October 31, 2013

Council's code enforcement report questioned

Just when I thought this issue would fade away until after the election, kapow!, it is back on the campaign agenda. The following emails related to this report, issued by the entire City Council and Mayor Art Ward in September and read into the record by city Councilor Derek Czenczelewski at the September council meeting.

Here's an email that Democratic council hopeful Ellen Zoppo-Sassu sent to Czenczelewski this morning:

Hi Derek,
I have been playing with the numbers from my FOI request to you  based on the data you included in your Code Enforcement report to the City Council at the September meeting. 
 In those comments you said that “the City established the Code Enforcement Committee in 2008” and  claimed that  $1,121,417.27 in fines have been collected to date.
First, I found it intriguing that you claim that code enforcement began in 2008, when in fact the drive to tighten the City’s enforcement capabilities began in 2001. I am sure that Health Director Patricia Checko, Assistant Corporation Counsel Dale Clift, property owner Karen Pio, and the many city employees involved with revamping the City’s Property Maintenance Code would take issue with this statement.  
 But I was also curious about the dollar amount being touted.   I asked a few people in City Hall about it, but no one seemed to know exactly where the number came from which is why I did a FOI request for your report and the source information you used to compile it.  
 According to the data on properties that had been the subject of code enforcement actions, the total amount billed to code violators since 2008 was $1,339,044.28.  You then apparently subtracted $217,626.95 (which represents the amount that the City has not yet collected, but expects to) to reach your number of $1,121,417.27.
But you did not subtract fines which the City has deemed uncollectible, which total $384,467.72.  This is a misrepresentation of the numbers, or a case of you not understanding the data that you was given.
If you reduced $1,121,417.27 by the uncollectable amount of $384,467.72, it leaves you with only $736,949.55.   This is the true amount of code enforcement fees collected.  That’s an error of 35%.
Apparently no one questioned your report or your calculations during your presentation that evening. That's even more disturbing to me. 
I am also concerned that the members of the City Council, especially Councilman Cockayne, will interchange the terms “lien” and “fines”. A lien is not a fine. The $1,121, 417.27 figure does not represent fines – they are liens recorded in the City’s land records against these properties to recoup monies that the City of Bristol spent doing code enforcement to keep our buildings safe.
 Your presentation at the September City Council meeting also included the statement that “seven arrests were made over this span”  which is not true.  Infractions are not arrests.
 I commend you for submitting a report on blight and code enforcement at the September City Council meeting, especially in light of the events that have put the West End in the spotlight over the summer. Your report included data from code enforcement programs that have been in existence for a number of years prior to your election and the election of most of your colleagues on the Council. And while some might say that was simply an attempt to pad your presentation, I think it IS important that city resources be coordinated to provide a seamless network of services with common goals, and to avoid duplication.  The fact that this communication and coordination did not exist was the premise for several of us creating a comprehensive code enforcement program back in 2001.
In the 2 years since Democratic City Councilman Kevin McCauley left the Council and his role as chairman of the Code Enforcement Committee, City Councilmen have been noticeably absent from the monthly code enforcement meetings. That sends the clear message that code enforcement is not a policy priority for our current leaders…at least, not until it’s time to run for re-election.
I find it ironic that Ken Cockayne is running for mayor, boasting at the Chamber debate that he both works and lives adjacent to the West End and downtown neighborhoods he was elected to represent, yet he did not attend a single Code Enforcement committee meeting in the last 2 years.  According to the minutes, Councilmen Martin and Mills made occasional visits to the meetings. No one else did. Actions speak louder than words.
This is clearly too much of a "inside baseball" policy wonk discussion to have with voters 5 days before the election. I wish that it had been a discussion at the Chamber debate or that I had been able to drill down to these numbers sooner so we could have had a policy discussion about it. I look forward to correcting the misrepresentation after Election Day so that whatever the mix of new elected officials ends up being, they will have an accurate foundation from which to begin the next chapter of Code Enforcement over the next two years. 
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu

And here is Czenczelewski's response to her, sent out about half an hour ago:

Thank you for your email. The numbers you are questioning came directly from information I received from the various department heads and City employees tasked with providing said information. I did not manipulate the numbers in any way. They were reported as they were given to me. 
I have CC'd each member who helped compile the information, as it sounds your greivance is with them, not me. Hopefully they will be able to correct any misinformation you found from your expert analysis.
Thank you,

And here is Zoppo-Sassu's response to Czenczelewski a few minutes after that:

Derek - 
I look forward to it.
And for the record, my "grievance" is most certainly not with any city employee who supplied you with exactly the information you requested. I am taking issue with how you calculated your numbers as represented in the report you read, from the material given to you by the city employees, at the September City Council meeting. If someone else wrote that report for you, please let me know and I will re-direct my question.
I stand by the number of $736,949.55.
And for the record, my email to you did not include any cc's or bcc's. That being said, since you chose to cc people, I encourage you to share it with your other Council colleagues and any others who endorsed the report as given in September. 

Anyone else have something I should share? Send it along!

