Sunday, May 31, 2009

Arafeh to be Honored At Chamber Breakfast

Barbara Arafeh, a lifelong supporter and promoter of the arts, especially in Middletown, will be honored at Monday's Middlesex Chamber of Commerce Breakfast with the Governor William O'Neill Service Award. The award is given annually to a person who has performed outstanding public service for the citizens of Connecticut. In his congratulator letter, chamber president Larry McHugh wrote:

"Your untiring commitment to numerous organizations throughout the county has earned our respect and gratitude. We are honored to present you with this prestigious award."

The monthly chamber breakfast is held between 7:30-9:00 AM at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell. Joseph Waz, president of the Comcast Foundation will be the featured speaker

Middletown Man's Company Wins Emmy

This goes under the heading of shameless self-promotion, but a show I worked on, Alzheimer's Disease: Facing the Facts, won an Emmy for best documentary at the Boston Regional Emmy's Saturday night.

The show was directed by my business partner at Motion, Inc, Glenn Orkin, and co-produced with Carol Edwards of the University of Pennsylvania.

The show, which has been broadcast nationally, is one of several shows that originated at Connecticut Public Television, and scored Emmy's at the (exruciatingly long) awards ceremony Saturday.

From 1909: Middletown Yacht Club

Note: This article is from the May 31st, 1909 Hartford Courant.

The club house of the Middletown Yacht Club was in what we now call Harbor Park. The Middletown Yacht Club at one point was the largest of its kind in Connecticut, according to an
excellent article in The Eye about its history.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Drewids: Non-Review

I must admit that I was really looking forward to checking out The Drewids at Boney's Music Lounge tonight (Saturday May 30.) The quartet, led by bassist Drew Emer, had played the club once before and I really enjoyed the interplay of guitar, bass,, drums and saxophone. This time around, the saxophonist had another gig and Emer invited flautist Jamie Baum (pictured) to join him, guitarist Mike Baggetta and drummer Evan Howard (another last-minute replacement) for the 3-set gig.

Arriving at 10 p.m. after leaving the track at Woodrow Wilson Middle School (where the American Cancer Society "Relay for Life" was in full stride), I discovered the band packing up, the leader fuming and everyone else puzzled (including the 12-15 people in the audience who had really enjoyed the first set.) I won't repeat what Drew Emer said (many expletives) but the gist is owner Ted Tine asked them to stop playing and leave. Had someone complained? Don't know. Was the music too loud? I doubt it (especially with the flute.) The band had played the Lounge before and had a great time, drawing a decent crowd.

I got the chance to catch up with Ms. Baum and Mike Baggetta before they drove off; both said the first set had been pretty good (first time these 4 people had played together) and the audience response quite positive. As the musicians loaded their instruments into the car, several people came up and asked if the music was done. When told that the quartet had been asked to desist, the potential customers shrugged their shoulders and turned away.

Yes, the musicians were paid (the full amount) but one fears for the fate of live jazz at this establishment. The blues shows do pretty well and I've been to several jazz gig that had decent attendance. Hopefully, this was an aberration but I, for one, was disappointed not to hear these 4 fine musicians play.

Restoring the River View at Harbor Park

It was a dreamlike scene. The wind carried a river of cottonwood seed aloft, flowing in the same direction of the great grey river below, as the sun provided a backlight of the tiny airborne seed parachutes. On the river young women sweat and strained as the coxswain shouted encouragement in the heat of a high school regatta. On the shore another, volunteer crew from the Lions, from Middletown and from the Connection worked up a sweat on their own, pulling rope-thick vines of bittersweet and poison ivy, and hacking through sumac and suckers to clear the North End of Harbor Park. Under the watchful gaze of organizer Elizabeth Santangelo, and John Hall of the Jonah Center, the crew made surprising quick progress, restoring a wonderful view to the weed-choked banks of the Connecticut river North of the Route 9 tunnel access to the river.

In the Mosh Pit at Bowlapalooza

The annual Bowlapalooza fundraiser at Wesleyan Potters was a big success, with a large crowd and many bidders on unique and beautiful pieces of potter, jewelry and art.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Praise of Downtown Expertise in a time of Recession: Stone Depot and National Paint

Like many people this month, I am making repairs on my house. In my case I am replacing a number of cedar shingles that have been eaten by squirrels. I am also painting a bathroom, a deck, and adding baseboards to a couple of rooms that did not have them. This last project was horribly frustrating until I finally spoke to the right people.

Given that I was doing several projects I went to the large unnamed home improvement center on Washington Street. There I purchased what was supposed to be stain grade boards for the baseboards. I then went over to the paint area and was advised rather quickly what to purchase.

Result: disaster. The boards absorbed stain in a very uneven fashion; they looked positively splotched, downright piebald. After 5 hours of labor, I had 70 feet of pine which I will reuse because I am stubborn, but that I cannot put down as baseboard. I then decided to consult the local experts.

My first stop: the former Middletown Builders (now Stone Depot) on North Main Street. What a different experience; I was escorted to the perfect baseboard wood and given specific advice about the liabilities of the much better quality pine I was buying (I was trying to match the cedar baseboards throughout the house). Clearly, all the people working there had years of deep wood knowledge (as opposed to deep woods knowledge).

I then went to National Paint, at the very bottom of Washington Street. Here too, I spoke at length with real experts: Mike, Chris, and Dave. After doing ten minutes of experiments, it was determined by Chris that to make a beautiful finish on my quite porous baseboards, I would need a “spit” coat of shellac followed by my stain. The result is perfect: it looks just like the cedar.

I also have another National Paint story. The following day, National mixed four gallons of custom stain for me for the aforementioned deck project. At five o’clock I went into the store and told them I needed more stain. I was informed that they had had a run on this particular base blend that day and were out. They knew I was in the middle of the project, however, and volunteered to get some immediately and deliver it to my house. 90 minutes later, one of the guys dropped off the stain on his way home. Although I suspect that they are not in the habit of making house calls, this is service.

Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps. As I contemplate my faultless baseboards, it occurred to me that, during a time of recession, we need to support these local merchants. It is not only good for the community and good for our downtown; it is almost always the most cost effective way of undertaking a project.

Note: I have no affiliation with either of these stores.

Seven Year Old Spots Man With Gun Near School

From the Middletown Police Department

On May 29, 2009 at approximately 10:30AM, Middletown Police Officers responded to Lawrence Elementary School for the report of a man with a shotgun on school property. The single witness, a sever-year-old student, indicated she saw a man carrying the gun and possibly a deceased animal near the wood line to the south and east of the school. At the time, Lawrence School had a student musical concert which was being attended by numerous parents.

Middletown Police officers responded to the scene and secured the building. The school remained in lockdown for one and one half hours while officers canvassed the area. Other nearby schools, Middletown High School and Keigwin School were also locked down as a precaution. All three schools continued with class and students were released at the end of the regular school day. No suspects were located during the search and the investigation is ongoing. The suspect was described as being a white male, approximately 30 years of age wearing a black sweatshirt, blue jeans and tan work boots. Anyone with information as to the identity of this individual is encouraged to contact the Middletown Police Department 860-344-3200.

Russell Library Announces Summer Concert

The Homegrown String Band Courtyard Concert
The Homegrown String Band will perform on Thursday, June 4 at 7 pm in the Russell Library Courtyard, 123 Broad St., Middletown. Georgianne and Rick Jackofsky and their daughters Erica and Annalee are a 21st century incarnation of the traditional family band. They have been performing at bluegrass, folk and blues festivals, coffeehouses, schools, and libraries throughout the Northeast since 1997. Their repertoire consists of traditional and original music inspired by the rural string bands that recorded during the 1920’s and 30’s. Their concert includes a wide range of American folk music, from the driving rhythms of old-time dance tunes to the mournful sounds of mountain ballads and blues. You will be treated to the sounds of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, clawhammer banjo, banjo ukulele, mountain dulcimer, and jawharp, as well as some percussive flatfoot dancing. In the case of bad weather, the event will be held in the library’s Hubbard Room.

Classical Guitar Concert with Neal Fitzpatrick
Classical guitarist Neal Fitzpatrick will perform on Saturday, June 13 at 2pm in the Hubbard Room at Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown. Mr. Fitzpatrick is both an active soloist and chamber musician. He has performed in such diverse venues as The CT Classical Guitar Society, The Yale Center for British Art, the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and at Woolsey Hall with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. He maintains a thriving private studio where he teaches both classical and jazz guitar. He earned his master’s at The Yale School of Music in 1998.

Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem Courtyard Concert
Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem will perform in the Courtyard on Thursday, June 18, 7pm at Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown. All of roots music is a stage for daisy mayhem, and this four-piece string band loves nothing more than choreographing a jubilant mix of traditional, original, and contemporary sounds. With Arbo's bewitching alto at the helm, stunning vocal harmonies, a 100% recycled drum set, fiddle, guitar, and bass, daisy mayhem "has a grand knack for pumping new blood into old music" (The Boston Globe).

Daisy mayhem celebrates America's rich musical past and brings it into the present with good humor, impeccable musicianship, powerful songwriting, and a clear love of playing together. Here are four musicians who pick up what's lying around - from tin cans to old songs and wry observations of modern life - and create something new. In the case of bad weather, the event will be held in the library’s Hubbard Room.

Courtyard Concert by JUST HARMONY
JUST HARMONY, an inspiring folk singing group, will perform on Thursday, June 25 at 7 pm in the Courtyard at Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown. Their music draws from many cultures, but is rooted in the folk revival of the 1960's and the American Jewish folk movement. Songs include new arrangements of familiar songs as well as newer and original compositions. The group -- Rick Calvert and Amy, Steve, Sarah, and Rebecca Eppler-Epstein -- use guitar, keyboard, banjo, flute, quena, and a wide assortment of rhythm instruments to drive their music. Their intricate harmony and musical arrangements alternately excite, intrigue, and soothe, and audiences are often drawn into singing along with the group. But JUST HARMONY's mission goes beyond the songs: their music is ultimately a conversation with their audiences, a discussion of what remains broken in our world and how to approach the work of repair with joy and energy. Share an evening with JUST HARMONY – and rediscover the link between music and life! In the case of bad weather, the event will be held in the library’s Hubbard Room.

Eye on the Air

Friday May 29, at 1 PM tune into WESU -FM (88.1 FM or and click on the Listen Live button) to hear the debut of Eye On the Air, a one-hour radio show to complement this news blog.

I've traded in my music show to host a show which will feature some of the stories you read in the Middletown Eye, with guests who can address some of the issues you'll find at this site.

Friday the show will feature guest appearances by NEAT executive director, Izzi Greenberg, and Middletown's Assistant Superintendent for Administration, Barbara Senges. We'll discuss the issue of leveling in grades 6-8 and the issues and challenges of education for residents of Middletown's North End. We'll likely wander onto other topics of interest as well.

Tune in.

First Mayoral Debate a Heated Affair

After the Common Council meeting Thursday a heated debate began between Council member Hope Kasper and AFSCME president Jeff Daniels about the merits of the rejected union concessions. Soon, mayor Sebastian Giuliano who had been talking to me about his frustrations with the Council budget entered the fray. Before long the fracas included Democratic Town Committee Chair Dan Russo, and Democratic Candidate for Mayor Dan Drew.

The debaters paired off and suddenly Mayor Giuliano and mayoral candidate Drew were having their first public debate. It was a loud and passionate debate about whether a tax increase is necessary to keep the city on an even keel. After ten minutes of trading opinions, the debate ended when Council member James Streeto entered and suggested that the sooner council chambers were cleared, the sooner janitorial staff could clean--up, and the city could avoid paying overtime. Giuliano and Drew shook hands and promised to continue the debate at a later date.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Council Undoes Budget Veto

The Common Council voted along strictly partly lines Thursday evening 8 to 3 to reinstate the budget they adopted on May 14. Mayor Sebastian Giuliano vetoed the budget, and the Council needed 8 votes to reinstate.

