April 29, 2012

Carlson keeps the trains running on time

From Facebook:

City Councilor Eric Carlson's text reads:

On friday afternoon I went to shop, Henry said a tree had fallen across tracks. I took picture, and went back to see if we could call train company to tell them. while looking for phone number, the train came and had to stop. The noise of the engine brought out all the folks at the American Legion barroom. The train engineer was on the radio with dispatch,who said it would be a few hours before they could send someone out to remove the tree. 
I walked up there with a chain saw running, cut up the tree and folks from the bar removed the pieces. the train was on its way in less than fifteen minutes.

Proof that Republicans will do whatever necessary to keep businesses and the economy moving.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 27, 2012

Cockayne: Some on Board of Ed not truthful

Here is an email exchange obtained recently through a Freedom of Information request to city councilors and the mayor:

Former school board member Orlando Calfe, Jr to city Councilor Ken Cockayne on April 17:
As a resident of Bristol in your district, a voting taxpayer and a former school board member, I want you to vote in favor of the budget request presented by the BOE.  That is, I want your approval for the fully funded budget to the level of the $105 million request made by the Board of Education.

And Cockayne's response the next day, which he shared with the other Republican council members:
Thank you for your email.  Unfortunately I will not be supporting the full budget.  I believe the BOE must do a much better job managing the money.  I believe the BOE is very top heavy with Administration and the money does not make it to the teachers and students.  I also have a problem with the Minimum Balance Requirement.   Any increase we give the BOE will now be the new minimum for the following year. 
I also don't believe some on the BOE are being truthful with the parents.  For example....I was at the Feb 14th meeting for a bit before I had to go to City hall for a meeting of my own.  During that meeting, the BOE when through a presentation explaining why they were cutting band and choirs...( my son who is in 6th grade is in both).  The presentation when on to explain that it was not about the money but that the curriculum was changing, doing away with flex and making each period a bit longer.  However,  a few weeks later after pressure from the parents, the BOE now said if the city gave them the money they would put back the music and choirs.  When I asked point blank to a BOE member why they would tell the parent this since I was at the Feb 14th meeting, they could not answer the question.  So I ask......are they changing the curriculum or is it about money? 
Yet another example....The BOE has told the lacrosse parents if the city gives them the money... I believe its about 50k... they will put in Lacrosse.  So again, I asked a BOE member (veteran member) if I make a motion to increase whatever the number is for BOE by the amount lacrosse needs will they put in Lacrosse as was stated at the BOE meeting to the parents.  I was told in no uncertain terms NO!  Again, when I asked why then are they telling parents one thing at the BOE meeting and have intention of following through.  The answer I received was this is not the place to talk about it! 
The BOE has also said publicly they cannot take another flat budget....how quickly they forgot about the extra 2.5 million dollars the city was forced to give them last year. 
Hopefully you can see why I will not fund the BOE in full.  In my opinion some on the BOE can not be trusted to do as they has said they would do.  The BOE needs to do as many households have had to do and thats tighten the belt and start managing the buget.  The city can no longer be a open checkbook. 
This is nothing I take lightly.  I have a son who is currently in 6th grade at Chippens.  I'm also engaged to a teacher..not Bristol...so I see first hand what the teachers are dealing with. 
Please feel free to call with any questions. 

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Ward challenges GOP to take the lead

Fed up by Republican complaints that he is moving too slowly to consolidate government departments, Mayor Art Ward recently offered to let the GOP-controlled City Council spearhead the process.
Bristol Mayor Art Ward
“It is quite evident, based upon the City Council’s level of frustration and suggestions of the consolidation efforts not being done readily enough, that the members of the City Council seem to possess more expertise on this project than I, or anyone else involved up to this point,” Ward recently wrote in an email to the council.
Ward said he would “graciously entertain nominations for the names of any City Council members who wish to volunteer their experience, time and wisdom to become the chairperson of this effort,” Ward wrote.
The mayor said that nobody has yet expressed interest in taking up the position.
The move followed complaints by two GOP councilors – David Mills and Derek Czenczelewski – about the slow pace of consolidation efforts.
Ward said the initial push has been to try to consolidate the computer divisions of City Hall and the Board of Education. He said it probably wouldn’t save money but it would improve efficiency.
Mills asked the personnel director in an April 11 email obtained through a Freedom of Information request how come nothing has been mentioned about other potential areas for consolidation, including “vehicle maintenance, putting all buildings under one department and all public grounds under another.”
“Has this even been discussed yet? It has been five months since it was proposed to the mayor,” Mills said.
Ward wrote back to Mills, “Patience is a virtue.”
Mills fired back: “In other words, it hasn’t started yet.” Link to full story

