Monday, October 27, 2014

Underhanded Opposition to Aldermen by District

It was very disappointing to read today's coverage of the Aldermen by District issue in the Rep-Am. At first I was confused by their one-sided, inaccurate, and unappealing reporting. Then I went back and read today's Editorial, in which they clearly state that they think Aldermen by District is a bad idea. Then their appalling coverage made sense--forget journalistic integrity, the Rep-Am is trying to torpedo the Charter Revision.

First off, let's look at their excessive use of the word "ward." Nobody has been referring to electing Aldermen by Ward. Nobody has been talking about dividing Waterbury into different Wards. It's an ugly word that conjures up images of ghettos and urban corruption. The Rep-Am's decision to change the language of the debate is a sneaky, underhanded ploy to manipulate the voters. They should be ashamed of themselves, but they probably aren't.

Secondly, let's look at their choice for front-page coverage of the story. "Charter change seen boosting minority clout," an article that makes it sound like the point of Aldermen by District is to take power away from the white people in Town Plot and Bunker Hill and give it to the blacks and Hispanics in the inner city. Again, this is a sneaky, underhanded ploy to manipulate voters, the same trick that was used to defeat a similar proposal during the 1990s. Opponents of Aldermen by District are hoping to play on the latent racism, the fear of urban minorities, that still exists in Waterbury. It worked in 1999, and they are hoping it will work again in 2014.

Front page of the Rep-Am, October 27 2014


Then there's the Paul Pernerewski factor. Pernerewski, who has served as President of the Board of Aldermen for many years, has been a vocal opponent of Aldermen by District, but he's been clever about his opposition. Instead of coming right out and saying he thinks it's a bad idea, and instead of saying why he thinks it's a bad idea, he spins it to make it sound like you shouldn't bother voting for it, because no one cares about it. When Pernerewski was talking to Larry Rifkin on WATR last week, he said something to the effect that he voted to put it on the ballot so that voters would feel like they had a voice, but that of course it won't pass. In other words, toss them some crumbs, it won't change anything. The Rep-Am included a quote today in which Pernerewski again says that it won't pass because no one is interested in it.

But here's the thing. The Rep-Am almost did some good journalism on this. They used velvet gloves, but they did point out that Pernerewski is at risk of losing his seat on the Board of Aldermen if the measure passes. They spun it to make him sound noble--oh gosh, he voted to put it on the ballot, even though he could lose his position, what a great guy!--when in fact he's been actively trying to sabotage the measure. If you're going to quote someone who is opposed to a ballot measure, and it's obvious that person has a personal stake in the game, call them out on it. This applies to pretty much all the aldermen, as well as all the major players on the Town Committees. If they are opposed to Aldermen by District, we have to consider how the shift in power will effect them personally.

As for the other reasons to vote against Aldermen by District:

1. Aldermen by District will pit neighborhoods against one another.

This argument is being made by people who live in the neighborhoods with plenty of representation on the Board of Aldermen. They are in the privileged neighborhoods, so they don't see that we currently have neighborhoods pitted against one another. That's the system that has existed for decades: the "nice" neighborhoods vs. the "bad" neighborhoods. The "nice" neighborhoods get represented. The "bad" neighborhoods get ignored. We already have "little fiefdoms," it's just that the folks currently in power don't want to give up that power. The fact that people in the "nice" neighborhoods think everyone is being treated equally is proof that we have a problem. Aldermen by District will give representation to all neighborhoods, ending the current system of inequality and injustice, ending the domination of three or four fiefdoms over the rest of us.

2. If certain neighborhoods had better voter turnout, they would be better represented.

This is one of the biggest lies in town. It's a trick I've seen used repeatedly for years. When a group complains that they are being ignored, they're told it's their fault because they aren't more like the group in power.

Here's how the current system really works. Each political party has a Town Committee with members from each of the five legislative districts. Membership to the Town Committee is all about cronyism. If you're on the Town Committee, you nominate your friends and family members to join the committee whenever there is a vacancy. The Town Committee decides who their candidates will be in every election. The selection has nothing to do with where the candidates live. It has to do with who is the right "fit" for the political party. It has to do with who has political clout. It has to do with whether or not the Town Committee is feeling pressure to include a minority candidate. Ultimately, however, most of the candidates are pulled from the same small group, who tend to live in the same small handful of neighborhoods. It's cronyism, with an occasional minority allowed in to keep up the appearance of inclusive government.

3. The current system works just fine, everyone's happy with it, and no one really wants to change it.

Waterbury is well known for its history of political corruption, so I suppose it makes sense that the people in power are insisting that the system isn't broken, and I suppose it makes sense that the people in power are trying to mute the voices of the disenfranchised voters who want to change the system.

4. Voters will lose power, because they will be limited to voting for only 2 candidates, instead of 9.

It took me a while to figure this one out. The way I see it, voters will be empowered, because instead of trying to choose between 27 candidates, they'll be presented with a manageable, realistic 4 to 6 candidates. And the three candidates who win in their district will be directly accountable to them

Then I noticed that this criticism is pretty much always tied to a concern that neighborhoods with low voter turnout will be electing inferior Aldermen, and that people in the neighborhoods with high voter turnout will suffer as a result. Translation: people who live in the outer ring neighborhoods, the ones near the borders with Middlebury, Wolcott, and Cheshire, don't want the people living in the inner city to have any say in what happens with our city government.


The Rep-Am claims that there haven't been any groups organizing to support Aldermen by District, that there "isn't much chatter about it," that there hasn't been any community outreach campaign, that there have been no leaflets distributed--but those things have been happening.

Hiding the truth is a sneaky trick used by people in power to suppress people without power. It's usually associated with countries like North Korea or Russia, who use the media to control what information is available to their people. The Rep-Am and certain political players have done a good job of trying to suppress the truth about what's going on with the Aldermen by District issue this year. We'll find out next week if they've succeeded.

For reasons to vote yes on Aldermen by District, check out my blog post on all the ballot questions, and read John Murray's article for the Waterbury Observer.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Delinquent Property Tax Rules

After reading coverage in print and online of Andre Michaud's difficulties with the Tax Collector's Office, and knowing how overwhelmingly frustrating it is to be railroaded by bureaucracy, I decided to figure out what was going on. The "he said, she said" coverage of the story in the Rep-Am did nothing to help readers decide who was right. The official report issued by the city's Corporation Council did little to clarify the matter, as it avoided answering any questions about how the delinquent tax system works.

It's taken me hours to unravel what really happens, even though this is information that should be readily available to the general public. What I discovered is that the system by which real estate property is auctioned off for delinquent taxes is shrouded in mystery and confusing legal jargon.

I had always assumed that if you failed to pay your real estate property taxes, and if the city seized the property and sold it at auction, you lost the property and no longer had to pay the delinquent taxes. The truth is that you lose your property and still owe the difference between the sale price and the total taxes owed. In other words, if you have $30,000 in back taxes owed on a property, and the city sells the property at tax auction for $10,000, you still owe $20,000 in taxes.

A quick glance at a sampling of tax auction sales suggests that most of the delinquent properties are being sold for less than what is owed in back taxes on them. My understanding of the law (but I'm not an attorney, so don't quote me!) is that the delinquent taxes remaining after auction can be forcibly collected only through a lawsuit, or through other legal means such as booting your car if you owe taxes on it.

