August 30, 2013

Zoppo-Sassu to GOP: 'Be great," not petty

Open response from City Council hopeful Ellen Zoppo-Sassu to this:

It is evident to me that Mr. Czenczelewski is looking to make the Boys & Girls Club a political issue and I refuse to allow him to do that as I fully support the mission of the Club and spent 3 wonderful years working there with an incredible staff and amazing kids. As I stated last night, which he clearly did not hear, was my observation that the new ordinance added a subjective element to fee waivers at a time when the same City Council goes on and on about being fiscal conservatives and taxpayer advocates.

In 2008, the Boys & Girls Club received $50,000 from the City with funds from the Assistance Agreement in place for downtown to do a feasibility study. I believe that this is an appropriate role for government to play to assist an organization in growth, especially when they are looking to grow in downtown. Similarly, the Historical Society received the former high school building for $1, with the understanding the organization was responsible for improvements. Mccabe-Waters is situated on park property and has collaborative relationships with the Park department. 

It doesn't matter who the recipient of a fee waiver is or what "value" they bring, and the Club certainly brings value. By making this solely about the Club, Mr. Czenczelewski is avoiding the real policy point - the City Council amended a long-standing city ordinance that stated no building fees shall be waived to now read "no building fees shall be waived without the approval of the City Council." I think this is a slippery slope. 

Ironically, he acknowledges my observation in his statement that "and it is true that a framework should be established to provide criteria or grounds for approval, much like what CDBG has set up."  That in fact sums up my observation from last night. As a former chair of the Ordinance Committee, I felt that their approach to this was flawed. 

He also went on to say that "it didn't matter" that the City of Bristol paid itself over $200,000 in building fees for the Library Building Project or the two new schools because it's just money moving from one pocket to the other. I firmly disagree. Another part of this topic is that the Building Department, Fire Marshall's office, and Planning Departments have staff whose job is to review all building plans whether it's a small project or a large project. These collected fees are part of department budgets. If every non-profit asks for fee waivers, then my second point last night was, isn't this going to cause a hardship in budget development for these department heads and uncertainty with fiscal projecting. 

I am not sure why he is choosing to weave in my request of CDBG funds, a federal pass-through funding program into this argument. I am confident that I can say that the City's use of CDBG funds is a positive aspect for the city's non-profit, but the pie has been dwindling over the past years and this is no longer a reliable source of grant funds for non-profits to utilize and do small projects. 

I am not sure how my support of a plan from 2005 to place the Boys & Girls Club on the mall property is relevant to a discussion about waiving building fees. 

What I am sure about is that while there was a lot of solid discussion on city issues at the open forum hosted by Mr.Czenczelewski and Mr. Carlson last night, they instead chose to politicize a minor point on one aspect of last night's discussion for political gain. Maybe they were uncomfortable with having their political opponents in the room or having to justify their positions. However, this is a democracy, this is supposed to be open government, and until November 5th, Mr. Czenczelewski is in fact my representative on City Council. 

I would suggest that they take a page from the Boys & Girls Club to "be great," instead of "being petty." I greatly look forward to future policy debates with Mr. Czenczelewski and Mr. Mills, or any other member of the City Council on issues of importance.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

GOP councilors: Zoppo-Sassu 'hypocritical' on building fees

Press release from city Councilors Derek Czenzelewski and Eric Carlson:

