May 27, 2011

Cockayne says 'completely unfair' ploy used by educators

Here is a copy of a letter that city Councilor Ken Cockayne wrote today about the Westswoods Academy and the school budget:
Mr. Markowich,
Thank you for your letter.  I can tell this is an issue that means a lot to you as it should.  Westwoods Academy has done a great job with the students that attend there and it would be a shame if it were to close.  I will do what I can to advocate for the program, but unfortunately that is all I can do.  By state law we, as elected officials, have no  authority over how the Board of Education allocates its funds.  We approve a budget for the city as a whole.  Once the funds are allocated to the Board of Education, they decide which items or programs get funded. 

I fear that Westwoods Academy and the students there have become the "faces" attached to the budget process and the tough decisions we are facing this year and it is completely unfair and a ploy by the Board of Education and certain council members.  I have made clear many times that cost savings can be found in other areas, including rescinding raises that were given to Board of Education Administration. I believe that would truly be putting the students first.  Activism in this matter is excellent and I urge you to communicate with members of the Board of Education and to attend their meetings so that your voice is heard.  


Ken Cockayne

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Charter Revision report is nearly done

The Charter Revision Commission's report is nearly done. The draft report will be the subject of a public hearing at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council chambers, to be followed by a special meeting of the commission.

Click Here to see the Final Charter Revision report.

Click Here to see scanned copy of the affected Charter sections.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Streifer: School cuts will have "a dramatic and negative impact"

Press Release – Bristol (CT) Superintendent of Schools
Philip A. Streifer, Ph.D.
May 27, 2011
This budget year is a difficult one for everyone in city/school governance and we recognize the need to make tough choices. The current fiscal pressures are not of our making, but of the national/global economic downturn and the State’s failure to meet its constitutional responsibility to properly fund public education. Until that issue is fully resolved, local officials must deal with the fallout.
While the Board of Education is constitutionally responsible for deciding what is actually funded and what is cut, the Board can only operate within the scope of funds provided by the State and City. The bottom line is that when funding is cut – programs must be reduced or eliminated. The scope of the cuts required by the Bristol Board of Finance is significant – requiring a reduction of $5,002,000 for 2011-2012. As a result of reducing the Board of Education’s base budget from $102.5M in 2010-2011 to $100M in 2011-2012, the School Budget begins 2012-2013 needing to eliminate an additional $2.5M at the minimum. Let me restate: The proposed budget takes the school current base of $102.5M and reduces it for 2012-2013 down to $100M. Reductions of this scope over the next two years will have a dramatic and negative impact on programs and students, and sets back the progress Bristol has made over the past several years in becoming the most successful urban district in Connecticut.
Members of the Board of Finance have made suggestions as to where they felt the Board of Education could reduce its budget. These proposed reductions do not add up to the $5M cut (falling a full $2M short) and they rely largely on salary/benefit givebacks which require negotiation and are not assured. In another example, it was cited that the Board of Education budget includes $200,000 for School Board members to attend a conference on the west coast. Bristol Board of Education members do not attend conferences out of state and when they do attend a rare conference locally, it is to learn about new Connecticut laws and policies needed to fulfill their responsibilities. A training program that some of our staff attends (which is on the west coast) is for a very successful program designed to help students not normally thinking about college to do so. It is called AVID – Advancement Via Individual Determination – and participation is required at this training session to provide a certified program. We paid for this from two sources, Title I Federal Dollars and current surplus dollars – the local cost of which is 10% of the $200,000 figure cited. Focusing public attention on Board of Education members for this issue, which is both inaccurate and which is a part of the Board of Education’s mission statement, is undeserved and unfair.
The major issues facing Bristol focus on whether they want their schools to remain the most successful urban district in Connecticut where all students receive a quality education. Taking $7,500,000 out of  the school’s current budget over the next two years (which amounts to a 7.3% reduction) dramatically reduces our ability to provide students with the educational programs needed to prepare them for success in college or other post secondary education.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