If you owe the city back taxes for a property that was sold at tax auction, the city can sue you and get a court order to garnish your wages or seize your bank account. Bear in mind, however, that unless there is a court order, the city can't just take money out of your bank account without your permission. They can report your delinquent debt to the credit rating agencies, lowering your credit score. In other words, delinquent taxes owed post-auction are the same as any other debt owed to a corporation.

Some municipalities have a clearly written policy for delinquent taxes readily available on their websites (for example, Manchester, East Hartford,  and Norwalk). It would be helpful if there was one for Waterbury.

If you want to spend hours delving into Connecticut property tax laws, start with the website of the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association.


Now for the rules. These rules are taken from Chapter 204, Section 12 of the Connecticut State Statutes and are "translated" from barely decipherable legal speak to layman's language. Waterbury's ordinance regarding delinquent taxes adheres closely to the state statute.

1. Taxes are due by a set date every year. If you don't pay your taxes on time, interest of 1.5% will accrue monthly.

2. Unpaid real estate taxes are subject to an interest rate of 18% per year on the delinquent principal. Interest will continue to accrue from the date is was due, until the date on which it is paid. The Tax Collector can round up any part of a month to a full month's worth of interest.

3. Partial payments are applied to reducing the interest owed, not to the delinquent principal. The principal owed is reduced only if the interest is paid off. It gets more complicated if you are delinquent on multiple properties.

4. Businesses can lose their license or permit if they are delinquent on their taxes for more than one year.

5. The city can withhold any payments due to a business if that business is delinquent for more than one year on its property taxes; the amount of payment withheld can not be larger than the amount owed by the business. This rule applies only to a business enterprise, not to the individual person who owns the business.

6. This next rule is from 2003 and is oddly temporary, but apparently is still on the books. If you or your spouse are in the military serving active duty in Iraq, you are exempt from being charged interest on delinquent property taxes.

7. If you do not pay your taxes on time, the Tax Collector "shall make personal demand of such person therefor or leave written demand at such person's usual place of abode" or send a notice in the mail. There's also a few mentions of posting information on the town sign post, even though that's really antiquated.

8. If a corporation or LLC or other legal entity is delinquent on their taxes, the Tax Collector can send the written demand for payment to the person who officially represents that business ("upon whom process may be served to initiate a civil action against such corporation").

9. After demand for payment of past due taxes has been made, the Tax Collector can place a lien against the property.

10. The Tax Collector can sell the property for unpaid taxes. The person who owes the delinquent taxes is not allowed to purchase the property from the Tax Collector.

11. The delinquent property owner will be sent a notice, at least twice, of the pending sale of his or her property by certified mail, return receipt requested. That notice will include the amount of taxes owed, as well as all the various fees involved. Notice will be sent between nine to twelve weeks before the sale is scheduled. Notice will also be posted in the local newspaper at least once a week for three weeks.

12. The Tax Collector can sell the property at auction to the highest bidder to pay the taxes, as well as the interest, fees, and other charges allowed by law.

13. The Tax Collector can sell the property to the city if there has been no bidder or if the bid amount is less than the amount due.

14. The Tax Collector shall post a written notice of the amount due on the property at the auction.

15. If the city hires an auctioneer to run the auction, the cost is shared equally by all the properties being sold.

16. The Tax Collector shall issue a deed to the purchaser or the city within two weeks of the auction. The deed shall remain unrecorded for six months, allowing the original owner time to redeem the property by paying the delinquent taxes and fees.

17. The original owner will be sent notification of the amount they need to pay, and the date by which it must be paid, if they want to reclaim their property after the tax auction.

18. If the original owner does not redeem the property in time, the person who bought the property at the tax auction becomes the legal owner.

19. The property can be redeemed by someone other than the original owner and other than the person who bought the property at auction, provided that person has a legal interest in the property.

If the property was abandoned (or for other reasons as outlined in the City Ordinances, Chapter 32, Section 24) and was sold for less than the total amount owed at the auction, anyone with an interest in the property other than the original owner has 60 days from the date of the auction to redeem the property for the full amount owed.

If the property was not abandoned, anyone with an interest in the property other than the original owner has six months from the date of the tax auction to redeem the property for the full amount owed.

The person who pays off the full amount owed will then have a legal claim against the person who was responsible for paying the taxes. The person who bought the property at the tax auction will be notified and reimbursed within ten days.

20. The city will insure the property against fire and other loss during the redemption period. The person who bought the property at the tax auction is not liable for the property during the redemption period.

21. If the property sells at auction for more than what is owed on it, the excess amount shall be placed in an interest-bearing escrow account. If the property is redeemed, the amount held in escrow shall be returned to the person who tried to buy the property at the auction; the interest accrued shall remain with the city.

If the property is not redeemed, the amount held in escrow may be used to pay other delinquent taxes owed by the original property owner. The details of this are complicated and involve the Appellate Court. Since this scenario is unlikely to happen anytime soon, I'm going to skip it.

22. All taxes owed are a legal debt that must be paid. The city may pursue the payment of that debt by any legal means, which means suing the delinquent taxpayer. The results of the lawsuit can include garnishing wages and seizing bank accounts, but these actions must be court approved.

23. The city can attempt to collect the taxes owed through levy and sale, enforcement of a lien, or any other legal proceeding (i.e., the city can sue for the taxes to be paid). The delinquent taxpayer has to pay all the related costs incurred by the city in its efforts to collect the debt.

24. The Tax Collector can serve a warrant for the collection of any tax assessed.

25. The city can petition the Superior Court to place a rental property into receivership. The appointed receiver shall collect the rent payments and use them to pay the delinquent taxes, and then any utilities that would normally be paid by the rent payments. The receivership ends when the delinquent taxes are paid.

26. The Tax Collector has 15 years in which to collect delinquent taxes; after 15 years, the delinquent tax is expired and can't be collected by the city. Improvement liens are exempt from this limitation.

-------------------------------


While I believe firmly in paying taxes on time, and I know how important the tax revenue is for the city, I also know that sometimes people make mistakes, and sometimes people are lose their jobs and aren't able to keep up with all their bills.

Over the years, I've known a few people who have fallen behind on the property taxes for their homes. Usually these are older homeowners who are going through difficult financial problems and don't have enough money to make ends meet. In these instances, they were able to resolve the problem by going to the Tax Collector's Office, explaining the situation, and agreeing to a payment plan. However, it is usually an extremely stressful process, since the Tax Collector's Office continues to send warning notices and threatens to take their homes for tax auction, which would leave them homeless.

The Tax Collector's Office shouldn't be too quick to seize properties. If a property is owner occupied, it's better to work out a payment plan than to take someone's home away from them.

If a property is a rental unit, the city is more likely to see the back taxes paid if the owner still has a source of revenue from the property. The law allows the city to place a rental property into receivership, using the rent to pay the taxes (see Rule #25 above); this seems like the best solution if a landlord is delinquent on property taxes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Election 2014 Voter Registration and Ballot Questions

Are you ready to vote on November 4?

Check your voter registration status online to make sure you're registered where you currently live.

