Tidal Wave of Council Activity

01Feb15
RTC Wave

RTC Wave

It seems that our Republican Town Committee dominated Council is poised to rubber stamp sale prices on whatever Harkins wants to sell. No matter that we (you and me) own it. Top prize on the list is the WPCA (Sewer Treatment Plant). It is hard to imagine anything else in Stratford that works as effectively and efficiently as our WPCA. After receiving large grants, subsidies and loans the WPCA is truly a state of the art facility benefiting not only Stratford, but the entire Long Island Sound as well as other communities. What’s more, it only takes 16 people to run the entire operation (not counting the 10 members of the WPCA Board/Council). Unfortunately for our politicians, the State of Connecticut requires that all “fees” collected for the use of the WPCA be used for the operation and maintenance of the WPCA and nothing else.

What does this mean? It means that the Sewer Use Fees that we have been paying cannot be used to subsidize Town-wide expenses like pensions, Public Works, the General Fund or shortages in the Town budget. You know, like Harkins has been doing for the last five years? Yes, since Harkins was elected mayor, sewer fees have steadily been going up. At first the flimsy excuse was to make the fees competitive with surrounding Towns. (AYFKM?) But we have been steadily increasing the “cash reserve” in the WPCA over the years of being overcharged (because the fees are more than necessary for the operation of the WPCA). After some exorbitant raises for non-union Town employees, large raises for BOE Administrators and a bunch of new toys for the boys (anyone seen the new 95 foot tower ladder yet?) it turns out the Budget is about $4.5 million short. How does the mayor make this shortage good? Well, there is $5.2 million in the cash reserve of the WPCA….

But we are not done yet. There is that Theater that is sitting on prime land right on the river. Prime enough to make any developer drool. So Republican Town Committee Chairman and sometimes Registrar of Voters Lou DeCilio wants to tear it down.

And then there is Eminent Domain. Rest assured, that will be back on the table before election day. We’ve already heard the the Colonial Square Shopping Center was a prime target of that one. But once Exit 33 starts construction…well, the sky is the limit.

And of course there is the coming budget…..

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26 Responses to “Tidal Wave of Council Activity”

  1. 1 shanliss

    Hokusai it ain’t, but wave or snowball, citizen response is coming. First we had more than 60 in Town Hall during a blizzard emergency, to protest and to halt, for the moment, the Eminent Domain land grab. Then, a few days later, nearly 60 crammed themselves into Meeting Room 213 to silently disapprove of the Planning Commission’s rubber stamp of Mayor Harkins’ proposed sale of the sewer system, aka WPCA facility, to a New Haven group already notorious for home foreclosures of customers who fall behind on sewer fee payments. Many remained in the room for a Zoning meeting to hear a slick proposal about transportation oriented development, that we know is basically the Trojan Horse for Eminent Domain II.

    The wave continues next week: Council is to hear and question the Shakespeare Theatre proposals, including both the recommended Elm Street Theatre Company’s, and improbably the Theatre tear-down, inflatable, portable amphitheater idea of RTC’s DeCilio and Councilman Connor. Connor may try and surf both sides of the tidal wave, as both Conflict and as Interest, guaranteeing a lawsuit if he doesn’t recuse himself from voting. Next Friday, the weather-postponed and long-awaited return of WPCA facility tours comes to Beacon Point Road. If you show up at 1PM you can walk the grounds, sniff the air, and fantasize about shoving your favorite Councilman into one of the “settling pools.”

    That would of course only add to the wave that may crest the following Monday, Feb 9, when everybody’s chance to tell Council and the Mayor how angry and fearful they are about his wave of ALEC-inspired dismemberings of Stratford begins just after 6:30 (bring signs–cameras seem to love them).

    And after that? The wave may hit a stiff wind, and the result could be a referendum whitecap, on the WPCA give-away or more. That’s correct: Stratford’s Mayor-friendly Charter makes a referendum a real challenge, but this wave could hit the shore with quite a popular force. Have your weather-eye out for trouble, and keep a pen handy just in case.

  2. 2 Rockannand

    Excuse me while i draw a warm bath and get out the razor blades. Its SB Sunday for Christ’s sakes!!

  3. 3 jezebel282

    “They are good and honest people who don’t deserve the vitriol aimed at them,” http://www.stratfordstar.com/32517/sending-the-wrong-message/
    So says Mr. Walsh of the Stratford Star.