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 29, 2013

Keegan attack on Czenczelewski 'couldn't be further from the truth'

This is City Councilor Derek Czenczelewski's response to a letter to the editor from Paul Keegan in today's Bristol Press:
A Solution for Everyone
Recently Paul Keegan attacked my character, suggesting I hold Forestville Little League in higher regard than Bristol Girls Softball, and that I have “arrogantly” attempted to “railroad” Bristol Girls Softball. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Over the past two years, the Mayor, Parks Director, Parks Board, my fellow City Councilors, and I have sought cost-effective solutions to our field shortage city-wide, for all of our leagues and athletes. This culminated in the creation of the Fields Study Committee which is comprised of members from the Board of Education, Parks Board, and various local leagues. The Fields Study Committee is being tasked with evaluating all fields in the City, and ensuring we are able to schedule the fields appropriately so each league has a place to play.
Currently, there are several options on the table for Forestville Little League and Bristol Girls Softball, including the use of portable fencing and mounds. The use of temporary, or portable, materials would allow the fields to be used for multiple sports. In addition, the City recently acquired the softball field on Mix Street for use by area leagues, generously paid for by the Water Department. My colleagues and I would love to see this field become the new home of Bristol Girls Softball.
In addition, there are several fields at the local schools that could be used by our local leagues, if approved by the Board of Education and maintained by the local leagues. Understanding each member of the Board of Education’s commitment to the best interests of our children, I have every reason to believe they are willing to work with the City and the local leagues as they have in the past.
In short, I have not provided “false promises” and “false information” as Mr. Keegan suggests, nor have I attempted to put a “boys’ Little League above a girls’ Little League.” What I have done is sought out solutions for all of our local leagues and athletes. I have no personal agenda, other than to see to it that our citizens and especially the children of our community have the same, or more, opportunities than I had as a child. I want to see all of our local leagues continue to exist, including our local Little Leagues and Bristol Girls Softball et al.
The same is not true unfortunately for Mr. Keegan, who has a personal interest in seeing the demise of Forestville Little League, and who strongly supports my opposition in the upcoming election. Shame on YOU, Mr. Keegan.
Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 28, 2013

Photos from today's candidate Meet & Greet at the senior center

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Phantom of the Opera screening Wednesday to benefit Witch's Dungeon

A special screening of The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum’s latest documentary on the “Phantom of the Opera” will be shown along with Lon Chaney’s 1925 movie at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Spotlight Theaters, 39 Front St., Hartford.
The $15-a-person screening, organized by WRCH Lite 100.5 radio will help defray the museum’s expenses and raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The Battle Street museum, in its 47th year, will be open in Bristol only one more night before it moves to a new location at the Dream Works studio planned in Cornwall, N.Y.
Cortland Hull, creator of the museum, said the original Dungeon will open for the last time at 7 p.m., Thursday, which is Halloween.
“We will stay open as long as people are in line that night,” Hull said, adding that he encourages people to attend in costume and to make the event “a celebration.”

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 27, 2013

Potholes? Yeah, we do that. And more.

City Councilor Derek Czenczelewski sent this along in response to comments mady by his Democratic challengers:

I wanted to address comments made by two of my opponents in an article from Saturday’s Bristol Press. In the article, my opponents questioned the current Council’s conservative oversight and the new Engine 4 being constructed.

In 2006, when Ms. Zoppo-Sassu was on the City Council, a study was performed on all City firehouses. That study showed the need to replace Engine 4, located on Vincent P. Kelly Road. In 2013, the City included the renovation and replacement of Engine 4 in our Capital Improvement Budget. As a candidate this year, Ms. Zoppo-Sassu has questioned the need for the firehouse in southeastern Bristol, but has simultaneously pointed to the need for investment in public safety and implementing study recommendations.

So why did we approve this project? The renovations to the existing facility will allow for the relocation of the mechanical garage, where equipment and vehicles are maintained, which well help reduce the need for a larger, more expensive expansion and renovation of the central fire headquarters. In addition, the old facility will be utilized for additional storage of equipment, freeing up more space in all of our stations. The new station will house additional training facilities for our fire fighters as well, which should improve safety not only for the public, but for our firefighters as well. It will also feature additional bays that will be able to house the increasingly large vehicles of today's fire industry. Finally, the new station will serve as an emergency shelter in times of disaster.

The City also budgeted for much needed HVAC and structural safety improvements to Engine 5 on Mix Street, as well as emergency repairs at the central fire house.

When presented with the project by Fire Chief Jon Pose, we were informed of an alarming situation regarding emergency access to southeast Bristol. Due to the violent storms and subsequent flooding in recent years, the southeast portion of Bristol has been isolated from the rest of the City’s emergency personnel and equipment at times. Fortunately, no major fire and rescue operations were needed, as it would have been nearly impossible to get equipment from the central fire house, including our ladder truck, to southeast Bristol.

As someone looking to represent the 3rd District, I would have hoped Ms. Zoppo-Sassu would have a stronger understanding of the needs of southeastern Bristol – the very area she could be representing if elected.

Ms. Zoppo-Sassu also made the assertion in the article that we should be fixing potholes instead. I’m glad this was mentioned, because during my term on the Council, the City worked with both Plymouth and Plainville to acquire a pothole patcher at a significant savings for Bristol taxpayers. The new vehicle will make the repair of our City streets quicker, safer and more efficient. The vehicle only needs a single operator, much like our garbage trucks. This will in turn free up our employees to tackle other maintenance issues, and further help improve our residents’ quality of life.

