December 6, 2011

Gingrich socked with 'most severe penalty' as Speaker by ethics panel

With former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rocketing to the top of the polls in the Republican presidential race, it may be a good time to look back on a story that consumed the area's GOP congresswoman for a couple of years during his tenure as a congressional leader.

Here is a story that ran in The Bristol Press and New Britain Herald when U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, a New Britain Republican, got the House to sanction and fine Gingrich over an ethics violation:

January 21, 1997

By STEVE COLLINS

After a plea from Rep. Nancy Johnson to put aside ''the crippling partisanship and animosity that has surrounded us,'' the House Tuesday overwhelmingly backed her ethics committee's reprimand and $300,000 fine for Speaker Newt Gingrich.

''It is the most severe penalty ever against a sitting speaker,'' said Johnson. ''It is also appropriate. No one is above the rules of the House of Representatives.''

Her colleagues voted 395-28 to sanction Gingrich for his admitted ethical lapses. But the move won't force the speaker to give up his post.

The bipartisan decision Tuesday capped a two-year battle over Gingrich's conduct that often dissolved into political feuding of startling dimensions - including bare-knuckled battles in Johnson's northwestern Connecticut district.

Johnson, a New Britain Republican, called on lawmakers ''to learn and grow from this solemn occasion'' and ''end the partisan rancor that has come to surround this case and this House.''

Though other charges against Gingrich remain on the ethics committee's agenda, Johnson will no longer have to deal with them. She finished up her service on the panel Tuesday.

Johnson said her panel ''found that Rep. Gingrich brought discredit to the House by failing to get appropriate legal advice to ensure that his actions would be in compliance with tax law and to oversee the development of his letters to the committee to insure they were accurate in every respect.''

''Each member of Congress, especially those in positions of leadership, shoulders the responsibility of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety,'' she said. ''Rep. Gingrich failed to exercise the discipline and caution of his office and so is subject to penalty today.''

Johnson pointed out that the ethics panel has never before reprimanded a member for making false statement to it unless it found an intent to mislead. In Gingrich's case, it stopped just short of saying he knowingly lied.

Monetary sanctions have never before been slapped on a member who was not personally enriched by his actions, said Johnson, adding that no findings indicated Gingrich made any money from his political dealings.

Johnson said her committee never lost sight of the need for ''full and complete disclosure of every fact in this case and a bipartisan recommendation. We accomplished both, even though it would have been easy for Republicans or Democrats to walk away from the process at many stages. We didn't because we believe in this institution and in the ethics process.''

The ethics committee ''was forced to conduct its work against a harsh backdrop of political warfare,'' said Johnson.

''It's the first time ever that members of the ethics committee have been the target of coordinated partisan assaults in their districts. Coordinated political pressure on members of the ethics committee by other members is not only destructive of the ethics oversight process but it is beneath the dignity of this great institution and those who serve here,'' Johnson said.

Johnson has come under withering criticism from two potential opponents in 1998 for her handling of the case. They say she delayed proceedings and sought to help Gingrich survive the probe.

But Johnson has frequently praised her committee's work and taken credit for pushing the case to completion despite the atmospherics surrounding it.

Johnson called on legislators before Tuesday's vote to reject ''the partisanship and animosity that has so deeply permeated the work of the House'' and back the ethics recommendation.

''We cannot afford the harsh partisanship that has become too much a part of our lives,'' Johnson said.

Johnson, elected in 1982, represents the sixth district, which includes Bristol, New Britain, Torrington, the Litchfield hills and the Farmington River valley.

Here's an earlier story that lays it out a little more:


January 17, 1997

By STEVE COLLINS

The surprisingly cohesive House Ethics Committee displayed on national television Friday agreed on a deal with Speaker Newt Gingrich that will almost certainly lead to his reprimand and a $300,000 penalty.

The sanction, considered harsh by lawmakers, will allow Gingrich to remain as the top congressional leader for another term if the rest of the House endorses it Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, the New Britain Republican who heads the ethics panel, said there had been ``some serious misunderstandings'' before the hearing but her eight-member panel came together for its finale.

``The speaker of the House must be held to the highest ethical standards,'' said a stern-looking Johnson. ``No one is above the rules of the House.''

The ethics panel voted 7-1 to recommend the reprimand and fine to their colleagues. The only dissenter, Republican Lamar Smith of Texas, was a last-minute addition to the committee who likened the speaker's conduct to running a yellow light.

Gingrich admitted he created tax-exempt foundations to fund programs aimed at advancing his political agenda. He also confessed to providing ``inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable'' information about his activities to the ethics committee.

Johnson said she found it ``deeply disturbing'' that Gingrich's extensive letters to her committee contained ``glaring, even stark, contradictions of fact.''