May 26, 2011

Letter: Resident calls for saving West Woods Academy

To Mayor Art Ward, the Board of Finance, the School Board, and School Administrators:
The motto of West Woods Academy is "Everyone is the architect of his or her own fortune". If West Woods Academy is closed and the alternative education program is eliminated, there will be many unfortunate students for years to come.
The closure of West Woods would be a huge mistake affecting the entire Bristol community. I have two phrases to put to the board - 1) "Leave well enough alone" and 2) "If it isn't broke, don't fix it". In other words leave West Woods Academy alone; the Academy doesn't need to be fixed or terminated.
In 1980 Bristol educators saw the need for an alternative program for students who were failing or becoming frustrated with the large high school setting or even dropping out of high school. The idea of a small, personalized and structured program for struggling and unmotivated students has worked. In the Academy's 25 years, 56% have gone onto post secondary education, 11% to technical careers and 4% to the military. Two students have gone onto receive their MBA's and two received doctorates. This would not have happened in the traditional high school setting for these students.
I have my own personal reason to see West Woods continue now and in the future. I have a son at West Woods and it has been the best substance for his education. He is doing better, enjoys his classes, classmates and teachers and grasps his "real life" learning experiences.
If Mayor Art Ward and the Board of Finance, School Board and Administrators close the alternative education program, the 50 or so students at West Woods would either have to go back to Eastern or Central high school where they couldn't cope or would drop out of school. In my opinion the administration has no right to deny a student an education ever! The failure of these students would be completely on the conscience of Mayor Art Ward, the Board of Finance and School Administrators.
One final thought: a West Wood current student who was a chronic truant sums up his experiences; "In the past two and a half years since I came to West Woods Academy I find school fun and I actually want to be here every day. The teachers here are really nice and help me out a lot more. I came here because the regular high school wasn't working for me and I never wanted to be there. This will be my second year of perfect attendance and I look forward to school every day. They make me feel welcome. I improved so much I made up all my credits. This is the school for me."
I strongly urge Mayor Art Ward, Board of Finance and School Administrators to realize the value and worth of West Woods Academy and the alternative education program to its students, faculty and the City of Bristol. Keeping West Woods open will be beneficial to the students, their families and the entire Bristol community now and in the future.
Feel free to contact me on this very important issue. Thank you for your consideration.
Michael Markowich

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

May 25, 2011

Councilors debate whether to bolster school funding

Here are some emails that flew around today among city councilors and others: 

From city Councilor Kevin Fuller to City Council and others:
Wed, May 25, 2011 at 11:20 AM
subject Budget Alternative
11:20 AM
As we move forward to adopt a budget I am troubled with one item I want to address to see if we can come to a resolve. The tension between the finance board and the Board of Ed is having a huge impact not only with its employee's but also with the students that we are educating to become successful adults. The rift is only going to hurt those students who's programs will be cut, it will not address any of the problems you may have with the Board of Ed. We need to look at the children and put our differences aside and not let them fall through the cracks of the economy. I suggest that we take  2.5 million from the rainy day fund to save Westwood academy and the other programs being cut because that money is their just for this type of situation, by doing this we can still keep a ZERO increase in the mill rate and it will be a win all around. But most of all it will be a win for the children that we are all responsible to give the best education possible and I for one do not want to let the children down. Thank you,
 Kevin Fuller

From city Councilor Ken Cockayne
 Wed, May 25, 2011 at 11:44 AM
subject Re: Budget Alternative
11:44 AM
I’m completely against this!  If we deplete our "rainy day" fund to much it will have a direct impact on our city rating as well as future bonding we go out for.  It is also Fund Balance policy not to be used for operating expense but for emergency or a one time use.  Using this money will be go directly against that policy and will be used for operating expense.
In the past the BOE has received the following increases.  2007 - 5.06%, 2008 - 3.40%, 2009 - 6.09%, 2010 - 1.40%, 2011 - .29%.  For 2012, the BOE has approx 2.5 million from Fed money that will also be used.
Also, as you know the City, nor the Council have any say as to what the BOE money is spent on or what they do with it.  It is the BOE decision to cut the programs not the City of Bristol.  At some point, the city leaders must say enough is enough!!!
Ken Cockayne