Boys Club Fee Waiver Sparks Debate
“No good deed goes unpunished”, at least not in campaign season. Those wise words came to us after the Town Hall meeting at the library last night. Ellen Zoppo brought up what to her was a serious concern. In her opinion, she felt that waiving the building inspection fees for the new Bristol Boys and Girls Club set a bad precedent. Her contention was that it was unfair to other non-profit groups that are planning renovations and repairs, and that the City Council should never have waived the fees because those costs are figured into building budgets. However, despite vehemently opposing such waivers, she claims that she will soon demand a waiver of the fees for work to be done on the roof of the Historical Society.
One could argue that the precedent had already been set here in Bristol years ago. Each year the City doles out funds through the Community Development Block Grant to an array of in-need non-profits. Just this past year, Ms. Zoppo represented the Historical Society and McCabe Waters Little League in requesting such funds. Perhaps even more hypocritical is that when Ms. Zoppo was on the City Council, she supported the purchase of the former Bristol Centre Mall property at the height of the real estate market using taxpayer funds. The original plan pushed for at the time was a $115 million facility for the Boys and Girls Club to operate out of.
From our perspective, we see the development of the new $11 million Boys and Girls Club as a good thing for Bristol, and in particular the West End neighborhood it will call home. When making our decision, we also took into consideration the difficulties of raising funds and believed that waiving $60,000 in costs to the club’s building budget would be helpful in their push to acquire the last outstanding funds needed for construction to begin. The vast majority of funds for the new club have been raised through private donations from many around the City and some of our largest corporate citizens. Were any other social service group planning a multi-million dollar expansion or building project that benefits a large number of our citizens, in particular the youth of our community, we would again look favorably at helping their efforts with a relief of costs.
Beyond the social impact the Club currently makes - and will be able to enhance thanks to the new facility - the new club will create additional jobs and infuse nearly $15 million into the local economy. Additionally, the Club saves the City a considerable amount of money through the programs it offers - programs that if offered by the City would cost three times as much and would come from the taxpayers. In short, we felt that the improvements to our City’s quality of life, and in particular the lives of City youths were, and will be worth far more than the $60,000 we are not collecting.
So perhaps we set a bad precedent when the City Council, in a bi-partisan unanimous vote, saved the Bristol Boys and Girls Club a considerable amount of money. Perhaps there will be a flood of non-profit organizations demanding the same treatment. And it is true that a framework should be established to provide criteria or grounds for approval, much like what CDBG has set up. And, as is the case each year when hundreds of thousands of dollars are requested of CDBG that cannot be given, there may be hurt feelings for those turned down. But ultimately, if a non-profit project that impacts thousands of children’s lives in our community comes before the Council, you can bet we will place our support behind our citizens.

Zoppo-Sassu's response can be found here.
Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 28, 2013

Jeffries: 'This council has failed the city'

The city's Planning Commission reaffirmed its opposition to the sale of Memorial Boulevard School. Here's an early version of the story.

Statement from Democratic City Council candidate Steve Jeffries:

Steve Jeffries
Clearly the end result on the planning committee was positive and I am grateful that the proposed sale of our fabled Memorial Boulevard School will not be sold, at least not yet without more thoughtful conversations that actually make sense while covering all available bases.  Regarding the present City Council members, I find it very interesting and disturbing that 3 out of the 6 on the council were so willing to sell off this valued and historic piece of property without any consideration to the "historic value" to the city as well as the people who graced the halls of this school as students and graduates.  While Ken Cockayne valiantly proposed that the sale of the school should be put on the ballet in November which was backed by two other on the council, what is troubling is that Cockayne can't seem to distinguish the value (emotional, historic and actual) that selling property, in this case the school would have on our city, and this is the guy that wants to be Mayor?

In addition, there can be no question that this council has failed the city and its citizens in a number of ways by shuffling issues back and forth with no real action or solutions.  There is no question that the desire of this council is  to wait until after the upcoming election to re-address the sale of the school.  Perhaps if the Democrats regain control of the council, real positive solutions and actions will take place and things will finally get done.  Let's face it, looking to sell off property, waiving property fees for favorite businesses and raising taxes seems to be a Republican recipe for disaster.  I'm sure the Five Amigos will be looking to blame the Democrats on Memorial Boulevard School just like they do all the other issues!

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 27, 2013

Cockayne says to preserve drug-free zones

Press release issued this afternoon by Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne:


(Bristol)  City Councilman Ken Cockayne, the Republican nominee for Mayor of the City of Bristol today issued a statement on the eve of Bristol schools opening tomorrow regarding the recent proposal in the General Assembly regarding the issue of drug free zones.
Currently, state statute dictates a 1500 radius around our schools as drug free zone.  Anyone caught selling or using drugs within these zones are given harsher penalties. Near the end of the last legislative session, the Democrat majority amended a bill that would have reduced this radius from 1500 feet to 300 feet.  The bill ultimately failed.
 “This bill would have thwarted our local police department in their efforts to arrest many drug dealers in town,” Cockayne added “This bill is just bad public policy.”
The Republican nominee stated that as our next Mayor he would “Lend his voice to the growing opposition to this proposal and work diligently within the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to see that this proposal doesn’t become law.”
“Our children deserve the comfort of having the best protection from drug dealers peddling their goods within the 1500 radius of a school and parents deserve the same comfort level,” Cockayne added “I, for one, would like to see the 1500 radius increased rather than decreased.”
Our city along with many other urban areas in our state are seeing a spike in drug related crimes and as we all know this can lead to increased crime rates and blight within our community. “As Mayor, I have vowed to take a strong stance on blight and graffiti, and bills such as this one from the Legislature do nothing to help local officials,” Cockayne said.
Cockayne calls for unified opposition amongst all elected officials regarding this proposal should it surface again.  (Democrat Chris Wright supported the bill before it ultimately failed.)
“I am asking all elected officials and candidates, regardless of their party affiliations, to join me in opposition to this proposal.  Surely this is an issue that all of us in Bristol can agree on.”

