As a 20-year veteran of the local political scene, I thought I'd seen everything. But that's because I'd never been to a meeting of the Finance and Government Operations Committee, where a select group of Common Council members and the Mayor go over all the upcoming City expenditures with Finance Director Carl Erlacher.
C'mon now, Middletown Eye readers, wake up!
This is your government in action!
Okay, so I admit it's not exactly visionary stuff. The meeting started with a review of whether the Police Department should lease or buy a new copy machine, which can also serve as a printer and fax. Then it moved to a discussion on the necessity of spending Public Works and Health Department funds in cleaning up a blighted property on River Road which has become an illegal dump and habitat for rodents -- even though those funds would have to be formally approved at a later date (and then charged back to the land-owner). That part was kind of exciting because there were photos of the garbage from different angles, which had me humming Alice's Restaurant until the next topic came up.
Should Middletown follow Bloomfield's lead and set up a program where retired seniors could be part of a workfare program in the City? Or should it be like Torrington, and extend a state Senior Tax Freeze to local households, as long as they make less than $36,500 per couple and don't have assets of more than $125,000 other than their primary residence? Alas, those questions will have to wait until next month since they were tabled pending further analysis. The Westfield Fire Department will have to wait for an answer too, since their request for funds to fix their roof was delayed until more data is produced.
At one point, it looked as though a surge of decisiveness would result in the recommendation to hire new staff in Information Technology -- several Council members noted that we are dependent on just a few staff people who actually understand how all those computers work. The Mayor spoke eloquently about the pitfalls of treating your I.T. staff as maintenance workers. He even quoted David Bauer as saying that every City employee is a content provider for the City's internet...and maybe it was inTRAnet too...okay, okay, so I'm not sure I totally followed that part. But the point is that we have to stop treating technology like something that breaks and start thinking of it as the way that we do our job. Unfortunately, in spite of the shared sense of purpose, the action was dashed on the rocks of realization: the item had been postponed until a "date certain" at the Common Council and could not be addressed until January. But when that time comes, the I.T. department can be sure that this committee is on their side!
Now, it's unusual enough that I was spending my Wednesday evening at this meeting, when I could have been out shopping and supporting the local economy. But more unusual was the presence of about a dozen Middletown High upperclassmen, who were attentive throughout the proceedings. As it happens, they were all students in the MHS American Politics class, taught by a Ms. Adams. She requires each student to spend 7 hours in the civic realm, typically 4 hours volunteering for a political campaign of their choice, and 3 hours attending City meetings. Their presence lent an atmosphere of festivity to the meeting, as extra chairs had to be brought in. As Chair Ron Klattenberg noted: in terms of public attendance, it was a record turn-out for the Finance and Government Operations Committee!
Finally, as business came to a close, I went to the table accompanied by Rick Kearney, the City's Economic Development Specialist. We presented our petition that the City implement one of the recommendations of the Parking Study, namely the formation of a parking department. Neither defeat nor victory was ours, as the issue was forwarded to the Ordinance Committee. The Ordinance Committee?! Wonder when they meet?
I left the meeting with a feeling of gratitude for the Common Council members who spend their evenings at the F&GO. It's a thankless job, but one of the many necessary tasks which make things run in this little slice of participatory democracy that we call Middletown.