From Fuller
Wed, May 25, 2011 at 12:01 PM
subject Re: Budget Alternative
12:01 PM (2 hours ago)
Ken, I do respect you position on this issue and agree we must be very tight with the budget, I also feel it is my responsibility to try to close this gap. I understand we cannot dictate how the money is spent but I feel the Boe Administration feels the same about their students. I am not sure that this would affect our rating and I feel this is a one time use and a emergency situation. I feel I need to stand up for our students and try to fund these programs. Thanks for you response Kevin

From city Councilor Cliff Block
Wed, May 25, 2011 at 12:46 PM
subject Re: Budget Alternative
12:46 PM
 When the City side of the budget takes a hit some roads don't get paved or maybe the streets are not plowed in a timely matter or we don't fill positons that open, but when you cut the BOE budget 2.5 million from the base of last year you hurt our childrens education which can not be made up at a later date, it's lost!!
So as a city leader Ken I would hope you would reconsider your stand on this issue and realize the cost to our childrens education and future.
Cliff Block

From city Comptroller Glenn Klocko
Wed, May 25, 2011 at 12:51 PM
subject Re: Budget Alternative
12:51 PM
Councilmen/Commissioners: I feel I must respond. It may be a long response, but necessary. The city has a formally adopted fund balance policy. It is in our budget document under "policy initiatives".
 Now then, allow me to get to the point(s):
 First and foremost, this suggestion by Mr. Fuller would be a use of fund balance for operational expenses at the BOE. Our various city  opinion's that it is an appropriate use or it is not does not matter. What matters is the opinion of the three rating agencies, and they would say it is a use of fund balance for operational purposes...a no no. They would also say we are going against our own policy and nationally recommended practice, resulting in not so favorable comments to the market in two weeks. That has the likely affect to cost the city a lot of $$$ in terms of interest over the life of the 19 year $40 million bond issue coming up. Perhaps several hundred thousand dollars. This is our largest issuance ever, and not a time to change policy. The two new schools are in the issuance.
 Here are several direct quotes from our 3 previous rating reports in 2009 (last time we went to market) and given to the market place about Bristol and its reserves:
 Standard & Poor's: "S & P consider Bristol's financial management practices as "strong". The city's financial practices are strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable. Highlights include: Formal reserve policy that sets a floor for reserve balances and how fund balance can be used in budgeting" "In our opinion, Bristol's financial position is stable due, in part, to its demonstrated fiscal management. We believe the city's conservative budgeting, expenditure controls, and adherence to debt and fund balance policies have allowed management to maintain a stable financial position and strong reserves".
 Standard and Poor's upgraded us in 2009.
 Moody's Investors Services: "sound financial operations"..."conservative budgeting practices and adherence to prudent financial policies". Citing the following: "city's formal fund balance policy which calls for the maintenance of the Undesignated general fund balance at no less than 10% of budget." "Future rating reviews will incorporate the city's ability to maintain financial flexibility with reserves growing consistently with budgetary expansion through structurally-balanced operations."
 Fitch Ratings: "Rating rationale - a history of healthy reserve levels and strong management practices underpin the city of Bristol's sound financial flexibility." "Best Financial Management practices - Maintaining a Rainy Day Fund is perhaps the most effective practice an issuer can use to enhance its credit rating"
 Mr. Fuller, you were probably not aware of the above considering you're new(er) to the council. I would be happy to review the rating reports and recommended financial practices we have in place that maintains our strong credit rating at AA+. Triple A is the highest. The mayor, myself, my staff, and Jonathan, will be giving 3  credit rating presentations June 8th. Reserves will be a discussion by the agencies. Please understand we can not and should not ruin our solid financial reputation and rating with the analysts by giving the BOE our fund balance to satisfy their operational needs. That would not be defendable. 10 years ago we were using $3.6 million dollars to balance our budget. Today, the number is $750,000 with a goal of Zero. We told the rating agencies of our goal and they liked it very much. Going into a credit rating is like a gun fight...You got to consistently shoot straight to hit the target with them. Please continue to give me the ammunition to do so and not reverse 10 years of prior city accomplishments. Glenn
 Kind regards, Glenn Klocko, Comptroller

