December 20, 2012

Cuts still needed, Czenczelewski says

In response to this story, city Councilor Derek Czenczelewski sent out the following statement:

Gifts are welcomed, but solutions are still needed

In a December 20 article on the Bristol Press website titled “City taxpayers get a major $$ ‘gift’”, the article states that the city of Bristol is going to receive approximately $4.7 million from reimbursable expenses on the high school renovations completed more than a decade ago. Of that $4.7 million, approximately $3 million will be able to be used towards the debt services line item in the City budget. Although this “gift” is appreciated, ultimately it is just a one-time source of “revenue” that will be exhausted. Whether that happens in a single year, or over several years, the end result is that this money is not a long-term solution.

It is imperative that the Board of Finance, City Council, Mayor and City employees work together to help trim the budget and our nearly $7.5 million deficit. That deficit figure is based on a flat-line budget, with no increases for any department including the Board of Education. The reality of the situation is still grim, as healthcare costs are projected to continue to increase yearly. Since 2001, the line item in the City budget for healthcare has increased over 108 percent, from $15 million to $31 million. This is a trend that, without intervention, will continue to result in yearly deficits going forward.

Simply put, the City cannot rely on these funds to balance our budget. This was a practice readily used in years past, and is a contributing factor for the reason we are facing yearly budget deficits. For instance, this past budget cycle, $3 million was “borrowed” from the health contingency account in order to reduce the mill rate increase. This was a practice that neither I, nor my Republican colleagues supported. As we said then, and have continued to stress since, Bristol has a structural problem with our budget. The state of Connecticut has similar problems, and the likelihood of state aid decreasing over the next few years only further underlines the importance of getting our fiscal house back in order. We cannot rely on state funding or "gifts" to make ends meet.

The City received a one-time bandage, not a gift. But before we can use this bandage, we need to make cuts.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

December 17, 2012

Let's make sure Newtown is the last massacre

Between Sunday morning's church service and Sunday night's vigil in West Hartford, I saw a lot of candles flickering, tiny flames to stand against the evil that enveloped Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown the other day. It is hard to see how the puny lights we carry can do much in the face of such overwhelming darkness.
And yet the only good that can come of such a nightmare is that it might force us to wake up, to open our eyes and see that we don't have to keep on sleeping. We can build a better world, one in which loopy young men can't get their hands on weapons that could have wiped out a Roman legion or turned the tide in any battle of the American Revolution. These powerful guns, which can wipe out a classroom in minutes, are not something that anybody with a credit card and a trigger finger ought to have the right to buy. That almost anybody could walk into Wal-Mart and walk out in no time with the means to slaughter scores of people is nothing short of sickening. No civilized country allows it, except the United States. So it's no surprise that when a massacre happens -- in a mall, in a movie theater, in a McDonalds, at a church in a classroom -- it happens in America.
We're better than this.
All those little shining faces from Newtown, those precious kids who never had a chance, we owe it to them to make sure that this doesn't again, and again, and again. We have to give up the idea that if we just arm enough people, just station enough cops in enough places, just put bulletproof glass in our schools, just create a mountain of fake security, that it will be enough. It will never be enough. The only answer is to make sure that guns that are capable of firing large magazines of bullets are no longer available and that the bullets they use are also impossible to find.
I believe the Second Amendment, along with many state constitutions, allows people who are stable to have a gun. But we even regulate free speech, allowing time and place restrictions and barring the most idiotic types of speech (like the old yelling "fire" in a crowded theater example). We can surely regulate guns at least as much. Let people have a hunting rifle, a shotgun, maybe a six-shooter. But nobody -- absolutely nobody -- needs a semi-automatic rifle like the one used to mow down children and teacher in Newtown. The se heinous weapons shouldn't be allowed and those who sell them, right now, ought to pull them off the shelves. There are some ways of making money that are simply immoral. This is clearly one of them.
Our elected representatives promise to make changes every time some horror hits the headlines. And then they do nothing. This time, we can't let that happen. We can't just let the National Rifle Association and its most fanatic fringe control the agenda any longer.
We've had enough vigils. We've had enough prayers.
What we need is action.
We have the ability to roll back the darkness, to push back the fear and to make this country one where children don't have to worry about anything more menacing than homework.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

