesn't gamble, but figures that if those who do can help raise some cash to keep the state budget balanced, why not pursue it?
To be fair to the editors in Waterbury, Rell only proposed the Keno game yesterday. They might yet "crucify" her in an editorial.

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

Ward makes case for tech school

Mayor Art Ward said Friday it would be "very shortsighted" for the state to shut down the Bristol Technical Education Center in its quest to save money.
"The Bristol tech school was really starting to come into its own," Ward said, and deserves to remain open to educate young people and adults for whom learning a trade can be the ticket to a successful career.
The mayor said that given the country's manufacturing decline, it doesn't make sense to gut the educational institutions that can help turn the economy around. He said businesses need the school to help get the trained workers they need.
Ward said he understands the state's desire to trim spending, but doesn't believe that closing the school is the way to balance the budget.
The mayor said he's been at the school at least four times since taking office and seen firsthand how it helps some students develop hands-on skills that can turn them into tomorrow's plumbers and other tradespoeple.
"Not everybody's college oriented," Ward said, and it doesn't make sense to turn away those who need other options if they are to contribute as much as they can to society.
"We need the plumbers. We need the HVAC technicians," Ward said.
He said the school is the first step for many to get "a meaningful occupation" that can make them successful and productive members of the community.
Ward said he hopes the city's legislative delegation manages to keep funding for the school in the final budget, which is slated for adoption within days.

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

Bristol school chief: tech school may have to go

School Superintendent Philip Streifer said Friday that given the magnitude of the cuts the state needs to make to balance its books, "something has to give somewhere."
He said the loss of the Bristol Technical Education Center may be necessary, he said, in order to spread the financial pain.
"I would certainly hate to have those kids lose that opportunity," Streifer said, but it may be necessary.
Streifer said that the regular school systems across the state are facing what amounts to a substantial cut in aid if they receive the flat funding that officials appear poised to deliver. Given that costs are up, that means there's less money to spend to provide education to the vast majority of students.
Streifer said the state's vocational education system has to share in the sacrifices.
If that means closing the Bristol technical school, Streifer said, "so be it."
He said the crucial issue is that the General Assembly and Gov. Jodi Rell make the tough choices and let municipalities and school systems know what to expect.
"The legislature needs to act and we need to know," Streifer said.

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

May 28, 2009

Bristol tech school targeted for closure

In a late session bid to trim a massive budget gap, Gov. Jodi Rell proposed Thursday to close the Bristol Technical Education Center this summer.

The move would save $2 million for taxpayers while eliminating 30 jobs and close the doors for 108 students, according to Rell’s new spending plan.

The suggestion shocked school employees attending a teacher of the year celebration Thursday night.

Without the Bristol school, “the students we have wouldn’t really have anywhere to go,” said teacher of the year Steve Donaghy, the department head for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Donaghy, a Bristol resident who’s been teaching at the school for a decade, said enrollment is growing and students are finding jobs when they graduate in fields such as manufacturing, electronics and culinary arts.

The closure plan drew immediate criticism from Bristol lawmakers who have fended off efforts to shutter the Minor Street school in the past.

State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat, said that “to shut it down would be a travesty.”

“I will fight tooth and nail to keep that school open,” said Nicastro, who represents the 79th District.

State Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat who represents the 31st District, said he will also fight to preserve the school because it teaches students “new careers” and skills that the state needs.

The school teaches high school juniors and seniors – who hail from 31 towns between Berlin and Torrington – and offers trade certification and high school credits. It’s the only trade school in the state that doesn’t require students to decide to attend as freshmen, which Donaghy said may make it an easier target because it’s unique.

 Among those learning new trades are adults who have lost their jobs or are looking to better themselves, Colapietro said.

Nicastro said shuttering the school would “hurt immensely” because the state needs more tradesman and skilled workers.

Rell didn’t address the closing of the Bristol school specifically in her comments about the new spending proposal, but maintained that the $1.3 billion in cuts she proposed over two years “were not easy, but I had to make them to meet these economic challengers head-on with courage and vision.”

The state faces a budget shortfall of at least $8 billion dollars during the next two years.