From Fuller
Wed, May 25, 2011 at 1:16 PM
subject Re: Budget Alternative
1:16 PM
Glenn, Thank you for the information and the last thing I would want to happen is our credit rating to be blemished, With that said we need to put our heads together to solve this problem of not funding the Board of Ed, I was at westwoods acadamey and the students at that school have grown by leaps and bounds. If it is closed those students will not rejoin the high school they will drop out and I hope at least get a GED. Look at the graduation rate at that school and how many went on to college, It is our duty to not let these students down. When these students look back I don't want them to remember us as the Council that let them down. So I urge all members to look at all options to find a way to fund the Boe.
Once again Glenn that's for you information on the fund balance. Kevin

From Mayor Art Ward
Wed, May 25, 2011 at 1:22 PM
subject Re: Budget Alternative
1:22 PM
I will reiterate, at the initial presentation of the BOE budget request, it was stated by Dr. Streifer and Mr. O'Brien that the BOE could withstand one year of 0% increase but could not take 2 years of 0% - this is the year that the Board of Finance decided that the option would  be exercised.
While I understand the significance of education, are you ready to incur the potential ravages of the impact of the lay-off of some of the parents of these same children?
The city has eliminated 40 positions through attrition and cannot absorb any more without the burden being sharedd, at least somewhat, by the BOE.
The options which they are employing are very disrespectful when they are suggesting to the parents that the city is to blame - the city/Board of Finance is being responsible with regard to the allocation of funds for ALL city services and the BOE needs to accept some of that responsibility.
Additionally, it would have been a lot easier to have addressed these issues during the budget process rather than after the Comptroller's office, all of the city departments and the Finance Board have rolled up their sleeves and sweated through hours and hours of meetings, only to be confronted with second-guessing of the outcome.
The Finance Board meetings were void of city council presence except on very rare and personal agenda motivated occasions.
Mayor Ward

From Klocko
Wed, May 25, 2011 at 1:27 PM
subject Re: Budget Alternative
1:27 PM
You are most welcome. I'm sure you didn't have my information available on fund balance useage to you in your decision process.  I'm sure we can work together to resolve the Westwoods situation. However, in my professional opinion (again), the BOE has to assist us in creating savings and saving programs. The BOF chairman and others have recently identified many area's in the BOE budget that give the impression of 'desired but not needed'...for instance...they budget over $200k for conferences, I believe there is a line item for BOE members to attend a national conference out of state and possibly on the west coast. The BOF chairman's observations have a possibility of saving or transferring the savings to the tune of $1.2 million dollars. Of course, the lowest levels of employee are being threatened but not some of the higher levels...they remain in tact. Just some observations..hope it helps. GK

From Cockayne
Wed, May 25, 2011 at 1:34 PM
subject Re: Budget Alternative
1:34 PM
 The BOE needs to be fiscally responsible.  This year they passed a new contract for supervisors and administrators giving a 3yr contract, 1.9, 2.5 and 2.5.  In this tough times, it does not sound to me as that is being fiscally responsible.  A couple years ago the teachers understood the times and voted on what I believed to be an appropriate contract, so yes, they did what was best for the children.
Again, it is not the City who cuts programs, its the BOE!  The City does not have an open checkbook that can be balanced on the taxpayers.  It's the BOE who will cut the programs as some continue to take raises.  I also understand the new contract has a provision for revoking the raises if necessary.....seems to me this is the time to do that.  Was it done?  If not, then why not?

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

May 23, 2011

Welch talks about union deal in GOP-produced video

Here's a video of state Sen. Jason Welch, a Bristol Republican, talking about the deal that Gov. Dannel Malloy struck with state union negotiators recently:

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

May 16, 2011

Watch documentary about Press online

Want to watch the Emmy-awarding documentary that focused much attention on the near demise of The Bristol Press? It's online here.
Warning: it contains a lot of me talking on camera.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Henri Martin leaps into City Council race

Well, the city's election season is beginning to heat up.
With two mayoral contenders -- Democrat Art Ward and independent Gary Lawton -- already in the ring and two declared council hopefuls, the political playing field is starting to fill up.
The latest entrant jumped in over the weekend.
Here's the story: 
A political newcomer with a long history of community service leaped into the contest for a City Council seat this weekend.

