The time seems appropriate for a “post mortem” of the recent municipal election.
Compared to the one of two years ago, this one lacked the suspense and sparks. I would ascribe this apathy to the subconscious feeling among some 70% of no-show voters that things were OK as they were, so why risk change? Ignorance is bliss.
Mike Jarjura – Some 50% of the voters have shown their trust in Mike’s administration, something that cannot be denied. This, along with the “write-in” victory in 2005, might present a misleading smooth picture through the next term. I see, however, some very serious economic challenges lurking around the corner. Thus, the “virtual” stability may cost us bitterly longterm.
As far as the fiscal aspect is concerned, the administration had the benefit of having the State Oversight Board to guide and assist it during most of its three terms. The Board carried a big stick, as we have seen in its handling of union contract issues. In the case of the Palace Theater the taxpayers were simply told to shut up and sit down. We had two revaluations and are about to see another one. Most of the overdue taxes have been collected. What the city will face in the next term will be an eroded tax base, a weakened infrastructure, as well as rising administrative and project costs. All this in the face of looming decline in national and state economies.
From the standpoint of economic development, Mayor Mike has shown a lack of strong and imaginative leadership. The City Charter has given the mayor almost autocratic powers. Mike has failed to use them constructively, sheltering behind legalistic conundrums and initiatives of the commercial sector.
Waterbury administrations have typically reacted only to projects involving major funding. Whether it was downtown redevelopment, bonding for schools and City Hall repairs or new construction. Anything where large funding would allow discreet transfers to cover budget shortfalls and preclude accountability. Organizations like NVDC and WDC have been a front preventing the public from tracking the money flow.
Lack of administrative planning has been illustrated by the handling of the City Hall restoration and the lack of revival in the Downtown area. In the first case, with his real estate expertise, Mike should have insisted on firm floor layout, followed by purchase of a building for an interim use, Instead he has resorted to rental, which is bleeding the city; I will review that situation at the end of the article. As for Downtown, the administration has allowed WDC to channel funds to questionable ventures, rather than efforts reflecting the population diversity.
Such wasted funds (upscale restaurants, meaningless brownfield studies etc.), if consistently applied to well planned projects, would have produced noticeable results over the course of time and provided a modest, but steady, economic growth.
During the recent Jarjura election campaign, I have found some of the claims, stressed by the Jarjura team, not quite in line with actual facts. Accomplishments such as “School Renovation & Repairs, Improving Silas Bronson Library Facility, Revamping & Re-building City Parks & Centers, No Sale of City Water, Wolcott Road Magical Mile Re-Development and Industrial Park Development” (Rep-Am of 10/10/07) happened without meaningful initiative from the Jarjura administration. As for the “water” statement, only a lawyer could have worded it in such a fine manner.
My advice to Mike for his next term as mayor is to move into leadership on efforts which would be feasible with limited funds. Here is a short list:
Pull out all stops in making Howland-Hughes a full fledged flex-facility to revitalize Bank Street by attracting both shoppers and businesses.
With neighborhood participation, select one street in the inner city area; have it cleared of dilapidated structures, have sidewalks and roadway fixed. Assist residents to make it a show piece. It will create a lasting impression and become a starting point. Random cleanup will only dissipate available funds.
Have one brownfield (other than former Mattatuck Mfg.) identified as being least polluted and best suited for industrial development. Have WDC channel all available brownfield funds into its remediation. Seek additional funding from state and federal sources. Have it cleaned up and put on the market.
Draw so-called minorities into constructive political activity, before the city will fracture along diversity lines.
Dennis Odle – It is interesting to note that Dennis and Mike Jarjura have appeared on the city’s field of mayoral aspirations at about the same time. Upon his arrival here from Middlebury, Dennis had an op-ed published in Rep-Am of 6/24/2001. He showed a remarkable grasp of Waterbury’s problems as well as an independent streak in political thinking. True to his opinions, he has become active on the local scene. Thus, his gravitation from the Republican Party into the lead of the Independent ticket should not have raised many eyebrows. What caused concern among the behind-the-scenes Democrat – Republican cabal from here to Hartford, was the company of Larry DePillo, Mike Telesca and Karen Mulcahy, Here was a team of irrepressible number crunchers, with an inventory of closets hiding proverbial skeletons. The cabal was out to stop them, period.
To be honest, I did not buy into the senior center idea because of its remote location. What I found tantalizing about the platform, however, was the prospect of economic development focusing on industrial, rather than commercial pattern. Our city has forgotten the “can do” attitude which has brought success to many corporations. To undertake that, however, the mayor would have to be out front and willing to take risks.