December 12, 2012

Video of Cockayne's mayoral race announcement

Here's a video I shot of city Councilor Ken Cockayne announcing his bid for mayor at last month's Republican Town Committee meeting:

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

December 10, 2012

Martin 'bothered' by colleagues' choice to reject chamber plan for Memorial Boulevard

City Councilor Henri Martin just issued this statement re the decision of the city's Real Estate Committee recently to reject a plan for Memorial Boulevard School's reuse by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce:

City Councilor Henri Martin, left,
with Mayor Art Ward and
Councilors Ken Cockayne
and Kevin Fuller trailing
I’m bothered and disagree with the recent decision by the Real Estate Committee of the City of Bristol to initiate a new RFP (Request for proposal) regarding the future use of Memorial Boulevard School. Further I disagree with the member’s decision to discuss this matter in an executive session rather than in public.

In its proposal, the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce submitted a viable plan which I believe answered the wishes of our community — to protect and find a potential re-use for this historic property. The plan was visionary and provided innovative ideas for economic development to Bristol through the creation of an arts center that included the preservation and future improvements of the theatre, and a business incubator for start up entrepreneurs in the technology, media and bio-fields.

At its last Real Estate workshop, with a change of use from a building educating students to the anticipated use the Chamber was proposing, city department officials offered their views of ADA updates, fire and building code deficiencies, and future capitol improvement costs that may lay ahead for any intended use.  Revealing these facts and costs may have worried the committee, but should not have warranted the rejection of the Chambers proposal or a motion and approval to request a new RFP.

I understand the city’s budget is under pressure, but imagine the unknown costs associated with the innovative idea of ESPN back in 1978/79 that gave city officials reason to pause. Thank God we pressed forward. In my opinion, revealing all the facts and costs only facilitates a better understanding of the risks for all involved.

The proposal was an opportunity for the City and Chamber to develop a Public/Private partnership, thus allowing them to work together to preserve the theatre and building, and simultaneously bring some kind of economic development in the downtown area. We need new innovative vision—not the same old same old.

Downtown needs energy; art energy, entrepreneurial energy, young professional energy, upscale energy, community energy—and the Chamber’s proposal offered all of this. Unfortunately this didn’t happen.  After a questionable executive session meeting, the committee decided to start the process all over again.

The Real Estate committee failed to work collaboratively with the Chamber to determine if a format could be established which met both their and the City’s goal. The process was instead adversarial in nature which was not fair to the Chamber and does a disservice to our citizens.

If the Real Estate Committee was worried about the potential costs mentioned by the department officials or had unanswered questions; those details could have been addressed during negotiations between the City and the Chamber before any final lease document was executed. The concept was still sound.

City officials should be working collectively with our business partners in the Chamber to achieve the goal of the community to preserve the historic Memorial Boulevard School. In the end, we either may have had an agreement that met the needs of both sides, or maybe it wouldn’t have worked for the either, but the decision would have been reached in a cooperative manner rather than the way it did.

Unfortunately, the Chamber has decided to withdraw its proposal and not respond to the new RFP, and given the nature of the process which was followed who can blame them.