If you need to register, or if you need to change your address, or if your name has changed, you can register online; OR,

         Download the registration form, print it out, and mail it to Registrar of Voters, Chase Municipal Building, 236 Grand Street, Floor 1, Waterbury, CT 06702 postmarked no later than October 21, 2014; OR,

         Download the registration form, print it out, and deliver it in person to Registrar of Voters, Chase Municipal Building, 236 Grand Street, Floor 1, Waterbury, CT 06702 no later than October 28, 2014.

You can also register and vote in person on Election Day if you aren't registered in Connecticut at all, or if you have moved to a new town. You will need to provide proof of identity and proof of address. You must call the Registrar's Office at 203-574-6751 to find out where to go for this.





Ballot Questions


In addition to the slew of candidates, this year's ballot includes four important questions to answer.


1. Shall the Constitution of the state be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of the election?

The short explanation: Currently, absentee ballots are available for people who can't vote in person on election day, but only if they will be out of town, sick, physically disabled, or if their religion forbids voting on election day.

Voting YES on this question will change the rule so that anyone can vote by absentee ballot, with no reason needed. Voting YES will also remove the current deadlines for submitting election results to officials.

Think of it this way: since Election Day is not a holiday, most people have to find time in their already busy day to schlep to their polling place. If you are careful and can time it just right, you won't have to stand in line and the whole process chews up only half an hour of your time. If you aren't lucky, you have to stand in line for who knows how long, losing an hour or more of your day.

Voting YES will make voting easier for many people.

Click here for the official explanatory text.



2. Shall the Charter be revised to provide for four year terms of office for the Mayor, the Town Clerk and the Registrar of Voters?


If this Charter Revision passes, it goes into effect with the next election cycle. The Mayor's current term in office would not be extended. He will have to run for re-election next year, as regularly scheduled.

This question has been on the ballot before, and has been voted down. The usual argument I hear for keeping two year terms of office is to be able to vote out bad Mayors. This is a false argument. Giordano was as bad as they come, everyone knew he was a louse, but he wasn't voted out of office--the FBI had to take him out in handcuffs. Jarjura was voted out, but only after ten years in office and a massive, expensive campaign.

Under the current system, each Mayor gets one year off from active campaigning. The next election is constantly on the horizon, which means that each Mayor is constantly thinking about keeping major donors happy. Those major donors end up with more control than they would have otherwise--if they don't like something, all they have to do is tell the Mayor they won't fund his campaign next year/this year to get what they want. Switch to a four year term, and those donors will have less control--Mayors will have years to cultivate new donors, or maybe even not bother with donors at all, if he or she thinks four years is enough time to be in office.

If we switch to four year terms, each Mayor will enter office knowing that there is ample time to get the job done before worrying about campaigning.

The standard business model in use today is to have a five year plan (year five is usually a little vague). Waterbury's Mayors enter office with a two year plan, which limits their effectiveness and creates more stress than needed.

Additionally, switching the Mayor over to four year terms will "liberate" the candidates for the Board of Aldermen from the Mayoral candidates. The Aldermen will continue to run for election every two years, running independently from the Mayoral candidate.

As for the Town Clerk and the Registrar of Voters: these positions have been held by the same people for a very long time. Frankly, I think the Town Clerk should be exempt from political campaigning entirely and instead be a standard employee position, filled by the most qualified candidate.

Voting YES will reduce the insanity of Waterbury politics. Voting YES will allow our Mayors to focus on their jobs, instead of on their re-election campaigns.



3. Shall the Charter be revised to provide that three Aldermen shall be elected from each of five equally populated districts rather than the current manner of electing fifteen Aldermen at large (citywide)?

The short version of what this means: the city would be divided into five districts similar to the existing State Representative districts (71, 72, 73, 74, 75). Each political party would have two candidates in each district. Each district would elect three Aldermen.

Efforts to switch to Aldermen by District have been ongoing since at least the 1990s.

Currently, voters get overwhelmed by the number of candidates running for the Board of Aldermen. Each party can run nine candidates, which means there are typically 27 candidates to choose from. It's unrealistic to expect every voter familiarize themselves with all 27 candidates. As a result, voters often vote blindly for the entire slate, or pick a few with familiar sounding names and then give up.

With the proposed new system, voters would have to choose between only six candidates (or four, if the Independent Party doesn't run), making it easy to learn about the choices and make an informed decision.

Voting YES will empower voters.
Voting YES will give voters the ability to make sound decisions about their voting choices.

Aldermen will be required to live in their district. Currently, our Aldermen live almost exclusively in four neighborhoods: Town Plot, Bunker Hill, Bucks Hill, and the East End. Only one Alderman lives outside those neighborhoods. While at least some of the Aldermen try to keep up with what's happening in neighborhoods around the city, it's not realistic to expect them to truly know what issues are facing every part of the city.

Voting YES will give every area of the city representation on the Board of Aldermen.

Voting NO will keep political power concentrated in the same small handful of neighborhoods where it's been for decades.

It's been argued that switching to Aldermen by District would somehow mean that the Board of Aldermen would no longer focus on citywide issues, that instead each Alderman would care only about what matters in his or her neighborhood. I see no reason for this to be true. If the Board of Aldermen is made up of equally distributed representatives from throughout the city, they will be better able to address citywide issues, because they will truly know what those citywide issues are.

With the current system, most of the city is not represented on the Board of Aldermen, making it difficult for them to really know what's going on everywhere. Switching to Aldermen by District will improve the Board's ability to understand what issues are happening citywide and how their decisions impact all of Waterbury's residents.



4. Shall the Charter be revised to require the Board of Aldermen to appoint a new Charter Revision Commission within 10 years of the previous Charter Revision Commission's Final Report?

Currently, the Charter Commission is appointed every ten years regardless of whether or not a final report was issued within that time frame.


Click here for the official explanatory text of all three Charter Revision questions, as found on the Town Clerk's webpage.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Election 2014 General Candidates

Secretary of State

We've all heard about the U.S. Secretary of State, an appointed position currently held by John Kerry, previously held by Hillary Clinton.

In Connecticut, the Secretary of State oversees elections, business filings, notaries, and other duties related to public records and documents. It's sort of the paperwork department for the State of Connecticut.

This year's candidates are:

Denise W. Merrill, Democrat, former State Representative for the 54th District, Secretary of State since 2010.

Peter Lumaj, Republican, Albanian immigrant, attorney.

S. Michael DeRosa, Green Party, radio show producer.


Treasurer

The Office of the State Treasurer handles the state's money. This includes cash management, debt management, pension funds management, workers' compensation funds, and unclaimed assets.

The candidates are:

Denise L. Nappier, Democrat, formerly Hartford City Treasurer, State Treasurer since 1998.

Timothy M. Herbst, Republican, First Selectman (i.e., Mayor) for the Town of Trumbull.


Comptroller

The Office of the State Comptroller oversees many financial matters for the State, including the payroll and benefits for state employees, and the state budget.

The candidates are:

Kevin Lembo, Democrat, formerly the State Healthcare Advocate, Comptroller since 2010.

Sharon J. McLaughlin, Republican, formerly employed as Logistics Coordinator for Siemens IT Solutions and Services, currently volunteer Treasurer of the Ellington Congregational Church.