The speaker's lawyer, Randy Evans, blamed Gingrich's busy schedule and his other attorneys for the errors. But Johnson said she is stunned the speaker exercised ``such a casual degree of oversight.''

Special counsel James Cole said the bipartisan, four-member investigatory subcommittee believed the proper penalty for Gingrich's conduct fell somewhere between a reprimand and censure. A censure would force the speaker from his powerful perch.

It opted to support a reprimand with the additional requirement of $300,000 reimbursement from Gingrich to cover a portion of the tab for the costly ethics investigation. Cole said misinformation from the speaker delayed the probe and added to its expense.

Cole said Gingrich ``should make sure he pays it in an ethical manner. It is up to him to do it in the right way.'' He said if the speaker fails to raise the cash properly ``there's a chance of being back here.''

Johnson called the penalty ``tough and unprecedented compared with past cases.''

``We have come up with a fair result and a fair resolution of the matter,'' said Cole. He said if proof exists that Gingrich lied, he would urge censure or more.

Summarizing the panel's findings, Cole said, ``Over a number of years and in a number of situations, Mr. Gingrich showed a disregard and lack of respect for the standards of conduct that applied to his activities.''

Cole said that while ``bells and whistles'' of warning were going off, ``Mr. Gingrich ran a very lot of yellow lights, some orange lights.''

Rep. Steve Schiff, a New Mexico Republican, said the subcommittee succeeded in ignoring ``the political currents swimming around us.'' He said the ``reprimand plus'' penalty is appropriate.

But Schiff added that Gingrich's friends will think the panel's recommendation unduly harsh and the speaker's foes won't be satisfied unless the Georgia Republican ``is drawn and quartered after being boiled in oil.''

The six-hour hearing featured lengthy statements by Cole and lawyers for Gingrich presenting their respective takes on the case, then short comments by members of the panel, then a period of questions and answers. After retreating behind closed doors briefly, the panel voted on sanctions late Friday.

It represents the culmination of a case filed in Sept. 1994 and in the hands of a special counsel for more than a year. In the past month, the ethics committee almost splintered, with its members holding competing press conferences and dueling almost daily about the proper procedures to follow.

Johnson, who had come under harsh criticism, diplomatically called it ``a difficult environment.''

``We've had our storms,'' said Rep. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the panel since a Washington congressman resigned this week amidst allegations he turned over an illegally obtained tape recording of a cellular phone conversation to two newspapers.

Rep. Porter Goss, the Florida Republican who led the investigatory subcommittee, praised Johnson for her ``extraordinary perseverance, patient and commitment'' in bringing the ethics panel through its troubles.

Schiff complimented Johnson simply ``for getting us here.''

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, criticized Johnson and the GOP for preventing a full hearing where Cole could present witnesses and explain the case in detail. But she also thanked Johnson for the cooperative spirit on display Friday.

Johnson appeared relieved to have the hearing behind her. Her service on the ethics panel ends Tuesday.

Another story, focused on Johnson:


January 10, 1997

By STEVE COLLINS

In her two decades of political life, U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson has never attracted the kind of attention she's getting these days.

And she surely wishes it wasn't so.

Two potential rivals for the New Britain Republican's congressional seat are already on the attack - and Democrats across the country have Johnson in their crosshairs.

Plainville professor Charlotte Koskoff, who nearly upset Johnson at the polls last year, called her leadership of the badly split House Ethics Committee ``very, very sad.''

``She's really blown it,'' said Bristol businessman Jim Griffin, who lost to Johnson in 1988 but hopes for a rematch in 1998.

Johnson has guided the ethics panel the past two years as it maneuvered through a political minefield to issue rulings on a series of complaints about House Speaker Newt Gingrich's conduct.

Most were settled unanimously behind closed doors after much wrangling, which Johnson insists is evidence of her strong, fair  leadership.

But one last complaint remains - and history may hinge on it.

The pace of the assault against Gingrich has quickened as the stakes have risen. Now the partisan rancor that has long infected the House has publicly riven Johnson's 10-member committee as well.

Paul Gigot, a conservative commentator for The Wall Street Journal, called it ``a public blood feud.''

``What you have is total, global, nuclear war. It's impossible to overestimate the poisonous air in the Ethics Committee,'' Gigot said.

At least three Democrats among the five serving on Johnson's ethics panel have sharply criticized her in recent days.

Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington said Johnson's willingness to buckle to Gingrich's needs indicate she is ``throwing herself on a hand grenade for the speaker.''

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California charged Johnson with abusing her power when she canceled a week-long hearing into the case after Democrats griped about details.

Rep. Ben Cardin of Maryland joined Pelosi in telling Johnson he was ``particularly troubled'' by her abrupt decision to cancel the hearings.