Over the past two years other items in our capital improvement budgets have allowed for additional flood relief measures, major road reconstruction projects, new safety equipment and technology for the police department, new technology in our schools and City buildings, new roofs at the Board of Education and Northeast Middle School, new street signage per a state mandate, bridge replacements and infrastructure improvements. Although these projects are not quite as exciting as a new park, their importance cannot be stressed enough. 

One last item from the article that needs to be clarified is my stance on privatization. The article alleged that I have been “pushing for privatization.” Although I did make the motion to explore the cost effectiveness of certain City operations by publishing a request for information, this was an exercise to compare the total costs and effectiveness of our current operations with that of the private sector. As a result of this exercise, we found that in most cases our expenditures are very competitive. In other cases, we have room for improvement.

But my preference has always been, and will continue to be, to work with our employees and bargaining units to ensure our contracts are fair and reasonable - both to the taxpayers and our employees. To their credit, Mayor Ward, Personnel Director Diane Ferguson, and the various bargaining units have stepped up to the plate over the past two years in the best interests of both the workers and the citizens of Bristol. I’d like to thank the fire fighters union in particular for their most recent negotiated contract which should save taxpayers nearly $1 million over the next three years.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 26, 2013

If there's going to be a woman on the next City Council...

This story is in Saturday's Bristol Press but not online for some reason, so here it is:

Whether the next City Council will have any women after the Nov. 5 election depends entirely on voters in one of the city’s three districts.
Of the 13 candidates seeking a council seat, the only two women in the running are 3rd District Democrats.
The most well-known, Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, served three council terms on the council before running unsuccessfully for mayor in 2007, when she lost a bitter primary to the man who has served in the city’s top job ever since, Art Ward.
Jim Albert and Derek Czenczelewski at the Mum Festival.

The other, Mary Fortier, is a lawyer with the Waterbury court system.
Both are taking aim at first-term GOP incumbent Derek Czenczelewski and newcomer Jim Albert, who got into the race last month when city Councilor David Mills pulled out to care for his ailing wife.
Czenczelewski, who has pushed for privatization and to rein in spending, is considered the most vulnerable of the three incumbents seeking reelection.
He said the Republican-majority council, which  took control in 2011, “has asked the tough questions” on a wide range of issues “and created a new age of transparency in government,” including monthly town hall forums that Czenczelewski initiated.
The Republican incumbent has championed a number of ideas, from tax breaks for owner-occupied rental properties to hiring a broker to sell lots in the city’s industrial park.
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu
Albert, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and hospital executive, said this year’s race is “about the size of government and taxes.  My opponents have openly and repeatedly said the best way to improve our quality of life, student performance, and economy is to grow government and raise taxes.”

He said government has a role to play but “we can’t afford more taxes at this time” and called for a detailed review of spending.

Fortier said there are “fundamental differences between our opponents and ourselves.  We believe government is and should be a power for good.”
“This election isn't about taxes, it's about spending, using the resources we have wisely.  Irresponsible cutting of budgets under the guise of protecting the taxpayer leads to the breakdown of services and programs that support and protect all our citizens,” she said.
Zoppo-Sassu said, “Republicans may say they are keeping taxes low, but there are many areas where fees have increased under their watch: hidden fees and costs such as a 50 percent increase in swimming lessons” at the city’s indoor pool.
Zoppo-Sassu said the city’s priorities for capital spending are also a concern. She said that even firefighters, whose union endorsed her, are “scratching their heads about a costly new training facility.
 “How about fixing some potholes instead?” said Zoppo-Sassu.
Mary Fortier
Czenczelewski, who works as marketing director for The S/L/A/M Collaborative, attended Bristol schools and earned a bachelor’s degree in sports promotions at UConn. He and his fiancĂ©e, Sarah Chagnon, built a home in the district last year. He has no children.
Fortier has a B.A. in history and secondary education from Boston College and a law degree from the Western New England College of Law in Springfield, Mass.
She’s worked for the state court system since 1999, including the past six years as the caseflow coordinator for complex litigation in the Waterbury court.
Fortier and her husband, David, have six children. She’s been involved in many community organizations and served on the city’s Housing Code Board of Appeals, but this is her first political foray.
Albert, a 1974 St. Paul Catholic High School graduate, owns a healthcare consulting practice and teaches graduate courses on healthcare and technology at the University of Connecticut and Boston University
A career U.S. Air Force officer who retired in 1998, he holds a bachelor’s degree in risk management and insurance from UConn and a master’s in technology management at The American University in the nation’s capital.
He and his wife, Denise, have two grown daughters, Albert is a past president of the Franco-American Club of Bristol, among other local organizations.
Zoppo-Sassu, the communications director for the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, first sought office at age 26 when she battled unsuccessfully with Plymouth Republican Bill Hamzy for a state House seat.
Married to city Police Officer Peter Sassu, she won a 2nd District council seat in 2001 and held it until 2007 when she got her party’s endorsement to run for mayor but lost the subsequent primary to Ward.
She’s running in the 3rd District now despite living in the same Merriman Street home because the boundary lines changed following the 2010 Census.
A Bristol native with three children, Zoppo has a B.A. in political science from Providence College and a master’s degree in public affairs from UCOnn.
There is one woman among the six council members, Democrat Mayra Sampson, who is stepping down next month. Sampson said the city “does need more women” in positions of power.
City councilors serve two-year-terms for $9,500 annually. There are six council members, with two elected from each of three districts. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Albert's dad lays out case for his son's election

Jim Albert's father, Renaud Albert, is happy to let people know his endorsement for a 3rd District City Council seat -- his son. Here's what he wrote:

There is no greater joy in life than when a father can publically acknowledge the great character, integrity and talents of his own son.  I am blessed to have such an opportunity and could not be more proud of my son Jim, who is running for Bristol City Council in District 3.  As anyone who knows me, and has listened to my bragging about my son and his family over the years, can tell you, Jim has accomplished many amazing things in his life.  He excelled in school at St. Ann’s and St. Paul’s and went on to get a bachelor’s degree at UCONN and a master’s degree at The American University in Washington, DC – paid for by the Air Force.  

