Waterbury mayor, Neil O’Leary, right, watched as former mayor Mike Jarjura proceeded to the microphone to denounce O’Leary’s plans to finance economic development out of the mayor’s budget.
By John Murray
Former five-term mayor, Mike Jarjura made a surprise visit to the Board of Aldermen meeting tonight to speak out against transferring money to the mayor’s office to fund two new economic development positions. Jarjura said the move would create a financial burden in tough economic times, and chided the aldermen that they would have opposed the concept had he proposed it last spring.
Mayor Neil O’Leary rebutted Jarjura’s claims minutes later when he said he’d won election on a campaign that promised moving the economic development position inside the mayor’s office. During his transition in November, O’Leary contacted John Rowland, the current economic development coordinator, to ask what his future plans were. Rowland, the former three-term governor of Connecticut, works for the Greater Waterbury Chamber Of Commerce as the economic czar in Waterbury. It is a sensitive issue since a majority of Rowland’s salary is paid for by tax payer money alloted to the chamber. Two years ago Rowland accepted a three-hour afternoon radio gig on WTIC AM that gave many the impression that he was neglecting his duties in Waterbury. The aldermen voted last spring to cut his $100,000 salary in half to reflect Rowland’s part-time attention to his job.
During the 2011 mayoral campaign Jarjura said he wanted to continue the unique relationship between Waterbury and John Rowland. which was as a consultant, not an hourly employee. O’Leary had a different take on the situation. O’Leary is committed to growing the grand list (which should reduce the individual tax burden on property owners in the city), and he hinged his campaign on aggressively marketing the city, and having a full-time economic development post working inside the mayor’s office.
The message went out to Rowland that if he wanted to continue his tax-payer funded position he had to give up his radio show and focus his energy on economic development. O’Leary told the Observer during his Q&A session with the Observer in October that Rowland had to “be all in, or all out.”
When Rowland decided to continue hosting his show “State and Church”, the most popular afternoon radio show in Connecticut, O’Leary began a search for a replacement, and hired Ron Pugliese, the CEO of the East Hartford Chamber Of Commerce. Pugliese started working in the post on January 3rd.
Saranda Belica was hired as an economic development aide, and the two of them are working directly out of the mayor’s office. Rowland is expected to work out the final six months of his contract with the Chamber and assist Pugliese’s transition into the job.
When O’Leary addressed the aldermen he said he didn’t want to rehash the campaign, but that he had run on change and the promise to bring economic development inside the mayor’s office. He acknowledged there was an expense, but said it was important to invest in the effort to bring new business to the city.
The $100,00 transfer went before the Finance Committee, which is controlled by the Republicans 4-3. Democrat aldermen Joe Begnal, Tony Piccochi, and Greg Hadley voted in favor of the transfer, and Republican aldermen Lysa Margiotti, Steve Giacomi and Carlo Palladino all voted against the transfer. The fate of the transfer came down to Republican alderman Frank Burgio, a feisty maverick, who voted in favor of the transfer. Once voted out of committee the transfer was voted by the entire Board of Aldermen who passed the resolution to transfer the money by a 9-6 vote. (again, Burgio was the only Republican to vote in favor of the transfer).
O’Leary has his wish – economic development will now be inside the mayor’s office, and the task is squarely in the hands of Ron Pugliese.
Waterbury’s new economic development coordinator, Ron Pugliese, second from left, listens to the debate about transferring $100,000 into the budget of the mayor’s office to finance his post. Standing next to Pugliese is Saranda Belica, who is the city’s new economic development aide.
Newly elected Republican aldermen, George Noujaim, right, and Fred Luedke, left, listen to the debate as Board of Aldermen President, Paul Pernerewski, listened in the background.