Figuring out how to close that gap – with some sort of mix of spending cuts, fee hikes and tax increases – has been at the top of the agenda for months, but it’s not clear that the legislature and governor are on the same page. Democrats are resisting many cuts while Rell refuses to consider higher taxes.

Closing the Bristol school would eliminate 19 full-time jobs and 11 part-time positions, according to the governor’s proposal.

Donaghy said that politicians are going to need to save the school. He said he hopes they can.

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

Kilbourne bows out; lawyers remain hot issue

I'll have more on this later, but the deal that Mayor Art Ward and the City Council generally agreed to support -- hiring two former city attorneys to replace two lawyers who are resigning a month's end -- appears to be dead.
Dean Kilbourne, a former city attorney, told Ward he can't take the part-time position because of family responsibilities, according to the mayor.
Ward still wants to pursue hiring another former city attorney, Edward Krawiecki, Jr, to take a part-time assistant city attorney slot. He said the city needs the continuity and experience Krawiecki offers.
But it's not clear the Democratic-controlled council will back Krawiecki without Kilbourne taking the top attorney post.
While officials scramble to work something out, Ward said he plans to advertise the city attorney's job to see who might be interested in the $33,00-a-year position.
I'd take it, except what I know about the law mostly is that reading legal decisions can put any sane person to sleep in no time. And, of course, I'm not an attorney, though I came frighteningly close to being one once upon a time.

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

May 27, 2009

Sotomayor under scrutiny for Doninger ruling

President Barack Obama's nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy was one of a trio of appeals judges who last year gunned down the First Amendment claim of a Burlington student penalized by school administrators for calling school administrators "douche bags" on a blog.

Andy Thibault, whose Cool Justice Report has dogged the case from the start, said that Judge Sonia Sotomayor "was clubbed on the head with a crystal-clear free speech violation and she said, in effect, 'That's nice, I'll sign off on it.'"

"When a citizen seeks a redress of a grievance and is punished for lobbying the community, that's OK with Sotomayor," he said.

In the May 29, 2008 decision, Sotomayor joined in a ruling to deny an injunction sought by Avery Doninger of Lewis Mills High School to prevent administrators from barring her election as senior class secretary to punish her for posting on a blog outside of school. The judges said her words were potentially disruptive and “plainly offensive.”.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said the ruling "cut deeply into student rights."

Jon Schoenhorn, the Hartford attorney who represents Doninger, said Wednesday he thinks Sotomayor’s First Amendment views are “fairly conservative.”

He said he doesn’t understand why so many right wing commentators are portraying the judge as a liberal activist when her record is clearly mixed.

Schoenhorn said that from what he’s seen, Sotomayor “tends to be more progressive than conservative.”

 But, he said, she’s not as liberal that conservative talking points are painting her.

Schoenhorn said he hopes that “someone will ask her” about her First Amendment views and, in particular, her thoughts on student rights.

First Amendment law “is not a conservative versus liberal area,” Schoenhorn said, in part because it includes both speech and religion, which often go hand in hand in terms of how expansive an outlook someone has.

Schoenhorn said he disagreed with her decision to rule against Doninger, but doesn’t assume it reflects her broader views.

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why it’s so complicated,” said Bob Brown, a former Bristol Press editor who teaches at Tunxis Community College.

Brown said Wednesday that Doninger used her own blog without school resources to speak freely about an issue cared about.

Calling school officials “douchebags” is clearly an opinion, he said, so it’s not libel and it’s not something that she ought to have gotten into any trouble over.

Brown, who teaches journalism, composition and history, called the entire issue a straightforward First Amendment matter that shouldn’t have become such a controversy.

Brown said he hasn’t thought about Sotomayor’s role in the case yet, but his initial take on her nomination is that she will provide “another vote for people who agree with me” on the nation’s highest court.

Judges rely on their principles and philosophy to decide tough cases, he said, and so will Sotomayor.

But at least some observers say the Doninger case presents a solid rationale for rejecting Sotomayor to fill the seat of retiring Justice David Souter.