His career in the Air Force was outstanding, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for the Pentagon and White House.  At his retirement ceremony, my wife Jeannine and I listened with amazement as General Richard Paul recited, from memory and without any notes, the dozens of major accomplishments our son gave to the country over his military career.  General Paul then presented Jim with a seventh Meritorious Service Medal for a job well done, noting how this was the most of these prestigious awards he had ever seen given to an individual in the Air Force and how this wasn’t a surprise in Jim’s case.

After retiring from the Air Force, Jim and his family came back to Bristol where he led three different hospitals in Connecticut and was elected to the Board and then President of the Franco-American Club of Bristol.  He was also elected to the Board and then President of the Society for Information Management where he won the award for fastest growing chapter in the country, the Board of the French Businessmen’s Association which doubled its membership, the Board of St. Paul Catholic High School which increased student enrollment and the Finance Committee of St. Ann’s Parish where he helped negotiate the sale of land on West Street for the new Boys and Girls Club.  In all cases, these organizations improved greatly under Jim’s leadership.

My son would make an exceptional City Councilman because he has a wealth of experience and expertise from his time in Connecticut and his extensive travels around the world.  I have witnessed his leadership and determination time and again, and his style is to get consensus and not be divisive or confrontational.  People want to work for Jim and will work for Jim because he is not afraid to ask and not afraid to work hard.  We need people like my son to help get this City moving again.  There are too many people with personal agendas taking too much money and energy from Bristol and we need a leader who can bring everyone together and set a direction.  I can honestly say that my son Jim is such a person and I urge everyone in District 3 to vote for him on November 5th.
Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 24, 2013

Wilson claims lead in new mayoral poll

New press release from Democratic mayoral candidate Chris Wilson:

Poll Shows Chris Wilson With Lead Over Cockayne

A recent tracking survey conducted by the Chris Wilson for Mayor Campaign shows Democrat Wilson with a lead over his Republican opponent Ken Cockayne.

“This is particularly significant because the poll shows that our share of the vote has increased over the past month and shows Chris with a dramatic advantage among Bristol Democrats and a healthy lead with unaffiliated voters,” said Wilson campaign advisor Chris Ziogas.

“Campaigns are all about momentum.  It’s clear that our message of civility, business experience and sound fiscal practices is sinking in.  Clearly, I have not had an issue bringing up issues where Mr. Cockayne and I differ.  Despite Ken’s complaints about negative campaigning, it seems Bristol voters support my efforts to get Mr. Cockayne to explain how he plans to pay for the costly and unaffordable programs he’s proposed over the last couple of weeks,” Wilson stated.

The survey also asked voter which candidate, Wilson or Cockayne, is more capable of dealing with the specific issues of education, taxes & spending, the economy and blight.

The survey results show that a majority of voters thought Chris Wilson was more likely to have a positive impact on Bristol’s public education system, Bristol’s economy and keeping Bristol’s taxes and spending in check than Ken Cockayne.  Voters were split on which candidate would “be more effective working with local police to crack down on blight, gangs, and crime.”   

The survey of 350 likely Bristol Democrat, Republican and Independent voters was conducted on October 21st & 22nd.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 22, 2013

Czenczelewski says much accomplished, more to do

City Councilor Derek Czenczelewski sent this along:
As the clock winds down on my first, but hopefully not last, term it has given me an opportunity to look back at what has been accomplished by the city of Bristol over the past two years.
We saw Bristol's bond rating re-affirmed at AA+ by Fitch Ratings despite the economy remaining in tough shape and the United States seeing its’ rating downgraded, with the possibility of an additional downgrade right around the corner. It’s a testament to our strong pension funds as well as a conservative and responsible approach to capital improvement bonding over the past several years.
During the past two years, the City has bonded several flood relief projects, infrastructure upgrades, and safety improvements including new traffic signage per a State mandate, a new firehouse for southeastern Bristol, and renovations to the existing fire headquarters. In addition, funding was approved for new roofs at Northeast Middle School and the Board of Education, while additional technology upgrades were approved for our schools.
Bristol’s teamwork with the neighboring towns of Plymouth and Plainville resulted in grant awards for a pothole patcher and a regional flood study. Capitalizing on a previous grant, the Pine Lake Fishing Pier and Parking Lot is now nearing completion after years of delays. And speaking of delays, the land swap with McDonalds was finally completed, paving the way for phase one of downtown’s redevelopment.
On that same note, we saw the substantial completion of construction on two new K-8 schools, the Beals Senior Community Center, and the Manross Library renovations. Several new businesses moved to town, while others, including ESPN have expanded their facilities. The Hilton Doubletree completed a $20+ million renovation, and we also witnessed the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new $11 million Bristol Boys and Girls Club.
The Bristol Housing Authority finished renovations to Dutton Heights and elsewhere, creating new tax revenue for the City while improving housing conditions. The BHA continues to plan and position for significant renovations at Cambridge Park. The Tax Assessment Freeze program helped spur $1.1 million in privately-funded renovations to blighted structures in town, while approximately 3000 code enforcement complaints were handled. A revolving fund was created to fund code enforcement activities going forward, and a coordinated effort has been started to better publicize the many incentives offered for home ownership and rehabilitation between the BDA, Tax Assessor’s Office and the Bristol Housing Authority.
Several recommendations from past studies were implemented, including a re-zoning of the Route 72 corridor and increased police foot patrols in the West End, among many others. The West End Association has seen tremendous growth, while the Forestville Village Association completed an extensive renovation to Quinlan Park through fundraising and the hard work of dedicated volunteers.
The City implemented a new pay-as-you-throw program at the transfer station, recently created a Fields Study Committee to more effectively identify the needs of the various leagues and schedule our fields accordingly, launched a new Marketing Task Force that partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to hire a marketing consultant, and created the Bristol Property Renewal Corporation which is charged with helping spur the redevelopment of brownfield properties across the City.