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Digging through city meeting minutes and trying to stay awake

City Council hopeful Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is feeling sorry for ... me.
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu
She told the Democratic Town Committee that she's been digging through the minutes of committee meetings held during the past couple of years at City Hall.
They amount to a thin record of hundreds of hours of debate, discussion and, rarely, decision-making.
Zoppo-Sassu, a Democrat in the 3rd District, said she's seen from the records that issues are talked about "month after month" without any resolution.
"I really feel sorry for Steve Collins," Zoppo-Sassu told fellow Democrats, because the poor guy has had to sit through entirely too many of these meandering sessions.
She said that it's clear from the record there's been no collaboration among the council and is committees, no effort to lay out a proper road map to resolve key issues and no communication even on crucial matters such as the fate of Memorial Boulevard School.
"There are going to be some very interesting conversations" in the coming weeks, Zoppo-Sassu said, adding that she hopes there will be many forums and debates where candidates can talk about the lack of accomplishments by the current council.
Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Democrats debate response to 'persuasive' Alford letter

Former Republican mayoral contender Mary Alford caught the attention of Democrats with a recent letter to theeditor assailing Democratic mayoral hopeful Chris Wilson.
Amy Breakstone, a local doctor, said that Alford’s letter castigating Wilson’s stand on the sale of Memorial Boulevard School was “pretty persuasive.”
Mayor Art Ward, left, with Mary Alford
She said that Wilson ought to rebut Alford’s charges by responding to them.
But Wilson said he can’t counter everything that opponents throw at him “or I’ll be going crazy.”
Breakstone said that if she didn’t know better, “I would have been very persuaded by” Alford’s letter. She told Wilson that “discussing issues is not without merit.”
Wilson said, though, that Alford’s charges are “without merit” and he thinks most readers understand that letters from political operatives are inherently biased.
Former state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, said Alford “does well” in zinging political foes, but she shouldn’t get credit for penning the epistles.
“When she writes a letter, it’s because somebody wrote it for her,” Colapietro said.
He said that he agreed with Wilson, however, that answering the letters is a waste of time. He said people who support Wilson should write their own letters touting him instead of making the effort to go head-to-head with Alford.

Update: Alford said nobody puts words in her mouth.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 14, 2013

Waiving fees may be 'recipe for disaster,' Jeffries warns

Democratic City Council hopeful Stephen Jeffries is concerned that waiving the building permit fees for the Bristol Boys and Girls Club may lead to fewer inspections and less safety.
The City Council Tuesday unanimously agreed to waive about $62,000 in potential fees to give the nonprofit a boost in its $10 million building project on West Street that's slated to get underway in mid-September.
Jeffries, who is seeking election in the 1st District,said,"RevenuerReduction will directly correlate with safety inspection prioritization and could actually mean cuts to the number of inspections."
He asked, "Will the damaging revenue concessions result in a reduction of service equality?  This could very well be a recipe for disaster!"

Update at 8:40 a.m.:
City Building Official Guy Morin, after reading what Jeffries had to say, responded:
"That is one of the most bizarre comments I have ever heard. The required inspections for any project are dictated by the state building code and state statutes, the amount of inspections have nothing to do with the permit fees."

Update at 8:50 a.m.:
Mayor Art Ward asked, "Why wasn't this concern raised when the issue was discussed at the City Council meeting? The issue was waiving of the permit fees, not the inspection process."

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 13, 2013

Zoppo-Sassu: No more lip service on blight

A press release from City Council hopeful Ellen Zoppo-Sassu on the blight issue:

Meaningful Code Enforcement is Way More than Reporting Blight and Removing Graffiti
Background Information
During my terms on the City Council from 2001-2007, code enforcement and reduction of blight was a key bipartisan focus. Councilmen Ron Burns, Craig Minor and Kevin McCauley, among others, spent many hours visiting residents living in unsafe or hazardous conditions.