Now we’re back to square one…

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

November 29, 2012

Bristol Hospital deal raises many questions

I'm more than a little confused by the deal that Bristol Hospital has struck with a for-profit hospital chain, the details of which remain secret.
To begin with, from what I can discern, the nonprofit Bristol Hospital is apparently selling the hospital itself to the Nashville-based Vanguard Health Systems. As long as the sale is at market value, that seems to be fine legally. But where does all the money wind up?
Bristol Hospital
The nonprofit itself would no longer have the hospital that gave it a reason to exist. So what would it do with the cash it earns from the sale?
I don't know what kind of numbers are involved in Bristol Hospital deal, but they're probably big. In 2010, according to The Health Care Blog, a for-profit chain paid $28 million for a 124-bed facility in Marion, South Carolina (population 7,000) and $86 million for a 108-bed hospital in Ottumwa, Iowa (population 25,000).
Bristol's hospital must be worth tens of millions anyway. So what does a nonprofit hospital organization do with a giant pile of money when it no longer possesses a hospital?
Then there is the obvious question of what Vanguard will do differently in Bristol so that it can make a profit, when Bristol Hospital has struggled for years to make sure it doesn't lose money. And sometimes it has wound up in the red despite its best efforts.
Everything I read seems to indicate that nonprofit hospitals that are converted typically wind up dropping some services that don't make money and added frills that attract only patients with insurance or high incomes instead, ultimately creating a situation where they don't serve the community as a whole quite as well.
Maybe that's inevitable, but it is clearly the thing Bristol has to be on guard about.
I don't have much doubt that the people who run the hospital are trying to do the right thing. It's hard to have a real hospital in a smaller city these days. The costs are so high and the margins so thin that making a go of it  isn't anything like it used to be.
But there are many, many issues involved in this deal, most of them not discussed at all yet. They need to be.

Update at 10:50 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 --
I'm not sure I was clear enough about the real difference between a nonprofit hospital and a for-profit hospital. Bristol Hospital today is held by a charity for the benefit of the community. If the hospital is sold to Vanguard, or any other for-profit company, its assets will be owned by private investors and used to generate income for those investors.
It's not necessarily a bad thing, of course. It could be that investors will pump money into the hospital to update it and ultimately generate more revenue through more business. But it's also possible that some of the things the hospital does today because it exists to help the community will change if it's in the hands of investors.
It's critically important that all of these issues be reviewed carefully, not just by the hospital board behind closed doors but by the community as a whole.
Bristol Hospital is vitally important to Bristol. Its fate is critical. Make sure that whatever happens to it, happens in the light of day with everyone aware of the reasons for making changes.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

November 28, 2012

Hospital jumps into fold of a national health care company

Inevitable though it may have been, Bristol just lost another local linchpin with the news that Bristol Hospital is going to become part of a giant company based in Tennessee. Link
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

November 27, 2012

Zerbey and Barnes knew how to treat politicians

Don't miss this column by former Press Publisher Joe Zerbey.
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

November 26, 2012

Cockayne: 'The right person at the right time'

Here are the prepared remarks that city Councilor Ken Cockayne spoke to the Republican Town Committee tonight:
Today I am announcing that I am running for Mayor of Bristol in 2013.  I am asking for your support in this endeavor and feel I am the right person at the right time for this job. 

I am the senior member of the Council and have spent the last five years fighting for change and fighting for you, the taxpayers of Bristol.  We are on the precipice of significant change and new leadership for Bristol.  In the last local election, the people of Bristol spoke and elected leaders to fight for them.  Leaders, who are truly, fiscally conservative, who understand that voters are not ATMs.  The sitting Mayor controls the agenda, so while the voters spoke, loudly and clearly, there is one more crucial step.  We need a mayor that will listen to the people of Bristol and set an agenda that puts their interests first. We need a true leader to drive the change that must occur and I believe I am that type of leader.

I believe I am the right person at the right time for Bristol.  These will be challenging times.  We need someone who can lead from the front.  I have spent the last five years doing just this.  I have never hid from an issue or avoided one.  I have worked steadfastly for the people of Bristol, even when it met that I stood alone. When we needed change in leadership with our Police Department, I was the only elected official willing to attach his name when asking for this change.  When our community was in danger of having no say in group homes for troubled adolescents moving into established residential neighborhoods, I stepped up immediately to fight.   We wanted a voice for Bristol, and I was that voice that brought this practice to light.  At times I have been the lone voice of dissent when voting on contracts, for I refused to be a part of a rubber stamp council.  I was voice for the West End, an often overlooked section of our community, and called for increased police presence and was an advocate for the formation of the West End Association.