Rolf W. Maurer, Green Party, thinks he is running for both Treasurer and Comptroller (says he is a candidate for Treasurer/Comptroller on his Facebook page). Please don't vote for this man. He doesn't know what office he's running for.


Attorney General

The Office of the Attorney General oversees cases involving the State of Connecticut, acts as Counsel to the State Senate and House of Representatives, and represents the State of Connecticut at civil trials. The Office is staffed by attorneys who are hired, not elected. It's sort of like a law firm whose only client is the State of Connecticut.

George Jepson, Democrat, attorney, former State Representative for the 148th District, former State Senator for the 27th District, State Attorney General since 2011.

Kie Westby, Republican, attorney.

Stephen E. Fournier, Green Party, former attorney, writer.


Judge of Probate

The Probate Court is run by a judge, and oversees matters like the estates of the deceased and custody of children. Waterbury's probate judge has been Thomas P. Brunnock since 2003. He is the only candidate on the ballot this year.


Registrar of Voters

Each of the three parties has a candidate this year. Patricia Mulhall is the Democrat candidate; Timothy DeCarlo is the Republican; and Michael Telesca is the Independent. If Mulhall and DeCarlo are the top two vote getters, then they will remain as our only two Registrars of Voters. If Telesca comes in first or second place, then all three become Registrars.

Basically, in order for the Independent Party to be deemed worthy of a Registrar of Voters, their candidate needs to do better in the election than at least one of the two major parties.

Election 2014 State House of Representatives Candidates

Waterbury is divided into five legislative districts: 71, 72, 73, 74, 75.

You can find out which district you vote in by first checking your voter registration information, and then going to the Waterbury Registrar of Voters webpage to see where your polling place is located. (For example, my polling place is Reed School, which is in the 72nd District.)

You can also use the district map provided by the Connecticut State Library to find out which House and Senate districts you live in--but you vote based on where you are registered, so if you didn't update your voter registration after the last time you moved, you might not be voting in your home district.

Now, on to the candidates!


71st District

The 71st is the only Waterbury House district to include another town, spreading into Middlebury from Town Plot. The incumbent legislator is Republican Anthony D'Amelio, who has served in the State House of Representatives since 1996.


Anthony D'Amelio
(photo from CBIA website)

D'Amelio's only opponent in this election is Independent candidate Raymond E. Rivard. He lives in Middlebury and grew up in Waterbury. He does not appear to have a campaign website, and instead has appeared on cable access to present his position. He was a petitioning candidate for the Middlebury Police Commission in 2011, and lost that election.


72nd District

The 72nd has been my home district for many years. Democrat Larry Butler has been our State Rep since 2006. He cares about his district, is involved with what happens here, and has done a good job as our legislator. He has worked well with Waterbury's delegates in Hartford, a solid member of a good team of legislators.

Larry Butler
(photo from state website)


Butler's Republican challenger is Ruben Rodriguez. You may remember Ruben Rodriguez from the 2011 election, when he was a Democrat candidate for the Board of Aldermen on Neil O'Leary's slate, until he dropped out of the race. I worked for that campaign, so what I write next is based on my personal experiences and opinions. This is what I remember happening. Back in 2011, David Aldarondo was the State Rep for the 75th District, and he had a fair amount of clout. Aldarondo chose Rodriguez to be the Aldermanic candidate representing the Hispanic community, and then he demanded $50,000 from the O'Leary campaign to fund campaign operations in the 75th District, significantly more money than could possibly be justified. O'Leary refused, stating something along the lines of "I know a shake-down when I see one." Aldarondo wasn't going to take no for an answer. He wanted that money, and he was furious to have been denied. He threatened to have Rodriguez drop out of the race, which would leave the Democrats short one candidate and saddle the campaign with a potential publicity fiasco. O'Leary again refused to give Aldarondo what he wanted. Rodriguez promptly dropped out of the election, too close to election day for a substitute to be found. The Hispanic community rallied around O'Leary, and a year later, Aldarondo was voted out of office. (Note: while I did not personally hear Aldarondo's demands and threats, I did see him storm out of the campaign headquarters with Rodriguez in tow. Everything I witnessed supported what I was told about the discussions I didn't witness.)

Ruben Rodriguez
(photo from campaign website)

Now, three years later, Ruben "Quitter" Rodriguez has resurfaced as a Republican running for state office. There's been no sign of him in the past three years, nothing to indicate a continuing interest in public affairs or in helping the community at large. If Rodriguez volunteers for any organizations, I can't find that information. His website, Facebook page, and Twitter account don't reveal anything about him beyond his candidacy. His only known political experience: quitting a few weeks before he would have been elected to the Board of Aldermen. Based on what I learned about him in 2011, even before he quit the campaign, I would have to say that he is not even remotely qualified to serve in the Connecticut House of Representatives. I'm shocked and appalled that the Republicans put him on the ticket, and I would not be surprised to learn that there are financial shenanigans happening with his campaign. His candidacy diminishes the entire Waterbury Republican Party.

Perhaps something has happened that I don't know about. Perhaps Rodriguez regrets his actions and has renounced his dubious association with Aldarondo. But I still don't think he's qualified to serve as a State Representative.


There is a third candidate for the 72nd: Richard J. Cam, whose large signs are seen every election cycle. This year he's added "CT Veteran" to the tops of the signs. As with most minor party and no party candidates, Cam doesn't have any online presence, making it pretty much impossible for voters to know whether or not they want to vote for him.



Richard Cam campaign sign


Seriously, guys, it's 2014--get a free Blogger, WordPress or Facebook page and put your full candidate biography and platform on it. Don't have a computer? Use one of the public computers at the library. Find someone computer savvy to assist you. If you can't get your act together well enough to put a biography and platform online, you aren't ready for public office.



73rd District

The 73rd District is currently represented by Democrat Jeffrey Berger, who has been in office since 2001.

Jeffrey Berger
(photo from state website)

Berger's opponent in this year's election is Independent candidate Francis J. Caiazzo, Jr., co-owner of Frankie's, who has previously served on the Waterbury Board of Aldermen as a Democrat. This race is interesting, since it is basically pitting two well-known Democrats, both with solid political experience, against each other. However, since Caiazzo is running as a candidate with the Independent Party, I don't think he has much of a shot. I say this not because of any opinion about how the party is viewed in Waterbury, but because they seem to be in total disarray. They have a website, but it hasn't been updated since before last year's election. They used to have a Facebook page, but that appears to be gone now. They have a YouTube channel, but that also hasn't been updated since the last election. It would seem that Waterbury's Independent Party is the Larry DePillo Show, and if he isn't running, then none of their candidates will be promoted by the party.

Francis J. Caiazzo, Jr.
(photo from Rep-Am website)





74th District

Republican Selim Noujaim has been the State Representative for the 74th District since 2002. He's another one of those great politicians who does his job well, takes his responsibilities seriously, and is respected by pretty much everyone.

Selim Noujaim
(photo from state website)

The Independent Party has put forth a candidate to run against Noujaim. Margaret A. O'Brien, who ran as an Independent Party candidate for the Board of Education last year, works as an advocate for special needs children. I can't find any campaign related information about her.