My advice to Dennis and others on his team is not to break it up following the outcome of the election, but to combine the political activity with a revival of a Taxpayers’ Association, which has become a de facto function of the Independent Party. In a deteriorating economy, only frugal and well planned spending can offset fiscal losses. At the end of this article, I will summarize some recent areas where taxpayer action staved off some rash and poorly conceived actions by the administration.
Tony D’Amelio – Had Chuck Stango, the Republican Town Committee Chairman, read carefully the Rep-Am editorial of 5/13/ 2001, “Waterbury politics finds few mayor players”, he would have thought twice before advancing Tony’s candidacy. His decision has not only bounced the GOP to the third place, but also hurt a good and honest person like Tony and imperiled his future as a the legislator. That was a very prophetic editorial.
Tony’s platform contained the right ideas which, unfortunately, were not supported by methods of implementation. His statements regarding economic development did not go beyond a call for an “aggressive” plan, without details. The “pre-permitting” approach to marketing sites, might have been possible elsewhere, but not in Waterbury. Our problem are brownfields; even if the city would have issued all needed permits in advance, they would be meaningless in the face of cleanup costs required to meet the DEP and/or EPA bureaucracy. As for the anticipated ethnic voter support, that aspect has become passe in our diverse community.
Joe Zdonczyk, the Concerned Citizens candidate, has been an outsider fighting to get into Waterbury’s political arena for years, even while he was a resident of the city. What has characterized Joe has been his idealism and monumental persistence in the face of the realities of modern life. His garnering of as many as 92 votes surprised me.
The case for a Taxpayers’ Association. The City Charter severely limits the participation of taxpayers in fiscal control of revenue and spending. The Independent Party has taken upon itself the task of focusing public attention on wasteful practices or irresponsible actions of the administration. Such oversight will have to continue in one way or another. Public scrutiny, combined with investigative press reporting is a mighty weapon.
Water. This issue has not moved away since May 2005, when the mayor lobbied for the creation of water authority, tantamount to the sale of the resource and 7,000 acres of surrounding land. What has changed is the value. Neighboring Bristol has been hit by the results of the drought, as have cities across the country. Water has rapidly become as important as oil and investors are itching to snatch the rights. We must avoid a repetition of the midnight attempt. Our massive debt is still there and the temptation to place our water rights on the block will increase.
City Hall / Firehouse. The bonding was reduced from $48 million to $36 million in June 2007, thanks again to a referendum. So far, the only action by the mayor has been to hire a lawyer to write a contract acceptable to him. Meanwhile, the building is allowed to deteriorate further.
Prior to bonding, the lack of planning by the administration has resulted in rental costs of $36,000 or more a month in addition to refurbishing the rented space. At least $800,000 was wasted in 2004 on premature architectural plans. In 2005, the Board of Aldermen approved $1.45 million for architectural/engineering planning. A corroding boiler was installed for $264,800 in 2006! A mysteriously burst water pipe caused $646,000 damage, of which the insurer has reimbursed only $300,000 to-date. Nobody knows what other costs will have accrued before the actual restoration will begin. Nobody seems to be sure of the damage which will be found then.
Nor is anyone certain of the floor plan.
While this is going on, the administration is pondering repairs of the Chase Building…….
New Schools. The original project involved a 12-year plan to construct 9 new schools and renovate 25 structures. $1.4 billion was to be bonded by Waterbury at a net cost to taxpayers of $387 million. Our Board of Education approved the plan 6-1, stating that “they were comfortable with it…”. The Independents were instrumental in focusing the public opinion on this folly, whittling the plan down to 3 new schools, limiting the bonding to $101.5 million, the city’s share being $23 million. The Board of Aldermen approved it, the completion of the project scheduled for completion by 2008. The Independents then forced a referendum, to seek taxpayers’ opinion.
After all the hullabaloo, one would have expected to see work midway to completion. So far, nothing! While the clock is ticking, the bankers are quietly counting the interest, and construction costs are escalating. Imagine if we had bonded for the original amount!
Summing up, what have we attained in the last election? With the civic awareness dwindling and the absence of well defined alternatives, the majority of voters have opted for status quo. The incumbent administration should not, however, consider it a mandate to continue its bungling approach to economic development. Two years is a very short time span, especially in view of the rapidly changing global and national economy.
This being the holiday season, however, eat, drink and be merry, for no one knows what tomorrow will bring.