I believe that I am not only a person who leads from the front, but also the person with the right experience to do the job well.  In the last five years, I have served on 21 separate boards, including the Bristol Development Authority, the Bristol Downtown Development Corporation, the Board of Public Works and the Salary Committee.  I have fought the tough battles and have an intimate understanding of our municipal government. 

These last five years have been arduous, but the foundation is in place.  The current City Council is ready to work for responsible change to benefit you, the taxpayer.  The next step is to put a person in the Mayor’s Office who will set an agenda to facilitate this change.  With my willingness to take on challenges and embrace the fights that need to occur, coupled with my experience as your senior councilman, I believe I am the right person at the right time.  I humbly as for your support.
I may have a video to add sometime Tuesday for those who want to see it all in high def.
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Real estate panel explains its Memorial Boulevard School decision

Members of the city's Real Estate Committee -- Councilors Kevin Fuller, Ken Cockayne and Eric Carlson -- issued this statement today about their rejection of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce proposal for the reuse of Memorial Boulevard School:
The city's Real Estate Committee at work.
The Real Estate Committee would like to respond to the Chambers comments on the rejection of the Memorial Boulevard Proposal. From the day we open the proposal we as a committee noticed that after the RFP went out, the wording was incorrect. We were looking for proposals that included lease and or purchase. The purchase was not included. At the opening of the bids there was a group interested in a possible purchase but we decided to hear out the Chambers plan. Some of the numbers that were put out by the chamber were a little misleading, for example they work off the number of 153,000 to keep the building running which is a number provided to us by the Board of Education.  If we do nothing then this is what it will cost the city. That number is what it cost when the school was full and the boilers were shut down to a lower temperature after 3 pm. The number to have the building empty until we find the right fit is more along the lines of 25 thousand to 30 thousand. If we take the 24 thousand the Chamber plan proposed that would leave the cities Burden of over 100 thousand a year for at least 3 years if not more. In addition to that amount the unknown was a big concern to us, The city would be responsible for  any capitol repairs and that  would be on the taxpayers of Bristol. It was this committees feeling that this was too much to ask in these economic times. We feel that we needed to go back out to RFP to solicit a more detailed proposal that would included independant  financing for the theater along with  parking plans and ADA compliant plans that would bring it up to code for their use.  The Real Estate Committee has often gone back out to RFP when we felt that we were not completely satisfied with the response. In this case we felt that the financial impact to the taxpayers was more than we were willing to take a chance on and decided to reissue the RFP with the inclusion of purchase.  The building as it stands will not be totally unused during this RFP process. We will continue to let groups use the building and theatre for community functions and activities.  We would also like to say for the record that during each meeting that pertained to this RFP the committee DID ASK QUESTIONS concerning the plan unlike being reported. We don't feel we missed a opportunity we feel we are allowing opportunities for more response's to this Gem and we are not putting a larger burden on the taxpayers of Bristol.
Councilman Fuller  Chairman
Councilman Cockayne
Councilman Carlson
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

November 25, 2012

Mills: City panel 'squandered opportunity'

City Councilor David Mills issued this statement today under the heading "An Opportunity Missed," about the Real Estate Committee's decision last week to reject the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce proposal for the reuse of Memorial Boulevard School:

City Councilor David Mills
This week, the Real Estate Committee rejected a worthy proposal that would, in my opinion, improve Bristol’s quality of life and preserve a valuable asset for generations to come.