Margaret A. O'Brien
(photo from Independent Party website)


75th District

Democrat Victor Cuevas became the Representative for the 75th District in 2012, after an impressive, monumental grass roots effort to mobilize the Hispanic community, which has a long history of not being involved in Waterbury politics.

Victor Cuevas
(photo from state website)

There seems to be some disarray within Waterbury's Republican Party, at least in regards to the 75th District. The Republican candidate, Jesus Vazquez, was forced to withdraw from the race because he doesn't live in the 75th District. A recent article in the Rep-Am suggested that the Republicans weren't aware that a state law, which permitted candidates to live outside the district until elected, had been changed so that they must live within the district while a candidate. The local Republican Party officials really should have been aware of this.

Meanwhile, Republican John "Jack" Alseph, Jr. is running as the Independent Party candidate for the 75th District. Last year, he was a candidate for the Board of Education on the Republican ticket. In 2012, Alseph was the Republican candidate for the 75th District.

The same Rep-Am article I mentioned above suggests there is a rift between Alseph and the local GOP, which is why he isn't their candidate this year. Alseph doesn't come across well in the article, which states that he doesn't have the time or money to run for office, that he's too busy preparing to get married, and that he's running only because he doesn't want Cuevas to win. Considering that Alseph is retired, saying that he doesn't have time to campaign is not going to help him win. If he doesn't have time to campaign, how will be have time to be a legislator?

John "Jack" Alseph, Jr.
(photo from VanStoneforMayor website)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Election 2014 State Senate Candidates

So many races, so many candidates! Waterbury falls within two State Senate districts, the 15th and 16th.

15th State Senate District

This district includes most of Waterbury, as well as parts of Middlebury and Naugatuck.

Joan Hartley (D) has been the State Senator for the 15th District since 2001. I'd be very surprised if anyone in Waterbury disapproves of the job she has been doing. It's clear that she loves this city, and that she is highly capable of making good things happen here. Hartley's dedication to her constituents is remarkable. She is a bundle of positive energy, with a no-nonsense, can-do attitude. She is a model of what a politician should be.

Joan Hartley
(photo from state website)


However, with that said, there are two candidates running against her. The Republican candidate is Karl D. Shehu, a young attorney who is new to the political scene. His platform suggests his novice status. For example, he proposes reducing Connecticut's gas taxes to the same amount as in Massachusetts, without mentioning that Massachusetts more than makes up the difference in tolls. Shehu also proposes increasing the number of charter schools and technical schools in the state, but I'm not sure how that will be managed if his proposal to reduce the state's tax revenue goes through. Basically, he's new to politics. Maybe someday he would make a good politician, but right now I see no reason to vote for someone with no experience, when the incumbent is superb.

Karl D. Shehu
(photo from campaign website)


The third candidate is Blair Bertaccini of the Working Families Party. Bertaccini does not appear to have a campaign website, but he has been a regular candidate for the 15th district for many years. He is employed as a wage enforcement officer for the State Department of Labor.

Blair Bertaccini
(photo from Rep-Am website)




16th State Senate District

Waterbury's East End is in the 16th District and is currently represented by Republican Joe Markley. I confess I don't know too much about him. I do get regular eBlasts from his office, so I know he does pay some attention to Waterbury, but his district is primarily located in Wolcott, Southington, and Prospect.

Joe Markley
(photo from Facebook page)


There is no Democrat candidate running against Markley. The Working Families Party candidate is Christopher R. Robinson, who does not have a campaign website. I was unable to find any information about him.

Election 2014 Congressional Candidates

Waterbury is divided between two U.S. Congressional Districts: the 3rd and 5th.

Third District Congressional Race

The 3rd District includes some of Waterbury (most of what's to the south of I-84), Naugatuck, New Haven, Wallingford, and so on. Rosa DeLauro (D) has served as the Congresswoman for the 3rd District since 1991. I've never met her, and it seems like she barely notices that Waterbury is in her district. Govtrack.us seems to have some good data on her performance in the U.S. Congress.

Rosa DeLauro
(photo from Govtrack.us)

DeLauro's opponent in this year's election is Republican James Brown of Stratford. According to his campaign website, Brown is a high school math teacher and track coach. He joined the Stratford Republican Town Committee in 2012; I don't see any other political experience in his background. It appears that he supports unlimited gun rights, opposes the Affordable Care Act, opposes bailing out failing companies (like banks or car manufacturers), and seems to think that if the U.S. starts declaring war, there will be fewer wars. In other words, Brown is more or less a Tea Party candidate with no real political experience.

James Brown
(photo from campaign website)


Fifth District Congressional Race

The incumbent for the 5th District is Elizabeth Esty. I like Esty. She attends as many local functions as she can, and she always seems to genuinely care about and like her constituents. She takes the time to listen to what her constituents have to say, and she makes sure that anyone sending her a formal invitation to an event receives a written reply. This is only her second year in Congress, so she is still working on establishing herself in Washington. She has sponsored bills for Manufacturing Universities; Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship; and Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention. Check out Govtrack.us for more on what she's done so far in Congress.

Elizabeth Esty

The challenger in the 5th District race is Mark Greenberg. Greenberg's campaign seems to be mired in ugliness. When I visited the landing page of his campaign website, it was loaded up with negative campaigning against Esty, connecting her with inflammatory words including "hate," "lying," and "failure." That first page of his campaign website was so ugly, it almost made me want to close my browser window. But for the sake of this blog post, I continued on to Greenberg's stand on the issues.

Interpreting the vague generalities of Greenberg's platform, it looks like he favors reducing or eliminating some government programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, while spending more money on the military; reducing taxes for the wealthy; repealing the Affordable Care Act (seriously, the GOP hasn't given up on that yet!); drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (which he prefers to call the Alaskan Coastal Plain, so maybe you won't notice); unlimited gun rights; and banning abortion. I guess that billboard suggesting Greenberg is a Tea Party candidate isn't too far off.

Mark Greenberg
(photo from campaign website)


Finally, there is the John Rowland factor. Poor Mr. Greenberg. When Rowland allegedly approached him with a campaign scam four years ago, Greenberg refused--although he admitted in court that it took him a long time to work up the courage to turn down the offer. He also did not have the courage to say anything about it until two years ago, when Rowland was arrested for running the same scam with Lisa Wilson-Foley and Brian Foley. The scenario woven by Greenberg's testimony is one in which Rowland is allowed to think that Greenberg is interested in his offer for a long time, while Greenberg avoids turning him down. The awkwardness of Greenberg's encounter with Rowland would never have come to light if it weren't for the recent trial. Greenberg's testimony shows us that he has some ethics, but not enough backbone to stand up to political corruption. Now, maybe that can be suspected of every politician, but with Greenberg, we know it's true.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Election 2014 Gubernatorial Candidates

There's a lot on the ballot for Waterbury this year, so I'm dividing it into multiple posts. This post will address the candidates for Governor; upcoming posts will look at legislative candidates and the charter revision questions.


Governor

Lucky us (not!), this year we have a rematch between Dannel Malloy and Tom Foley. Neither candidate seems to be inspiring much enthusiasm among the voters, allowing their campaigns to devolve into mudslinging and general negativity. Foley's supporters are clinging to the hope that the small lead he has in the polls will translate to victory in November, but the more voters learn about Foley, the less appealing he becomes.