“Last time I checked, I thought our democracy and freedom were predicated on the principle that all people have a right to express their opinions, which must certainly include disrespect for authority” in some cases, said Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at New York’s Fordham University.

Levinson said the president “did not make a good choice” and the Senate should reject her.

Turley said,  "The continual expansion of the authority of school officials over student speech teaches a foul lesson to these future citizens. I would prefer some obnoxious speech than teaching students that they must please government officials if they want special benefits or opportunities."

"Never mind the fabrication of disruption or potential disruption long after the fact by the douche bag school bosses: Sotomayor flunks due diligence, a reading of her own Second Circuit on the standard of offensiveness and most importantly, her duty to uphold the Bill of Rights. Any punishment by a government official in response to protected speech is a violation of the First Amendment," Thibault said.

He called her “an enemy of free speech.”

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

Wright speaks on the House floor

Press release from state Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat:



State Representative Christopher Wright (D-Bristol),freshman lawmaker, speaking on the House floor Tuesday after being selected to take out his first bill,"An Act Concerning Motor Carrier Indemnity Agreements."
Wright's initial effort was a success passing the bill by a 144-0 margin.


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

May 26, 2009

Sotomayor played key role in Avery Doninger case

President Barack Obama's nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy was one of a trio of appeals judges who last year gunned down the First Amendment claim of a Burlington student penalized by school administrators for calling school administrators "douche bags" on a blog.
In the May 29, 2008 decision, Judge Sonia Sotomayor joined in a ruling that upheld a trial court ruling to deny an injunction sought by Avery Doninger of Lewis Mills High School to prevent administrators from barring her election as senior class secretary to punish her for posting on a blog outside of school. The judges said her words were potentially disruptive and vulgar.
"We have determined, however, that a student may be disciplined for expressive conduct, even conduct occurring off school grounds, when this conduct “would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment,” at least when it was similarly foreseeable that the off- campus expression might also reach campus," the decision said..
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, this week said the ruling "cut deeply into student rights."
Andy Thibault, whose Cool Justice Report has dogged the case from the start, said that Sotomayor "was clubbed clubbed on the head with a crystal-clear free speech violation and she said, in effect, 'That's nice, I'll sign off on it.'"
"When a citizen seeks a redress of a grievance and is punished for lobbying the community, that's OK with Sotomayor," he said.
"Nevermind the fabrication of disruption or potential disruption long after the fact by the douche bag school bosses: Sotomayor flunks due diligence, a reading of her own Second Circuit on the standard of offensiveness and most importantly, her duty to uphold the Bill of Rights. Any punishment by a government official in response to protected speech is a violation of the First Amendment," Thibault said in an emailed response to a question from The Bristol Press.
Check out Avery Doninger's own interesting account here.
If you're a glutton for the law, here are links to all of the filings in the court case. Have at 'em.

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

Larson hails Sotomayor's nomination to Supreme Court

The nomination of New York Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor for a seat on the Supreme Court drew high marks from Bristol’s congressman.
President Barack Obama “has once again broken historic barriers and proved to young Americans that no matter their background or the challenges they face, they can achieve their dreams,” U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat, said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
Larson, whose 1st District includes Bristol, Southington and Berlin, called Sotomayor “a brilliant legal thinker” who deserves to take her place on the nation’s highest court.
“She will bring to the Supreme Court the qualifications and experiences of a successful career on the bench and a deep, common sense understanding of how judicial decisions impact real people’s lives,” Larson said.
Sotomayor was tapped Tuesday to replace the retiring Justice David Souter, who is leaving the court this summer. The president said he hopes the U.S. Senate will confirm her in time for her join the eight other justices when they open a new session in September.
Larson said that Sotomayor’s upbringing in a South Bronx public housing project in New York City “gives her a unique view of the issues this country faces and the possibilities for those who believe in the American dream.”
“I urge the Senate to take up her nomination swiftly,” added Larson, who grew up in public housing in East Hartford.

