March 27, 2012

Minor to become Newington's town planner

Former city Councilor Craig Minor is leaving his longtime job as Cromwell's planner.
He posted on Facebook that he'll begin working as town planner in Newington on April 17.
Have fun with the busway, Craig!

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Christie's coming to Connecticut

Gov. Dannel Malloy might want to barricade the interstates, but like it or not, his New Jersey nemesis is coming to Connecticut.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is slated to head for Bristol in late April or May for a fundraiser at the home of Wally Barnes and Barbara Franklin, followed  by an appearance at a long-postponed Lincoln Day Dinner for Bristol Republicans.
"Be on the lookout" for solid news of the event, said TJ Barnes, the city's GOP chairman.
Barnes said the logistics are a bit daunting -- apparently coordinating it all with the Romney presidential campaign is less than simple -- but it will all come together.
"Chris Christie is worth waiting for," Barnes told the Bristol Republican Town Committee this week.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Primary looms for Democratic registrar

At least two Democrats plan to seek election this year as a city registrar.
Incumbent Mary Rydingsward and party activist Bruce Suchinski both said they intend to run for registrar this year.
Republican Registrar Sharon Krawiecki said she plans to seek reelection.
Rydingsward is in her first term. She won the office in 2010 after knocking off the party's nominee, Elliott Nelson, to become the Democratic standard bearer in the general election.
Since there are two registrars, from different parties, capturing the backing of the Democratic Party virtually guarantees election.
There may be other candidates interested in the position as well.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Kilbourne is new city Democratic chief

Dean Kilbourne, a former city attorney, is returning to his old post as chairman of the city's Democratic Party.
Kilbourne said he's stepping into a very different situation than last time, when Democrats held the City Council, Board of Education and more.
So his goal is pretty straightforward: to try to unite the party -- always fun! -- and recapture lost electoral ground.
On the Republican side, TJ Barnes is again heading the city's GOP for another two year stint.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 15, 2012

Esty calls ethanol 'a disaster' driven by politics

Commissioner Dan Esy said the state is planning better on energy.
It is also looking to ensure the state has enough capacity to generate power.
Shaving the peak loads can save money, Esty said, because it costs a lot to have “dirty, old plants” that can kick in on high use days.
“This state has underinvested in replacing wires, replacing poles,” Esty said. Nearly half the wires in the state are not coated, he said, and some poles undersized.
The new deal with Northeast Utilities will help, he said, to create “a more resilient system.”
The goal is to make sure the next big storm doesn’t have the same impact. One way of fending off the problem is to create microgrids so that at least key institutions and downtowns have power, he said.
Microgrids would be “an island within the greater sea” of the entire grid, he said.
Bristol could be one of the pilot areas, he said, “to isolate and protect those critical infrastructure elements,” he said.
He said the state also has to invest more in energy efficiency. Containing demand is part of the equation, Esty said.
Investing in energy conservation in state buildings is part of the answer, he said.
A lot of older housing stock would really benefit from efficiency efforts, he said, especially among lower income and senior housing where a lot of savings is possible. It’s not just lighting, he said, it’s also air conditioning, heating, windows and more. It can save up to 40 percent of the use.
Esty said a wider power supply would also help protect against cost spikes and changing economics.
“We need to be more diverse in the state of Connecticut,” he said, that includes renewable power. He said the goal is to create a platform “for the entrepreneurial spirit to play out.”
Esty said the state is taking many steps to bring clean, renewable power.
“Fuel cells need to compete with everybody else,” Esty said. Unless they become cheaper, they’ll have a tough time, he said.
“I’d like to facilitate a race” among different sources to bring down costs and deliver scale, he said.
Innovation and bringing down costs is crucial.
Fossil fuels are in the mix, he said, “but they have to become cleaner.”
Nuclear power, too, “could be the winner” if it can solve safety and disposal problems.
Corn-based ethanol “is a joke of a policy,” Esty said. There is almost no benefit, he said, and pushes up the price of food.
He called ethanol “a disaster” that occurs only because of the Iowa caucuses every four years, Esty said.