Whatever the merits of the Democrats' arguments, Johnson has certainly failed to keep her committee from falling apart. Its five Democrats and five GOP members have been dueling in public for days now.

Journalist John Barry, who wrote the definitive book on the downfall of former Democratic Speaker Jim Wright, once described the ethics panel as possessing ``vast power.''

It serves, he said, as ``investigator, grand jury, prosecutor, jury, judge and appeals court.''

With the kind of clout, Johnson's committee holds Gingrich's political fate in its grasp.

Soon, probably next Sunday, the panel will recommend a penalty  for the misconduct the speaker admits he engaged in. There may a public hearing Friday and perhaps Saturday.

It is likely the committee will urge a reprimand that would let Gingrich retain his position. But it can urge censure or ouster and thereby toss Gingrich from the nation's third highest political office.

Griffin said the ethics hearing on Gingrich this week and the subsequent decision on sanctions ``may be Nancy's last chance to salvage respectability for her chairmanship, but I don't think she's up to the task.''

He said he expects ``a grotesque finale'' to a case Johnson has mishandled from the start.

``There will be no redemption for her,'' said Griffin, ``because she's made up her mind. You have to be an idiot or Nancy Johnson to believe what Newt is saying.''

Koskoff said Johnson has been on ``the wrong side'' of the Gingrich case all along and won't switch now.

She said her former foe's refusal to extend the ethics committee's deadline despite a request from most of its members and the special counsel it hired is ``frankly unfathomable. It's all mind-boggling.''

Johnson has perhaps shown too much haste.

But she only agreed to stay on the panel into the new year, when her term expired, because Democrats agreed the matter would be over by Jan. 21. At that point, Johnson could finally quit.

Any delay and the case could go on forever, as Republican ethics panel member David Hobson of Ohio said.

What happens next in the tangled matter is, of course, impossible to predict.

Johnson could yet shock everyone with her ruling on Gingrich. Or perhaps she can break through the political fog and convince the mainstream of America that a chastened Gingrich deserves no more than a reprimand.

But one thing is sure: that Johnson will be mighty happy to leave the ethics committee behind.

She said there are plenty of more pressing issues her constituents would like to have her working on, from tax policy to health care. The Gingrich case is, for her, just a terrible distraction.

Johnson has represented northwestern Connecticut's sixth district since 1982. The district includes Bristol, New Britain, Torrington, the Litchfield hills and the Farmington River valley.


Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

November 15, 2011

Photos from Bristol's Inauguration





Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Alford: 'Bristol is a special place'


Note from former Republican mayoral candidate Mary Alford:
Election 2011 is over and the citizens of Bristol have decided who their city leaders will be for the next two years.
First, I would like to congratulate Mayor Ward on his re-election and thank Gary Lawton and Jason Flores for their participation.
Congratulations to all who have been elected or re-elected to serve the City of Bristol.
To my campaign team, my family and friends and my “family” on the Bristol Republican Town committee, thank you for all you have done to support me. You’re the best!
This was a longer campaign for me than the on in 2009 and it has afforded me the privilege to get to know even more of our citizens. What a pleasure that has been for me. Bristol is a special place because of all of you. Thank you for being welcoming and friendly, for your thoughts and questions and ideas.
For those of you who cast your votes for me, thank you seems an inadequate response but it’s the one we’re given to use so - Thank You! Your faith in me will not be forgotten.
I am looking forward to the future of Bristol and will continue to serve, not only on the Transportation Commission, but wherever and whenever I can. We have much to look forward to here and there is much work to be done but, as always, Bristol will be showing the rest how it’s done.
Thank you all, once again.
Sincerely,
Mary Alford

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

November 9, 2011

Election Night photos in Bristol


Checking the count at the American Legion polling place, just after the polls closed Tuesday.

Mayor Art Ward waiting for results, at a time when it appeared he might lose.
Mayor Art Ward watching results come in at the Polish Club.
Republican Mary Alford gives Mayor Art Ward a congratulatory hug.

Mayor Art Ward and Republican challenger Mary Alford, who nearly beat him and led the GOP to its most successful municipal election win in years.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

November 7, 2011

Problems at the polls?

