Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow Beast

I saw this on my way home tonight, while stopped at the light on North Main and East/West Farm Streets--a giant snow monster, decorated with red spray paint, with "Happy New Year" painted on the side.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Seasonal Images

Here's a batch of festive photos for you. Merry Christmas!

Downtown Waterbury, starting with The Green.

The Lombard Building is decked out this year, with Christmas music playing outside.

The Dunkin' Donuts in the Apothecaries Building always has a nice window painting. The rest of the building, in case you haven't been downtown lately, is being completely renovated for upscale apartments.

A new downtown Bank Street business, Something New, Something Old, did a fantastic window decoration.

Tony's Men's Shop, always elegantly decorated. If only men dressed this well every day!

A few of the trees inside Howland-Hughes.

Lamp post decorations on Bank Street.

There are a lot of houses decked out with lights everywhere in Waterbury. There are a couple of triple-deckers on Wood Street with all three porches decorated. The most spectacular display I've seen is over by Hamilton Park. They had the decorations (on the house and filling the front yard) set up immediately after Halloween.

And, finally, a reminder that the freezing cold temperatures have a purposed--without the cold, we wouldn't have the beauty of frost on windows!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

City Hall Building

I volunteered to give a couple of tours of the dazzling newly-restored and updated city hall building today. An older couple on one of my tours came to this country (and Waterbury) many decades ago. Their parting comment to me was to express delight at finally seeing an appreciation of history and historic architecture equal to that of Europe. They know times are hard, and likely to get harder, but seeing such a magnificent building restored to its glory warms their hearts and lifts their spirits.

There is talk about plans to do more tours in the coming months--keep an eye on for notification when that's finalized.

In the meantime, you can get a look at the building at the rededication ceremony at noon on January 1st, and watch a couple of sneak-peeks below thanks to videos made by the Republican-American newspaper.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Aldermanic Vacancy

I've stayed away from this topic until now. I figured it would best be handled by the Republican Town Committee and other Waterbury Republicans, since they are the ones most immediately and directly impacted by this (I'm a Democrat). Republican Bryan Baker has been addressing the issue on Facebook and in a recent blog post. The responses from the Mayor (on Facebook and in today's newspaper) have been disheartening and even repugnant.

It has been more than three months since Alderman Paul V. Ciochetti resigned from the Board of Aldermen, and Mayor Jarjura is in no hurry to name his replacement. The tipping point for me was a Brass Tack in today's Republican American newspaper. Mayor Jarjura was quoted as saying that fourteen aldermen (instead of the full fifteen) is "more than enough" and that only a "few self-interested parties" want a fifteenth alderman. This is outrageous.

The Mayor is the only person with the authority to name a replacement for Alderman Ciochetti. This gives him the full weight of responsibility to the voters and a tremendous amount of power. By dawdling and avoiding his responsibility, he is creating a dangerous precedent and a tremendous amount of animosity and distrust.

If Ciochetti had been a Democrat, a member of the same party as the Mayor, would he have taken this long to replace him? No need to wonder--just look back to 2008. Sandra Ramirez resigned from the Board of Aldermen late in March 2008. The vacancy was filled in June 2008.

Although the newspaper quoted Jarjura in a way that suggests he has no particular intention to appoint a fifteenth alderman, he wrote on his Facebook page (in response to Bryan Baker asking when the seat would be filled) that "I plan to fill the vacancy after the first of the year." No specific time next year, just some time next year, with no reason for the delay given. This is pathetic and disturbingly lackadaisical. If I were a Republican, I would be furious. As an American and a Democrat, I am disturbed and concerned.

Mayor Jarjura is showing a total disregard and a huge amount of disrespect towards the voters. There are a couple of highly qualified young Republicans who would be excellent Aldermen and who would do a good job of representing their constituents. Since our Aldermen are all at large, not by district, their constituents include all the citizens of Waterbury - Republican, Democrat, Independent and Unaffiliated. By not appointing the fifteenth aldermen, Mayor Jarjura is disrespecting all the voters.