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 26, 2012

City budget hikes property taxes nearly 6 percent

Board of Finance member Robert Vojtek, left, speaks with the panel’s chairman, Rich Miecznikowski, before Wednesday night’s Board of Finance meeting.
The city’s Board of Finance unanimously agreed Wednesday on a $177 million spending plan that would hike property taxes nearly 6 percent.
Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said the focus during budget preparations was to maintain municipal services “while maintaining the city’s strong financial condition.”
The budget maintains education spending at last year’s level — a level that hasn’t changed much in four years — but officials said that educators can pay $1 million less for health care, freeing up cash for other uses, and tap some of the excess bond money from construction projects to buy books and other equipment for the new schools.
That’s still considerably less than the $3.1 million in additional funding sought by educators, perhaps opening the door to more layoffs and making it less likely that music and lacrosse programs that many are seeking to preserve will wind up with the money they are seeking.
Falling short in funding is going to have “a dramatic impact” on the ability of Bristol schools to ensure all children achieve to their capacity, said Chris Wilson, chairman of the Board of Education. LINK TO FULL STORY

Mill rates for Bristol since the last revaluation year:
For 2008-2009 budget - 25.99
For 2009-2010 budget - 25.99
For 2010-2011 budget - 27.24
For 2011-2012 budget - 27.24
For 2012-2013 budget - 28.75

Astute observers will note that taxes have gone up every other year by about the same margin. It is almost certainly not a coincidence that they rise in non-election years while mill rates stay frozen whenever there's a municipal election that fall.
So perhaps next year there will, once again, be a freeze.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 25, 2012

Romney grabs majority of Bristol GOP votes

Mitt Romney
BRISTOL – Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney garnered 54 percent of the 735 votes cast by Bristol Republicans in Tuesday’s presidential primary.
Romney, who is virtually certain to gain the GOP’s nomination to challenge President Obama in November, collected 400 votes from the 12 percent of GOP loyalists in Bristol who bothered to turn out at the polls.
Finishing second was U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who racked up 140 votes. He was followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who tallied 120.
Also collecting votes was former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who got 64 despite suspending his campaign earlier this month.
Ten GOP voters opted for uncommitted.
There are 5,661 registered Republicans in the city.
Turnout was light because of the widespread belief that Romney, who swept a series of primaries Tuesday, had the nomination locked up after Santorum stopped campaigning actively.
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 24, 2012

Consultant: Move City Hall to Memorial Boulevard

A study on how the city should reuse aging school buildings recommends moving City Hall to Memorial Boulevard School, erecting a new police complex to replace Bingham School and renovating the central firehouse.

Memorial Boulevard School
The $57 million plan calls for selling the existing City Hall building, creating a neighborhood park at the O’Connell School site on Park Street and leaving the existing Beals Senior-Community Center where it is.
George Wallace, deputy public works director, said the city’s Building Committee recently received the draft study and plans to hear soon from the consultants. It has made no decisions and its members may or may not support the recommendations.
The $70,000 space needs study, which officials agreed to carry out last spring, is the product of an in-depth examination by experts from Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc. of South Windsor who were asked to figure out how the city should best use its buildings, including schools that will be empty starting next fall.
City Councilor Henri Martin, who serves on the buildings panel, said the report is “sort of a general heads-up” about what’s possible.
He said officials are going to have to figure out how the proposals fit into the overall downtown revitalization effort. There are many options, Martin said, none of them certain. LINK TO FULL STORY.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Video: Roche slams Welch's record in Senate

Here is the speech that Democratic state Senate candidate Dave Roche delivered to the city's Democratic Town Committee on Monday night at City Hall:

Roche is hoping to unseat state Sen. Jason Welch, a Bristol Republican who captured the 31st Senate District seat two years ago.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Few Republicans bother to vote today

Turnout for today's GOP presidential primary is "very light," according to Gary Schaffrick, an assistant registrar.
As of noon in Bristol, only 256 of the city's 5,694 registered Republicans had showed up to vote in the nearly meaningless presidential primary expected to be won by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Until early April, there had been some hope the contest might prove a real one.
But the decision several weeks ago by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to suspend his campaign put an end to any drama surrounding the race.
Romney had the battle won as soon as Santorum quit, though former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas congressman Ron Paul remain on the ballot as well.
The polls are open until 8 p.m. today. Only registered Republicans can vote.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 23, 2012