Are you having a problem at your polling place? You can keep your neighbors and key public officials informed about voting irregularities by publicly documenting them in real time here with SeeClickFix, CTNewsJunkie and the Bristol Blog. The map below is designed to help you report problems experienced during voting. It is not a way to report life-threatening emergencies — just problems casting your ballot. Click on “Report an Issue” and drag the marker to the rough location of your polling place in your town, and then click “Report Here” to fill out the form. The address does not need to be exact, but be sure to list the name of your polling place in your report.
Do not include your personal information in your report unless you are OK with that information being published on the Internet and visible to readers here.
For information on Connecticut’s voting identification requirements, click here.
For Spanish language forms and voting requirements for people with disabilities,click here.
Remember, if for some reason your name was omitted from the list of registered voters in your town, request a provisional ballot and vote before you leave your polling place.
If you would like to contact the Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office directly about your problem, you can call 860-509-6100 or email them here. The Secretary’s office will be monitoring issues reported here. If you feel you have spoken to everyone available at your polling place and still need to file a formal complaint, notify the moderator at your polling place, and then call Elections Enforcement at 866-733-2463 (Press 5). The U.S. Dept. of Justice can be reached at 1-800-253-3931.
When you report an issue below, include your first name, polling place, and any or all of the following keywords in your report to be sure it gets through to the right people: voting vote “polling place” “election day” poll election ballot ballots “missing ballots” “missing ballot” 


Thanks to Doug Hardy and Lon Seidman for sharing this tool with websites across Connecticut!


Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

November 5, 2011

Ward kept mum about costly education measure

An email exchange obtained by The Bristol Press shows that Mayor Art Ward knew the city budget adopted in June might shortchange education by $2.6 million yet he said nothing about it to city councilors, the Board of Finance or the public.
Art Ward
Ward received an email from school Superintendent Philip Streifer a day before the city’s adopted its spending plan on June 2 that warned him about proposed legislation in Hartford that would reverse Bristol’s plan to slice education spending from $102.6 million to $100 million.
Had the city included the extra money in the budget, property taxes would have gone up by half a mill instead of remaining frozen at last year’s level.
Ward said Wednesday that he never meant to keep anything secret.
“Everything happened last minute,” the mayor said, and “I didn’t realize the impact of this.”
He said that he didn’t tell anyone about it – not even state lawmakers who later approved the measure – because events were moving so fast that he simply never thought of it.
“It’s slam, slam, slam,” Ward said, and things sometimes fall through the cracks.
Ward said the proposal that would have forced Bristol to maintain education spending levels hadn’t yet passed and he wasn’t sure it ever would. He said the city had to pass a budget on June 2 with no way to tell if it would be forced to pay more.
But Republican Mary Alford, who is seeking to unseat Ward in a three-way race next Tuesday, said Ward’s failure to share the information he knew was both “irresponsible” and demonstrated “a completely lack of leadership.”
“All he had to say was the truth,” she said, but he didn’t do it.  Click here for rest of story.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Lawton response to Ward and Alford

Independent mayoral candidate Gary Lawton issued this press release today in response to Republican Mary Alford's plan for her first 100 days and the story in today's paper about Mayor Art Ward's knowledge of pending legislation that would force more education spending.

Gary Lawton
With the fact that Mayor Ward knew of the impending legislation, as did Mr. Striefer and our legislative representives only goes to prove that this was something both parties wanted to keep a zero increase in the mill rate. How many of us would have been happy if our taxes gone up especially during an election time. Mayor Ward has given 3 different statement, but never has said he is sorry for the problem, the best we got was "it is what it is", Is that really what a leader should say. Mayor Ward the people of Bristol deserve an apology and you and Mr. Striefer and our elected representative should all apologize for your lack of consideration and honesty on this issue. Let's face it you knew, Mr. Striefer knew and so did our elected representatives that serve us here in Bristol. The real leader would say he made the mistake and take it, you and the others have not.
    Mrs. Alfords doctrine is hard to comprehend. First she has said we have the best police department is the state but in her doctrine questions it by saying it troubles her .Her party has people on the council they too should have been speaking out agianst the short staffing of the police department, does the Republican party have so little concern for the saftey of its residenst here in Bristol, that the Republican city council people just let it go, or kept its head in the sand. She would like to see the flood control commission meet, butshe fails to say while she will meet with state and federal officials, there our towns that also are on the rivers, can they do the same thing to help us downstream, we can do alot but if we dont get those up river from us to cooperate it will be futile and we will still have problems.
  Her marketing of Bristol gives nothing, I have given ideas and thoughts on how to do this, she has not and will rely on the way things are done now, which are at best slow, to market Bristol . I will as Mayor always propose proactive ways to market Bristol.
    These are a few things I see wrong with Mrs. Alfords doctrine. It is time to get away from the tradional politics. I as Mayor will bring you a new energy and outlook that I see sorely missing from our current leaders. I will not let our " heads operate in the sand" any longer. I will think outside of the box and make sure it goes the way it should. I will take politics out of the way buiseness is done in our city hall. It is time to take our government back for the people and I am going to do that as your Mayor.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

November 3, 2011

Alford details her plans for first 100 days

Republican mayoral candidate Mary Alford release this press release this morning:


Alford Releases the “Alford Doctrine.”