    We might point out to Mr. Walsh some of the things that cast doubt on his opinion. Oh wait! We do that all the time here. Perhaps someone should just send him the link.

    By the way, where is the BOE budget?

  4. Point taken. I just wanted to point out where they fell short on several issues. I usually steer clear of politics because, outside of the council videos posted online and the occasional meeting I can make in person, I don’t know all the players well enough to make judgement calls. No need to send a link, though–I’ve read pieces on here for years! 🙂

  5. 6 jezebel282

    Mr. Walsh,

    We are always happy to welcome readers who have the nerve to post something.

    If by “steering clear of politics” you are referring to the two party system, we admire your effort. Unfortunately, in Stratford we do not have a two party system. Municipal government has been the kingdom of the Republican Town Committee for over five years now.

    Criticism of municipal government, therefore, is by definition non-political. There simply is no one else to blame for anything but a member of the Republican Town Committee who happens to sit on the Board of Education, Town Council or in the Mayor’s office. We can only lament the good old days when there was an opposition party and there were actual politics.

  6. 7 appalledandamused

    Perhaps following the Harkins push for privatization of town water to his ALEC junket last September might hold some clues. Anyone wonder what he did down there? Anyone ask for a report? Of course, it’s easy to cover up what he did….and who he did it with…and who paid for her trip….but perhaps the truth lies in ALEC and the people who will benefit from privatizing the town’s public services – people with an insider’s POV. Can a government official be a stockholder once a public entity is privatized? That information often is classified, but worth checking out.

  7. 8 jezebel282

    Appalled,

    It is nearly impossible to determine motivation here. This mayor is simply not communicating any reason or benefit for his actions. What we do know is that his actions regarding the WPCA are probably illegal and not in the best interest of Stratford residents.

    The accumulation of $5.2 million in “cash reserves” as well as funding town-wide obligations indicates how much we have been overcharged for using the most efficient WPCA in the State. Selling it would be even worse than it already is.

  8. 9 appalledandamused

    There should be more made of the fact that our mayor and the Stratford RTC leadership are ALEC/ACCE acolytes.

    Dallas, August 2014: “The conference also introduced the American City County Exchange (ACCE) and welcomed new ACCE members. Mayor John Harkins of Stratford, Connecticut, and Nicholas J. Wachinski, Esquire, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, have been appointed to serve as Co-Chairs for the American City County Exchange. http://www.alec.org/acce-welcomes-new-members-in-dallas/

    Take a look at what it means for our Mayor – and presumably the head of economic development who went with him to Dallas – to be an ACCE member:
    http://www.prwatch.org/news/2014/07/12555/alec-offshoot-takes-aim-local-government:

    “Early reports suggests that ACCE will pursue similar policy objectives as ALEC.

    According to The Guardian, “An early draft of the agenda for [the] meeting revealingly listed ACCE’s very first workshop under the simple title: ‘Privatization’ (notice the keyword “Privatization”) – though in the final version the wording had been sanitized into: ‘Effective Tools for Promoting Limited Government’.” Privatization has been a long term goal for many ALEC member firms, and ALEC model bills have called for the creation of a special state commission to privatize public services, as well as to privative Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, public schools, state pensions and more.”

    —- “more”, like the WPCA, perhaps?

    “The mission ACCE is to advance limited government and free market principles in local government through model policies, conferences and online collaboration.” — Yes, always in the best interest of those private ‘captains of industry’.

  9. 10 jezebel282

    Appalled,

    Issues of privatization versus municipal government functions would make for a great discussion. Unfortunately, Stratford residents and businesses are not invited to participate by our mayor. Apparently, with his 9-1 majority on the Council and an RTC majority on every other Board or Commission why should he bother?

    If any of our readers think that our sometimes full-time Registrar of Voters Lou Decilio or Town Attorney Tim Bishop or even Council Chairman Kubic act on their own they are seriously mistaken.

    We find this mistake over and over again in articles and letters. Let us look for a moment at the Town Attorney. The Town Attorney is appointed by the mayor and serves at the pleasure of the mayor. There is only one individual in this entire Town of 50,000 that approves the Town Attorney’s billing (his paycheck) and that is the mayor. The Town Attorney in any case involving the Town can file motion after motion and seek delay after delay. Do these tactics advance the Town’s case? Probably not. What these tactics accomplish is increasing the Town Attorney’s billing to the Town. The Town Attorney’s budget (before transfers) is generally $2.3 million per year. This astounding number is 200% – 300% higher than any surrounding Town.