From that, many positive policies were enacted including redefining blight and updating the city's property maintenance code.

The Origin of Code Enforcement
Many department heads and community groups such as the Greater Bristol Property Owners Association and the Federal Hill Association spent months discussing these issues in order to streamline the complaint process, appeals process, and communications among departments that has enforcement capability. It was interesting to note that from these joint meetings, that occurred during these city employees' regular work days and thus cost the taxpayer nothing, a list of targeted properties emerged. 

Not to many people's surprise, the Fire Marshal, the Sanitation engineer assigned to housing code from the Bristol-Burlington Health District, the Zoning Enforcement Officer, the Police Department, city lawyers and Solid Waste employees from Public Works all had certain addresses in common.The Bristol Housing Authority also provided expertise as to what was required for Section 8 inspections.  It was very easy to thus coordinate responses and systematically approach problem properties and create lists for property owners to resolve their code issues.

Many of these properties were NOT owned by local residents who owned real estate as an investment and who are thus "invested" in the community.  In fact, we had seen a large influx of out-of-town investors who found Bristol to be an attractive community due to its stable tax rate and affordable and abundant supply of multi-unit housing. These absentee landlords were squeezing every last drop of income from these properties with little to no maintenance, and flipping them between various LLCs.

The only way to get the attention of these types of predatory investors is to hit them in the wallet and pocketbooks. Code enforcement accomplished that, especially when the police department added code enforcement to a police officer's assignment. It also eliminated a large amount of liability from the city, which is charged by state statute to inspect multi-unit properties annually. This is rarely accomplished due to the volume of inspections that would need to be done. By targeting the most egregious of the properties, the city was at least assured that the most hazardous of conditions were addressed.

Code Enforcement Over the Last Six Years
It is my understanding that code enforcement is now a watered down version of what it once was and priority is not assigned to it. While there are still some enforcement officials that meet, attendance from the original group is occasional, nor have any of the current city councilmen or the current mayor, who put himself as the code enforcement liaison, regularly attend the meetings.

I am sincerely puzzled by Mr. Cockayne's great unveil of his blight initiative. He has represented the Second District, including the West End, for 6 years, and his two major initiatives are a website contact to report blight and timely graffiti removal?  

I do have some good news for him - the definition of "blight" and how to file a complaint is currently already on the city's website under the Frequently Asked Questions section.
So now that blight is all set, I would like to suggest that we turn our attention to the real solutions our problem areas.

Code enforcement is a city's umbrella insurance policy. It can have a positive impact on many aspects of the city and its quality of life. Let's consider the West End - what many optimistically term an area "still in transition. Yet, in the immediate radius of the West and School St. intersection, there are a scarce number of local owners who are not selective about tenants, just as long as they pay.

The loitering, along with public drug use and sales, have not created a welcoming environment for customers or residents. The housing density in this area is too much, with too little to support it in the way of parking and green space. There are some great retail spaces in this neighborhood but if you cannot attract customers, how is the city's BDA or Chamber of Commerce supposed to place businesses that will endure? Niche businesses such as South Side Meat Market, Valle's Shoe Repair, Hamelin's and others are the anchors. How much longer will they be able to fight the tide without substantive action beyond well-intentioned people showing up to do clean-ups in front of cameras?
Departments working together to share information and resources are the best tool we have yet none of this has been effectively implemented and in fact, elements of it have been dismantled. I recall that in 2007, in just over one year, a certain property in the West End accumulated 105 calls-for-service, along with various code violations. The code enforcement group at the time, along with the police, took several actions which resulted in the problem being resolved. 

Landlords who refuse to lease out commercial or residential properties so they can claim tax write-offs should have to pay fines to address the issues that come with vacant properties. Or they can be persuaded to sell them if the cost is too high for them to abate, or the City can start a public-private fund to start purchasing the problem properties and solve the issue through re-use, re-sale, condemnation, demolition, or reduction in the number of available units. 

I would also suggest that Mr. Cockayne peruse the West End Study that was approved in 2011. This is a phenomenal planning tool that was created by neighborhood stakeholders and has several substantive recommendations, none of which were addressed in Mr. Cockayne's Plan. Nothing is more frustrating that elected officials who go through the motions with no substance. Different components of this plan should be front and center at every Council meeting, and every Council committee should be attacking the areas of which they have jurisdiction, as well as having community conversations with stakeholders such as the business owners, schools, Chamber, social service organizations and responsible property owners.