(Bristol) Mary Alford, the Republican nominee for Mayor of the City of Bristol, today released a document she entitled the “Alford Doctrine.”  The package lists the projects and the goals for the first 100 days of her administration.
“I believe that the voters of Bristol, who will be going to the polls on Election Day need to know what my priorities are and what I hope to accomplish in my administration,” Alford added, “No Mayoral candidate in recent memory has issued such a document and I believe it’s time that the voters know that the next Mayor won’t be winging it.”
Among the top priorities will be public safety, flood control, blight and fiscal responsibility.  “All these issues are aimed at one goal – improving the quality of life in Bristol and reducing the tax obligation that we annually pass on to the tax payers of Bristol,” Alford said.
“Government has the attitude in these tough economic times that they can spend our way out of this recession – it hasn’t worked,” Alford continued, “ The only thing that has happened is more people are out of work and the cost of government has increased.”
Alford insisted, “My administration will change that trend. I will roll up my sleeves and I expect out Department Heads to do the same thing and find areas of government where we can streamline and not reduce services to the people of Bristol.”  Alford added, “This will require creativity and I believe that the more we open our ears and listen to the people of Bristol, the more we will find common ground.”
“This document represents my goals for the first 100 days of my administration,” Alford concluded, “there is much work that needs to be done and these bullet points are just the beginning of changing the status quo in Bristol.”
  
The Alford Doctrine

Goals set forth by Bristol Republican Mary Alford for her first 100 days in office as Mayor of the City of Bristol.

Public Safety:   I am extremely concerned about the staffing levels of the Bristol Police Department.  I believe that we are woefully understaffed and I find the fact that we only have 9 Police Officers on third shift troubling.
My first priority as Mayor will be to sit down with Chief Osanitch and the Bristol Police Commission to determine what our needs are and bring the staffing levels up to par.

Flood Control:  I will not wait until the next hurricane or tropical storm to seek funding for flood control in our community.  These areas: the center of Forestville, Frederick Street, Rockwell Park area, Broad Street among others have heard the promises of many administrations and those promises have born no fruit.
In my administration, the Flood Control Commission will return to monthly meetings.  I will also be sitting down with our state and federal legislative delegations to make sure we receive any and all funding available to Bristol to fix this problem once and for all.  In addition, I will direct our grant writer to apply for all available grants regardless of dollar amount.
The time for doing nothing with regards to the flooding that has plagued Bristol residents has ended.

Blight: It is amazing to me that we still have to talk about this issue campaign after campaign. The issue of blight has escalated, partly due to the number of foreclosed homes in Bristol.  Neighborhoods are being ripped apart by blighted properties which is lowering property values and driving up taxes.
I will unleash our Building Department and allow them to do their job to rein in absentee landlords who create so many of these problems.  Unfortunately, in today’s economy, many Banks and finance companies have become absentee landlords themselves.
As an example of blighted property, I will direct the Building Department to notify the owners of the abandoned Pat’s IGA on Divinity Street to either clean up their property, tear it down or price it too sell.  Allowing this property to continue to deteriorate in plain view adds another eyesore to the West End and it’s a problem that could have been fixed if we had real leadership at City Hall.

Downtown Redevelopment: This is an easy solution – stay out of the way and let Renaissance Downtowns do their job while City Hall does its job by streamlining the bureaucratic processes to assist those efforts.  The proposal recently approved by the Bristol City Council and the BDDC will be a boon for Bristol.
Since the purchase of the Mall property in 2004, the residents of Bristol have been waiting with interest to see this property developed.  I intend to lift the thumb and allow them to get this project underway. 
I am especially excited to see the number of young Bristol residents participating in the new group, “Bristol Rising.” I encourage all Bristol residents to join this group, ask questions, make suggestions and volunteer your time. Come down to City Hall, pick up your orange shirt and become part of this nationally recognized trend.  Bristol is leading the way with respect to community involvement in its downtown redevelopment and I intend to be its biggest cheerleader.

Marketing Bristol: With the recent completion of Route 72 and the new plans for our downtown property, now is the time that we foster a real working partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and learn to use the tools they already employ to market our community.
One quick suggestion is now that Route 72 is complete the time has come to consider to once again allow on street parking in the center of Forestville.  This will enable more businesses to prosper and grow and return the Village of Forestville to its small community roots.  The Center of Forestville can once again become a quaint community and our job is to facilitate that development along with the Forestville Village Association and the BDA.
With the closing of three Bristol schools we now have the opportunity to solicit Request for Qualifications (RFQ’S) from developers and private enterprise to put these properties back on the tax rolls and help lower your property tax burden. 
No more $70,000 studies with no resultant actions being taken – the time for action is now and I will ask the City Council to issue these RFQ’s within my first 100 days.