The $129.7 million budget assumes no increase in taxes and limited cuts of programs. The mayor's counter budget of $128.5 million was based on a 1 mil tax increase.

The Democratic council members contended that the city is healthy financially, with new revenue streams, one-time revenue sources and a more-than-solvent general fund. The mayor, and Republican council members noted that none of the revenue sources is guaranteed, and that counting on money not in hand is risky.

Part of the budget is the return of a fireworks celebration, something that was cut out of the mayor's version of the budget, but there were plenty of fireworks during the official meeting with some louder explosions once the meeting was finished (more on that in a separate post).

The debate began when Council member Gerry Daley questioned the basis for the Mayor's veto of the budget. He questioned the Mayor's contention that a nearly $2.6 request to settle retro salary increases based on the police union contract was an "unexpected" expense. He also wondered why the mayor was projecting revenue problems, like the loss of the Aetna facility from the tax rolls, which would not hit the budget until the following fiscal year.

The mayor explained that the $2.6 million would have a draining effect on the general fund, and that his job was to consider not only the current tax year, but the tax burden in successive year as negative impacts hit the budget.

Daly was the first of several Democratic Council members to emphasize that the budget they were proposing was one which avoided a tax increase, and a cut in services.

"These are not ordinary times," Daly said. "And that's why I think taxpayers need a break.'

Umbrage began to be taken in large proportions when Council member David Bauer asked a series of questions, which were required by Roberts Rules of Orders to be "rhetorical." He wanted to know why a compromise budget, offered by the mayor, which would have had no tax increase, and an additional $800,000 in savings was rejected. He also asked if the Council's rejection of a negotiated "no layoff" clause with unions meant that the Council was expecting layoffs to be part of the budget solution.

In a short diversion where the rules of order were discussed heatedly, charges were traded.

"This is not a dictatorship," Daley said of one of Giuliano's rulings as chairman of the meeting. "This is a democracy."

Answering Bauer, Majority leader Tom Serra charged that Bauer was using scare tactics.

"You did the same thing last year," Serra scolded. "Layoffs, layoffs, layoffs. This budget is going to work and there will be no layoffs."

All the Democratic members painted a rosy picture of the the City of Middletown's financial health. They pointed to revenue from the sale of Cucia Park, and to expected tax revenue on the opening of the Kleen Energy plant. Both Serra and Daley mentioned that they expected no problems with bond ratings. Daley indicated that even after expenditures the general fund would be at a level higher than five years ago.

"There are a lot of things going on in town on the positive side," Daley said. "We owe it to the taxpayers of Middletown to give them a break this year. What is Middetown if we don't have the quality of life. We the Democrats stand united for no tax increases."

Council member Vinnie Loffredo chastised the mayor for the first budget sent their way. He noted that union concessions were tied to specific cuts.

"That was totally unacceptable," Loffredo said. "How were we going to go through that (budget) process under those pressures. Those threats. Everyone of the concessions was linked together. It was a house of cards."

Loffredo conceded that the mayor and the unions later unlinked the concessions to specific budget cuts.

Bauer wouldn't let a vote be called without a final warning.

"This budget raises the specter of layoffs," he said. "The numbers don't lie. Last year this Council cut by one third what the mayor had proposed as projected spending. Then the council ended up spending every cent of the third they had cut, and beyond."

After a final rebuttal by Gerry Daley, a vote was called, the veto was rejected, and the Council voted to adjorn.

Music at The Mansion Series July 2009

The Friends of Long Hill Estate will once again host their ‘Music at the Mansion’ series in July at the Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. Concert dates are July 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd. The rain date for the concerts is July 29th. Concerts begin at 6:30 p.m. There is no charge for admission and seating is on the south lawn.

Back by popular demand, Eight to the Bar (pictured above) will open the series on July 1st. They were voted ‘Best Band 2008’ by Connecticut Magazine and ‘Best Jazz Band’ in the 2008 Hartford Advocate Readers Poll. Drawing their musical influences from American roots music: swing, boogie woogie, rhythm & blues, soul, and Motown, Eight to the Bar is known for its outstanding instrumentalists and sophisticated musical and vocal arrangements. For more information, go to

The July 8th concert will feature Galvanized Jazz Band, a dynamic group of Connecticut musicians devoted to the energetic performance of hot Dixieland, New Orleans jazz, blues, rags, stomps, struts, spirituals, swing, and classic popular songs from the past century. Recognized by Connecticut Magazine as "Best Jazz Band in the State", the Galvanized Jazz Band is showcased at large Jazz Festivals throughout the state. To learn more about these fine musicians, go to

Making their first appearance at the Mansion and their only visit to Connecticut this summer will be Jay Ungar & Molly Mason on July 15th. Steeped in American Roots music, the duo is best known for their performance of Jay's haunting composition "Ashokan Farewell", the musical hallmark of Ken Burn’s PBS series, "The Civil War." The soundtrack won a Grammy and "Ashokan Farewell", originally inspired by Jay & Molly's annual fiddle and dance camps, was nominated for an Emmy. To find out more, go to

The concert series will conclude with Planet Zydeco, a six-piece band that captures the essence of traditional rural-style accordion-driven dance music played in Southern Louisiana. Led by accordionist Rose Sinclair (who's worked with Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem), the group (also featuring 2 guitars, bass, drums and rubboard) plays a popular mix of up-tempo songs, as well as slower blues-inspired numbers and traditional waltzes. To learn more, go to

All of the concerts will begin at 6:30 p.m. The grounds will be open for picnicking at 5:30 p.m. Parking will be at the Mansion, at the Wilbert Snow School, 299 Wadsworth Street, and at Mercy High School, 1740 Randolph Road. Concerts will be held in light rain or the threat of showers. Concerts will be canceled in the event of electrical storms or threat to the wellbeing of the musicians and their instruments. Information will be available on the Wadsworth Mansion website at or by calling (860) 347-1064.