But whenever people start to talk about real solutions, that require real investment, both financially and emotionally, this Council gets nervous about public reaction and they collectively put on their "we can't spend money because the taxpayers will be angry" hats. 

Realistically, I think they are already angry. As a homeowner in a diverse neighborhood, I know that my neighbors have a zero tolerance for some of the associated patterns that result from absentee landlords. Negligent landlords who rent without benefit of tenant screening contribute to the dozens of registered sex offenders who live in Bristol, many of them in these units. The other patterns of crime rate, police calls for service, back taxes, unpaid water bills, large numbers of children coming into the community who qualify for free and reduced lunch,risk to firefighters and other emergency workers going into unsafe buildings, unlicensed animals, cases of animal abuse, and many other factors cannot be overlooked with the big picture. 

If we want to fix the West End, Federal Hill, or any of other of our neighborhoods which have elements that are contrary to what we want to define as strong and vibrant communities, then it's time to put actions to our words and not just worry about the superficial issues that do not define the problem. 

I look forward to being a candidate for City Council this fall, and discussing my thoughts and ideas in as many candidate forums and meetings as we can schedule between now and November 5th.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Bristol CAPT test scores sink

Bristol's CAPT scores for 10th graders last year were, to say the least, disappointing.
Here's a snapshot: (click on picture to make it larger)

You can search for more information here.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Council hopeful Calvin Brown calls for civility on campaign trail

Democratic city Council candidate Calvin Brown sent this out a few days ago, but I forgot to post it:

“No More Distractions”
Bullies hiding behind screen names do not represent this city. Cowards who anonymously mail un-funny, not-clever, poorly and cheaply designed cartoons poking fun at others do not represent this city. Alleged gang-banging, foolish criminals who throw away a great career do not represent this city.
I am born and raised in Bristol. I had a safe upbringing and I received a quality education with the best possible teachers in Bristol. This is a worthy community with potential unmatched by any other city I’ve ever known. The people here are diverse in every sense of the word. They are kind, hardworking, and looking forward to a better day for themselves, their families, and their community. These people— the men and women I grew up with; the ones I went to school with; and the ones I meet traveling through the streets of this city—they are the people who represent Bristol.
Bristol is—now more than ever—in critical need of a more positive attitude and more focused leadership. Revitalization downtown cannot and will not be successful unless it is a city-wide priority that everyone can understand, believe in, and see in progress. Our streets cannot and will not be cleaned up until we address blight, hold landlords accountable for the properties they own in this city, and stand with the citizens of Bristol who are concerned about the quality of life for all people across our community. Our government cannot and will not become more efficient until we have a serious and honest conversation about the quality of services we provide, the way we treat our public employees, and the coordination of information between city department heads.
Real issues that affect real people are staring us in the face this year. I don’t know a single candidate this year—Democrat or Republican—that doesn’t want to talk about them. So let’s all do our best to forget the distractions, stay positive, and get talking.
 Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Wilson, Cockayne debate education spending

Here are dueling letters from Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne and Democratic mayoral candidate Chris Wilson, both writing about education:
First, here's one Cockayne sent out recently:

Dear Editor:
The tickets for the November election have been endorsed by both Town Committees this week. The Republican slate of City Council candidates represents a diversified slate that is ready to roll up its sleeves and bring positive change to our community and I am excited to work with them for the betterment of Bristol.
I, however, was struck by a comment made by my opponent for Mayor. He stated that the Democrats were going to give us “A great 21st century city with a strong education system.” The reason this comment perplexed me was that I believe we already have a strong education system.
It is appalling that the current Chairman of the Bristol Board of Education who has been a member of that body for nearly a decade can make a statement alluding to fact that we don’t have a strong education system.
A few years back when my opponent was leading the charge to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on closing four neighborhood schools and constructing two new buildings he told us that this new K-8 concept was going to improve the quality of our education and give us state of the art facilities.
Now that the city has invested millions of hard earned tax dollars and redistricted thousands of students the Board Chairman and Democrat nominee says that we are still in need of “a strong education system.”
I believe the teachers in our community do a terrific job of educating our students with the limited resources the Board Chairman has allocated to them. As it has been well documented in The Bristol Press over the past few years our current education structure is way too top heavy with a majority of the scarce education dollars going to central office and school administrators, leaving the crumbs to make their way to the classrooms.
This is evident by the fact that after closing four neighborhood schools the Board of Education laid off not one administrator and let go of 32 teachers in the process.
As Mayor, I will have very little to say about how education dollars are appropriated on Church Street. The current state law ties the hands of local fiscal appropriators. Having said that, we all know that more changes are needed at central office to ensure that our students are receiving a quality education and our teachers have the resources needed to teach them.
Obviously this process has been a challenge for the current Chairman of the Board of Education and it was made more apparent by his comments alluding to the fact that our education system is weak and that our city isn’t ready for the 21st century.
I believe that our community is well positioned for the 21st century. The development of downtown Bristol and the opportunities available by the completion of Route 72 will make our community more prosperous and help reduce our tax burden on businesses and homeowners.