A new era of collaboration was formed with the Chamber of Commerce, as the City partnered with the Chamber to handle economic development activities. This effort has led to the retention and expansion of Bristol companies, and the attraction of new companies to the City.

Several other projects are currently in progress, including a Multi-Family Home Buyers Program, the contracting of a commercial real estate brokerage to expedite the sale of lots in the Southeast Bristol Business Park, and energy saving initiatives that will save thousands in taxpayer dollars.

All the while, this Council has asked the tough questions and created a new age of transparency in government. Monthly Town Hall meetings were held with the public to keep our citizens in the loop, while allowing the opportunity for feedback and the exchange of new ideas and suggestions.
Looking back, this is just a fraction of all the City has accomplished over the past two years, but we still understand there is a lot left to do. I’ve enjoyed my two years in office, and am incredibly grateful to the community for having given me an opportunity to serve the 3rd District. If given the opportunity to serve on the Council for a second term, I know we can expand on the successes the City has enjoyed, while holding the line on taxes, improving services, and enhancing our community’s image.
Thank you for your support, and please consider electing my colleagues and me on November 5.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Murphy campaigns with Jeffries, Brown

U.S. Sen Chris Murphy campaigning with Democratic City Council hopefuls Steve Jeffries, left, and Calvin Brown, right.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Wilson: Show us your math! (Updated)

Democrat Chris Wilson's response to Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne's comments about his recent mailer:

Wilson:  Cockayne Cant Hide From Facts.

Democratic Mayoral Candidate Chris Wilson responded to his opponent’s claims regarding a recent mailing that appeared in Bristol mailboxes by saying, “I 100% stand behind the facts in the mailing. As a candidate for Mayor, I will not stand by while my opponent continues to promise Bristol voters programs that he can’t possibly pay for.”

Here are the facts…

FACT: Mr. Cockayne has had ample opportunity and time to replace Bristol’s code enforcement officer and fight blight, gangs, drugs, crime and help increase property values and tax revenue but Mr. Cockayne failed to do so.

FACT:  Mr. Cockayne refuses to give Bristol voters any insights into how he would pay for additional rebates regardless of whether the state or the city of Bristol administers the program.  In Mr. Cockayne’s release, he points to Danbury as a model for his plan. What we know is that many Danbury residents have seen their property taxes increase by 30% or more over the past several years. We also know that the cost of the Danbury plan has been estimated at roughly $600,000.00 a year. It stands to reason that the cost in Bristol, a city roughly 25% smaller than Danbury, would be roughly $450,000.00. “We need to know from where that money is coming, because the state of Connecticut will not be paying for it. That leaves Bristol taxpayers.” Wilson stated. As highlighted in the mailing, Mr. Wilson supports efforts and would work with our state delegation to support tax rebates for seniors, the disabled and other qualified recipients.  “We all want to help our seniors. But first I’d want a full understanding of how these proposals would be funded and their impact on local property taxes. The city of Bristol doesn’t need gimmicks. We need a solid fiscal policy.  I’ve been advocating for the implementation of Performance-Based Budgeting to set standards, find efficiencies and control spending. PBB makes a lot more sense and can have a positive impact on all of Bristol’s taxpayers. Mr. Cockayne might be ok with using Bristol taxpayers as guinea pigs for his political ambitions, but I’m not. I’m also not going to sit quietly by and avoid unpleasant conversations because my opponent doesn’t like discussing the facts.” Wilson added.

FACT:  Chris Wilson returned $4,800,000.00 in Board of Education funds to Bristol taxpayers.

FACT:  Chris Wilson recovered $4,000,000.00 from school renovation projects.

FACT:  Chris Wilson helped complete 2 school renovation projects $18,000,000.00 under budget.

“It’s a shame that Mr. Cockayne wont show people his math. The question remains, how will Mr. Cockayne pay for his proposals? We all know the state can’t afford his promises. That means Bristol tax-payers will need to foot-the-bill.” Wilson stated.

The above version was updated at 3:40 P.M. on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. Below is the original version, published three hours earlier:

Wilson:  Cockayne Can't Hide From Facts.