Esty touts progress on energy, environment

BRISTOL -- Speaking this morning to a business group in Bristol, state Commissioner for Energy and the Environment Dan Estay said, “We are working in Hartford to really transform how government does business."
He said it is a partnership, especially with municipal leaders. “We are trying to conduct a partnership with Washington, and that’s a lot harder,” he added.
Esty said government has to operate under restrained resources “and this is not going to go away.”
He said people are always upset when changes are required.
Domestic natural gas “is a huge opportunity,” he said, because shale gas extracted from rock is now possible through fracking. He said it will ultimately provide us with a huge quantity of natural gas and prices are consequently at an all-time low.
“For those who have natural gas, you are seeing a real” reduction in costs, Esty said. Those using oil, though, are seeing high costs.
“We are thinking hard about how to manage in those circumstances,” Esty said. He said Connecticut is “very serious” about thinking through these changing times to take advantage of the situation.
“We are making progress,” Esty said.
On the environment side, we are focused on environmental standards. We can lighten the burden and speed up the process, Esty said.
Esty said the department is trying to strip away unnecessary time, burden and other measures that delay permitting.
He said that permits were issued in one day during storm emergencies.
“It doesn’t mean we walk away” from environmental concerns, Esty said.
But “our focus on speed,” Esty said, is now a goal. “Speed, clarity, predictability” are things that matter, he said.
Permits used to sit for months or years, but now they are usually done in 60 days. Even a faster “no” helps, he said.
On the energy front, he said, state is focused on cleaner, cheaper and more reliable energy.
Esty is speaking before about 50 people at an Eggs & Issues breakfast sponsored by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce at the Clarion Hotel.
Mostly, it’s the usual crowd of city business leaders, city officials and the sorts of folks who show up for most everything, such as former Mayor Bill Stortz. Among those here are Mayor Art Ward, city economic development chief Jonathan Rosenthal, city Councilor Henri Martin, state Rep. Whit Betts, former state Rep. Bill Hamzy, former Burlington First Selectman Ted Scheidel and Police Chief Eric Osanitsch, who can keep everyone else in line if the need arises.
The first order of ducks for the duck parade was just put in for 27 ducks “scattered throughout the region,” said Mike Nicastro, the president of the chamber. He’d like more people to buy a duck for the second round of orders. It’s all a fundraiser for a business incubator program pushed by the chamber.
You’ll be glad to know the chamber will have its duck done soon, with “all sorts of vignettes of the city” painted all over it, Nicastro said.
Ward said Esty promised accessibility and “getting rid of the red tape” before taking office. He said he’s actually followed through.
“The commissioner has delivered,” Ward said.
When the mayor saw Stately Floors hanging into the river the morning of the first flood last summer, he called Esty’s office and got through to him directly. “Never once did he shy away from the phone,” Ward said. He said the commissioner came out and walked “from one end of Bristol to the other” and hit all the worst-hit spots.
“For this community, that was so uplifting,” Ward said, because it showed he cared and would be looking out for the city.
Ward said Esty is also on top of the issues related to the Bristol Resources Recovery Facility Committee, which oversees the Covanta trash burning plant in town.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Police union votes down proposed contract

The city's police union recently voted down a proposed contract with the city by a little less than a 2-to-1 margin. A majority of the roughly 100 officers voting on the pact were apparently concerned with contract changes rather than the pay hike proposed by the city.
Details of the deal remain uncertain, but the fact that police voted it down is both unusual and a sign that Mayor Art Ward may be pushing for reforms that might well impact other municipal unions.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 14, 2012

Dolan defends Board of Ed on lacrosse funding

For this story, I asked Board of Education members for their thoughts. I got this one, from Genard Dolan, after deadline. It still warrants interest, so here it is, in its entirety:

I thought that it was a very interesting exchange.  In fact the Board of Ed did include lacrosse in its budget for 2012-2013 even knowing that our entire budget would likely be cut. The mayor's comments regarding his side of the budget implied that he placed a higher priority on city services than the education of our children.  If anyone believes that football, baseball, soccer or lacrosse doesn't contribute to the educational experience of a scholastic career, they are grossly misinformed.  I don't believe that the mayor truly listened to the lacrosse advocates.
One concern that I have is that we will not be competitive with our surrounding towns. Bristol is a sports minded community.  We are, after all,  the home to ESPN.
I believe that the appearance of the lacrosse people were there to make the community aware of their desire to make lacrosse a varsity sport to be on a parity with our neighbors and to promote a good standard of sportsmanship, morality and citizenship. They were drawing attention to their plight.
The last thing that I want is to create a controversy between the City Council and other departments
within the municipal structure and the Board of Education.  We all have our place in the community
and are necessary to create a cohesive and attractive place to raise our families.   So let's not undercut the value of education to the market value of a community.  A good reminder of that is not many of the employees of ESPN live in Bristol.  Ask the mayor why.

I speak for myself not the Board of Education.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 6, 2012

Ward seeks to bury Zoppo

Ellen Zoppo
Art Ward
Never let it be said that Mayor Art Ward has a short memory.
Just this week, after much deliberation, he notified former Democratic city Councilor Ellen Zoppo that he did not intend to reappoint her to the city's Cemetery Commission. So she's off the panel that she used to do some solid, little-noticed work improving the city's historic cemeteries.
No doubt it is sheer coincidence that Ward wanted to give someone else a chance to serve in this critical volunteer position on a crucial government panel. It had nothing at all do with the bitter 2007 mayor primary where Ward squeezed past Zoppo, the party's nominee, to capture the city's top job.
There's no way, I'm sure, that Ward could be hoping that maybe by booting her off the Cemetery Commission, he can bury Zoppo once and for all.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 2, 2012

Educators Not On The Same Page

Related to today's story, the city's Board of Education appears to have its own rift.

Note from Board of Education member Genard Dolan on Friday morning:
Steve, you write that the members of the BOE are in conflict with the City Council.  Do not confuse the public by equating the Supt. with the BOE Commissioners.  The Supt. is speaking for himself on behalf of the Administration not the elected BOE.  The BOE members have been unaware of the discourse described in your article.  Unfortunately it gives your readers the misinformation of the Supt. speaking for the Board of Education.  You should correct this misinformation with a retraction or a corrected version of events.   Chris Wilson's quote regarding the cost per student seems unrelated to the conflict between Supt. Streifer and the Council.  In fairness to the Commissioners, you should explain the difference between the elected Board members and the Central office of the Supt.

Note from Board of Education Chairman Chris Wilson on Thursday afternoon:
Education reform is swirling all around the country, in CT and in Bristol.  All of this talk of reform causes anxiety and uncertainty for all those involved in education-students, parents, BOE members, staff and the community at large.  I am not sure about a rift.  We are all trying to do our best.  We may becoming at it from a different perspective.  137 cities and towns spend more $ than Bristol per student.  It seems that the city council wants to erode that position further.  I and some other board members support what we have accomplished over the past 8 plus years.  We do not want the quality which has been built here decimated.  WE have attracted a quality teacher staff and administrative staff which has delivered excellent results.  Since we have been level funded by the city for 3 years the fiscal constraints are significant.
We as BOE members have had to tackle difficult issues-closing schools, redistricting, program changes or eliminations.  All of these are challenging tasks without the fiscal constraints but the fiscal constraints make it more daunting.   
I am committed to public education.  I am committed to all students having the opportunity to attend college or some other post graduate experience in order that those 8500 students who pass through our doors have that opportunity.  Sometimes as we modify programs and reallocate resources to accomplish that goal the status quo is challenged.
As far as Ken’s point about the old guard.  3 incumbents ran for BOE and were elected so I am not sure what change he refers.  I think our rating within the state is pretty good and I am proud of that.  When one looks at quality schools systems throughout the state those that have a single minded focus are the successful ones.  Those where the leaders are not single minded are unsuccessful.  I am hopeful we will have the single minded and non partisan relationship which existed prior the this past election.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Council, school board rift is growing

