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.

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