    In effect, the Town Attorney answers to one person and one person only…Mayor Harkins. When Councilmen ask the Town Attorney to draft ridiculous legislation like granting the power to part-time unpaid volunteers to seize any property for any reason you can be sure that the Town Attorney has his boss’s permission before doing so. In reality, we do not have a Town Attorney who represents the citizens and businesses best interest. What we have is the mayor’s attorney who represents only the mayor’s interests. Those interests are not the same.

    So what? Who cares?

    Look at the WPCA. According to the Connecticut General statutes (ibid) it is clearly and unequivocally stated that “fees” generated for the WPCA may only be used to fund the operation, finances and maintenance of the WPCA “and for no other purpose”. Doesn’t get much clearer, does it? Yet our Mayor and Council have allowed the “fees” to fund Town-wide pensions, Public Works and, particularly, direct transfers to the General Fund. These amounts total millions of dollars per year. (Which is why our “fees” keep going up). Does the Town Attorney object to this? Certainly not! His Boss, the mayor, wishes it so. In fact, the Town Attorney will probably spend hundreds of billable hours attempting to defend this clearly illegal activity. Because he is the mayor’s attorney.

    That’s what. You should care.

  10. 11 jezebel282

    Appalled,

    But getting back to your point, attendance at a far right conference and membership in such an organization as ACCE is not something the citizens and voters of Stratford should be paying for. Harkins has taken it a step further and has accepted a leadership role in this fringe organization. Why a Town with a majority of registered Democrats and Independents should be funding the participation of an elected official in this clearly extreme right wing organization is simply not something that our tax dollars should subsidize. Just as we wouldn’t want to pay for any politician to take a leadership role in, say, the Communist Party.

    http://www.alec.org/acce/ is your typical Koch Brothers funded organization that opposes anything that sounds like “minimum wage”, “universal healthcare”, “climate change”, “environmental anything” or has the word “union” in it.

    Whether or not this drives Harkins to simply give away a prized possession like the WPCA to some corporate entity is only something Harkins can answer. Someone should ask him. On it’s face, the sale of the WPCA makes no sense whatsoever to any resident. Although Harkins has taken great steps to prove that you can’t trust a mayor to keep sewer use fees at a reasonable level either.

  11. 12 appalledandamused

    “The Town Attorney in any case involving the Town can file motion after motion and seek delay after delay.”

    — Case in point: Avalon bay. That horse was dead years ago, but how much did taxpayers spend on keeping the issue on the books long after the writing was on the wall? And don’t forget the open orders that keep peripheral attorneys (think past TAs and future hopefuls) busy on the taxpayers’ dime.

  12. 13 jezebel282

    Appalled,

    Not to mention Loschiavo, Jasinski, Murray, and a bunch of others. It’s not like our extremely expensive Town Attorney has a winning record.

  13. 14 stratfordvillageidiot

    Let’s see—the average annual cost of legal counsel to most towns (including the Big Apple) is about $20-$24 per person per year. The average cost of Stratford’s legal counsel is about $45 per person per year. Maybe it’s time for the town to stop using outside counsel and hire a small staff with an operating budget of $1M-$1.3M or so. A legal staff that would represent the town and not just the Mayor.

  14. 15 jezebel282

    Village,

    It’s worse depending upon which calculation you use. Stratford has consistently had a Town Attorney that cost us a little over 300% of the next highest surrounding Town. This includes Fairfield, Trumbull, Shelton and Milford. 300%! Clearly, something isn’t right.

    But this is one of the structural deficiencies of the Charter that was slid by us. The only oversight of the Town Attorney is the mayor that appoints him. And there is no downside whatsoever for any mayor. There are actually no provisions in the charter for recalls of mayors, no suspensions, no adjustment in pay, no fines, no oversight…nothing. Miron pretty much had it right when he was the mayor and screamed in the hallways “I’m the f$%^&$g mayor! I can do whatever I want!”

  15. 16 1cyclops

    Statistics show that over the past 10 years 2005-2015 (during the strong-mayor form of government) Stratford has significantly dipped in all town and city stats. What does that tell you?