We need every single one of our Aldermen, not however many the Mayor has decided we need. He has a sworn duty to uphold the city charter. His comments in today's newspaper display a total disregard for the charter--if he feels like he can snub his nose at the mandated number of aldermen, what other parts of the charter does he feel like he can ignore?

His quote in the newspaper suggests that he doesn't think he needs to appoint a fifteenth alderman because only a "few self-interested parties" have been telling him to do so. That's no way to run a government. How often does anyone tell him to obey the law? Probably very infrequently, but he is still presumably a law-abiding citizen. 

How does he define "self-interested"? As I understand it, the Republican Town Committee gave him several names to choose from.  Does that make them self-interested? It's the Republican Town Committee's duty to make sure they retain their duly-elected representation in the city government. They are also representing the interests of their constituents. Maybe the Mayor has forgotten that he, too, represents the interests of all of Waterbury's citizens, no matter what their party affiliation (or lack thereof).

Mayor Jarjura has a responsibility to appoint a fifteenth aldermen. By shirking his duty, he is presenting an image of himself as an irresponsible and disrespectful leader. Has he considered that there are several reasons why there hasn't been as much of a clamor for a fifteenth alderman? At first, I think most people assumed there was no need to nag him, because he would of course fulfill his obligation to the voters. Then there was an assumption that he was waiting for the elections to pass--Jason Van Stone, as pointed out in Baker's blog, was almost elected to the Board of Aldermen last year, losing by a mere 91 votes. Van Stone is a likely contender for the vacated seat, but he was running for state office this fall. It made sense to assume that Jarjura was waiting to see if Van Stone won that election before appointing him to the Board of Aldermen. The election came and went, and there still was no appointment. Then, sadly, Mayor Jarjura's father passed away. Naturally, no one was going to nag him about the vacant seat on the Board of Aldermen while he was in mourning. Many people figured he should be allowed some breathing room, that he would get back to work and appoint the fifteenth alderman within a couple weeks. Now those couple of weeks and many more have passed without an appointment. Instead, we've been "treated" to disrespect bordering on abuse of power.

I'm left wondering why the Mayor has decided to wait until next year to select a new Alderman. The only conjectured reason I've heard that seems like a possibility is a little bit devious and underhanded. If a Democrat switches parties and becomes a Republican, how long is the waiting period before that new Republican can be appointed as such to the Board of Alderman? I have no idea, but it's one of the suppositions that is floating around town. Since Mayor Jarjura has not bothered to show us a little courtesy and explain the delay (other than he doesn't think it's important to fill the vacancy), we're left with rumor and conjecture.

I've written and said many times that most of the city's elected officials don't care about my neighborhood. Now I begin to see that certain elected officials are so extremely self-interested that they don't care about anyone other than themselves and their yes-men. I hope that Jarjura sticks to what he has promised and does not run for Mayor again--his ego is getting way too big.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

City Taxes

While doing some research on Waterbury's industrial history, I came across an interesting tidbit of information in Volume I of Pape's History of Waterbury (1918). In 1905, the widow of Augustus Sabin Chase purchased land to create a park in memory of her husband. She donated the park to the city, which led (somehow, not explained by Pape) to a charter amendment "providing for an annual tax for park purposes of one quarter of a mill passed the General Assembly and became a law operative for 1906."

Furthermore, "The appropriation under the new tax brought about rapid improvements particularly at Hamilton Park. Boats were placed on the lake for the first time. Flower beds were laid out, trees were set out, and work was begun on the swimming pool and on the athletic field."

An abundance of park improvements followed over the next few years. A playground was created at Locust and Walnut Streets, the Green was given new soil and seeded with grass, a marsh at Hamilton Park was turned into a lake and a baseball field and lawn tennis courts were laid out. By 1913, Hamilton Park "had become the great breathing place of the city."

I don't know what happened with the park department budget. I can see that they are woefully underfunded, but I don't know if they are still budgeted for a quarter of a mill.