Henri Martin, a Republican, said that “to meet the challenges of the difficult economic situation we are going through requires new leadership on thecouncil and fresh ideas about how the city operates and is governed.”
Martin is seeking a seat in the 2nd District, currently represented by Democrat Kevin McCauley and Republican Ken Cockayne. Cockayne is seeking reelection. McCauley’s plans are uncertain.
Martin declared his candidacy Saturday night to a crowd of friends and family at the Franco-American Club.

Click  here for story.
There will be more in Tuesday's Bristol Press.
Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Pension money showdown looming

A showdown over a proposed grab of excess pension cash could come as soon as May 24.
City councilors are considering whether to snatch surplus pension money from the trust funds that cover police and firefighters pensions in order cover the tab for public safety retirees’ health care costs.
The city comptroller’s office has estimated the move would save $1.1 million in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Finance officials said the only way to freeze property taxes this year is to tap the surplus money.  Click here for the story.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Is boinking all you can do in Bristol?

With a big new book about ESPN due to his the stores this month -- These Guys Have All the Fun, by Jim Miller -- a writer named Dan Fogarty decided it was a good time to take a jab at ... Bristol.
Fogarty, writing for sports grid, is disappointed the book is apparently not going to have a bunch of salacious stuff.
And here's what he has to say:
I, of course, care only about the rumored sexy times that occurred when the cameras were off. Unfortunately, he isn’t able to reveal anything from within the pages of the book – it’s been embargoed until its release by Miller and his publisher, Little Brown & Company.
 Still, there was plenty of boinking, right?
 Miller won’t comment. I say that, given the fact that ESPN is out in the middle of Bristol, Connecticut, and there isn’t much to do out there besides boink, one would think that boinking plays a prominent role in ESPN’s history (as it did when the Steve Phillips – Brooke Hundley affair came to light). Nope. That topic will not be discussed.

Now there is obviously more to do in Bristol than boink. But, you know, my old commonweath, the great state of Virginia, got a lot of tourism mileage out of its "Virginia Is For Lovers" campaign.
Perhaps instead of trying to tout its schools, parks and prospects, Bristol should just seize the opportunity.
How about a new "Bristol is For Boinking" tourism push? It could fill that new downtown hotel that Renaissance is thinking about.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

May 12, 2011

Renaissance plans for downtown - the pictures

Here are the concept plans submitted by the Long Island-based Renaissance Downtowns, the preferred developer for Bristol's city center. They aim to show the types of ideas the company is looking into. A final plan won't be done for another year.

Find more photos like this on Bristol Rising

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Comments will be allowed again... but only for those who are registered

Now that The Bristol Press has finally limited comments on its website to those who have registered, I'm going to reopen comments on this site -- but only to those who bother to register with Google or Open ID. You won't be able to make totally anonymous comments anymore and I will ban an user who flagrantly violates obvious standards of decency.
The general rule for comments is this: be civil.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

May 11, 2011

Cockayne seeks third term as city councilor

Here is a written statement from city Councilor announcing his intention to see a third term on the City Council rather than run for mayor:
In a prepared statement, City Councilman Ken Cockayne said, a new election cycle is here and I want to take this opportunity to reflect upon the past few years and thank all of you for your support.
It is an honor to serve and represent you as your councilman. It has always been my passion to work as hard as I can for you and your family. I never forget that I am in office because you elected me and I thank you for your trust.
Over the last year, I had the privilege of serving as your acting mayor for 6 weeks. This experience has sharpened my awareness of the value of City government to the taxpayers and to the employees that make our City the great one that it is.
There are many new projects that are about to come on line in Bristol. The completion of Route 72, the two new schools and of course the long awaited redevelopment of our downtown.
I have been deeply involved in all of these projects and I feel that I can be a voice for the taxpayers as well as an advocate for our City as a result of my understanding of these new and exciting benefits to Bristol.
I have thought very long and hard about this next term. My confidence as an elected official has been buoyed by the support that has been expressed to me by my constituents. Yet we still face serious economic time ahead. Having weathered through some of these budgetary issues over the last two years, I have become more energized to serve Bristol and to seek your continued support to guide us through these times.
I believe that in these times, someone has to be ready to fight for you and your family and your hard earned money. I have done that and will continue to fight for you. In politics all too often, there is a disconnect between the voters and their representatives. I believe I have offered a voice to the taxpayers of Bristol and I would like to continue to do this.
Therefore, today, I formally announce my candidacy to seek a third term as City Councilman from the Second District. In the weeks to come, more individuals will join me on the Republican ticket, which is shaping up to be an exciting one. It has been my privilege to represent you and there is still much to be done. Together, we can work to make Bristol the City we all want it to be.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Lawton leaps into mayoral fray