Mass Transportation:  I have said it before and it bears repeating, Bristol residents view our roads as parking lots with houses on them.  The number of cars and trucks on our roads has swelled to record numbers. The number one solution to this problem is light rail.
Unlike the current Mayor, I will be an advocate for Bristol on this issue.  I won’t turn my back on the taxpayers as a favor to another Mayor, Governor or Congressman.  I will put the needs of our community first.
My first priority is to use the Mayor’s Office to help stop the funding of the New Britain to Hartford bus way.  This 1 billion dollar boondoggle, strongly supported by our Mayor, needs to be halted……. immediately.
Studies have shown that the most prosperous communities all have rail as their anchor mode of mass transit, supplemented by buses. Property values increase and economies grow.  Now, that’s a “jobs bill” I’m in favor of. It works.

Open Government:  In my travels around town during this campaign I have heard a chorus of complaints from Bristol voters that they feel their voices aren’t heard.  They feel that they voice their opinions on an issue and then the politicians do whatever they please.
No more!
I intend to hold monthly office hours around town.  I will institute a “Mayor on the Street” program so you can come and meet your Mayor.  In addition, I will also block two hours each Thursday from 3pm to 5pm where you can come to City Hall and meet me in my office, no appointment necessary.
We may not always agree and city government may not be the entity to solve your problem. I and City Hall staff will do our best to see to it that you do get to the right place to address your concern. In the end you will know that I listened to your concerns. You deserve a government that is more open to you.
In addition to the above concerns I have also heard that many Bristol residents are upset over what they call secrecy in government at City Hall.  They feel that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. 
My administration will no longer be negotiating budget cuts and consolidations in private.  I intend to create a Mayor’s Task force on Education spending that will have members of the Board of Education, Board of Finance, City Council and PTO’s.  We will open these sessions up to the public and let you offer suggestions to help reduce education spending and put more money in the classrooms where it belongs. We will then take these suggestions to the Board of Education meetings. At the end of the day, if you, the parents who are the “consumers” of education, hold them accountable, we may just be able to make a real difference for our children.
The days of parents and students coming to beg for funding are over and I will stand with you to hold the Board of Education accountable for the way they spend every dollar.

Youth:  Have you noticed the apathy of some of our young people in regards to government and voting? We had that pointed out to us loud and clear this year. We need to develop a comprehensive plan to offer our youth opportunities to learn how their city works and opportunities to serve.
The solution to this problem is not going to be easy, but I’m not going to talk about it any longer – I’m going to take action.
I intend to work with City departments and the unions about creating a High School Internship Program at City Hall that will help our children learn valuable skills and instill in them that government is important and service even more so.
It’s all going to be turned over to them some day. They need the knowledge and skills to do that today, not tomorrow, and I believe it is our responsibility to teach them.
  
General Government: Within the first 100 days, I intend to ask each of our department heads to provide me a list of capital needs.  We won’t be hiring a consultant to do a capital needs assessment, instead, we will use the talent we have right here in Bristol.  I also intend to ask the employees of each department to make suggestions to my office directly as to the equipment they need to help them do their jobs.
For example – why do the employees of the Park Department mow our lawns with 20” inch lawn mowers and not riding lawn mowers?  These are some of the questions that need answers and if it’s equipment they need I will put forth a plan to the City Council and Board of Finance.
As you can see, there is much work to be done.  I intend to hit the ground running.  Now that you know some of my priorities as Mayor, I hope you will weigh in and offer suggestions to not only help to identify problems but to solve them as well.
As Mayor, I will be the CEO of your city. You have the right to expect open and honest government.  You have the right to question your elected officials and you should demand that we solve these problems and not let them linger administration to administration.
When you consider your vote Please remember to “Make Mine Mary” and vote on November 8th.
I look forward to becoming your Mayor and working for you.

 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 24, 2011

Lawton and Alford battle over rapper's role

Jason "Fury" Flores
When rapper Jason "Fury" Flores unexpectedly pulled the plug on his write-in mayoral campaign last week and endorsed Republican Mary Alford instead, he didn't vanish from the campaign.
Instead, independent mayoral candidate Gary Lawton lashed out at Alford for accepting the 25-year-old rapper's backing and offering to introduce him to Renaissance Downtowns officials whose plan Flores has called "racist."
Here is what Lawton posted on his campaign's Facebook page over the weekend:

Graff Lawton for Mayor Mr. Flores has endorsed Ms. Alford and apparently she has accepted the endorsement for she has not said otherwise publicly. Although I too at one time thought that Mr. Flores may help reach our young residents, I decided to end that because of Mr. Flores' actions at the Mum Parade calling after young girls, his music which objectives women in the most demeaning ways and uses one of the most vulgar words in our English language and his general disregard for any type of respect for the integrity of this election. Being unconventional is fine but he failed to prove that he even did the required paperwork to be a write-in candidate. I always told you i would admit a mistake and this was one, will Ms. Alford knowing what she knows continue to embrace Mr. Flores' endorsement? if she does, you need to question her judgement.
A separate entry reads: I will start: Ms. Alford, you agreed to introduce Jason Flores to downtown developers, does that mean if you are mayor you will appoint him to a board? If not, why would you offer this to him? If yes, is he the best person you could find to be on a board given how he gamed the election process for his own gain?