Dannel Malloy
(photo from campaign website)


Malloy is a known quantity. He's been Governor for four years, so we know what to expect from him. Is he the best Governor ever? No, definitely not. Is he destroying Connecticut? Also no, definitely not. Malloy became Governor at a difficult time. The nation's economy had been trashed during the Bush administration and is still hobbling along to recovery. Connecticut's economy was also trashed under Republican administrations, and is still limping along, better than it was, but still not as good as we all want it to be. Malloy can't be blamed for the economy he inherited, and he can't be blamed for national-level economic problems that are impacting the state. His biggest problem is that he lacks charisma. Some politicians can charm the socks off anyone and everyone. Malloy doesn't.

Malloy can't work miracles, but he is a competent Governor. There are a few things he's done that I've questioned, like tax breaks for large corporations, but that's the same sort of thing Foley proposes doing, so that doesn't help decide who to vote for. Generally speaking, I don't have any real problem with Malloy as Governor.  He's certainly better than the alternative.

Tom Foley
(photo from campaign website)


Back in August, I tried giving Foley a fair shot. I went to his campaign website to see where he stood on the issues. It took some work to find his page for the issues, and then, disappointingly, he had nothing to say about the issues, beyond two sentences vaguely claiming that he will improve the economy. Malloy's website, by contrast, has a very long, detailed platform regarding numerous issues facing the state.

At the end of September, Foley finally announced his platform on the issues. A few hours later, the Democrats pointed out that his platform included a fair amount of plagiarism, which Foley blamed on his staff. This was a major failure in my view. Not so much the plagiarism, which was lame, but the effort to shift the blame on people he hired. He had someone else prepare the document, okay, fine, but didn't he review it first? Shouldn't he accept the blame for letting it go out like that? If Foley wins, will we have four years of watching our Governor blame state employees for his own mistakes? What will morale be like if the state employees know that their boss will blame them every time he has egg on his face? Foley wants us to believe that his experience running businesses has prepared him to run a state, but if he can't do a good job running a campaign, how will he run the state?

As for Foley's stand on the issues, now that we finally know what they are, there are a few that I find to be wrong, even disturbingly wrong. Foley has the standard promise to reduce taxes without explaining how this will be possible. This is normal, and a little dull. Ho-hum. Heard that one before, thanks.

Other parts of Foley's platform are pure pie in the sky. How about this one: "I will work hard to generate a more bi-partisan, cooperative culture at the Capitol focused on solving problems rather than partisan bickering and infighting." Okay, Foley, you go right ahead and "work hard" to get everyone to play nicely together. Actually, come to think of it, I've heard this campaign promise before, too. "Hey voters, don't you hate the way politicians don't get along? Put me in charge, and I promise everything will change. You can trust me, I'm not really a politician, I'm a businessman!"

Or how about his claim that he can restore Connecticut's economy? Take a look at the biography on his website: Foley boldly claims that he "served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, where he was in charge of restoring Iraq's economy." Wow! Tom Foley single handedly restored Iraq's economy after Bush's invasion toppled its government, and gee whiz, things sure are great in Iraq now. And what's this about serving? Was he in the military? Usually when someone says "I served in Iraq," that person was in the military and is a veteran. Maybe Foley didn't intend to imply military service. Maybe it's just more "sloppy staff work." For a more in-depth account of Foley's foolish claim, read this great Op-Ed, "Foley's Time in Iraq and Why It Matters," by Susan Bigelow.

The most wrong-headed and disturbing Foley proposal is his approach to education. Foley wants to take funding away from struggling schools and give it to the schools that are doing fine; to allow students to go to whichever school they choose. How exactly does he think this will work? Every student at Walsh Elementary will suddenly transfer to Reed, Maloney and Rotella? The public schools in Waterbury are all at capacity--how does it help anyone to defund Walsh and let the students go to other schools? What impact will a sudden increase in students have on the schools that are doing well? Where will they even put all the additional students? Does Foley think that the private schools will suddenly open their doors to a flood of students using state grants to flee their under-performing public schools? I don't see that happening, either.
served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 where he was in charge of restoring Iraq’s economy. - See more at: http://www.tomfoleyct.com/bio/#sthash.0NEfskxp.dpuf
served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 where he was in charge of restoring Iraq’s economy. - See more at: http://www.tomfoleyct.com/bio/#sthash.0NEfskxp.dpuf

Foley is also running on the ever-popular description of "businessman." When I was a novice voter, I fell for this strategy. I figured a businessman would be good at running government. What I didn't realize is that the term "businessman" covers a broad range of corporate types. Foley's business experience is as a corporate raider, the type that buys struggling companies and holds on to them just long enough to make a profit, then either shuts them down or sells them off. Foley's business experience is of not caring who gets hurt, so long as he makes a profit.

Think about Foley's experience as a corporate raider in his approach to education. Foley believes that under-performing businesses (schools) should be shut down, not improved. Foley looks at things in terms of profit and loss, not in terms of human lives. He doesn't have a problem with people suffering because their business (school) has been shut down. In a free market economy, only the strong and merciless will thrive. The rest of us are collateral.

How about Foley's impromptu speech at a factory being shut down, at which he told the unhappy, soon to be unemployed workers that it was their fault the factory was closing, not the fault of management. Kind of reminds me of how he blamed his staff for the plagiarism in his platform. Foley had the role of manager, and whoever wrote his platform had the role of worker. Foley, as manager, should be aware of whether or not his workers are doing their jobs correctly. If Foley thinks that managers aren't responsible for knowing if their workers are any good, if he thinks that it's okay for managers to allow workers to do such a bad job that their business gets shut down, what kind of manager will he be as Governor? Will he ignore day to day operations and then blame the workers if the state goes belly up?

Foley attitude also reminds me of when Malcolm Baldrige stated that the failure of Waterbury's brass industry was the "fault of management... not of labor or any other convenient whipping boy" -- Foley could learn a few things from Baldrige.

The bottom line is that Foley frightens me. He is not qualified to run a state government; he can barely run a campaign. His history is one in which his only priority is to make sure that he and his investors profit, even if that brings unnecessary suffering to others. If Foley wins this election, life in Connecticut is going to get a lot worse.

Meanwhile, Joseph Visconti is running as a petitioning candidate for Governor. Visconti's background is in construction, and he is a proud member of the Tea Party and gun rights advocate. Guns for everyone, all the time, shoot 'em up! I wonder what he would have said about the gun violence that happened in my neighborhood this summer. Would he have recommended more guns, even though the people who live here want fewer guns in our neighborhood? Does he really think we should all be prepared to open fire at any moment? Maybe he figures there will be a giant bloodbath, with thousands killed or injured, and then things will quiet down, because, you know, if everyone has a gun, no one will get shot.