  16. 17 1cyclops

    Over the weekend I visited with a friend from Stratford who said he called and left messages 4x to have the mayor return his call. Never did. Oh, well, he is just a measly tax payer; no body really important.

  17. 18 Rockannand

    “Statistics show that over the past 10 years 2005-2015 (during the strong-mayor form of government) Stratford has significantly dipped in all town and city stats.”
    iCyclops: And you can add that we have also significantly increased the Town Hall payroll for non-union staff in both pay and more people. What we have is a town government that serves itself FIRST in terms of pay and pensions and feels entitled to do so at OUR expense. And the leadership of DTC has same idea if they ever get another shot at Mayor and Council leadership. Reward themselves and their friends and screw everyone else.

    I find Robert Walsh’s comments and article a nice try at seeking a common ground, but all the heavy lifting being done is by the people and not the elected and appointed officials. That’s why we are irate and fed up with their behavior and actions the past 5 years. The DTC is showing little or now leadership in opposition so it is left to those of us out there to cry foul. Robert, you should stop shooting the messengers and really listen to what they are saying. When 60 people show up for a Planning Commission meeting on a snowy Thursday night in a room built for 30 you know something is wrong with how business is being conducted. Greg Reilly never got this which is maybe one reason why he is no longer editor of the Star.

    The way Joe Kubic conducts Public Forum is a disgrace and insult to everyone who attends those meetings and to the citizenry as a whole. His conduct invites scorn and vitriol in return. There are 5 seats up for election in November. Let’s see what happens then. In the meantime, we attend meetings, write letters, float petitions and post comments here and on Facebook to let the people of this town know how much they are getting screwed and by who.

  18. 19 shanliss

    Jezebel is well aware of the fact that the Town Attorney’s Office (TAO) is where any “follow the money” advice invariably leads. Indeed, that office functions as a kind of WPCA (Wampum Political Controlling Authority). Which means that any pending Council decision must be handicapped along the lines of: how will the TAO reap the most wampum for its members and associates?

    That said, I offer this preliminary analysis of the upcoming Council vote on the Shakespeare Theatre, which could in fact take place as early as Monday evening, Feb 23rd.

    Option 1: Do absolutely nothing, tabling any motion, for further information or whatever. That is certainly what previous Council’s have done. However, this makes absolutely no money for the TAO. Council could punt on this Theatre thing, on the presumption that there are other matters to be decided–everything from that pesky cell tower in Longbrook Park to the sale of the WPCA facility. But it will come back, eventually, like in March.

    Option 2: Vote for Elm Street Theatre Company (ESTC) to be awarded the opportunity to negotiate a lease on the Theatre. This option permits the TAO to work regular hours and draw up a standard lease, perhaps better-written than the one from a half-dozen years ago that gave away the store to Bill Hanney’s dubious operation in Massachusetts, currently in endless litigation with the Town of Ipswitch. Money to be made here to be sure, but possibly no overtime or outside attorney’s fees, unless the TAO drags out negotiations over issues relating to how local connections can tap into the millions of Gold Coast tax-credit money the ESTC is planning on bringing in to finance the Theatre’s renovation. Word on the street is that, on the backstretch, Council is coming around. But then, I only bet on the Derby, and that’s not for a few months yet.

    Option 3: Vote for Stratford Stage Group. This is potentially the biggest plum for the TAO, subject to important caveats. The Theatre property was conveyed to the Town by the State of Connecticut in 2005, with a restrictive deed that limits commercial activity, and that would appear to preclude the possibility of the Potemkin Inn that the Stage Group’s own Polonius wind-bag, David Reed, has argued is crucial for the economic viability of his wolf in sheep’s clothing plan. A conflict over interpretations of this deed could excite the TAO into a feeding frenzy of litigious glee, provided the Reed people can muscle up with several Knotts of wind (and lawyer) power on their own. However, there is a much more restrictive deed on this property from the 1950s, moldering in the Stratford Land Records files. So unless some act of skulduggery makes that earlier deed disappear like Hamlet’s Ghost, the Stratford Stage option might result in only a short-lived windfall for the TAO, before it has to bow out before the greater legal arguments of the Housatonic Boat Club, among others, who can point to this slam-dunk deed that stands athwart any hopes to turn the Shakespeare property into someone’s private cash cow.