Here is Alford's response:
I initially reached out to Jason for a couple of reasons. First, to thank him for the nice things he said about me in the paper. We spoke about other things, like his music, which is not my cup of tea. I'm a blues/rock fan. He understands that his music isn't for everyone and he doesn't expect it to be nor does he get insulted when someone says that. I expressed my displeasure about his use of the word racist in reference to Renaissance Downtowns. I asked him if he had ever met any of them or had a conversation with them. When he said he had not I asked him if he would do me a favor and do that. I could have just "told" Jason what I thought he needed to do but, instead, I offered to go with him as a liaison of sorts. He readily agreed. Mr. Lawton made reference to being "rebuffed" by the RTC in 2009. I wonder if he also remembers that I reached out to him just a few months ago and spent several hours talking with him in his home to see if there was anything I could do to mend that rift, build a bridge, call it what you will. It didn't bear fruit but the attempt was made. Are Mr. Kriscenski and Mr. Lawton saying that it's acceptable to reach out to some and not others?
Isn't it a Mayor's job to include as many of our citizens in government as possible, from all quarters? To make all feel not only welcome to participate but encourage them to do so?
As for Jason's roll in all this, he told us very clearly at last week's Bristol Taxpayers' Association event what he was trying to accomplish. He was trying to light a fire under his generation, to shake the apathy loose that he was seeing, to get us all to pay attention. Was I the only one who heard that? Whether or not you like his music or agree with his methods, that's leadership. That's brave.
Will Jason Flores have a place in an Alford administration? You bet, if he wants that and his schedule allows. If he would like to get started in the process of participating in and learning about how city government functions by serving on a commission I will be happy to recommend him for one. If that isn't possible for him, I hope he will get me a list of those he knows who do have that time and the desire to learn and participate. I also hope he will agree to be MY liaison to them.
As far as that goes, if I am elected in November, I would also be glad to put Mr. Lawton's name in for an appointment to a commission if he wants that. I'm not going to exclude him because we are both running for Mayor.
One of my "stock" phrases when I am having a conversation with a young person about voting is "We are turning this whole shootin' match over to all of you. We need you to vote and participate, to learn how it all works."
However, I (we) need to do more than just "tell" our youth what they need or should do, I (we) need to show them how it's done; teach them "how it all works".  We need to reach out to them and make them welcome in government; their government.
To that end, if I am elected in November, I will be putting together a Youth in Government Task Force and I would be honored if Jason would assist me in getting that effort off the ground. He "speaks their language" and they respect him. So do I. I will also involve educators, parents, Youth Services, The Boys and Girls Club and Chamber of Commerce and any other group or person(s) who would like to be involved.
If possible, I would also like to implement an internship program at City Hall to give our youth the opportunity to experience firsthand the inner workings of all city departments, boards and commissions. The logistics will, of course, need to be worked out.
These are just two of my youth initiatives. I'll bet that as our youth get involved, they will have plenty of new and creative ideas for City Hall to consider.


Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 9, 2011

Alford to council: Ditch mayor's raise


Republican mayoral challenger Mary Alford just issued this press release:

