Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at
Jon Schoenhorn, the
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
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.”
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.
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?
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.