Joe Visconti
(photo from campaign website)

Not surprisingly, Visconti is also in favor of reducing taxes for the wealthy while making life harder for the poor. His platform mentions eliminating the estate tax several times, as in "Phase out the estate tax to provide seniors with the peace of mind that they can retire in Connecticut near their family and friends." However, the estate tax applies only to millionaires who can afford accountants to shelter their wealth, so I don't see how this helps too many people. (For example, Tom Foley, who is wealthy enough to live in Greenwich, own a million dollar yacht, and travel in a private jet and limo, but has clever accountants and has claimed negative income for years.) But if you're at the bottom rung of life, guess what? Visconti will be removing your safety net. No more welfare, unless you're homeless, disabled, or elderly.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sidewalks: Problems and Solutions

This is the post I was intending to write before my attention was necessarily focused on the extremely dangerous gang problem happening in my neighborhood.

First, a brief explanation for the handful of people who don't understand the importance of sidewalks. Sidewalks are a vital component of city life. Out in the suburbs, most people drive to wherever they are going. In the city, even a small city like Waterbury, most people walk. We walk to the park, to the playground, to the bus stop, to school, to the store, to a friend's house. On most Waterbury roads, no matter what the speed limit might be, cars typically go at least 40 mph, often faster. Sidewalks reduce the amount of stress pedestrians have when they are trying to get somewhere. Sidewalks keep pedestrians safe.

Sidewalks aren't just about safety. Studies have shown that pedestrian-friendly cities are healthier, have lower crime rates, increased pride, and are more likely to see higher income residents move in.


Waterbury has two large sidewalk problems, and one small problem.

The big problems:
1. Not enough sidewalks;
2. Sidewalks that are falling apart.

The small problem:
3. New sidewalks are not ADA compliant.


Problem number one is pretty straight-forward: not enough sidewalks. I once tried walking to Lakewood Park from my house. Walking on North Walnut Street, which has no sidewalks, wasn't too bad, since there were very few cars driving by. I felt like I was walking on a rural road. It was nice. Then I got to Lakewood Road, where I felt like I was risking my life. Traffic on Lakewood Road goes 40-60 miles an hour (even though the posted limit is 25). The south side of Lakewood Road, from Massachusetts Avenue to the park, has no sidewalks. I had to choose between running across the road (jaywalking) to the sidewalk on the other side, or walking in the shoulder facing traffic (technically legal and correct, but scary!). There is a sort-of path on the side of the road, but it's on a slope, so if you stumble, you could fall into the road. Now imagine if I were a kid trying to do this. It's just not safe.

There are countless areas of Waterbury where there are no sidewalks, but there should be. In addition to needing more sidewalks, we need more crosswalks. And they need to be real crosswalks, where pedestrians can get a walk signal, not the half-hearted crosswalks where pedestrians are always crossing against traffic, hoping they don't get run down.

Problem number two, sidewalks that are falling apart, is a layered problem. First, sidewalks in severe disrepair are dangerous. Depending on how they are crumbling, cracked, or broken, pedestrians risk twisting an ankle or falling down and breaking a leg. If the condition of the sidewalk is truly terrible, pedestrians will choose to walk in the street. Seriously, some of Waterbury's sidewalks are so bad, pedestrians would rather risk getting hit by a car than try to walk on the sidewalk.

Another major problem with crumbling sidewalks is the issue of blight. A crumbling sidewalk is a form of blight. While the City of Waterbury is trying to crack down on blighted buildings, they are neglecting their own blighted properties (sidewalks). When sidewalks are blighted, property values go down, outsiders think poorly of the neighborhood (which can cause blight and crime to increase), and community morale goes down.

Problem number three addresses the new sidewalks that the City of Waterbury has installed in the past few years. The first time I saw the city putting in a new sidewalk, I was pleased--until I realized that the utility poles and sign posts were placed smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk, making the sidewalk completely useless for anyone in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller. There are places where you have to turn sideways to get around the utility pole in the middle of the sidewalk. It's absurd!


While the City of Waterbury recognizes the first two problems, it has failed to implement a plan for solving them. It's probably safe to assume that every neighborhood complains about their sidewalks, and every neighborhood has been told that there is no money to do anything about it. Every year, however, a few small stretches of sidewalk get installed. Sometimes the funding comes from Federal grants. Most recently, the Mayor used his discretionary power to siphon money from the city's road budget to have a new sidewalk installed on Oronoke Road in Town Plot.

When I first read about the new sidewalk being installed on Oronoke Road, I was annoyed and offended. According to the article in the Rep-Am, the Mayor was responding to a complaint from one taxpayer in Town Plot. Well, dozens of people from my neighborhood have been trying to get new sidewalks for more than a decade. We've tried complaining to every mayor, we've tried complaining to the Board of Aldermen, we've tried applying for a CDBG grant, all with no success. Apparently, Mayor O'Leary promised taxpayers in Town Plot to give them a new sidewalk if he got re-elected. So what about his promise to taxpayers in the Scovill Homes to give us new sidewalks if he got elected?

To be fair, we did get a little bit of new sidewalk on Walnut Street recently. Waterbury Development Corporation built two new houses on the corner of Walnut and Wood Streets, replacing the sidewalks in front of the houses. But they didn't bother doing the sidewalk on Wood Street, which was in far worse condition. If I were paranoid, I would take it personally. Wood Street residents have been begging for new sidewalks for years, and when we finally get a chance to see improvement, we're snubbed. (Fortunately, I'm not paranoid!)

Wood Street sidewalk deemed acceptable (apparently) by WDC and the City of Waterbury.


The real issue is not political favoritism. The real issue is that the City of Waterbury does not have a comprehensive plan for improving the pedestrian experience.

I don't want mayoral candidates promising new sidewalks to specific neighborhoods. I want a solid plan guaranteeing new sidewalks to every neighborhood. People understand that it's expensive and can't happen over night. What they want is to understand how the decisions are made, and to feel confident that decisions are made in a fair, equitable, and logical way.

Here's what I propose: budget a minimum of $10 million per year for sidewalks; supplement that budget with grant funding wherever possible; draft a construction plan that starts with making sure there are usable sidewalks on both sides of the busiest streets first, with the streets near parks and schools first, with the streets on bus routes first. It might take 20 years to get to every street, but we will know when it will be done. The plan could even specify what year to expect a certain sidewalk to be worked on, easing everyone's minds about the topic.

The first step in the process is to create an inventory of the sidewalks. This doesn't have to be done by city employees. Main Street Waterbury has a template for exactly this process, which could easily be tweaked for my proposed plan. Once the template is prepared in an Excel spreadsheet, the inventory can be done by volunteers. Each of the various neighborhood organizations could take responsibility for inventorying the sidewalk situation in their neighborhood. Stretches of road would be categorized based on the condition of the sidewalk (or lack of sidewalk). The inventory would then be compiled by the city's Public Works department.

The second step would be to prioritize streets and to create a list of which stretches of sidewalk would be done each year, from now until project completion. The final schedule of construction would then be publicly distributed, with the understanding that construction will go faster if grant funds are obtained. Getting the grant funds will be a lot easier if there is a solid construction plan.

Now, given that Waterbury is full of pessimists, I'm sure someone will be quick to tell me that my idea is unrealistic or too ambitious. For a significantly more modest proposal, check out the City of Corvallis, Oregon's sidewalk policy, which clearly defines how the city chooses which sidewalks to improve. Among the highlights:

The City will maintain an ongoing annual program to identify hazardous sidewalk conditions and will determine the priority within which repairs for these hazardous sidewalk condition may be completed....