Blazejowski retirement renews dispute over handling of troubled police officer

For city Councilor Kevin Fuller, his vote last week to offer a disability retirement to troubled police Officer Marc Blazejowski was one of the most disturbing choices he’s had to make.
Fuller said the disability section’s wording fit Blazejowski’s situation and both the city and an independent physician argued that he should be granted disability, which pays officers 70 percent of their regular as well as benefits.
Fuller said he had little choice given that firing the 34-year-old officer would have meant the city would “end up in the same place” after spending time and money in a court case it could not win.
The problem, Fuller said, is that Blazejowski should have been axed years ago. The ball was dropped back then, he said, not now.
There’s something to that argument.
According to a 2011 report byconsultant Lori Coppinger, Blazejowski should have been fired after a series of incidents culminating in a 2006 meltdown when the officer expressed the idea that he would “like to kill someone” to see how it feels. Link to the full story.
Tuesday's paper will have an updated version of this story.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 12, 2012

Ward speaks to union rally at City Hall

Here is Mayor Art Ward speaking to a union rally outside City Hall before this week's City Council meeting:

And here is Mayra Sampson, the union leader for City Hall's workers, speaking at the same union rally (sorry about the wind):

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Mayor to Cockayne: "Shut the f*** up"

Anyone who sits through government meetings has wanted, at one time or another, to tell someone to shut the f*** up.
And God knows that many have privately indicated they wish city Councilor Ken Cockayne in particular would zip it.
But Mayor Art Ward made the mistake of letting the understandable thought slip out of his mouth during this week's City Council meeting. Here's the story, in case you missed it.
Plus, there's the must-see video:

You can get a sense of how how much of a circus the meeting had become.
Now newspaper people are famously crass -- the word f*** rolls off some editors' tongues as often as twice per sentence -- so the mayor's words barely registered with me. Until I got a copy of the tape, I really wasn't sure what Ward had said.
But we all recognize the mayor shouldn't curse in a televised, public meeting. That he's never done it before is all the proof anyone needs that he knows better -- and is better, since he's been there a long, long time as a councilor and the city's top elected official.
The Urban Dictionary helps clarify the "shut the f*** up" comment. It says that people use the phrase "when someone is talking, there is too much noise or when someone is talking shit. It is the upgrade of 'shut up' and is used mainly when you are angry and annoyed to the extent the you could lose it at any moment."
I don't really think Ward was about to lose it -- why would he? he had as much support in that union-filled chamber as he's ever had in his life -- but he was probably pretty angry that Cockayne was leaping in to try to tell him how to do his job.
At its root, what's happening between the GOP-dominated council and Ward is a power struggle.
The mayor runs the city, by charter and tradition, but this council is determined to try to force him to follow its dictates, something he's unwilling to do except grudgingly and slow.
What that moment of frustration when the mayor cursed at Cockayne really shows is how deep the divide between them has become in the last few months.
In a war, after all, you don't usually sweet talk the enemy.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 11, 2012

City councilors explain their police pact votes

During last night's City Council meeting, the GOP majority managed to shoot down a proposed contract with the police union that would have granted officers an 8.3-percent raise over a four-year period beginning last July. The four opponents -- Ken Cockayne, Henri Martin, Derek Czenczelewski and David Mills -- said the city couldn't afford to be so generous. One Republican, Eric Carlson, joined the two Democrats in favor of the pact. Its failure means the issue will head to arbitration -- which Mayor Art Ward said will cost more than $10,000 just to deal with. It is also likely, officials said, the city will wind up being forced to give workers a more generous package than the one the council rejected. In any case, here are videos from last night's council session in which Mills, Democrat Kevin Fuller, Carlson and Cockayne explain their votes on the issue:

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Union head bashes GOP privatization bid

Mayra Sampson, who heads the union local representing union workers at City Hall, spoke during a windy outdoor rally at City Hall before Tuesday's City Council meeting:

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Mayor Ward addresses union rally Tuesday

Mayor Art Ward spoke to about 200 city union members and supporters during a rally before Tuesday's City Council meeting. Here's what he had to say:


Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com