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

Police to shift officer away from code enforcement

The police officer assigned to code enforcement issues for the past several years -- lending a hand to the fight against blight -- is returning to patrol duties for at least the summer.
Police Chief John DiVenere said he’s putting Officer Tom Lavigne back on the road to help cope with a shortage of officers during the department’s busiest season.
“I need bodies on the road,” the chief said Monday.
City councilors created the code enforcement officer position a few years ago with the provision that it focus on issues related to blight, housing and other items connected to a crackdown on code violations.
City Councilor Kevin McCauley said he is concerned about the chief’s plan to shift Lavigne away from code enforcement given the strong success of the effort in recent years.
Building Official Guy Morin has credited Lavigne’s presence for contributing to the willingness of violators to comply with municipal orders to clean up, fix up and otherwise obey the law.
Mayor Art Ward said that he understands DiVenere’s aim “to limit some of the overtime” by putting Lavigne, a former city councilor, back on patrol duties.
He said that during the summer there isn’t as much need for a full-time code enforcement officer and that the program’s success has also made the officer less crucial to the effort.
“We’re trying to look at the whole situation” in terms of public safety, saving money and enforcing the law, the mayor said.
He said that perhaps Morin will be able to schedule specific times where Lavigne can help with code enforcement instead of having him available more often.
DiVenere said that might be possible, but cautioned that every police officer is charged with enforcing the city’s laws and can serve in the same capacity as Lavigne.
DiVenere said his department is down “eight or nine officers” heading into the busy summer months.
Three slots are vacant, while three officers are out on long-term medical leave and two more are on military leave, the chief said.
Combined with the need to let officers take vacation during the summer, DiVenere said, he needs more people on patrol so that he doesn’t push up overtime costs or turn down reasonable vacation requests.
He said that putting Lavigne on patrol will save thousands of dollars for taxpayers.
Moreover, DiVenere said, the extra flexibility may make it possible for him to avoid layoffs as the city looks for ways to cut back on spending during the fiscal crisis that has sapped extra money from every municipal department.
The chief said police are facing “an emergency” situation with the budget and putting Lavigne on patrol for the summer shift that runs from June to August is one way to handle it.
He said that after the summertime shift is over, Lavigne or a different police officer will again be assigned to code enforcement duties.
“We will have a code enforcement officer again,” DiVenere said.

For more background, see this March 2008 memorandum from city Councilor Craig Minor.

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

City eyes Kilbourne, Krawiecki to fill lawyer slots

It appears that two former city attorneys may be hired soon to fill a pair of vacancies created by the resignation of both of the city’s part-time municipal lawyers.
A deal is in the works that would install Dean Kilbourne, a former city attorney, as the city’s top lawyer, according to several Bristol officials.
Filling the part-time assistant’s slot would be Edward Krawiecki, Jr, who served as the city’s top lawyer from 2006 to 2008.
Kilbourne was the city’s top attorney from 2004 until Krawiecki took over after the election of Mayor William Stortz in 2005.
Mayor Art Ward declined Monday to name the lawyers he’s spoken with about the possible jobs, but confirmed there are “two potential nominees” who would need City Council backing.
Ward said the two he’s eyeing “would definitely enhance the ability of that office” to handle the workload placed on it.
He said that he and city councilors have informally agreed to accept the resignations of Dale Clift, the city attorney, and Jeff Steeg, the only part-time assistant city attorney.
Both Clift and Steeg said they would step down at month’s end unless the city added health care benefits to their positions. Clift earns $33,000 annually and Steeg collects $27,000.
Krawiecki said he spoke with Ward over lunch last week, who asked him if he could lend a hand.
While he’s still considering the offer, Krawiecki said, he believes that when a mayor asks for help, people have an obligation to try to assist.
“If you can do it, you step up,” said Krawiecki, a former state House minority leader who has a private legal practice in town.
Kilbourne, a former city Democratic Party chairman, could not be reached for comment this morning.
Clift has been city attorney since last spring. Steeg has been an assistant city attorney for a decade.
The city also has two full-time lawyers, Richard Lacey and Ann Baldwin.
There is a part-time city lawyer slot that’s been vacant for more than a year because Ward had long wanted to hire Krawiecki to fill it but couldn’t get the Democratic-controlled council to go along with him.
The two Republican council members, Ken Cockayne and Mike Rimcoski, have said they think Ward should tap Krawiecki to fill the gap created by the resignations of Clift and Steeg.
Ward said the city plans to advertise the third attorney’s slot and hire someone to fill it.
The city charter requires the mayor nominate a corporation counsel -- or city attorney -- and that the choice have the support of the City Council. The job runs with the term of the mayor.