Ken Cockayne
Republican Nominee for Mayor

Here's Wilson's new letter:

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."
Never has that quote by Daniel Patrick Moynihan ever been truer than now.  When Mr. Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” he very easily could have been talking about recent comments by the Bristol GOP Mayoral candidate. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a politician has stated opinion like it is a fact.  And I’m sure it wont be the last.

Here are the facts.   During my tenure as Commissioner of  the Bristol Board of Education, I have worked with local business leaders, local education leaders, students and teachers to build school curriculum that prepares our students for college, trade school or the work force.  Test scores have risen despite decreases in state funding and we’ve returned $4,800,000 in hard earned surplus tax dollars to the City of Bristol.  The shorthand version – students are better prepared, the Bristol BOE is receiving less and we’ve returned $4,800,000 to taxpayers.  I’m pretty proud of these facts.    
Here are some more facts; the Bristol Board of Education has closed 5 Schools in the recent past.  We have redistricted the entire K-8 population as per the requirement of the State Board of Education. We have eliminated 119 positions from our chart of positions within the Board of Education.  Of those 119 positions 6.9 were administrative, 56.3 were teachers and the remainder was support positions throughout the district.  58 of those positions were layoffs, 51 were eliminated through attrition and 14 positions were moved to grant programs not part of the Board of Education Budget.
I offer these last two paragraphs so that my opponent can see the difference between fact and opinion.
More facts, the Bristol BOE has been dealing with chronic underfunding of education for some time. In fact the Superintendent in 2002 reported that education was under funded by 9 million dollars.  We currently sit near the bottom of ranking in how much money Bristol pays in per capita spending for each student as compared to other towns in our educational reference group.  For instance, last year, Manchester a very similar community to Bristol spent $14404 per Student and Bristol spent $12619.  We both have similar number of students and very similar demographics.  Despite these facts, student performance is improving.
Now, I agree that per student spending is important, but it’s not the only factor in this very complex equation.  But, to make the discussion about how much we pay our teachers or administrators, as my opponent has, is disingenuous.  We pay our teachers a commensurate salary for their experience, education and position.  We at the board of education continually benchmark ourselves against other communities in the Central CT area to make sure we are in the middle range when we perform salary surveys.  We don’t want to be the highest, but we don’t want to be the lowest either.  We want to keep and attract quality teachers and administrators that  work for the best results for our children’s future.  Further, to vilify school administrators is a political tactic unworthy of our time.  The fact is, we compete with other communities for the best candidates.  We want the very best for our students.  Clearly, the research indicates the most important individuals to a student’s success academically are their teachers and their principal.  We at the Board of Education are proud of our faculty.  They continually demonstrate they are very worth the investment we place in them.
The real problem is not the salaries of the administrators but the lack of recognition by policy makers and public officials as to what it takes to provide a 21st Century educational experience for our students. Our students compete for positions in post high school academic institutions including some of the best colleges and Universities in America.  Our challenge as a community and a Board of Education is to make sure we provide the resources for those students to compete against other students in the surrounding area, CT, across the country and globally. 
As a board of Education we have been required to reduce or eliminate many programs that provide the experience our students need.  We have not done it without much angst and anguish.  But we are also mandated to balance our budget each and every year.   We have managed our budgets very prudently, again returning over 4.8 million dollars to the city over the past 7 years.  We have offered retirement incentives to assist in managing during these difficult financial times. We have eliminated classes, increased class size, and moved programs from one building to another-all in an effort to manage with less than optimal funding.
Our administrators have taken the resources provided by community leaders and made wise decisions with those dollars.  As a Board Chairman I without hesitation support and applaud our administrative team and faculty for all their work.  They enhance the quality of life in our community.   Public officials who state otherwise are not being accurate or honest.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Cockayne vows to fight graffiti, blight

Press release from Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne:

Cockayne unveils Blight Initiatives.