For Immediate Release

Democratic Mayoral Candidate Chris Wilson responded to his opponent’s claims regarding  recent mailing that appeared in Bristol mailboxes by saying, “I 100% stand behind the facts in the mailing. As a candidate for Mayor, I will not stand by while my opponent continues to promise Bristol voters programs that he can’t possibly pay for.”

Here are the facts…

FACT: Mr. Cockayne has had ample opportunity and time to replace Bristol’s code enforcement officer and fight blight, gangs, drugs, crime and help increase property values and tax revenue.  During his tenure on the council the blight issue has worsened.

FACT: One of Mr. Cockayne’s recent proposals would force Bristol seniors to work 100 hours before they could get benefits that are already on the books in Bristol.  Moreover, Mr. Cockayne refuses to give Bristol voters any insights into how he would pay for this program.  Additionally, Mr.  Cockayne points to communities like Danbury and Manchester as models for his senior forced labor plan.  Mr. Cockayne disingenuously states “If these proposals can work there (Danbury & Manchester CT), than why they can’t work here in the City of Bristol.”  The truth, the plan Mr. Cockayne is referring to hasn’t been fully implemented in Danbury so we have no idea what impact they would have on local taxes, spending and debt.  As stated in the mailing, Mr.
Wilson supports efforts and would work with our state delegation to support tax rebates for qualified recipients.  “But first I’d want a full understanding of how these proposals would be paid for.  Mr. Cockayne might be ok with using Bristol tax-payers as guinea pigs for his political ambitions, but I’m not.”  Wilson stated.

FACT:  Chris Wilson opposes any effort that makes it harder for Bristol seniors to get the benefits they’ve worked for their whole life.

FACT:  Chris Wilson helped  return$4,800,000.00 in Board of Education funds to Bristol taxpayers.

FACT:  Chris Wilson helped recover $4,000,000.00 from school renovation projects.

FACT:  Chris Wilson helped complete 2 school renovation projects $18,000,000.00 under budget.

“It’s a shame that Mr. Cockayne  won't show people his math.  The question remains, how will Mr. Cockayne pay for his proposals?  We all know the state can’t afford his promises.  That means Bristol tax-payers will need to foot-the-bill.”  Wilson stated.  

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 21, 2013

Wilson mailer slams Cockayne

Here's a scan of the mailer that Democratic mayoral candidate Chris Wilson sent out this week, courtesy of a friend who received one. (Click to enlarge the image.)

Here is Republican mayoral hopeful Ken Cockayne's response.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Cockayne says Wilson takes campaign to "new low"

Here's a new release from Republican mayoral hopeful Ken Cockayne:

Cockayne: Opponent Takes Campaign To A New Low.

(Bristol) City Councilman Ken Cockayne (R-2), the Republican nominee for Mayor of Bristol today commented that his Democrat opponent has taken his campaign for Mayor to a new low. Cockayne’s opponent recently mailed a “hit piece” out to area residents chastising Cockayne for everything under the sun.
Recently, the Republican candidate for Mayor issued a proposal to offer elderly “homeowners” and opportunity to receive a $500 tax credit if they volunteered for area nonprofit organizations.  In the mailer his opponent says he will “reject the Cockayne Forced Senior Labor Plan.”  His opponent already claims that there is a Tax relief for Elderly and Disabled persons already on the books.
“Absolutely oblivious and that’s the only way I can describe my opponent.” Cockayne added “His failing campaign has now resorted to the gutter and I thought he was a better person than that.”
Cockayne explained that his proposal for the elderly tax relief program is being offered only to homeowners who currently do not receive any benefits.  The program he is referring to in his negative mailer is the “Homeowners Rebate for the Elderly and Disabled persons” which is administered by the CT Office of Policy Management and not the city of Bristol as his opponent claims.
“The program is no longer taking new participants and if a homeowner did not apply last year they were ineligible to apply this year,” Cockayne continued, “Elderly homeowners just keep paying taxes to support the outrageous spending at the Board of Education with no relief in sight.”
Cockayne added that his opponent’s home state of Massachusetts has a similar program like he proposed along with the communities of Manchester and Danbury. “If these proposals can work there, than why they can’t work here in the City of Bristol, “Cockayne asked.
The Republican nominee added, “All I am proposing is an ordinance change to our Code of Ordinances, and I intend to ask the new committee to look into this proposal along with others to gauge its viability – I find it distressing that my opponent would be opposed to such a dialogue.”
“I can understand that my opponent and members of his new party are having trouble understanding a tax relief program since all they have stood for this campaign is a vow to raise Bristol property taxes in order to promote a bigger and wasteful government,” Cockayne added “and at the end of the day the only thing they are asking you the public to do is foot the bill.”
Cockayne is a three term City Councilman who has been a leading advocate for fiscal responsibility in Bristol and his record on this issue is solid.
“My opponent touts his years of experience as a member of the Board of Education. However, his intentional misrepresentation of my positions sets a very bad example for the students of Bristol that he claims to be their advocate and he should be ashamed of himself,” Cockayne concluded.