    Option 4: Bandshell aka Aphitheater. This one is not really serious, but merely a loss leader for the real plan, for a Shelton on the Sound of condos stretching from Washington Bridge to the Stratford Point Lighthouse, mused over by conspiracy theorists for many years. Arguing for this option is the fact that numerous local contractors and developers will be salivating over Theatre demolition, landscaping with earthmoving equipment, and quick ‘n easy cinderblock construction of the artful edifice helpfully contributed by the pro bono Hartford student barely a month ago under the shadiest of circumstances. Lots of little feeding-trough contract writing there to be sure. But the interesting work, namely battling against the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which has vowed to prevent any demolition of the historic Shakespeare Theatre, which it considers part of the patrimony of every Connecticut resident–now there’s some good money for the likes of attorney and part-time State Senator Kevin Kelly, who will pull in big fees for his firm as he dons his armor and protects the precious right of the Town of Stratford to destroy (or sell — cf WPCA) anything that it feels like destroying. Win, lose or draw, this one’s a winner for the TOA.

    But perhaps I’m mistaken, and Jezebel or someone here can handicap this better than I. One thing to bet on: Councilmen will be long-remebered, or forgotten, for their vote on this, the life or death of a great American theatre. As the late George Jones could have crooned about Monday’s Council vote: The Race is On.

  19. 20 jezebel282

    I’m sorry, was there a question here?

  20. 21 shanliss

    No, there was no question, merely a description of the field; I’ll await your recap on Tuesday, it would seem. WPCA race looks less appealing, but then it may go off in the dark, as Executive Session. The only surprise is if the entire next nine months are not held in Executive Session.

  21. 22 jezebel282

    Shanliss,

    This latest move by the Council to hold the biggest financial decision affecting taxpayers in decades in secret executive session is shocking.

    B) Potential Purchase of Land under WPCA Facility by WPCA from the Town of Stratford – Executive Session may be required

    C) Potential Sale of WPCA – Executive Session may be required

    How anyone in Town Hall considers this to be a topic to be discussed in secret demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of of government function. Apparently we (citizens and taxpayers) have no right to know how or why the largest publicly owned utility in Stratford will be dispensed with.

    Illegally looting our unnecessarily high fees from the WPCA cash reserve is one thing. At least the asset remains. But to offer up this facility for no apparent benefit or, more likely, even higher fees, with no discussion at all tells you that this action is obviously not in our interest. What we have all learned from experience is that when it is done in secret the outcome is not good.

    Given the scale and scope of this “deal” we demand a public hearing and for that to be followed by a Town-wide referendum. It’s our property.

  22. 23 jezebel282

    Update:

    Apparently the tidal wave of outrage was too great and the secret council meetings were cancelled…for now. No doubt that they will try again.

    In the meantime, the BOE will meet to decide on a rumored $7 million theater. Why not? It’s only tax money. It’s not like the BOE publishes their budget anyway.

  23. 24 stfdprofessor1

    Wanna follow the money? Get the political donor list from the town clerk for any of these elected thieves; from our esteemed mayor “cheatin johnny’s” campaign down to the campaigns for any of the buffoons on the town clowncil.

    What you will find are maximum donations NOT ONLY from the town attorneys…but from the town attorneys wives, the town attorneys children and like donations from their partners and associates in their law firms. Does anyone think they sponser the 4th of July fireworks and the mayor’s blues festival out of the kindness of their hearts. What does this spell C-O-R-R-U-P-T-I-O-N

    I just wonder who is asleep at the switch at the local FBI office.

  24. 26 jezebel282

    Even as Harkins continues to try to justify the sale of the WPCA/sewer plant, those stubborn facts won’t go away. Harkins touts a $37 relief of outstanding debt on the plant. The first problem is that the sewer fees cover that, operations and enough left over to let Harkins steal $2.5 million/year and have $5.2 million in cash reserve. The corporate term for this is “cash cow”.

    The second problem is that $37 million is remaining debt from a $61 million upgrade. How much was it worth before the upgrade? And who in their right mind would pay off almost half their mortgage and then sell it for the remaining balance?

    And as for “regionalization” , why not regionlize the Fire Department? We could have saved the expense of a $1.1 million 95ft tower ladder ( what is 95ft tall that might catch fire?) or a $400,000 fire boat.


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