[UPDATE: Since posting this, I've been informed that a quarter of a mill in Waterbury is currently about $1.25 million and that the Waterbury park department operating budget is about $2.1 million. For comparison, the New York City park department operating budget in 2008 was $340 million, while Central Park alone has an operating budget of about $20 million; Lincoln, Nebraska (with a population of about 251,000) has a park operating budget of $11.35 million for its 6000 acres of parks and open space; Lowell, Massachusetts (population of about 104,000) had a park department budget of $2.7 million in 2009.]

If city taxpayers were told that the mill rate was to be increased by a quarter of a mill in order to pay for improvements to the parks, I think they would be happy about that. In fact, the same is probably true for any city service--when we're told the mill rate is going up in order to maintain the status quo, taxpayers rightfully get upset. We're being asked to pay more without getting more, which is hard to stomach when we're not getting enough as it is. But if we were told that the mill rate is going up in order to pay for desired additional city services (like good sidewalks, better enforcement of anti-blight and anti-litter laws, improved parks), I think most taxpayers would be willing to make that sacrifice (assuming they can afford it!).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


There was a bad fire Monday night, reported in today's Rep-Am. Since the fire happened just down the street from me, I'm very aware of the details. Reading the article in today's paper reminded me of just how unreliable a newspaper account can be. I'll start with reprinting the key portion of the article as it ran in the paper, then correct a few details and add a somewhat important angle that was left out.

City firefighters stop blaze from spreading

Row house residents displaced



WATERBURY — Five peo­ple were displaced after a fire damaged their Wood Street home early Tuesday.

Deputy Fire Chief Rick Hart said the fire, reported at 12:30 a.m., started in the base­ment and spread to the first floor of a row house at 255 Wood St.

[Deleted for copyright reasons]

One man living in the base­ment got out on his own, be­fore firefighters arrived. Another person living in the first floor was not home at the time of the fire.

[Deleted for copyright reasons]

Okay, first of all, the fire was at 225 Wood Street, not 255 Wood Street. I find it interesting that the article states the fire was reported at 12:30 a.m., since the fire engines and police cars arrived at about 11:45 p.m. At 12:15 a.m., I was standing outside watching the firefighters put out the blaze. By 12:30 a.m., the fire was under control and almost completely extinguished.

It's also interesting to see the differences between rumors and official stories (this is getting away from the article). During the fire, word spread quickly that the fire started in the basement (confirmed in this article). By the next day, the word in the community was that the man living in the  basement was smoking crack, fell asleep, and his still-lit crack pipe set his mattress on fire. Today the word in the community is that the fire marshal has determined that the fire was started by a cigarette accidentally starting a mattress fire. So, same basic cause, just a difference in what the guy was smoking.

Now for the important angle that was only barely hinted at in the newspaper article: the Scovill row homes are single-family houses.  225 Wood Street, owned by Anthony and Lucy Karanja, has been illegally subdivided into three apartments, one per floor. This is a typical slumlord sort of thing to do and, indeed, the property has been a source of problems for the community, as you would expect from any property owned by a slumlord. I don't know if the Karanjas were the ones who subdivided the house--they purchased it in 2008 from Susan Stell, who in turn purchased it in 2005 from the estate of Mildred Pinchbeck. Mrs. Pinchbeck is fondly remembered in the neighborhood and took good care of the house, which was her home. It's sad that her home has fallen into the hands of slumlords.

In addition to operating an illegal apartment house (one man rented out the basement, another man rented out the first floor, and a woman with two little children rented out the top floor), the Karanjas appear to be delinquent in paying their taxes on the property and are in the process of selling the house--there is a sale pending realtor sign outside the house.

Another element to the story, which was completely left out of the article, is the functionality of the fire hydrants. According to one witness, the firefighters had trouble getting enough water pressure from the hydrants and may not have been able to use the first hydrant they tried. There is no official report about this, just the eyewitness account. From what I saw (I didn't go outside until about 20-30 minutes after the fire engines arrived), it did seem like it took a while for them to get the hoses running.

In response to the fire, the Scovill Homes Association is going to see if we can get some fire safety information for residents. We're also going to work on creating a fire lane between the houses on Wood and Ives Streets to make it easier for the firefighters to get to the backs of the houses (where they have the best access to the basements).