The music series is co-sponsored by the Long Hill Estate Authority and the Friends of Long Hill Estate.

Make friends with the library

When I'm counting my Middletown blessings, Russell Library always makes the list.

Whether they're offering a folk music concert, hosting a lively community meeting or feeding my teenagers' Japanese manga addiction, the library helps to make this a great place to live.

As the Eye noted, the staff at Russell Library recently won a statewide Excellence in Public Service Award. But if you attended the recent budget debate, you know that the library does not get sufficient funding from the City to run all of its programs, and it has had to cut back on hours in recent years.

This gap in funding is partly filled by a group of our fellow citizens called the Friends of Russell Library. By holding book sales and selling memberships, the group is able to donate about $20,000 to supplement the library budget. Here are just a few of the programs and acquisitions that were made possible in part by these donations:

•job and career service programs
•musical performances
•extra educational and entertainment DVD's
•additional books in the business and children's sections
•large print reading material and other services for older adults
•children's summer reading program
•putting old editions of the Middletown Press on microfilm.

Here's how you can help

Other than paying overdue-book fines (which my household does with some frequency), here are a few ways to help the library supplement their budget.

First, you can donate your gently used books, which will be turned into cash at the Friends' book sales.

Next, you can buy a membership to the Friends, by sending a check for $5 (student/senior), $10 (friend), $20 (family), or $50+ (contributing). Checks can be sent to "Friends of the Russell Library", 123 Broad Street, Middletown, CT 06457.

And of course, they are always looking for volunteers.

If you haven't seen it yet, you should check out their amazing website at I love their nifty search function, which gives real-time information about whether the book you want is on their shelf!

A River Runs Through It

The Connecticut River is such an important part of Middletown and its history, but you'd hardly know it by how hard we've made it to get to, and enjoy the river.

Saturday morning May 30, a clean-up of the North End of Harbor Park will be hosted by the Jonah Center, with help and partnership of the Lion's Club and crews from The Connection's AIC (Judicial Branch Community Service Work Crews).

It's an effort to make the beautiful North end of the park more accessible and less threatening.

Work begins at 8 AM, and free coffee and donuts will be provided by Lady Catherine cruises.

Volunteers should wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves and gloves. Note that there is poison ivy in the area, so people who are highly allergic should not participate in this work day. Since we will be cutting, trimming and raking, volunteers are asked to bring clippers (short and long handled), small saws (hand, bow or sling) and rakes. (Make sure to mark your tools.)

A box lunch will be served at 12:00 noon for those who registered before May 26.

Bowlapalooza at Wesleyan Potters Tomorrow


Friday, May 29 6-9 pm.

Please join us for food, drink, live music & silent auction.

Tickets are just $10 and with every ticket you take home a handcrafted item.

Children under 12 are free.

Come early for the best selection from the “Bowl” or “Palooza” table.

Let us know if you are planning on coming. We want to make sure we have enough Bowlapaloozas for everyone.

RSVP to this email or call the Pottery at 860-347-5925.

Hope to see you Friday night.

Arson Evidence Found At Woodbury Circle Fire

From the Middletown Police Department

On 5/28/09, at 2:22 AM, Middletown Police and Fire personnel were dispatched to 307 Woodbury Circle, Middletown. Ct. on a report of a structure fire. Officers arrived and assisted in locating all occupants of the resident and safely removing them from the dwelling. First responding officers observed heavy smoke and several items on fire. Police and firemen evacuated the residents and extinguished the fire. There were three occupants of the residence at the time and none reported injury nor were transported to the hospital for treatment. After the fire was extinguished, it was later determined that a make-shift explosive devise, (a molotov cocktail - a beer bottle with a strong odor of gasoline emitting from it along with a rag extending from the lid) was located. The bottle was still intact, yet remnants from the gasoline cause damage to the living area of the dwelling as well as causing a large amount of smoke. Fireman at the scene assisted in getting the heavy smoke from the dwelling and it was determined that the occupants did not have to be displaced at this time.

Evidence was collected at the scene and the Police and Fireman will be working on the investigation.

This is an on-going investigation that the Middletown Police and South District Fire Department will be working together on following up potential leads. This remains a suspicious incident and as always is asking citizens to contact the Middletown Police Detective Division with any information into this incident. Citizens are urged to contact the bureau @ 860-344-3240 with any information.

Common Council To Vote on Vetoed Budget

The Common Council will conduct a special public meeting Thursday at 7PM to vote on overturning a veto of the budget by Mayor Sebastian Giuliano.

While both sides met to discuss the budget, the resolution reads as follows:

In Accordance with Chapter VI, Finance and Taxation, Section 1 of the
City Charter, readopting all items that were vetoed in the 2009 – 2010
budget and that said budget be effective as adopted by the Common
Council at their meeting of May 14, 2009 at 7 p.m

In an email to a Middletown Eye contributor Mayor Sebastian Giuliano writes:

Carl Erlacher, Diana Doyle, Tima Bomes, Debra Milardo, Geen and I came up with a proposed compromise that would ahve saved as much as $800K by keeping the union concessions in play, making some cuts (while preserving the great majority of their pet project spending) and using considerably less of the Cucia Park projected proceeds. Word is that the majority caucus is just going to override my veto and keep their own budget."

The Citizens Advisory Committee met Wednesday evening, and as a result of stimulus dollars provided to the city, restored funding to several organizations who had seen their annual contributions cut drastically or completely. If the Common Council takes the advice of the Citizens Advisory Committee, the St. Vincent DePaul Amazing Grace Pantry, which had been set to receive no funding, will now receive $6000 for the Pantry, and $10000 to perform a relocation study for their soup kitchen. In addition the Chamber of Commerce will move from $8000 to $19,0000.

All They Couldn't Do Was Elect A Chair

In an issue that has been pressing for the better part of a year, the Planning and Zoning Commission once again failed to elect a chair. Two Democrats, Deborah Kleckowski (4 votes) and acting chair Richard Pelletier (3 votes) were not elected, again.

Other then that continuing embarrassment, the Board moved briskly through business, tabling a public hearing on a 15 lot subdivision at Flynn Lane due to improper signage announcing the public hearing.

The board approved a change in language to allow a plan by Lori Montazella to open a Bed and Breakfast in her home which is located on Westfield Street and is in an R-15 zone. Montazella will have to appear before the Board with specific plans before she opens the B$B.

The board also approved a three lot subdivision at 42 Middlefield Street. In the approval they recomended planting of buffer trees, required sidewalks, and a turnaround driveway (hammerhead).

The board also extended approval of a industrial park development on land owned by Ted Bysiewicz. They approved a name change for a used car dealer on Johnson Street, and forwarded public hearings for two other subdivisions.

In other business the board agreed to make time in future meetings to consider changes in regulations for Bed and Breakfasts, sidewalks, and several other changes sidelined at other meetings but compiled by board member Catherine Johnson.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Finance And Governance Concentrates on Finance

The F&G Committee began with a financial warning and ended with one on Wednesday evening.

Councilman David Bauer, testifying as a public citizen, said that he was worried about a report he had heard from city employees that money was being wasted on a rented sanitation truck.

According to Bauer, a city truck is under repair, and the Sanitation Department rented a used vehicle at a higher price than they could have rented a new vehicle with the same specs as city trucks. In addition, a one-week repair has extended to three weeks, and the department is now requesting an additional $5000, on top of a $900o request for rental and repair costs.

Committee chair Ron Klattenberg recommended that Bauer bring his concern before the council meeting on Monday.

At meeting's end, finance director Carl Erlacher warned committee members that a request for $2.5 million dollars from the reserve fund will be made at Monday's Common Council meeting. Erlacher explained that the expenditure would cover police salaries negotiated in the last contract talks.

Erlacher stated that the expenditure would drop the reserve fund to $9 million.

"I was looking toward the day when Aetna leaves town, in building that reserve," Erlacher explained. "Now we don't have that buffer. Next year we'll have to come up with another plan."

One of the ways the city is looking to make money is through hiring a bill collector to collect on past due bills, fines and license fees. The collection company takes a percentage of the recovered funds. Fourteen thousand past-due bills were handed over to the collector.

In between the financial warnings, the committee sent a series of ordinance recommendations forward to the Common Council recommending expenditures for energy saving measures at Middletown's Public Schools. In a presentation, Kendall Jackson, director of school facilities, and Doreen Hamilton from Honeywell Business Solutions explained how the expenditures would more than payback the original outlay in savings.

Board of Education unhappy with proposed curriculum changes

This afternoon, on a whim, I looked up the word disappointment on to see what the thesaurus would list as synonyms for a saddening situation or letdown. Here’s the list I got: bitter pill, blind alley*, blow, blunder, bringdown, bummer, bust*, calamity, defeat, disaster, discouragement, downer*, downfall, drag, dud, error, failure, false alarm, faux pas*, fiasco, fizzle, flash in the pan*, impasse, inefficacy, lemon*, miscalculation, mischance, misfortune, mishap, mistake, obstacle, old one-two, setback, slip, washout (the *words are informal usage).

That about sums up last night’s Board of Education meetings. As was previously reported, the BOE met at 6pm to discuss the proposed elimination of leveling for 6th grade language arts for the 2009-2010 school year. John Hennelly, the Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction, defined the District’s long term goal: narrowing the achievement gap for sub-groups by accelerating achievement for all groups by improving instruction. Maybe if I turn it around, you’ll get a better sense of what I think the administration was trying to tell the Board of Education. The problem (as I heard it defined in the opposite) is instruction: Middletown needs a more challenging curriculum for all levels of ability and teachers need more training in classroom management and how to develop hands-on learning opportunities. When this problem is addressed adequately, ALL students will benefit and this will be measurable through standardized testing. The test results will show a narrowing of the achievement gap between various sub-groups as required by state and federal standards, and Middletown will be on its way to getting off the No Child Left Behind “needs improvement” list.

Even that was a mouthful, and I can tell you that most of the very concerned parents who showed up last night were not converted by Mr. Hennelly’s presentation. Granted, this group of parents also admitted to attending public school with skill-based classes in math and language arts (Mr. Hennelly took a “raise-your-hand” poll), and these same parents have children in the gifted and talented program or in upper level math/language arts classes. But, considering the fact that PROBE (Middletown’s gifted and talented program) was cancelled for next year, and that these same parents are now hearing that leveling is also being eliminated, the impression most parents were left with was hard to swallow: the achievement gap can be eliminated by taking away advanced programs to “dumb down” the smartest kids to let everyone else catch up.

Let me be very clear: I do believe our school officials have checked their research, I do know that this topic has been discussed in the district for at least a couple of years now, we are only talking about leveling in middle school, and I personally heard Mr. Hennelly say afterwards that test scores for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders are on the rise like never before thanks to a renewed focus on curriculum and how teachers deliver that curriculum. BUT, that information has not been presented to the Board of Education’s Curriculum Committee or the Board at large, nor have parents been engaged in a similar discussion. So, the BOE’s vote to delay any changes for a year does make sense if for no other reason than to let everyone get on the same page.

But what does that page look like? Parents were told last night that SRBI (Scientific Research Based Intervention) is mandated for implementation this fall. That’s a state-wide program that requires additional intervention for children who are below basic and significantly below basic levels in math and language arts. Those children will get between 2.5 and 5 extra periods of instruction in one or both subjects during the week. This, however, will come at the expense of explorative art classes. These children won’t be able to take a world language either.

Several parents and board members had a hard time envisioning what the actual school day would look like for these children, and Asst. Superintendent Barbara Senges said that work on the schedules for Woodrow Wilson and Keigwin is still underway, but that essentially, the periods would be doubled to accommodate the additional instruction. De-tracking is essentially shifting the makeup of classes, with shared decision making then improving classroom culture, behavior, and social development. Mr. Hennelly also deliberately pointed out that de-tracking isn’t the sole focus: everything has to change from the curriculum to the teaching methods to student behavior. Asst. Superintendent Barbara Senges commented on reduced class sizes as a result of the SRBI requirements (anywhere from less than 5 to 10-12 for this additional instruction) with a corresponding opportunity for high-track students to have access to new or additional programs in math, foreign language and music.

The public session following Mr. Hennelly’s comments was limited to 30 minutes, and parents scrambled to be heard. There was an overwhelming desire to see the data that supports tracking elimination, with concern mostly focused on the conclusion that advanced students are NOT harmed by de-tracking. Some parents with children on both ends of the spectrum worried that neither child would get what he/she needed because one would be bored and the other wouldn’t be able to keep up. Two parents who had been on the leveling committee spoke of their frustration that for all the work the committee did, those parental recommendations were completely ignored by the District. Just about everyone referenced how much behavioral issues derail a classroom and occupy a teacher’s time.

The Board’s main concern was that of time: why now, why no discussion until now, why didn’t the Curriculum Committee know, and why the hush-hush manner of implementation? There was no good answer to any of these questions, probably because the Superintendent’s office didn’t expect such pushback from parents. Board Chairman Ted Raczka asked Superintendent Michael Frechette if the District was properly staffed and funded to make these changes. Frechette said the new schedule and additional teachers’ aides would cover the staffing requirements, and that he was hoping for stimulus funds to adequately fund additional needs. Raczka did not favor the motion to delay the change to the leveling policy for one year: he argued that the Board has a tendency to put things off, and he didn’t want this issue to go by the wayside. He was reminded by more than one board member that he sets the agenda, but with 3 Democrats missing from last night’s meeting, the vote to delay one year passed easily. The Board then voted to add an additional hour before both of the June meetings to talk more about the leveling issue.

No Hero’s Parade for JCJ Architecture

After a short recess, the board reconvened to hear suggestions from JCJ Architecture on what to do about Moody’s overcrowding and Macdonough’s racial imbalance issues. A copy of this report is available here. Principal Architect Greg Smalley explained the study’s methods thus far: JCJ has toured the schools, seen the physical plant, looked at enrollment projections and conducted 5 community workshops. He concluded that Middletown has enough classroom seats for the students it has in school, but they may not be in the right place. He recommended against moving students for just one year to solve racial or overcrowding concerns since the Board of Education likely will have to redistrict to solve the overcrowding issues at large. Smalley also stated that Macdonough is at capacity, and that the 3 classrooms currently used for community education purposes are a possible way to add more space to Macdonough. Finally, he recommended that transportation routes be studied to make sure that the students living the furthest away aren’t picked up first and also dropped off last (time on the bus is a huge parental concern).

There was a bit of a stunned pause at the beginning of the public comment session. Parents had a hard time digesting the news that there was no news. Some said that no decision is better than a bad decision while others wondered what can be done immediately to solve Moody’s overcrowding for the next year. Smalley commented that the projected kindergarten enrollment is down for next year, but that he didn’t have time to run the numbers to see what happens when fifth grade leaves and there are less kindergarteners coming in. Of course, one parent pointed out that this past year’s projection was off 117% (there is a definite connection to the new 96 apartment complex, Wharfside Commons, since those kids are now bused to Moody). It is likely that this year’s projection will be more accurate because there are no large housing projects coming on line in the next year. Nevertheless, the two Moody teachers who spoke couldn’t hide their frustration and disappointment. They were told all year to wait until JCJ could make recommendations, and now there are no recommendations to solve the multitude of problems Moody faces.

Board member Corinne Gill asked the star question of the night: “what’s our backup plan if the enrollment numbers are off again?” Greg Smalley couldn’t answer, and JCJ is due back in front of the board during the June meetings.

The June meetings (6/2 and 6/16) should be lively as the leveling discussion continues (at 6pm each night before the regular 7pm meeting) and JCJ returns (both architects took a flurry of notes during the public session, so they have much to address). I will say, though, that while the process is frustrating and the answers thus far seem elusive, the cross-interactions now taking place between parents, teachers, tax-payers, board members and administrators are long over-due. Middletown does have work to do to improve its school system, but the burden isn’t solely on our teachers. Each of us has a part to play, and until we all play together, we won’t accomplish anything productive.

Ladies' Night (Saturday May 30) - Guys, Too

The Buttonwood Tree, in conjunction with the Riverwood Poetry Series, presents 4 poets who will pay tribute to the lives of "Women Beat Poets." Scheduled to read are Buttonwood founder Suse Allison, Terri Klein, Christine Beck and Julia Morris Paul. Ms. Beck (pictured here) is not only an attorney and instructor studies at the University of Hartford but also the President of the Connecticut Poetry Society and the Contest Chairperson of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Julia Paul is also an attorney specializing in elder law. Terri Klein is a playwright, actress, teacher and has a wicked sense of humor. If you don't know Ms. Allison, click here.

The evening features original poetry, perhaps a playlet or song and the presentations will be energetic. For more information, go to

The Middlesex Hospital Vocal Chords, Gina Fredericks, music director, presents its 20th Annual Spring Concert at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Portland High School, 95 High Street. The ensemble, started by nurse Joyce Ghent, still has 6 of its original members and 8 singers who have been involved for over 15 years. For more information, call 342-3120.

I received an email from guitarist Mike Baggetta who will be performing with The Drewids this Saturday at 8:30 in Boney's Music Lounge, 106 College Street. He wrote to tell me that original drummer George Schuller (who recently broke his ankle) has been replaced for this hit by Jordan Perlson (who's worked with guitarist Joel Harrison and vocalist Becca Stevens.) Also joining the quartet (led by bassist Drew Emer) will be Jamie Baum (pictured), a Fairfield native, who is an excellent flautist and composer. Should be an very interesting evening of music.

I recently wrote a review of Baggetta's fine new CD "Small Spaces" and you can read it here.

Reminder: Healthcare Forum with John Conyers Thursday

From Emily Langner

Open Health Care Reform Town Hall with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)
May 28th at Wesleyan University’s Exley Science Center (6:30 PM), Middletown, CT

The public is welcome to attend a town hall-style health care open forum on Thursday, May 28th, at 6:30 PM, at Wesleyan University’s Exley Science Center.

Speaking on the panel are Representative John Conyers, author of HR 676, the US National Health Insurance Act, as well as Katie Robbins, Assistant National Coordinator for Healthcare NOW!, and Donna Smith, lobbyist for the California Nurses’ Association (CNA), and featured in the health care blockbuster SiCKO, as well as Connecticut’s local and national legislators, and local physicians.

Over 40 years ago, at the Riverside Church in New York, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Of all the forms of injustice, inequality in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

What can you do about it? Mark your calendar now for May 28th, 6:30 PM at Wesleyan University’s Exley Science Center. For more information, contact Deb Hall at (860) 302-5352, email or Emily Langner at (518) 928-1318, email

Car Show at Xavier on Saturday

From the Craig's List posting: This car show is in memory of Eric James Kalber. On July 3, 2005 Eric was killed in a car accident at the age of 20. In 2006 his friends and family put together the 1st EJK Car Show to raise money for the scholarship fund in his memory. After much success they have continued to hold one every year since.

Board of Ed Delays Decision on Leveling, Moody Overcrowding

Nearly a hundred parents and residents listened, with the Board of Education to a proposal by Dr. John Hennelly, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction to end leveling at Keigwin and Woodrow Wilson Schools for language arts and math.

Hennelly explained that the proposal would bring all students into the same classroom for reading and language arts programs, eliminating stratification based on skill levels. He cited research from a number of sources which indicate that such a move, combined with smaller class sizes, appropriate education materials ("just right reading") geared toward a variety of levels, increased attention to behavioral issues and retraining of students would increase the language arts achievement of low performing students and high peforming students alike.

Several members of the public objected to the proposal, claiming that it would be detrimental to high achieving students, disruptive when students with behavioral issues were introduced to classes, and would rob low-achieving students to some music and foreign language classes.

"You're bringing advanced achievers down, and that's not fair," said parent Erin Guevarez.

"This strategy is only going to breed mediocrity in our students," another parent, Jackie Gardell, said.

But other residents rose to defend the proposal including Daniel Long, a sociology of education professor at Wesleyan University who said that his survey of the research indicates that in many other parts of the country, the program is very successful.

"Advanced students don't suffer at all in a mixed classroom," Long said.

Board of Ed member Corinne Gill introduced a motion which would prevent administrators from making any changes which would eliminate levelling of students. The motion passed with all but two members voting to prohibit changes, but a second motion by Gill put discussion of the proposal on the agenda as a workshop so that research could be studied, and the Curriculum Committee had a chance to consider the proposal.

In another matter, the Board heard a report from JCJ Architecture who are investigating issues of overcrowding in Moody and Mcdonough Schools. The firm recommended no action in the upcoming year, and suggested that a complete report, due in the third quarter, might indicate that attendance boundaries may need to be redrawn to solve the overcrowding.

Moody parents and teachers were dismayed to hear that no action would be taken. Parents and teachers testified to problems with severe overcrowding and the affect it is having on students, teachers and the quality of education.

Second grade Moody School teacher Heather Rodman cited a long list of specific problems caused by the overcrowding.

"Moody doesn't like being in neutral," Rodman said. "We need a plan and we need help. Tomorrow is going to be a rainy day. I invite you all to come and see the problems we face at Moody."

A more extensive and detailed report on the Board of Education meeting will be published later today.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Music: Tonight through Saturday May 30

Tuesday Jazz at Public continues its Vocal Series with a new young singer from the Hartford area, Shenel Johns. Johns, who attends the Hartt School of Music has a strong group with her including Chad Selph (keyboards), Brian Jenkins (bass), Jovan Alexandre (saxophone) and the fine young drummer, Jocelyn Pleasant (pictured.) The music starts at 6 p.m. and, with a few breaks, runs until 9:30.

Thursday evening, the Russell Library presents the Roger Ceresi's All Starz in The Hubbard Room at 7 p.m. Based in Rhode Island, the 8-piece band plays blues, swing, r'n'b, and more, powered by the dynamite drumming of Joey Sullivan and a smoking 3-man horn section. Ceresi, who's been performing for over 3 decades, has a strong voice and a good feel for the blues. The Library should be rocking when the All Starz hit their stride. The event is free and open to all. For more information, call 347-2528, extension 135.

Friday, The Buttonwood Tree presents the Reminisce Jazz Combo, an ensemble led by vocalist Carol August and often featuring one of the finer musicians from the area, saxophonist/flautist Seb Giacco. Also in the group is pianist John Brighenti, drummer Buzz Loveland and bassist Bill Stillinger. Ms. August's repertoire covers a wide swath of popular music, songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett to more "modern" songs from Carole King and Billy Joel. The music starts at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 347-4957.

Boney's Music Lounge, above the Fishbone Cafe, presents the blues on Friday night and jazz on Saturday. Playing the blues will be Sweet Daddy Cool Breeze, a quintet led by Wally "Sweet Daddy" Greaney, a fine blues harpist and vocalist. Saturday, The Drewids, a jazz trio led by bassist Drew Emer, returns to the Lounge for an evening of creative interplay. Guitarist Mike Baggetta will be on hand but not drummer George Schuller who broke his ankle several weeks ago and is out of commission for the next few months (not sure yet who is his replacement.) The music both nights starts at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 346-6000.

Middlesex Hospital Spring Concert on Saturday

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Parade Middletown

How they voted

Here is how the Middletown delegation to the state senate and legislature voted on a few recent bills.

To replace the death penalty with a penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for certain murders committed on or after the effective date of this act.
The state senate passed this bill by a vote of 19-17.
  • Paul Doyle (D, 9th district): NO
  • Thomas Gaffey (D, 13th district): NO

To establish a process for the maintenance of water quality in lakes by special districts.
The state house passed this bill by a vote of 109-31.
  • James O'Rourke (D, 32nd district): YES
  • Joseph Serra (D, 33rd district): NO
  • Gail Hamm (D, 34th district): YES
  • Matt Lesser (D, 100th district): YES


To permit the importation of reindeer between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day.
The state senate passed this bill 36-0
  • Paul Doyle (D, 9th district): YES
  • Thomas Gaffey (D, 13th district): YES

From 1909: Trolley Now Runs to Middletown

From the Hartford Courant, May 25th, 1909.

Note: This is quite a long article, it appears that 100 years ago there were also some rather windy writers (at least they had the excuse of getting paid by the column inch). I've transcribed it all because it has some gems sprinkled throughout. My favorite one is the list of Middletown's "chief objects of interest"; Wesleyan ranks third, after the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane (CVH), and the Industrial School for Girls (Long Lane).

Last Link in the Line Was Inspected Yesterday


Twenty-five Cents is Fare For the Trip

The trolley line between this city and Hartford is at last complete. The railroad commissioners inspected the last link between this city and Cromwell today. The road is to be opened to the public tomorrow morning, the first car leaving the Hartford city hall for this city at 5:07 a.m. The first car to leave Middletown for Hartford at 5:23 a.m. The trips are to continue hourly during the day, the last car leaving Hartford at night at 11:07 p.m. and the last car leaving this city at 11:23 p.m. Two crews from each city are to be used on the line. The day men from Middletown are to be A. Barrett, motorman; E.S. Holmes, conductor. The night crew will be C. Johnson, motorman; J. Murnane, conductor.

The running time between the two cities will be seventy-four minutes, the distance being a trifle over sixteen miles. The rate of fare is to be 25 cents the fare zones being from Middletown to Cromwell, from Cromwell to Rocky Hill, from Rocky Hill to Griswoldville, from Griswoldville to Wethersfield, and from Wethersfield to Hartford. The line from this city to Cromwell will cost 5 cents or to Rocky Hill 10 cents.

The road has been completed as far as the Cromwell railroad station for over three months the first car having been run to that town for passengers on February 6. The road to Rocky Hill was opened a few weeks previous to that and the Griswoldville line a month or more earlier.

From Cromwell to this city the cars run over the tracks of the Valley road, the connection between the steam and trolley tracks being made just south of the Cromwell passenger depot. Considerable signal work had to be put in place before this part of the line could be opened, and as the manufacturers of the signals did not fill the order for several months the work was delayed accordingly. The signals are operated by two dispatchers, one at the Middletown end, and the other one at the Cromwell depot. They communicate with each other by telegraph so no accidents can happen. When the road was first surveyed it was planned to have the trolley tracks parallel those of the steam road, but later it was decided to run the cars on the railroad tracks.

The cars are to start from the post office in this city and run up Main street to Rapallo avenue, where they will turn down to the railroad depot and onto the railroad tracks. At Cromwell the cars leave the railroad tracks and follow the highways as far as Rocky Hill. One or two slight detours are made, however. From Rocky Hill the road goes over through the Griswoldville section and from there to Wethersfield, and then to Hartford. The route traveled is a pretty one and will undoubtedly be largely patronized especially in the summer.

The opening of the road will be of great benefit not only to Middletown and Hartford, but to every town along the route. The road opens up a new section of the state, as no other trolley line passes near this line.

The matter of a trolley line between Hartford and Middletown has been agitated for years, and a number of charters were granted at various times by the Legislature. The Connecticut Company finally promised at the last session of the Legislature that it would build the road. Later they tried to back down and a citizen’s trolley committee was formed to compel the company to stand by its agreement. Practically all the leading men in Hartford and all the other communities interested joined in the movement. They protested so loudly that the company again changed its mind and finally commenced work on the line last fall. Representative George B. Chandler of Rocky Hill was especially active in the work of the citizens’ trolley committee.

The opening of the line will be a great boon to Middletown people, as it will enable them to get in and out of town easier. Many will doubtless avail themselves of the opportunity to attend the Hartford theaters. None of the local commuters will use the trolley, as the train service is much quicker. It seems to be the general opinion about town that the train arriving here at 11:40 a.m. from Hartford and returning at 12:35 p.m. will be taken off after a time, as the trolley line will probably take care of all the traffic.

Many Hartford people will doubtless avail themselves of the opportunity of visiting Middletown. The city is a beautiful one and the public institutions located here make it an object of interest.
The Connecticut Hospital for the Insane, the Industrial School for Girls, Wesleyan University, and Berkeley Divinity School are among the chief objects of interest.

A number of Middletown people are intending to make their home in Cromwell, which is only a 5-cent ride from this city. They will be able to commute cheaply and conveniently by means of the trolley. Cromwell itself should attract many visitors, one of the largest greenhouses in the world being there. The plant is an enormous one and is owned by A.N. Pierson. He started in on a small scale many years ago but has built up an enormous business. His houses are a beautiful place to visit at any time.

The first car run over the line arrived in this city at 12:58 p.m. today and had on board William O. Seymour and Andrew F. Gates of the board of railroad commissioners; General Manager A.J. Punderford of the Connecticut Company; Calvert Townley, one of the vice-presidents of the road; C.R. Harte and R.W. Wade, the engineers who had charge of the construction of the road; and Superintendent Hewett of the local trolley lines. The car left Hartford at 11:33 a.m., but was delayed in Cromwell some time, waiting for a north-bound passenger train to pass. There was no demonstration when the car arrived in this city, only about twenty-five people having gathered to see it come in. On their arrival in this city, the party adjourned to the Chafee House for lunch. After lunch a trip of inspection was made over the local lines. The commissioners both expressed themselves as well pleased with the entire line. The trip was made without incident. The crew was composed of local men, John O’Neill, the chief motorman, running the car, and Everett S. Holmes being the conductor.

The same cars are to be used on the line to Cromwell. They seat about forty people.