(Bristol)  City Councilman Ken Cockayne, the Republican nominee for Mayor of the City of Bristol today unveiled his initiatives to combat blight in our city and our neighborhoods.
“As Mayor, from my first day in office I intend to push the Code Enforcement Committee to be more aggressive in the area of code enforcement in order to rein in properties that have been allowed to deteriorate due to the influx of absentee landlords we have in Bristol,” Cockayne added, “This committee will have the full backing of the Mayor’s office and I would urge all Bristol residents to report blighted properties as soon as possible so we can get a handle on it before they become an eyesore.”
Cockayne added that he intends to ask the City Council to adopt a policy to require all graffiti on city property to be removed by the various departments within 48 hours of the graffiti being noticed. “This may become time consuming for the various departments, however I believe it is necessary in order to help clean up our city,” Cockayne said
The Republican nominee also said that he intends to add to the city website a link so that residents can report graffiti as they see it in their neighborhood. “Graffiti is not only limited to the so called artwork by the artist but sneakers on the wires also send a bad message about our community,” Cockayne said.
“Under current ordinance private businesses have 10 days from notification to remove graffiti from its property and having this website as a tool will help us move the process along quicker and get this problem under wraps as soon as possible, “ Cockayne said
Cockayne has been active since first being elected to the City Council in helping to clean up the West End.  Since being elected in 2007, Cockayne has sponsored the annual West End clean up day, and he was instrumental in helping to form the West End Association which is not only having a positive impact on our community but it is also growing each year.
“My goal as Mayor is to try and clean up Bristol, in the form of blighted properties that are getting worse and graffiti which makes our community less attractive to businesses and families, “Cockayne concluded, “As we all know graffiti is also associated with drug trafficking, violence and gangs and I intend to do everything in my power as Mayor to put these entities out of business in Bristol.”

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 8, 2013

Five anonymous cartoons created in 2011

First off, be sure to read this story about the possibility that former city economic development director Jonathan Rosenthal authored the two anonymous comic books lashing municipal leaders.
Now let's take a look at five images that date all the way to 2011 that were included in the packages sent out this week.
All of them are dated on Sunday afternoons in October and November of 2011, before and after the municipal election that year that saw Mayor Art Ward reelected and a nearly all-GOP City Council installed by voters.
The two oldest satirical pieces rip into former Mayor William Stortz, who began the effort to oust Rosenthal during his second term.
Here's one of them:

The next two attacked Ward, including this one:

You'll note that it also takes a swing at the city attorney and personnel director, two others who are not exactly Rosenthal favorites. In fact, it's probably fair to say that he loathes them, or at least that's what he's told many people.
The final 2011 comic, produced after the election, is looking forward to the next election. It makes it clear the author doesn't much like Republican city Councilor Ken Cockayne. Here it is:


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August 7, 2013

About those comic books...

One of the images from the comic book assailing Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne
To answer some of the questions asked by readers, the two comics sent anonymously to local political types don't appear to contain any threats or obscenity. They are satirical and those who have read them generally think they are funny in places but perhaps too bitter in their humor. They certainly go far beyond the line of the normal courtesies extended by candidates locally.
It's not the role of a newspaper to distribute anonymous comics, even though many readers would probably like to see them. At this point, I haven't seen anyone putting them out for the public, but maybe someone will. It won't be me.
The two comic books are very different. The one thrashing GOP mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne consists of a large number of varied images and text. The one ripping into Mayor Art Ward, on the other hand, is more like a traditional comic book, with a Donald Duck-like character filling in for the mayor.
Don't miss the next story!

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 6, 2013

Cockayne calls on police to find author of anonymous political comic

Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne asked the police Tuesday to investigate an anonymous comic book-style booklet that slams various GOP candidates.

Calling it “gutter politics,” Cockayne said the 16-page booklet is filled with “libelous and slanderous” material that decent people would never want to see. He said he will also pursue civil action against its creators if he can find them.

Click here for full story.