Let me present some background on the issue. The Bristol Board of Education closed the Memorial Boulevard School, as well as two other schools, as of September 1st of this year.  As chairman of the Building Committee, I received many inquiries from Bristol taxpayers who felt that this building was an important landmark in the city that must be maintained.  I decided to discover why so many people named this Rockwell creation on their must-save list. 

The Memorial Boulevard building is a gem that holds great promise for our community.  The auditorium of this school is reminiscent of a New York City theater, with a 4.5-story fly space above the stage.  This site has the potential to house a variety of productions, from touring musicals and dramas to film, travelogue, and children’s theater.  Professionals in the technical production industry, including representatives from the reconditioned Palace Theatre, recently toured the auditorium, and were struck by its many possibilities. They strongly feel that this unique facility should not be compromised, and have offered recommendations for its improvement and usage. 

The renovation of this space offers some exciting development opportunities. However, the greatest challenge would be funding. As the plan developed, conversations began with Chamber of Commerce President Michael Nicastro, John Smith who as former Assistant Superintendent of Schools has vast knowledge of the building, Sean Taylor, businessman and Treasurer of Bristol Theater Arts, and others. They all agreed these theater improvements and an arts program could be sustained using the rest of the Memorial Boulevard building as an “economic engine” that would help pay for the auditorium improvement project. Under this plan, start-ups and arts-related businesses will rent space at below-market rates. The building would need minimal reconfiguration, allowing existing building codes to prevail.

The Chamber of Commerce presented an outline of their plan to the Building Committee, and the matter was turned over to the Real Estate Committee.
When the city put out an RFP (Request for proposal) for a future use for the building, the Chamber of Commerce submitted its plan. As it turned out, it was the ONLY plan submitted.

The Real Estate Committee rejected the Chamber’s proposal, purportedly on the basis that there were “too many unanswered questions.”  This despite the fact that, at a special meeting arranged for the Chamber to answer the committee’s questions, there were no questions asked.  Instead, the committee simply set another meeting so that municipal departments could come forth and detail other uses they might have. 

By rejecting this proposal, the Real Estate Committee has missed an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the city of Bristol.  This plan would provide a state-of-the-art theater and art space for our community.  It would attract new businesses to the city, especially technology, media, and bio science companies. It would create more activity downtown and create momentum for development.  It would establish a cultural center for arts and community activities, providing entertainment that would enrich the lives of our citizens.

I urge our city leaders to reconsider this plan and to take the following actions:
  • Convene a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, as well as building and fire inspectors, to review the requirements for bringing the building up to code.
  • Arrange a meeting between the Corporate Council and the Chamber to hammer out a time-sensitive lease agreement to protect the interests of both parties, with a measured result.
  • Realize that government does not have all the answers. Engaging in a Private/Public partnership could be the best path to creating a vibrant Arts, Cultural and Business center.
This facility could be an enormous asset for our community and for future generations.  At present, it is an empty building that costs the city a minimum of $10,000 per month to maintain.

The Real Estate Committee has squandered an opportunity to move Bristol development forward. We are left with another empty building, our fourth, adding to the budget deficit, with no plan in sight.  

We have a chance to develop a unique space that will enhance our community. Let’s not miss that opportunity again.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

November 21, 2012

Cockayne to jump into mayor's race Monday

Though the next municipal election is nearly a full year away, it appears the campaign will be a long one.
Republican city Councilor Ken Cockayne is expected to announce Monday that he will run for mayor next year, hoping to succeed three-term Democrat Art Ward.
Cockayne is expected to make his announcement at Monday's Republican Town Committee meeting, slated for 7 p.m. at the Board of Education auditorium.
Cockayne, who's been a council member since 2007, has made no secret of his ambition to run for mayor. By throwing his hat in the ring early he may be angling to preempt possible competitors from within his own party's ranks.
Ward has given no indication whether he will run for fourth term. Many Democrats are eyeing a possible run for the position even if Ward decides to see reelection, including former city Councilor Kevin McCauley, who said recently he is thinking about it.
Mayors serve two-year terms for a little less than $100,000 annually.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Chamber "dismayed" by city's refusal to back Memorial Boulevard plan