The City will prioritize repairs on the basis of highest risk to public heath and safety. The City may elect to mitigate sidewalk hazards until repairs can be made. Sidewalk repairs will be performed within the available funds generated by the Sidewalk Maintenance Fee....

As far as I can tell (from the 2013 Code of Ordinances), Waterbury does not have any sidewalk policy, other than to hold property owners responsible for snow and ice removal in the winter, and other usage policies. This is why, term after term, our Mayors are left floundering at neighborhood meetings when residents demand sidewalk improvements. This is why new sidewalks are a perennial campaign promise that is rarely kept. This is why so many Waterbury residents are frustrated over sidewalks.

Believe it or not, the City of Waterbury has a Sidewalk Construction Fund. No, really! It was established in 1945 and is still in the Charter. According to the Charter, it's a revolving working capital fund for the construction and repair of sidewalks. Whether or not it still exists, or how much money is in the fund, is unknown to me.

While I'd like to see my sidewalk budget proposal implemented, I'd be happy if we could just adopt a formal sidewalk policy to eliminate the chaos that currently exists.

For more information about urban sidewalks, visit the Walk Friendly Communities website.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Walnut Street

I live on Wood Street, between Oak and Walnut. For the most part, this is a working class neighborhood. Most of the people who live here struggle to make ends meet. We have seniors who worked all their lives and are trying to enjoy retirement; young parents raising families; and mid-life adults who are underpaid and overworked. This is a classic Waterbury neighborhood, where everyone knows one another, where there are children playing in the front yards while grown-ups watch them from the porch. 

My neighborhood has just suffered the third fatal shooting this year. The rising tide of danger in the neighborhood seems to be coming from the corner stores on Walnut Street, but it could just as easily happen at the one on Oak Street. These stores have been magnets for illicit activity for years, from drug dealing to dog fighting, but whenever neighborhood residents have complained, nothing seems to be done. Oh, except that one time when  I blogged about getting into an argument with an officer who insisted that all poor people are no good. 

There are dozens of young children who live here. The school bus stops are right next to the places where the shootings have occurred. Walsh School is only a few blocks from the shootings. How much worse does it have to get before the City of Waterbury helps us? Every politician in the city should be speaking out about this.

I was going to write a post about sidewalks. About how my neighborhood has been asking for new sidewalks for years to no avail, but as soon as someone in the affluent Country Club neighborhood asks for a sidewalk, they get one. I will probably still write about the sidewalk issue, but right now I'm reduced to begging the City of Waterbury to do something, anything, so I'm not afraid to leave my house. 

Set aside the politics. I don't care whose ego is injured. Three fatal shootings within a block of each other in one year is outrageous. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

AT&T Alert

If you have combined billing from AT&T for your cell phone and house phone, internet, or U-Verse, this post is for you.

Back in July, AT&T in Connecticut separated its billing departments for cell phones, internet, or whatever. As a consequence, all hell has broken loose with their billing.

The first hint of the problem came this morning, when I received an email from AT&T, asking me to call them regarding my wireless account. Odd. They've never done that before.

When I called the number in the email, I wound up in the regular AT&T menu. In a surprisingly short amount of time, I was able to reach a live person. The live person proceeded to inform me that I was delinquent on my bill. I immediately pulled up my account to confirm that I had, in fact, paid my bill in full on August 10, as I do every month. The live person insisted that I had not paid my bill since July 3. Considering that I had paid my bill on time since that date, on July 9 and August 10, this made me a little cranky.

The live person then explained that the billing has been separated, and that I would have to call a different AT&T number to find out where my money went, that he couldn't help me any further, but if I wanted to pay the money that the computer said I owe, I could do that now. I declared somewhat loudly that I had already paid the bill, that AT&T was double-billing me, and that I absolutely would not pay the bill twice. The live person again stated that I would have to talk to someone else. When I asked if he could possibly give me the number of that someone else, he asked me to wait a few minutes while he looked up the number.

After hanging up the phone, I spent a few minutes downloading and examining my new separated bills. Sure enough, the bill I paid on August 10 included the amount I owed for cell phone service from July 2 to August 1. The new wireless bill on which I am supposedly delinquent is for cell phone service from July 2 to August 1.

Here's the billing cycle information from my new, separated wireless bill, which was due August 28 (for which I never received any notification).

And here's the wireless service dates for the combined bill I paid on August 10.


Next I calmed myself down and called the number the extraordinarily unhelpful live person had given me. I eventually was patched through to a new live person. The new live person was much more helpful than the old one. New Live Person informed me that I'm not the first person to call with this problem, and that I would have to call the Combined Billing Department when they open on Tuesday. In the meantime, he would do something or other to my account, presumably so I won't have my service disconnected.

New Live Person also assured me that I shouldn't worry about my ebill having my old address, from eight years ago, as my billing address. He said their computers have my current address, and it's just a little weird thing I could ignore.

So, if you're like me, and you're being double-billed by AT&T in the wake of their billing separation, call the Combined Billing Department during their regular office hours. I've been told they can help.

Combined Billing Department: 888-757-6500
9 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Update (9/2/14, 3:15 p.m.): It took fifteen minutes, but I finally got through to someone who could figure out what was going on. It turns out I'm not being double-billed, it's just that they decided to change when I pay the bill. Instead of paying for a month of service after that month is done, I now have to pay for a month of service while it's still happening. In other words, the bill for wireless service from July 2 to August 1 was due on August 10; the bill for wireless service from August 2 to September 1 was due on August 28.

This is a real pain in the rear for anyone on a tight budget. While AT&T is not double billing, they are requiring everyone to pay their bill twice in August, or suffer a late fee. As with most things in U.S. life, the poor get penalized for being poor.

In my case, I can afford to pay the extra bill for August, but because AT&T's computer screwed up and sent the notice about the bill to an address I haven't used in seven years, I got hit with a late fee. When I explained the situation, they agreed to remove the fee, so at least there's that.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Harmon Estate Sale, Part 2

Because my life wasn't busy enough already.... I am currently immersed in preparing for the second round of my father's estate sale. This time, we're tackling the trailers. What trailers, you ask? Funny story: my grandparents loaded up two trailers and a moving van full of antiques and personal possessions back in 1984. They parked the trailers and van behind my dad's shop, planning to retrieve them once they had found a new place to live. For various reasons, the trailers were never retrieved. They sat for 30 years as a small forest grew up around them, and as they sank into the ground up to their axles.

This past winter, we unloaded the trailers and relocated the contents to the Old Pin Shop in Oakville. The contents of the trailers, as well as the contents of my dad's house, comprise the next round of the Harmon Estate Sale, starting Saturday, August 9.

The sale includes something for everyone, at reasonable prices. There is a TON of stuff, taking up 7,000 square feet of storage space. Because there is so much stuff, the sale will be ongoing through the month of August, from August 9 to Labor Day. We'll be open every weekend, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and every Wednesday and Thursday, 12 to 6 p.m.

Directional signs will be posted outside the Pin Shop on the days we are open. I'll add the specific address to this post on Friday, August 8 (no early birds!).

For more on the saga of the trailers, and photos from when we were unloading them, visit my other blog, The Horologist's Daughter.

Here are some sample photos of what we are selling: