Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Common Council: Do the Same Thing

News and Commentary

In the end, there was very little surprise.

When it came to voting for the appointment of Acting Police Patrick McMahon to the permanent position it was Republicans supporting the appointment, and Democrats opposing in a role call vote requested by David Bauer (Kleckowski, Bauer, Bibisi, Pessina - yay; Streeto, Santangelo, Daley, Serra, Loffredo, Kasper, Faulkner - nay).

And while Jim Streeto made an argument after the meeting that all the individual Democratic members voted no for their own reasons, don't let anyone fool you, the party line tells the story.

Four and a half hours later it was clear that this was not about whether Pat McMahon should be the permanent chief.  It's about a Democratic Common Council feuding with a Republican mayor, the way it's been about every major issue in town since the pattern was set when Seb Giuliano was elected five years ago.

"Those weren't explanations, they were excuses," McMahon said after the meeting.  "I think their conduct was discriminatory."

One needn't be the Amazing Kreskin, or even the Average Kreskin to have predicted the outcome, or  the proceedings.

It began during the questions to directors when City Attorney Tim Lynch was peppered with questions about his interpretation of the role of the Common Council in the confirmation process, and the definition of residency.

City Attorney Tim Lynch defending the definition of residency.  Notice the Channel 3 reporter texting in the background as he did during the entire proceedings.

Lynch told the Council what it didn't want to hear, that their role was to make an objective decision about the candidates qualifications, and not allow subjective opinions to sway their decision.  He also defined "residency" and "domicile" as where you live and said that the chief had met the legal obligation of residency by owning a house in the city, living there, paying taxes and being involved in the community.  Councilman Streeto laid the groundwork for a complex legal trap he would spring later by asking several questions about case law, precedence and charter revision language.  The debate about the terms went on for most of an hour, and would foreshadow the confirmation hearing in the regular Common Council meeting.

A handful of McMahon supporters, including Izzi Greenberg, the head of the North End Action Team, and Derek Puorro, the president of the police union took to the podium to urge the Council to vote for his confirmation.  Board of Education member William Grady, who had recently worked with McMahon on the restoration of School Resource Officers spoke about his interaction with the Acting Chief.

"During those hours," Grady said.  "He was intelligent, sensitive and of unfailingly good humor.  We were able to work together to solve a problem."

Attorney Kevin Smith, who has become something of a gadfly critiqued the decision of police to occupy the Board of Education building, to seize BOE computer equipment, and to arrest two football coaches who were accused, and later acquitted of not providing water to players during warm weather practice.  Smith, whose barbs seemed to be directed at the mayor, offered that he didn't know how any of these law enforcement situations would affect confirmation, but he took a stab at the definition of residence.

"You can have as many residence as you want," Smith said.  "You can only have one home."

Obviously Smith has never spoken to a child in a joint custody divorce, or with someone who is forced to commute between states to make a living.

Eye correspondent Stephen Devoto spoke in favor of the chief's confirmation saying that the chief showed an impartiality which manifested in a lack of being deferential to anybody.

"I don't want somebody whose going to defer to me, or a member of the media, or you or to you," he said pointing to Council members.

Devoto's name was mentioned by several of McMahon's detractors on the Council in later debate as each used Devoto's words out of context, and to defend a point opposite the one he made.

As the confirmation continued, Personnel Director Deborah Milardo was asked to speak, and took time to defend her department.

"The credibility of the Personnel Department has been under siege since the inception of this process," she said.  "It seems to have caused more controversy than I have ever seen in this city."

McMahon began his testimony with a defiant opening statement which challenged the Council to judge him on his qualifications, and not on the process by which he had been selected.

Streeto sprung his trap - hours of research on charter language, law precedence and former director hearings to demonstrate that the Council has always had an advise and consent relationship with the mayor when it came to choosing directors.  Streeto harangued the entire room with a very long and complicated treatise on how the mayor's insistence on a simple up or down vote on qualifications was not proven out in historical precedence.

In the end, Streeto's argument seemed moot as his Democratic colleagues exercised their right to advise and consent by providing several reasons, outside of qualifications, why they would not vote to approve McMahon.

Councilman Daley cited employment history and job performance as reasons for rejecting McMahon.

"It doesn't mean I don't think he has some good qualities," Daley said.  "It doesn't mean I don't think he's done some good things in the city.  He has."

Councilman Klattenberg also damned McMahon with faint praise.

"In my opinion Acting Chief McMahon is doing a fine job for the City of Middletown," Klattenberg said.  "But is he the right candidate for the job?  My answer is "no."

 Democratic Council members caucus during a recess in testimony.

Councilman Faulkner expressed that McMahon had not proven himself in the community, and in the structure of the department, and referred to "some things I've heard around town," as his reason for voting no.

Councilman Santangelo went further and confided that he had heard up to two hundred complaints about McMahon.

"I kept hearing this repeated thing," Santangelo said. "I don't know where it was coming from - please don't make him chief.  Hearing this message over and over again is going to move me to vote 'no' tonight."

After the meeting Santangelo, who is chairman of the Public Safety Commission, said that he never discussed the complaints with the mayor or the police chief, and never brought them up as an issue at the Public Safety Commission.

McMahon found staunch but fatalistic support from Republicans Deb Kleckowski, Joe Bibisi and Phil Pessina who made another passionate speech criticizing the actions of his Democratic colleagues.

After the failure to be confirmed, McMahon was philosophical.

"I will continue to do what's my sworn duty to do," McMahon said.  "And I will pursue every option for the job that should be mine."


Vinnie said...

What a sad spectacle the Common Council meeting was last night. It is an embarrassment to live in Middletown with this type of 'leadership'. I never witnessed anyone make such an ass out of themselves as James Streeto did with his long and unintelligible speech. If you were trying to impress the voters you failed miserably. These Dems need to go, the sooner the better. Middletown should have a recall provision and get these guys out. Why can't there be a special referrendum for the voters to have their say on whether the Chief should be installed as chief. That would put the Dems in their place.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the democrats stuck together like glue to keep the republican Mayor from getting his way; and now they even encouraged a member of the public who wants Tim Lynch's job as City Attorney. There is a reason Attny Smith has been attending and speaking at these confirmation hearings. Sad day for Middletown

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a dereliction of duties if Kasper and Santangelo have received "complaints" about the acting chief and NEVER discussed them with the mayor, the chief or the Public Safety Commission?

In most rationale organzations all complaints, regardless of the merits, need to be investigated and resolved. Only in Middletown, do complaints only get brought up at a confirmation hearing.

If Santangelo's has complaints they should immediately be brought to the Mayor, the Chief and put on the agenda for the next Public Safety Commission meeting.

Anonymous said...

I sat and listened for 4 hours of Democratic subjective opinions why McMahon should not be confirmed as Chief. One statenent was that he could not keep his temper in check. What do we do about Santangelo losing it earlier in the evening? As Chair of the public Safety Commission, why did he not bring up all these complaints there? And Streeto's rambling had nothing to do about McMahon's qualifications but only attempted to justify that the Council does not have to confirm a mayor's appointment.
As to Attorney Smith's statement that the City does not own the School property, well if that's true then why is my tax bill not reduced by 60%.

Anonymous said...

In this case the Democratic Town Council is an embaressment. If they have facts related to his qualification they need to put them on the table.

Former registered democrat.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that many Democrats and former Middletown Democrats are outraged by the actions of the elected Dems in Middletown and the town committee. I would ask you all- How long are we going to sit on the sidelines and let them make decisions that we don't agree with? It is even more evident after their actions last night that they are more interested in a political stare down with the mayor than they are in doing the right thing for our Middletown. I am outraged by their behavior last night, I am outraged by their decision to hand the council seat to Dan Drew and I am outraged by their lack of honesty and their apparent inability to work with the mayor for the betterment of our city. So I ask you again, What are we going to do about it. I certainly hope to see some action out of all the citizens who have had enough.

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

I've lived in Middletown for a mere 22 years, yet I remain mystified by the constant outrage over the actions of key political players, followed by re-election of same. Unhappy Democrats and Republicans alike are strangely reluctant to go public with their discontent. (Look at all the anonymous postings!)

I'd really like to see some comments here that address this peculiar situation -- other than, "Well, that's Middletown for you." Yes, I know that if you're in office, and you don't take orders from your own party, you will be given the heave-ho. That's if you can even get on the slate. It happened to me when I was on the Board of Ed, years ago, back when Deb Milardo was Debbie Moore, and ran the Democratic party. But even if you're not in office, YOUR VOTE CONTROLS WHO IS IN OFFICE. And if we can learn anything from the Tea Party, it is this: an organized group of citizens who make a lot of noise about how unhappy they are get the attention of politicians who need votes.

worried about my town said...

This is what you get when the democrats have been out of power in the mayor's office for so long.
What Santangelo and Kasper did was sheer politics to make acting Chief McMahon look bad before the vote.

People may have issues with the Mayor at times over some issues. But what about these same group of characters who have been in charge for 20 years now on the council.

As a resident of Middletown for over 40 years all I can say is I am embarrassed by the display I saw in the council chambers last night.

Anonymous said...

If anyone wants to point the finger at the biggest reason why McMahon wasn’t appointed, they need only to look as far as Giuliano’s office. It was Giuliano that gave McMahon the “go-ahead” on issues that the Council expressed serious concerns about. For instance, budget concerns with regard to department promotions and scheduling changes. Not to mention McMahon’s blind “follow to folly” with regard to seizing equipment at the Board of Education and placing guards at the door.... each of these at considerable cost to the taxpayers.

At the very least, Giuliano and McMahon should have known how questionable those actions would become. If they didn’t, then neither one of them deserve their positions. Giuliano and McMahon did precisely what they both knew the Council would object to, and they did it continually. Given that, neither one of them appeared to care about whether or not this would reflect poorly on the Chiefs appointment. Too bad for them.

I don’t know about anyone else, but if I were a top applicant for a position, the most ridiculous thing for me to do, would be to do precisely what I was warned not to do, by the very people who have the final say on my appointment.

So, for me, it is painfully obvious that when this Acting Chief didn’t use his common sense, independence, or leadership to question Giuliano’s actions, then he must have shared many of the same flawed sensibilities that Giuliano possesses. And as a resident and taxpayer of Middletown (who has watched and read every single word of what has transpired over the past year or so), I join the Council in saying “no, thank you” to McMahon.

Also, as far as accusing the Council of not bringing up complaints about McMahon to the Safety Commission. I see this as nothing but a straw-man argument. The Council has many times voiced its displeasure with this candidate. All you had to do was watch/ attend the Council meetings, or read the local papers. Not the least of which is the fact that they had already voted against McMahon’s appointment. It was the Mayor who decided to try it all over again through the back door, by posting the position in-house. How many times, and in how many ways did the Council need to make their position known? Going to the Safety Commission after already voting against this applicant would have been ridiculous, as well as redundant.

Vinnie said...

I agree with Elizabeth...why do people refuse to identify themselves and sign off as 'anonymous'. Why, Ed, do you even allow this on the blog...people should be held accountable for their thoughts and, at the very least, identify themselves. Further, I also agree that we have a lot to learn from the Tea Party. Those of us digusted with the actions of the Dems need to do something...like get rid of them. They only have their own power at heart, not the interest of this town.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anonymous 2:06,

I see, kiss the Council's ass or suffer the consequences.

FYI, the chief did not seize computer equipment, nor did any police officer, it was the IT director, and as for outrage at the handling of documents by the BOE, Democratic council members themselves expressed grave concern on several occasions, in fact, calling for a forensic audit.

But while you've read every word, you seem to forget what's convenient.

To ruin someone's reputation, and career by relying on street comments is not a straw man argument, but a description of character assassination.

For the chairman of the Public Safety Committee to accept these warnings as an indication of truth, without any follow up questioning, and without ever raising the issue in official surroundings until the confirmation hearing, is a complete abdication of responsibility, and frankly, a disgrace.

Is the mayor faultless? No. The chief? No. Are they both impolitic? Obviously. But when the Council speaks "ex cathedra" about their unerring sense of responsibility to the community, it's as sad as it is laughable. Infallible? Hardly. These are the folks that gave us Brymer.

Anonymous said...

these are the folks that gave us brymer. amen, brother.

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

Vinnie, thanks for the support about the importance of signing your name.

Just for the record, I'm not for throwing out everyone in city government. (Nor am I a Tea Party supporter.)

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting dilema. I hate to say this but in Middletown sometimes it is best to post without leaving a name. Many times I have witnessed people who bring fantastic knowledge and helpful comments be belittled and made to pay for their stances. It is a shame that people cannot voice their opinions without paying the consequences for them.

I think Ed does the right thing by posting all commentary, whether signed or not. As long as the comments are not hurtful or an attempt to pursue payback they should be posted. Because someone disagrees with an appointment or the person appointing it does not give them the right to personally attack the candidate or the appointing body.

I wonder outloud who would want to go through this process knowing that no matter how well qualified or not, you are going to be attacked. Middletown is a very opinionated place. Nobody has any right to attack a person because they are a public appointee. The Acting Chief, Personnel Director, and Mayor did their jobs. To the victor goes the spoils. I'll sign this "anonymous" because I know the ruthlessness of some individuals on that Council.

Anonymous said...

I think there's gonna be a biiiiiiiiiig primary next year! Yep for sure....a big one!

Vinnie said...

People are ruthless or bullies because precisely because others are afraid to stand up to them. Stand up to them and watch how fast they will run and hide in the corner. These ruthless people are ruining this town for their own political gain. This should have been very clear from last nights Council Meeting. Not one of those Dems had any concern for the welfare of this town. So, what's to be done?....call them out, stand up to them, face them, and vote them out.

Anthony R. Lancia, Jr. said...

As a lifelong resident of the City of Middletown I feel compelled to lash out in disgust and disappointment of the continuous actions or lack there of, of our political leaders. But I know better and have learned that my actions are better suited by being part of the solution and not the problem through action not complaints.

To be angry would wasted energy expelled on decisions having already been made behind closed doors on both sides, we the people "the taxpayers" whom are represented have only ourselves to blame by being apathetic when it comes time to go to the polls and vote.
One only needs to review past history of voter turnout within the city and all its Districts to learn that we go about life and care not who represents us until it becomes a public issue dragged out in the papers or news media.
Voting is a privelage granted to law abiding citizens under the Constitution and should be exercised by all. When we do not take the time to vote we then reap what we sow. Granted the populous in Middletown is Democrat but that has been challenged on many occasion throughout the history of this town. Let us not forget the Honorable Sebastian Garafalo who earned the trust and respect of fellow democrats across party lines.
To be united is to be powerful and demanding, to be kind,open and honest is respectful. We must learn to unite and respect all those that we represent and give due diligence to those who come before us for future growth of our City.
Each individual resident represented within the City shares a different and valid view of what they may feel is the best for our City and that should never be lost within the council chambers.
I ask this of all that represent us from the Mayors office down, please check your egos at the door when business is to be conducted and go forth with the business of the City with everyone else in mind. Our egos stand in the way of all good that can come from your dedicated service to the constituents of the Town. With this being said if this is something that you do not believe or debate then I challenge your capability to govern an open and honest government.
The definition of an ego is your inner being in which you have developed throughout life that is controlled by your mind and seeks never to die due to it being who you associate yourself with and fears rejection, hence it will always motivate you to act out in protection of itself.
Follow your soul and just see the magic that can occur when you allow your ego to die.
For the record I witnessed what I believed to be a lot of egos in the Council Chamber last evening and the results speak for themselves.
Today is a new day and it is never to late to change ourselves for our own good and the good of others, take time to look in the mirror and see someone new every day you awake.
Middletown's potential is endless and I look forward to watching it to grow along with its residents getting all they deserve.Lets move on to better our City by policing ourselves and respecting all that we serve.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I listened carefully to Councilman Vin Loffredo when he said it made no sense in his opinion to support a 4-2 schedule for the police department as the acting chief has lobbied hard for. I don't understand why McMahon supports this except to possibly pander to the union? I wish the acting chief would explain to the general public why he thinks it is a good idea to do this and how it does NOT cost taxpayers more money. I would like to understand why he thinks this proposal is a good idea, or maybe another reader can explain this. Thanks for more info.

Anonymous said...

There has been much conversation about the seizure of the computers and the officers that where posted outside of the BOE building. What has been notably absent is conversation about why the mayor, or anyone, thought that was an important step. I am glad that someone is holding Frechette accountable for his questionable actions. I wish that Frechette and his team were vetted for 5 hours by the common council. If Mr. Frechette were to be called in front of the BOE how many members of the community would come out to support him? My guess is that you would see far more parents who were angry about the state of our schools. I am disgusted by both the common council and the board of education in Middletown. I certainly hope that when the next election rolls around we will see some new democratic blood. Although the fact that the council seat was handed to Dan Drew doesn't allow me much hope.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the comments from Anonymous 1/4, 6:05. It's a long post, but worth reading carefully.

We can only vote for people whose names appear on the slate. So we can once again vote for them, because we think that the opposition is worse, or not vote at all. If the powers that be in either party's nominating committee want you off the slate, even if they are a handful of people, they will keep you off.

That doesn't mean everybody has to throw up their hands and retreat. There are actions open to people who are unhappy about an issue of city governance, no matter what party they belong to.

One: join forces, and, IN NUMBERS, let your elected officials know that you want them to behave differently, or they will lose your vote.

Two: find out who puts candidates on the slate for your party. Let them know what you think about their nominees.

Three -- and this is the hardest -- get someone who represents your views, or at least who is not owned by the party leadership, to put his or her name forward. People who are in office now, for the most part, have a lock on this process. Why? Because of the intimidation so many people have mentioned here.

Retribution! Sad, but true. Being badmouthed is one thing -- it's not nice, but it's bearable. Losing your city job, having your organization's city funding taken away, etc. etc. etc., is more serious.

And guess what? Because I can be punished in one of the ways I've listed above, I'm going to have to sign my name as "Anonymous", too.