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

May 22, 2009

Chippens Hill students remember Memorial Day

For every day of freedom since the founding of the United States, more than 13 military men and women have died under enemy fire, according to retired U.S. Army Col. William Coffey of Plainville.
Though half of them perished in a bloody Civil War on America’s own soil, the sacrifice that has kept the nation free lies at the root of this weekend’s marking of Memorial Day, numerous speakers told Chippens Hill Middle School seventh graders during an assembly Friday.
Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Stube, a soft-spoken Tennessee native who serves with the U.S. Army Special Forces at For Bragg, N.C., told the youngsters about the terrible wounds he received while fighting in Afghanistan in late 2006.
Stube said he lost 70 percent of his intestines, suffered severe burns on a third of his body, two gun-shot wounds and had his right leg blown off below the knee – though a military surgeon managed to restore it during an 18 hour surgery.
Lying in the hospital for a year afterward, he said, he came to realization that despite the high price war had made him pay, it was worth it.
Looking out at the children arrayed in the middle school’s auditorium, Stube said, "I would do it all again because I’m looking at the reasons I did it in the first place."
School Superintendent Philip Streifer said the men and women in the military serve our country "so we can do the simple things we do every day."
In a world where extremists would gladly seize control of everyday life for everyone else, he said, it’s important to remember the guardians of America’s freedom and to honor the sacrifices "of every-body who put it all on the line" for their country.
"The least we can do is take a few moments to remember our fallen heroes," Streifer said, including the nearly 4,300 Americans who have died in Iraq and the 678 who have perished in Afghanistan since the nightmare of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Streifer told the assembly about a friend whose daughter was slated to take a plane from Boston to New York on 9-11 and to attend a business function at the top of the World Trade Center that day. His friend spent the day in dread – and ultimately learned that his daughter was among the dead.
Stube said he’s glad to see so much going on in Bristol to mark the holiday.
"Memorial Day is about honoring the lives that our freedom has depended on," he said. "Though the people are gone, they are not forgotten."
"Bristol, Connecticut is an amazing place," Stube added, "look at the honor that is being brought to this holiday."

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

Military exhibit on Sunday may be New England's largest inter-service display

Memorial Boulevard will have one of New England’s largest military exhibits Sunday as part of the community’s Memorial Day activities.
Military men and women from every branch of the service will be on hand to show off everything from a U.S. Navy boat to an armored personnel carrier.
"We’re going to have all our vehicles out there," said Sgt. Michael Proulx of the New Hamphire-based 368th Engineering Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserves.
Pat Nelligan, a park commissioner who has helped organize the event since it began five years ago, said the city has "built up a tradition now" with its display of military hardware.
Mayor Art Ward said the people should come down to the boulevard to see it for themselves.
He said, too, that if offers residents a chance to talk directly to the active duty military members who have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They can answer the questions" that people may have, the mayor said.
He urged everyone to "get the answers rather than the speculation" about the controversial wars the country is engaged in.
The Sunday celebration runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and includes a helicopter landing at 10 a.m. A ceremony is slated for 1 p.m. where U.S. Army Major General Bruce Zukaskus and SFC Gregory Stube, a who survived grievous wounds in Afghanistan, will speak.
Gerald Chamberland, who is active in veterans activities, said that people should some to learn the history of what’s gone from the men and women who were there.
Chamberland said that in hearing from the soldiers of all branches, residents will come to appreciate more deeply "the freedom we all share."
Lt. Peter Torromeo of the New Hampshire-based engineering unit said his battalion has had people at each of Bristol’s weekend events for four years.
"We don’t give up a chance to do this," he said, because of the tremendous support they get from the community and the active veterans group in town.
"Everyone treats us really nice and they are respectful," Proulx said.
"We’re very fortunate in Bristol. It’s always been a military-oriented town, even during the Vietnam War," said the mayor, who served in the U.S. Marines in Vietnam.
Proulx said he thinks the armored personnel carrier they brought down, "which looks like a little tank," will be a hit. Visitors will have a chance to clamber in and out.
"They can get out on there and see what it’s all about," he said.


Weekend schedule
Saturday
11 a.m. - Dedication of aerators on Memorial Boulevard ponds and the rededication of the ‘Hiker’ monument and World War I obelisk.
11:30 a.m. - Community covenant signing
noon - Scholarship presentation in honor of the late Tony Savino

Sunday
8 - 4:30 - Military exhibits

Monday
9 a.m. - Bristol Memorial Day Parade, which starts on Race Street
noon - Forestville Memorial Day Parade

PS: If anyone has tips on the best places to watch the parades from, please post them as comments. I've had a couple of requests from people who want to attend but are not sure where to go to view each parade.


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

May 21, 2009

GOP slams Wright again



Press release from Art Mocabee, a state Republican official and former Bristol GOP chairman:

Siting Wright's recent blunder to the residents of Bristol in his district and the rest of the citizens in Connecticut, Art Mocabee 2nd Vice Chairman of Connecticut Republicans stated the Wright has once again "gone off the reservation and completely embarrassed the City of Bristol".

"His attempt to atone for the his vote to increase the taxes on Bristol residents as well as the rest of the state is well documented, Mocabee said, and will be further scrutinized as he plods through the halls of the Connecticut legislature". 

While a member of the transportation committee, Wright added nothing to the dialogue held at recent Bristol Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting featuring the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. " If he can not speak to his own constituents how can he speak on the floor of the House? Instead he sits in the chamber with a hat on." Mocabee said, referring to U-Tube link above.

"Never have I seen such a poor display of legislative leadership by a member of the Bristol Delegation. He makes Colopietro look kind of smart maybe. It seems that he is not getting good advice", Mocabee said. 

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

Rosenthal suspended by mayor

The city’s economic development director, Jonathan Rosenthal, was suspended without pay for five days recently because he failed to show up for a meeting with the mayor and executives of Theis Precision Steel.

The $96,551-a-year head of the Bristol Development Agency was charged with “neglect of duty” by Mayor Art Ward and kept home last week without pay for missing the April 23 session.

Rosenthal, who lost about $1,800 because of the suspension, is appealing the penalty through his union. He said he could not comment on the issue.

“We did what we had to do,” Ward said. “It’s been handled.”

Rosenthal has been under fire for several years, first by Mayor William Stortz and then by Ward, who was the development director’s chief backer during the Stortz years.

Stortz sought to fire Rosenthal, whom he considered sloppy in his work and too often tardy or uncommunicative, but Ward was among the councilors who refused to go along with the move.

Since taking the mayor’s office in 2002, however, Ward has slapped a one-day working suspension on Rosenthal and issued a blistering memorandum about the development chief for skipping an earlier meeting without permission.

A review of Rosenthal’s personnel file -- which the city opened in compliance with a Freedom of Information request filed by The Bristol Press -- shows a mounting case against the development director with steadily increasing penalties.

Three different mayors -- Ward, Stortz and Gerard Couture -- have placed negative memorandums in the 15-year veteran official’s personnel file, though Couture also put a ringing defense of Rosenthal in the file shortly before Stortz took the city’s helm in 2005.

It is unclear whether other department heads have documented track records of missed meetings and other alleged violations of city policy, but it is certainly true that Rosenthal is not alone in failing to show up for scheduled sessions on occasion. Typically, though, there are no long-term consequences.

Rosenthal, however, has been a political piƱata since at least the Couture administration, when he absorbed much criticism for the decision to buy the downtown mall and for the long delay in getting a new industrial park underway on Middle Street.

Couture said in his memo defending Rosenthal that the development director “handled his assignments well and with good humor.”

“I trust that in the future he will be evaluated on his professional performance and not political grounds,” Couture wrote.

With the exception of Couture’s memo, there is nothing in the file to indicate that Rosenthal has ever been evaluated on whether or not he’s done a good job keeping and attracting business to town, which is his chief function in city government.

Former Mayor Frank Nicastro, who was Rosenthal’s boss for a decade, frequently said that Rosenthal performed well in his duties.

 

Blasted by the mayor


When Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, skipped a Board of Finance meeting in January, Mayor Art Ward got mad.

In a memorandum he wrote to Rosenthal on Feb. 2, Ward said that Rosenthal’s voice mail explaining the absence “was unacceptable.”

“Your flippant and cavalier attitude with regard to the reason for your absence from the meeting was disrespectful and unprofessional,” Ward wrote.

The mayor said that Rosenthal’s job sometimes demands “your time and attention” even when it conflicts with what the development director perceives to be “normal life.”

Ward said he would not tolerate anything less than prompt and respectful reasons for any future missed meetings.

 

Timeline of Rosenthal’s alleged transgressions


1994 - Jonathan Rosenthal hired as the executive director the Bristol Development Authority

Aug. 2004 - Mayor Gerard Couture cites Rosenthal for being late to a project meeting.

“You are often late for work and late for meetings,” Couture wrote, adding that Rosenthal’s tardiness “is a poor reflection on both you and the city.”

Oct. 2007 - Mayor William Stortz said in a memorandum that Rosenthal missed a scheduled meeting with visitors from China.

“This was a definite insult to not only my office, who was hosting our visitors, but more importantly to our visitors themselves,” Stortz wrote.

He issued Rosenthal “an oral reprimand.”

Oct. 2007 - In another memo, Stortz gave Rosenthal a written reprimand for leaving a Post-It note on the mayor’s secretary’s computer to say he would like the following day off “so that I can do some yard work.”

Rosenthal took the day off without seeking approval or an answer to the note, Stortz charged.

March 2008 - Ward issued a one-day working suspension to Rosenthal.

 

A March 2008 memo from Ward


In a March 26, memorandum from Mayor Art Ward to Rosenthal, the mayor complained that Rosenthal set up a meeting with Steve Rejniak six days earlier and then failed to show up for it. Here is an excerpt from the memo:

“I attended the meeting and when you did not show up, I contacted my assistant, Mary Suchopar, and directed her to contact your office to find out where you were. Shortly after her call to your office, you came to the mayor’s office, appearing flush in your face and you began to yell at Mary.

“You were screaming loudly, pointing at a piece of paper you were holding and also pointing at Mary.

“A summary of your comments to her were that ‘if you didn’t know about these appointments and they’re not in your book, then how are you supposed to be there.’

“Another city employee was a witness to this incident.

“As for your non-attendance at the meeting with Mr. Rejniak, such neglect of duty is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“As a representative of the city whose primary function is economic development, it is imperative that you represent the city in a positive and professional manner.

“Certainly, your actions did not favorably represent your city or further our economic development relations in the community.

“As for your interaction with Mary, your behavior was completely unacceptable. Your actions were rude, ill-mannered, disrespectful to her and to me, and will not be tolerated.

“As a result of your neglect of duty and for your inappropriate behavior toward Mary, you are being issued a one-day working suspension.

“Be advised that further infractions will result in more severe disciplinary action which can include an unpaid suspension or termination of employment.”


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


May 20, 2009

Less trash at skatepark as users rally to clean up

Since park commissioners warned that the skatepark had to be kept clean or else, the hordes of young people who use it have responded to the challenge.
Josh Therriault, a 20-year-old college student, said he and about 20 other older users have taken the lead in making sure the $500,000 skatepark at Rockwell Park doesn’t become a trash heap.
He said they formed a committee that includes a “solid seven” who regularly police the skatepark and encourage younger skateboarders and bikers to pick up after themselves.
Park Director Ed Swicklas said they’re making a difference.
“It’s been a great help,” Swicklas said.
With as many as 500 people using the skatepark each day -- at least when the weather is nice -- there’s a significant amount of garbage that piles up there, including plastic water bottles and energy drink containers.
Park officials complained this month that too much of the debris was flung on the ground rather than placed in one of the trash cans on the site.
They warned that if things didn’t improve, they would have to take steps to force better behavior, perhaps by fencing the skatepark and charging a fee for its use.
That caught the attention of many skateboarders and parents who saw the story in The Bristol Press.
Therriault said he wanted to make sure the skatepark would be cleaned up so that alternatives wouldn’t need to be considered.
He said it is “an honor to have something like” the new skatepark in Bristol, which has won rave reviews from skateboarders throughout the region.
“It’s been so long” in the works, he said, that he’s determined to make sure it remains.
Lori DeFillippi, a park commissioner, said that users need to know “it’s a privilege that can be taken away” if the skatepark is abused.
“Don’t blow it,” warned Pat Nelligan, another commissioner.
But Susan Everett, a park panelist, told colleagues they were “dumping on” on Therriault with their warnings when he is leading the effort to do what they want.
Shawn Brunoli, a skateboarder, said he’s seen a big improvement.
One nice thing, he said, is that people who come to the park to walk are offering to help pick up, too, because they can see how much the younger crowd loves the skatepark.
Swicklas said the city has started putting in some landscaping around the skatepark that might help control the littering.
New trash cans that can’t be removed and used as obstacles by skateboarders are also helping, officials said.
Jason Krueger, the assistant park director, said the situation is getting better.
He said that the garbage now is mostly in or around the barrels, which sometimes overflow.
Swicklas said that more barrels will be added to ensure there are enough to handle the volume of trash at the skatepark.

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

May 19, 2009

Fiscal overseers adopt budget that freezes property taxes

The city’s Board of Finance unanimously endorsed a $170.8 million municipal spending plan that would freeze property taxes this year.

Given the tough economy, “it would have been unconscionable” to hike taxes, Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said.

The budget approved by fiscal overseers Tuesday cuts overall spending slightly while delivering a $1.4 million increase to schools, which amounts to 1.4 percent more money than education got this year.

The new budget won’t be final until it is given a stamp of approval at a joint session of the City Council and finance board on June 4. If state or federal aid figures change in the meantime, the numbers could be adjusted, officials said.

Perhaps the most unusual thing in the finance panel’s budget is that it’s not balanced. Revenues don’t match expenditures, which is an accounting no-no.

The $342,000 in spending that exceeds revenue will have to be sliced away before the final budget is approved, officials said.

To do it, Mayor Art Ward said, the unions representing city workers will have to make concessions on existing contracts or else he’ll have to lay off some employees.

The exact dollar figure “is not set in stone,” Comptroller Glenn Klocko said, but the necessity of reducing spending is clear.

Miecznikowski said officials faced challenges in paring the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, including rising costs and sinking revenues.

State aid in particular is stagnant at best, but the city is also seeing fewer building permit fees, lower interest earnings and less money from the conveyance tax on property sales.

To hold down spending, officials delayed bonding, put off equipment buys, slashed road paving, lowered the contingency account that’s tapped for unexpected needs each year and much more.

City leaders have been working on the budget for months, with the aim of delivering a budget that froze property taxes if at all possible.

“It’s been a long grind and there’s been a lot of sacrifice all the way around,” Ward said.

Fact Box

Proposed spending:  $170.8 million

Education share:  $102.3 million

City share: $67.7 million

Proposed mill rate:  25.99

Final adoption: June 4

Were there any tricks?

To complete the budget with a property tax freeze included, finance officials agreed to raid Bristol’s rainy day fund to snatch $2.5 million that had been socked away for emergencies.

Mayor Art Ward and Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the economic crisis is reason enough to use a small portion of the undesignated reserve fund to help close this year’s budget gap.

Klocko said that he also reached into a number of funds – special accounts created to pay for equipment and other anticipated needs – to find even more excess cash.

All of it together helped make it possible for the city to maintain services and at least most of its jobs for another year without clobbering taxpayers.

But what’s going to happen a year from now?

Klocko said that he’s not sure how the city will pull it off without the excess money to use.

Officials said they hope that the troubled economy will pull out of its funk before they have to deal with problem.

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