I've asked Wilson to send me a copy of the mailer in question and given him the chance to respond to Cockayne's release as well. If anyone can send me a picture of the mailer sooner, that would be great. I'm sure we'd all like to see it.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Fuller: Election Calvin Brown to council

Letter from former city Councilor and one-time mayoral candidate Kevin Fuller:

I am writing today to show my full support for Calvin Brown for City Council District 1. I have known Calvin for over 5 years and he has shown me his desire to work in a municipal leadership position. Calvin has the foresight to see problems that may be on the horizon and know how to find a solution for the problem. His skills in knowing what the youth of Bristol needs and wants is right up his ally. Calvin most of all is a good listener; he makes sure he understands your problem or needs by giving you his full attention and then decides how best to tackle the problem. As a former City Councilman is this district I feel strongly that he is the man to best lead us as we come out of the recovery of the recession and make the right choices to keep Bristol Strong. I ask you join me in electing Calvin Brown for City Council District 1.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Albert: Extra tax money no reason to favor hospital sale

Republican City Council hopeful Jim Albert sent this along in response to a Press editorial about the possibility of collecting more tax revenue if Bristol Hospital is sold to a for-profit company:

I disagree that the sale or merger of Bristol Hospital with another healthcare organization, non-profit or for-profit, should center around potential tax payments to the City.  As everyone in healthcare knows, and as most citizens of Bristol and our region hope, the future status of Bristol Hospital should center around patient care and population health, not about taxes.  Any potential added tax revenues gained by converting Bristol  Hospital to a for-profit organization may very well be reduced by portions of the organization remaining in a non-taxable status, or by reductions in employees, or by a loss of certain services, or by a reduction in hospital philanthropic donations, or by increased legal fees, or by any of a dozens other factors and repercussions of such a merger and change of status.  We should NOT be concerned, at this stage, with counting new tax dollars and deciding where they will be spent – as the recent article in the Opinions section of the Bristol Press entitled “An Add to Bristol’s Coffers?” would suggest.  Instead, I trust that Marie O’Brien, Kurt Barwis and the Board of Directors of the hospital will decide the future of our community hospital based on what is best for the health and wellbeing of the citizens of Bristol and our surrounding towns who use and rely on this longstanding quality institution.  We should not be dazzled or swayed in any great degree by potential tax revenues.  These are not guaranteed and are not what this acquisition is about.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Picture this: The Democrats' 2013 team

LEFT TO RIGHT: Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, Bob Vojtek, Mary Fortier, Chris Wilson, Calvin Brown and Steve Jeffries. Wilson is running for mayor, the others for City Council. Council hopeful Allen Marko is not pictured.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 18, 2013

Albert: Holding down taxes is critical

Republican City Council hopeful Jim Albert just issued this:

This year’s local election in Bristol is about the size of government and taxes.  My opponents have openly and repeatedly said the best way to improve our quality of life, student performance, and economy is to grow government and raise taxes.  Chris Wilson, Democratic Candidate for Mayor stated at a debate this week how people in Bristol should NOT feel they are overtaxed because “we have the 50th lowest mill rate in the state.”  As Chairman of the Board of Education, Chris wants to give more money to the Board of Education for additional extracurricular programs.  Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, my opponent for City Council, echoed these sentiments at a Rotary Club breakfast and a debate of Council Candidates by saying she wants to see more students get into Harvard, Princeton and Yale and that she is a “Progressive, Liberal, New Deal Democrat” who believes we need bigger government and more spending to ensure a good quality of life for our citizens.  She favors raising taxes, as soon as possible, to add more after school programs, ball fields and other amenities.
Having worked for the government for 20 years as an Air Force Officer, including two years writing speeches and legislation for the White House and Secretary of Defense, I agree that government can facilitate the growth of our economy and quality of life.  But more government is not the answer to all our problems.  Nor is more spending without accountability going to meet our needs.  Simply put, we can’t afford more taxes at this time and I do not agree we should raise them until we seriously review what we are currently spending and what processes we use to plan and prioritize our spending and oversee the performance and accountability of our City government and Board of Education departments and managers. 
Unfortunately, Bristol is not living in a bubble.  We are weighed down by Connecticut’s financial mismanagement and political paralysis, which has made us the highest taxed state in the nation, the worst business environment, the worst environment for retirees, the worst estate taxes in the country, and the third highest debt per citizen in the U.S. – twice that of California.  Until things get better economically and politically, we need to hold the line on spending, growing government and taxes.  This doesn’t mean cutting our current budgets.  It means we need to aggressively find waste and inefficiency by reviewing what we spend money on and review the processes we use to set priorities and oversee City government performance and accountability.  I believe we will find enough waste in our current budgets to fund many new priorities.  I also believe we need better oversight of City spending and am very concerned that Bristol has not had a full financial audit of its books in decades.  It is time to clean and repair our “house” before we start adding more rooms.  Raising taxes at this time will only serve to drive more people out of Bristol and keep businesses from moving in or growing.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Keep Social Security office in Bristol open, pols say

Connecticut’s two senators and Bristol’s congressman told the Social Security Administration this week they oppose the closure of the agency’s office on North Main Street.
In an Oct. 17 joint letter, the three men said they “have yet to see how the cost savings associated with the closing of this office justify the potential hardship on Bristol area senior citizens and people with disabilities.”
The letter, signed by U.S. Rep. John Larson and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, asked agency Commissioner Carolyn Colvin to meet with them soon to explore the rationale for the decision to shutter the office in January.
They said they also want to discuss options for ensuring that city residents will still be able to have in-person contact with Social Security staff.
“We stand united with Bristol Mayor Art Ward and the greater Bristol community” in strongly opposing the closure, the letter said.
Ward said he is grateful for the “immediate response to this most crucial issue. It is imperative that our residents maintain full, unobstructed and/or uninhibited, access to their Social Security benefits.”