Statement by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce regarding the decision by the City of Bristol Real Estate Committee to send the future of the Memorial Boulevard School back out to RFP.
The Chamber is dismayed by the action of the City Real Estate Committee and sees their decision as being a poor outcome for the City and its residents.  From the beginning the Chamber has made every effort to work collaboratively with the Real Estate Committee.  Chamber leadership attended every meeting and public hearing and was prepared to answer any and all questions regarding the contents of the detailed proposal that we submitted in accordance with the City’s process.  No questions or concerns were raised. 
Of even greater concern was the tenor of the “workshop” conducted by the Real Estate Committee on November 15th. Those speaking for the City took great pains to paint the situation regarding the Memorial Boulevard facility as dire.  In light of the fact that the building housed school children no more than 5 months prior it was clear that the City was not interested in a collaborative effort but instead was attempting to create an adversarial environment in which nothing gets accomplished. 
As such it is the decision by Chamber leadership to withdraw our proposal for Memorial Boulevard effective immediately and we will not respond to any new RFP process.  We are taking this position for the following reasons:
  • It is important to understand that the Chamber’s involvement in this process originated when we were approached by a small group concerned with the preservation of the theater.  After much thought and analysis we developed our idea based on the understanding that neither an arts center or business incubator would be able to operate successfully as independent entities.  However, using the Boulevard building to do both provides and environment where the two concepts can work to support each other while bringing another form of economic development to the downtown area.
  • The RFP to which we responded provided no information as to the building’s condition and/or any possible challenges.  By its nature any outcome based on the RFP response required a collaborative process by which the City and Chamber would establish a structure of control and a more refined understanding of responsibilities.  Instead the process languished in meeting after meeting with no new questions or detailed discussions on how to reach the goal of constructive reuse of the building.    
  • Based on the comments by department heads at the “workshop” on November 15th it is clear that few had read the document or understood the concept. Our proposal included a detailed 5 year revenue projection for both the Arts Centre and Business Incubator.  After numerous special meetings and presentations the Real Estate Committee did not ask one financial question yet now claims that the proposal lacked sufficient detail. 
  • Collaboration means working together for a positive outcome for all involved.  While there can be diverse opinions the parties should work to find middle ground or ask all the questions pertinent to the opportunity.  That never happened in this case and we will not utilize any further Chamber time or resource to participate in what amounts to a new academic exercise designed for the purposes of doing nothing.
The failure of the Real Estate Committee to take decisive action that would quickly begin the process of mitigating the cost of the building to the taxpayers as well as save the Theater should have every resident concerned. We are also very disturbed by the method by which the decision and motion to start over took place.
If Bristol is to see growth in the grand list and avoid continued budget challenges the City’s leadership will have to have some vision and a willingness to try new ideas.  It will be nearly impossible to cut their way out of the current fiscal challenges.  Growth must be part of the equation as well as ideas that offset costs. The Chamber offered a plan that accomplished both of these goals.  Councilmen Cockayne, Fuller and Carlson apparently think that an empty building, at risk of vandalism and burning in excess of $10,000 a month is a better idea.  We disagree.     

Michael D. Nicastro                                                                         Atty Timothy Furey
President & Chief Executive Officer                                         Chairman of the Board    

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

November 13, 2012

State faces 'doom and gloom' budget

City finance officials warned Tuesday that state experts told them Tuesday that Connecticut faces budget shortfalls of $690 million to $1 billion for each of the next two years.
Closing that gap is likely to be the General Assembly's major chore during its upcoming session.
But municipal officials are worried that it will lead to cuts in education grants and other funds that are sent to cities and towns. The cuts may be large, they said.
"This was doom and gloom news," said Bristol Comptroller Glenn Klocko.
State officials are expected to anounce their dire predictions later this week.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at