Alford: Last Ditch Effort!
(Bristol) Mary Alford, the Republican nominee for Mayor of the City of Bristol is making a last ditch effort to encourage the City Council to vote to rescind the 1.8% raise that was approved last month for the position of Mayor.  In a 3-3 tie vote of the City Council, Mayor Ward voted to break the tie and cast the deciding vote to increase the salary for the Mayor’s position effective November 14, 2011.
Last Wednesday, Alford sent out a “robo-call” to registered voters in Bristol asking them to call their City Councilman and ask him to make the motion to rescind this raise.  Alford has been encouraged by the responses she has received in her door to door campaign and she hopes that the members of the City Council will heed the voter’s frustration and do the right thing at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
“The rallying cry for the national and state Democratic parties is “shared sacrifice”, “Alford continued, “The only place “shared sacrifice” isn’t happening is right here in the City of Bristol. Many of our residents are unemployed and trying to make ends meet and our local elected leaders are approving executive pay raises.”
Alford is concerned about the message this raise sends to the people of Bristol. “If he deems it necessary, how will the Mayor be able to go to city employees and ask them to freeze their wages or “give back” to the city while giving himself a pay raise?,” Alford added, “Also, for the past two years, elderly residents of Bristol who are on social security have not received a cost of living adjustment, while gas, food and utility expenses have all increased.”
“How can you justify giving the Mayor of Bristol a raise when the citizens he represents are going without?” Alford asked.
Another concern for Ms. Alford is the misinformation being circulated regarding this raise.  According to the agenda for the City Council meeting on Tuesday under item 16 there is a notation regard clarifying the raise. “What people may not realize is that this is a 1.8% raise in November 2011 and another 1.8% raise in November 2012. That’s a 3.6 percent raise over the next two years,” Alford said.
“I think it is time that the voters of Bristol elect a Mayor that not only knows how to sharpen a pencil when it comes to budgetary matters, but one who also knows how to use an eraser,” Alford concluded, “The old adage every penny counts surely applies here and as your next Mayor I intend to count every penny.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 8, 2011

Downtown Bristol concept plan links




Want to know more about the concept plan proposed for downtown by the Long Island-based Renaissance Downtowns? Here are some key links:

Final concept plan for Bristol's downtown
Here is the plan, in its entirety.

Bristol Rising
A social networking site created by Renaissance to crowdsource the development. Chock full of information.

News stories about Renaissance and its plans
News stories about Renaissance and its plans, in Bristol and beyond.

Renaissance Downtowns website for Bristol

Bristol Downtown Development Corp.
Meeting minutes and agendas for BDDC meetings from 2007 to May 2011. I have no idea why it's not up to date.

Developer submissions for downtown
Most of what Renaissance has in its concept plan it proposed right from the bat before its selection as Bristol's preferred developer for the downtown site.



Read exactly what city councilors are being asked to vote on.


Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 6, 2011

Is the mayor going to give up his raise?


At the end of a typically dull City Council agenda for Tuesday's meeting is this interesting little item:

16. To renew, reaffirm, clarify or take any other action regarding the motion from the September 13, 2011 City Council meeting approving a 1.8% salary increase effective November 14, 2011 and 1.8% increase effective November 7, 2012 for various elected officials.

It will certainly be interesting to see what that's all about.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Betts, Markley still fighting to block Busway


New press release from state Sen. Joe Markley, a Southington Republican, and state Rep. Whit Betts, a Bristol Republican:

Betts & Markley – Final push to block funding for the busway
Hartford, CT – Fresh off a trip to Washington D.C., Senator Joe Markley (R-Southington) and Representative Whit Betts (R-Bristol) are rallying the troops to block funding for the New Britain to Hartford busway.
Senator Markley said, "This thing costs nearly $1,000 an inch for a roadway on land that's already graded. That's an incomprehensible number. It's like paying $50,000 for a toaster."
Representative Whit Betts added, “"Using $600 million of taxpayer money to pay for a 'new' controversial busway when a bus system already exists between New Britain and Hartford is irresponsible and unacceptable. There are more urgent priorities - such as repairing the roads and bridges damaged by Hurricane Irene - that are of greater importance to CT taxpayers. Common sense screams out that this $60 million a mile project should be put on hold."
Both visited with a senior member of U.S. Representative John Mica’s office on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The meeting with the Republican Chair of the Transportation Committee’s staff was positive and renewed the fight to stop funding for this $569 million busway boondoggle.
"We were able to raise some questions with Rep. Mica's staff about environmental issues with the busway, about how some expenses aren't being included in the numbers presented in Washington," Senator Markley said.
Right now, Congress is reviewing the project, and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is deciding whether to formally approve funding contracts for the project.  The FTA deadline is November 7th.
The busway is a prime example of government waste and both legislators have called on the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) to fight against federal funding for the 9 mile project.  Executive Vice President of the NTU has written a letter calling for congress to ‘pause in the funding process.’  A portion of the attached letter is below:
Thus, in our opinion a prudent action would be a pause in the funding process, pending timely and comprehensive additional review of the busway’s ramifications. While the project’s advocates would question the feasibility of such a pause or raise the prospect of harm from more delay, the potential risks to the taxpayers of Connecticut and the nation deserve further consideration.
Sincerely,
Pete Sepp/Executive Vice President National Taxpayers Union
Representative Betts and Senator Markley are calling on opponents to voice their opinion by calling Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s office at 202-366-4000.

On the state level a hearing officer from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment (DEEP) is deciding whether a wetlands permit will be granted to Connecticut transportation officials.  The decision – expected to take about two months – will then be referred to DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty for final approval.  Busway construction can’t begin until the permit issue is decided.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com