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Here's a sample ballot for Bristol's Nov. 5 elecion

Here is an example of the Council District 1 municipal ballot this year. It's the same as the other districts except for the names of the council candidates.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

RIP JoAnn Mills

My sympathies go out to city Councilor David Mills, whose wife JoAnn died at home Wednesday after several difficult months. Calling hours are Sunday and the funeral is on Monday. Her obituary is here.
Mills pulled out of his reelection race last month so he could devote his full attention to caring for his ailing wife of 48 years.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 17, 2013

Outburst interrupts City Council debate

The most unusual thing that happened at the City Council debate last night -- other than the fact that I didn't fall asleep, of course -- occurred early on after Bristol Hospital President Kurt Barwis asked the candidates what they thought about the proposed sale of the nonprofit hospital he heads to a for-profit company.
It's obviously a critically important issue for the community.
What was odd, though, wasn't the question or even the responses.
It was the fact that Jim Hopkins, a former Ned Lamont campaign worker, leaped to his feet in protest. Hopkins yelled from the audience in the council chambers that the head of the hospital should not be the one asking that question at the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce-sponsored debate.
Hopkins loudly proclaimed it was obvious there was "a stacked board."
The debate's moderator, Tim Furey, looked a bit stunned, then told Hopkins that he needed to sit down and be quiet. He told the man that the chamber had come up with the questions and that the audience had no role beyond watching.
Hopkins continued to protest.
Furey told him to stay in his seat and be quiet or he would have to call the police to come handle the disruption.
Hopkins responded that Furey should go ahead and bring in the cops.
So a chamber official went out and called the police. Long before they arrived, however, Hopkins had sat down and ceased his protest.
But two officers stood watch the rest of the evening, just in case.
The candidates' answers about the hospital deal were sort of interesting. God willing, I'll at least post them on the blog here at some point soon.
I wound up with 6,300 words of notes from the debate. Weeding through them isn't quite hell, but it's not exactly fun either.
Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Albert: 'Irresponsible' for Wilson to say Bristol taxes are not too high

Here are the opening and closing remarks by Republican City Council hopeful Jim Albert from last night's council debate:

Opening remarks:
Thank you for inviting me, and thank you to my fellow candidates for wishing to serve the City of Bristol.  This year’s election is about schools and taxes.  Certainly there are many other issues facing our City and we’ll talk about a few of these shortly.  But the two that get most people worked up are school budgets and tax rates. 
Chris Wilson, the Democratic Candidate for Mayor and Chairman of the Board of Education stated at this week’s Mayoral Debate that people in Bristol should not feel overtaxed because we have the 50th lowest mill rate in the state.  I think that is a very irresponsible opinion, and not what I want to hear from a person who hopes to be my Mayor.
Taxes in Bristol are already so high that people are moving out in growing numbers.  Businesses are staying away and young people are not coming back after graduation because they can’t find work here.  I believe strongly we should NOT raise taxes or put more money into City or Board of Education budgets until we have eliminated waste in our current spending and made sure that what we spend on education goes to teachers and students, not to Administrator salaries which are significantly higher than those of our neighboring towns.  
As much as I would like to give everyone everything they ask for, I know the City must live within our means.  We currently spend $3,000 a year for every man, woman and child in the City and that is enough to meet our needs and provide a great quality of life for us all.  We must learn to work together, be more efficient and spend our resources more wisely, just like we do with our own personal budgets.  Thank you.

Closing remarks:
Thank you again for inviting me to participate in this forum and thank you to everyone running for office.  We all know that holding political office can be a thankless, time consuming job that takes time away from family and friends and can subject you and your family to personal attacks and criticism.  So I want to thank all the candidates for their passion and desire to get involved and improve our City.
The people of Bristol are good people who, like all of us here, have been through a lot in these last few years.  They demand and deserve our respect, our best efforts and our leadership. They demand that we work together to build consensus and not fall into the trap we see in Hartford and Washington of “I’m always right, you’re always wrong” partisanship and personal agendas and ambitions that lead to division and paralysis.  They demand that City workers and managers be held responsible and accountable for how they spend taxpayer dollars.  And they are turned off by people and policies that get in the way of progress, development, innovation and grass roots efforts to improve our quality of life.
I have no personal agenda or ax to grind, and I try not to disrespect anyone who disagrees with me.  I don’t need anything from the City, other than a great place to live for myself, my wife and my parents.  I have decades of leadership and management experience from my career in the military and in healthcare.  And I ask the people of Bristol for their vote to give me a chance to make a difference for all of us.  Thank you.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol Elks lodge to become a polling place in November

The American Legion polling place is not going to be used this year.
The city's registrars and the secretary of state's office agreed this week to shift the polling place to the Bristol Elks lodge on South Street.
The American Legion was not fully accessible to some handicapped voters because of the steep slope leading from the parking lot to its door on Hooker Court.
The Elks lodge is located at the south end of Main Street in the historic home of clockmaker Chauncy Jerome. It has a large parking lot in its rear and is easily accessible.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com