The rift between the City Council and Board of Education is growing.
The five Republicans recently asked for detailed monthly school spending reports and were turned down cold.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer wrote Wednesday that “it is the policy of the school administration to provide the public only those documents requested by or created for the Board of Education, therefore, we will not be providing you the detailed request” sought in an email sent to the Board of Education by city Councilor Henri Martin.
“I don’t know why the resistance,” Martin said Thursday. “I just want to know some information.”
For city Councilor Ken Cockayne, the superintendent’s response only serves to widen “the disconnect” between councilors and school board members.
“I can’t help wondering what the Board of Ed is hiding,” Cockayne said Thursday.
Chris Wilson, the chairman of the school board, said that 137 cities and towns in Connecticut “spend more dollars than Bristol per student.  It seems that the City Council wants to erode that position further.”
The sole Democratic councilor, Kevin Fuller, said he is worried the GOP’s effort will create “a bigger divide between the Board of Ed and the Council, and who does that hurt in the long run? The students of Bristol.”
Streifer said Thursday he will gladly turn over any of the financial reports prepared for the Board of Education but it won’t create ones that don’t exist simply because city councilors want more detailed data.
Streifer said he hopes that problems don’t develop between City Hall and the school administration.
“There is an established process under the city charter to review and fund budgets,” Streifer said, pointing out that the Board of Finance reviews budgets and “then makes a recommendation to the City Council and they jointly vote on budget appropriations.”
“I would hope that everyone would respect and honor that process which has worked well in the past,” Streifer said.
Martin said the schools spend 61 percent of the city’s budget, a total of $102.6 million this year, and he would not be doing his job if he didn’t try to understand where all that money goes.
Fuller said, “The council in the past has looked at the BOE budget but we cannot control it. The only vote the council has is to approve or deny the total amount of the budget,” and cannot deal with particular line items.
“We understand that we don't have the power to line item the BOE budget and determine where money should or shouldn't go,” said city Councilor Derek Czenczelewski
“However, that doesn't mean the city shouldn't be able to see where the money is going on a monthly basis. We are looking for transparency, plain and simple,” he said. |”Unfortunately, some administrators and officials believe that the BOE doesn't need to report to the taxpayers in any way.”
Cockayne said that voters showed last year they don’t want officials to tread along the same old path.
“The citizens of Bristol are fed up with the Board of Education,” Cockayne said, and they very much want change.
Though Republicans took control of the school board for the first time ever in November, Cockayne said they failed to shake up its leadership.
“The old guard is still in charge,” Cockayne said, and its members don’t believe there’s a need to do things differently.
“The Board of Education needs to open its eyes,” Cockayne said.
Fuller said he is curious what the Republicans are looking for.
In his email to Streifer, Martin sought detailed monthly reports on these accounts:  central administration, principals and assistants, supervisors, psychologists, other instructional, improvement for instruction, instructional services, other professional services, rentals and leases, and staff transportation.
“Give me additional information,” Martin said. “Let’s break it down.”
Streifer said the reports Martin asked for “are much more detailed than what we have on hand or which the Board of Education has asked for, thus we will not create them for him. “
Martin said he did not understand the resistance to providing councilors with the information.
Cockayne said in a Thursday email to Streifer that he “can't believe the BOE doesn't have a detailed expenditure report run every month.  This is something at even a basic business would do.”
“How then do you do accounting on $100 million?” Cockayne said. “You must have more internal detailed reports than you give out to the public.”

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at