Here is the written announcement that independent mayoral contender Gary Lawton sent out:

Today I would like to announce that I will be running for Mayor of Bristol as an Independent Candidate.
The reason I am running is very simple to work on making our government smaller and work more efficiently. It has become to big and overstaffed and overpaid and it needs to stop. It needs to work more closely with its citizens and their ideas to get things done instead of just doing as it pleases.
The question on all of your minds now is, what I plan to do ? Well, let me tell you a few ways. The first thing is to start downsizing our city departments, merging departments that overlap for example combining the public works department and the parks department. We could centralize them in one building, get rid of excess equipment. We will offer early retirement to those eligible. We can rent some equipment on a as need basis , this way we would not have to pay for insurance or maintenance on this equipment. I will say up front I know this will meet with a lot of resistance. I will be told it can't be done or that it should not be done, but if Bristol is going to become leaner and reduce cost at the top then we must certainly try this.
I will also fight all attempts at moving the Senior Center from Stafford Ave to the Boulevard. The current Senior Center for some has become like a second home and who wants to be moved from their home. I also feel our seniors deserve more consideration to their concerns . City hall should be listening to them and not telling them what to do. They are not children. They are our greatest generation and should be treated with the respect and admiration they deserve. It also makes me wonder why we would renovate the Boulevard for them when it will probably cost more to do that when we could take that money and turn around and use it to upgrade the current Senior Center.
I will also work to form a committee of local small, medium and large business leaders to get their ideas on how we can bring other businesses to Bristol. I would ask them what is it that keeps them in Bristol or brought them to Bristol and why do they stay. I think this is a great way to stay in touch with the businesses, to quickly address any problems they have and also any ideas . Some of these businesses have been here 10, 20 30 years and some even longer they are a vital resource on how to bring more business here and we should use all avenues to do so. If we don't then we have our selves to blame.
Let us not forget the young people or Bristol either . They are our future here. All to often we dismiss the our youth and that is a mistake we must stop. We must use their youth, energy, ideas, whatever it takes to keep our youth and attract more to our city. They offer so much more than we can ever imagine and to not tap this, to not use this to bring Bristol forward just makes no sense. They can expose us to new types of music, art, recreational types of things that some of us may not even be aware of. They will also be vital in when the Boulevard shuts down because I see them as helping the city attract some sort of performing art type of center. I know Mr. Flores is a fairly well known rapper, would it not be great if he could turn some of the classrooms into recording studio's for other who want to record their own music or perhaps a movie, we could have a future Steven Spielberg or Will Smith? How exciting such a thing would be and why not Bristol?
You by now are saying what about taxes. I will be honest I am not going to promise something I can't keep, turns my stomach. I will promise this though I will work hard to keep our taxes down and if the prospect ever presents itself that they can be lowered and not hurt the quality of life here in Bristol I will work hard to do so. To promise that I will lower taxes right off the bat, well it's just wrong, no one can say that because you cannot know what the future holds, all you can do is plan for all things and hope the best happens. You have been a sold that bill of goods before and now we are going to pay for it, the question is when will we stop it?
Over the last few months I have started talking to the citizens of Bristol at the grocery store, getting gas, standing waiting for food and getting their thoughts, and any thing else they feel an elected official should know and I am hoping to talk to more and hope that you as citizens will talk to me when you see me, I encourage you to, I want you to. I want all of Bristol to remember that the Mayor and city councilors work for you the citizens of Bristol not the other way around. Thank you.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at