Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Council Meeting: A Regular Love Fest

The regular business at Monday's Common Council meeting was handled in far less than an hour's time, but one issue served to put the brakes on what would have seen an early bedtime for the Council members.

It began during the Questions to Directors section of the monthly meeting when Council members began by questioning Personnel Director Deborah Milardo about a legal opinion she sought after the last Council meeting. During the previous meeting, the Council had amended a resolution which would have approved a plan to move police officers to a 4-2 (four days on, two days off) schedule, instead of the current 5-2 (five days on, two days off), currently in place.

According to Milardo, the city's attorney, Brian Clemow, said that the Council's passage of the amended resolution, rejecting the police department schedule change, was inappropriate, and illegal because the schedule change was part of an legal mid-stream bargaining agreement that the city (the Personnel Director, the mayor and the finance director), were allowed to make as long as it didn't have a financial impact on the city.

"If the Council wants to reject a negotion they have the right," Milardo said.  "But it must be within the four corners of the law."

If you're confused already, it gets thicker.

The questions to Milardo ate up most of the Questions to Directors session which was extended by 30 minutes, with most of the debate occuring between Milardo and Common Council member Vinnie Loffredo who had already tangled on the topic in a Personnel Review Committee meeting.  That meeting resulted in formal complaints filed against Loffredo by city directors, and an order by the mayor that directors should not attend a PRC meeting until they are offered an apology by Loffredo.

Loffredo questioned the legitimacy of Clemow's opinion, and picked up his complaints in the business portion of the Council meeting when a resolution was proposed to rescind the amended resolution passed at the previous meeting.

Debate got contentious early when the motion to rescind was made, but Council member Jim Streeto interrupted the debate with a call for civility.

"There's been a noticeable decline in civility here on the council," Streeto said.  "And it reflects the decline in civility in society in general, and we have to fight it."

Streeto suggested a strategy of delaying consideration of the proposal to rescind until the next Council meeting, and after the Council members and the PRC had the chance to review Clemow's opinion.

"We've been soldiering on without a 4-2 shift for 15 years, and the city hasn't collapsed," Streeto said.  I think we can wait another month."

But Streeto's call for civility fell on deaf ears as Republican members decried the lack of civility at the original PRC meeting and at the last meeting of the Council. 

"When we talk about civility, it has to go both ways," said Council member Deb Kleckowski.

Loffredo then went on a lengthy, and densely argued harangue about the midstream negotiations, and the lack of deep and detailed knowledge that many Council members had on the topic.  Some Council members were having trouble keeping their eyes open during the discussion.

Finally Council member Gerry Daley asked for a return to civility.

"Rather than spending an hour or two arguing about who insulted who a month ago, maybe it's appropriate to take a step back," Daley said.

A proposal was made to send the proposal to rescind back to the PRC for review with Clemow and the Director of Finance, Carl Erlacher at the meeting.

With most of the fight knocked out of Council members by the lengthy debate, Streeto moved to frame the resolution, and spilled a cup of water over the electrical wires on the desk in front of him.

"Don't worry," Streeto said. "Right now the idea of dying by electrocution seems really attractive."

The motion to move the proposal to rescind back to committee passed unanimously.

Self-Insurance Plan Questioned and Sent to Committee

In another discussion that might have proved contentious, the Council proposed a resolution to direct the mayor to reconsider a move that replaced the city's health-insurance program with a self-insured policy.

Democratic Council member Grady Faulkner, who is a member of the Insurance and Claims Committee wanted the opportunity to review the self-insurance program and to offer recommendations to the mayor.

The mayor readily agreed to the review.

"Wow, this has turned into a regular love fest," Daley said.  The Council voted to allow the Insurance and Claims Committee to examine the proposal and make recommendations to the mayor.

Energy Saving Proposals Voted In

The Common Council also voted to fund several energy-savings programs proposed by the Clean Energy Task Force, with research and recommendations provided by the Honeywell Corporation.

Honeywell has proposed significant changes in 14 city building which, over time, will have a major impact on energy use in those buildings.  Honeywell originally studied 29 city facilities and settled on changes in those where the payback would have the greatest impact.

Kleckowski asked Honeywell consultants to be sensitive to the needs of city directors when proposing changes.  A Honeywell reprentative will be housed in the Public Works department as work on Middletown facilities progresses.

Study of Collapsed Bank Bankrolled

The Council also approved the expenditure of $15,000 to hire an engineering consultant to study and plan for the best approach to clearing the streambed of the Coginchaug River after the collapse at the Charton Apartments during Spring rains.

Resident Beth Emery, and Jonah Center Director John Hall urged the passage of the expenditure but echoed the concern of Council member David Bauer that the city needed to understand how the collapse happened in the first place by studying building permits and approvals at the site.

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