Here's what Democratic mayoral candidate Chris Wilson had to say about the comic book, which he received in his mailbox as well, too late for deadline:

"I agree with Mr. Cockayne this type of humor has no place in the mayoral campaign.  I abhor this type  of political tactic.  I intend to run a campaign in which I speak about the important issues confronting Bristol residents-  stable taxes, quality schools, creating an environment whereby businesses can add jobs and providing a safe secure Bristol.  No one,  especially me, wants to see this kind of material used in the  campaign for mayor.  I am certain no one involved in the Wilson for Mayor was in any way involved in this “comic book”.  In fact, since my entry into the race I have continually said I will not employ the tactics used by politicians in the past.  I got into this race,  to run a race I can be proud.  My business is here, and I live here and the position is not worth enough to lower myself to such standards."

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Plan now for Memorial Boulevard School, councilor says

Open letter from city Councilor Derek Czenczelewski, a first-term Republican seeking reelection in the 3rd District:

Planning the Future of Memorial Boulevard School
A lot has been said recently about the City’s handling of Memorial Boulevard School. To this point, it has been handled the same way all surplus property has been handled by the Real Estate Committee, per the guidelines set forth years ago. 
However, I believe that due to the school’s historic nature and its visibility to the public, a few additional steps should be taken by the City before any final decision is made. This is not meant to stall the process, but rather, to make sure the right decision is made. We have only one chance to get this right if the building is sold.
My recommendation aligns with that of Councilors Mills and Martin in that I believe the public needs to be involved, along with the Council and the Planning Commission, to develop a shared vision for the building. The Real Estate Committee set parameters, which included preserving the exterior of the building, theater, grounds, and a mixed-use function. This is a good start, but not a full plan. Again, that is not a knock on the Real Estate Committee but a realization that this building is a unique circumstance. 
How we can create this plan, or vision, is to hold a series of planning sessions over the course of a week, facilitated by the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Authority (CCRPA) and attended by the Council, City Planner, Planning Commission, and interested citizens of Bristol. The CCRPA would not tell us, the community stakeholders what to do, but would foster an environment where collaboration and ideas can be organized. Because of our membership with the CCRPA, there wouldn't be additional expense for utilizing their services. The planning sessions would review the recommendations from the Space Needs Study, completed in 2012, as well as the Route 72 Corridor Study and the current zoning regulations in the area. Ideas would then be vetted by the planning session groups and prioritized.
The outcome would be a thorough, community-backed plan for the future of Memorial Boulevard School. From this plan, the City would then be able to solicit proposals that include as many of the components we are looking for as possible.
Many citizens have contacted me with their ideas for the building. The suggestions have included moving the Army Strong Community Center to the school, along with a visitor’s center. Many have pitched the idea of a performing arts and cultural academy, local branches of our state universities and community colleges, and business space. Some want residential aspects in the building, while others want to see it converted into City Hall. Some want it sold, while others don’t.
All of these thoughts, ideas, and beliefs have merit and need to be fully vetted. The Space Needs Study recommended a $2 million renovation to the theater, and a $20 million conversion of the building into City Hall. Although that would be nice, I don’t think it is essential and we certainly do not possess the funding to tackle a project of that size at this time.
However, I feel that a mixed-use solution could be created for the building that would mitigate taxpayer concerns over subsidizing the building, while simultaneously ensuring the longevity of the historic structure.
I would like to see a branch of one of our state universities or community colleges located in the building. The City has previously held informal talks with CCSU, UConn, Tunxis Community College and others regarding this idea. Although we were not able to secure an arrangement, there was interest in the space and I’m not ready to give up on that option.
I’d also like to see certain City departments relocate to the building, as well as the Army Strong Community Center. It would be my preference to see the Chamber of Commerce relocate to the building as well, and to operate a visitors center in the former school library. Finally, I would like to see a performing arts studio and a non-profit management group created to oversee the scheduling of activities in the theater.
Through theater rentals and ticket sale surcharges, as well as lease revenue from the occupants (the Chamber of Commerce, arts school, college branch, and start-up businesses) I believe we can fund the yearly maintenance costs. Furthermore, I strongly believe the City can acquire grant funding to renovate the theater, and to implement a number of the proposed relocations without bonding or tapping taxpayers for renovation funds. This reuse plan would ensure a plethora of activities, both day and night, that would create an attraction and the vibrancy our downtown needs in order to ensure the downtown revitalization project is a success.
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