Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Siren Song ?

Hearing a siren when I am driving always sends me into high alert and looking to see if there is any fire or police vehicle approaching that I need to get out of the way for. When I am sitting at home with the windows open and I hear a siren, I might sometimes think, "hmm, I wonder what happened?" but then go back to whatever I was doing. I may tune out the sound and think not much of it. I might not even register a siren sound at all if I am absorbed in something at home.

Tonight, starting around 7pm or so, I heard what really seemed like siren after siren after siren. I imagine that many of my neighbors and people in various neighborhoods all around town must have heard the sirens. (did you? or am I losing my mind?) I felt that it was alarming enough to me that at 9pm, after what seemed to me like 2 hours of intermittent yet nonstop sirens, I called the Desk Sergeant / non-emergency number at the police station to ask if there was anything in particular going on. The response there was that it's nothing more than a very busy night. I subscribe to the Middletown alerts on Nixle, so I would like to think that if there was something major happening I may have been informed that way. I figured a quick phone call couldn't hurt though.

The last few days have been the first extremely hot days in a while, and its only a gut instinct but I feel like I hear more sirens generally when the weather gets into the unbearable range of hotness. Now, at 9:30 pm its still very hot (75 degrees if you believe Weather Underground which updates every minute, or 87 degrees if you believe the National Weather Service USWX, last updated just before 9pm). In any case the sirens seemed to have died down and I am very glad to hear (or not hear) that.

Water Department Signs Remain

Every public hearing before Inland Wetlands and before Planning and Zoning requires the applicant, usually a developer, to post public signs notifying neighbors of the hearing. Developers usually take the signs down the day after the hearing. Thus, it is somewhat surprising to see that signs announcing an August 4th public hearing are still posted on Country Club Road.

These signs are for a Water and Sewer Department project to install water mains on Country Club Road. The Inland Wetlands Agency public hearing was originally scheduled for the June meeting, but neither the engineer nor the Water and Sewer Department posted the signs, so the public hearing was postponed until the July meeting. When that meeting was canceled due to the failure of City Hall air conditioning, the hearing was rescheduled for August.

Now, over two months after first appearing for the July 7th meeting, the signs remain, looking a bit worse for the wear. The one pictured above had an unfortunate encounter with an errant car a few weeks ago.

It is troubling that the management of the Water and Sewer Department would neglect to send a worker out to take down the signs. This suggests a lack of organization or follow-through in the department.

However, Water and Sewer is not the only Department which could have taken these signs down in the past month. How many times has a city vehicle from Public Works or Parks and Recreation or the Police Department driven by the bedraggled, road-side nuisances? How many times has a City employee (including the directors of Public Works, Planning, etc) driven by the decaying signs? Why have none of them thought to stop and remove them? Why have none of them apparently even thought to make a phone call and remind Water and Sewer to remove them?

Lesser Condemns Szewczyk For Going Negative

From the Re-elect Matt Lesser Campaign

FACT CHECK: Szewczyk Makes it Up

In response to Republican candidate John Szewczyk going negative Tuesday, attacking State Representative Matt Lesser, Rep. Lesser issued the following statement:

"It's disappointing that John Szewczyk has chosen the low road. He is showing his inexperience and making it up as he goes along. Amazingly not one claim in his press release is accurate.

Claim: UConn has "amongst the highest tuition rates in the country"
Reality: UConn in-state tuition is lower than virtually every comparable school in the region. UConn is significantly cheaper than UMass, Rutgers, the University of Vermont, the University of New Hampshire and only two-thirds the cost of Penn State. In-state rates at UConn are virtually identical to in-state rates at the Universities of Maine, Delaware and Rhode Island.

Claim: UConn pay scales are set by the General Assembly.
Reality:  UConn pay scales are not set by the General Assembly. If Szewczyk thinks UConn is mismanaged, he should start by calling up Middlesex Chamber of Commerce President Larry McHugh who chairs the UConn Board of Trustees. McHugh has been moving UConn in the right direction, particularly since the recent departure of President Hogan.

"I frankly think Larry McHugh has been doing an excellent job of making UConn more accountable," Lesser added.

Claim: High in-state rates force Connecticut students to go out of state.
Reality: Out of state tuition rates at virtually every flagship university in the country are higher than in-state tuition rates at UConn. "This one is a real puzzle" Lesser said, "where is he getting this?"

Claim: Lesser has done nothing to make higher education more affordable.
Reality: Lesser has been a champion of higher education, and sponsored and passed legislation creating a loan repayment program for graduates who stay in Connecticut. He protected funding for education after legislative Republicans proposed closing a state university, and as a member of the Education Committee helped lead the charge against a proposal by Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele that would have dismantled the state's vocational-technical and community college system.

Matt Lesser added, "I'm trying to run a positive campaign focused on the issues. It's disappointing my opponent is so interested in playing the partisan blame game he hasn't even bothered to do his homework. Voters are simply tired of this kind of nonsense."

Szewczyk Calls For Examination of Higher Ed Salaries

From the Szewczyk for Representative Campaign

John Szewczyk, candidate for State Representative in the 100th district, today called on members of the General Assembly to address the award of pay increases to state university administrators at a time when education costs and tuition continue to rise:

“Compared to other state universities, Connecticut has amongst the highest cost for higher education in the country and continues to raise tuition forcing many students to matriculate out of state," said Szewczyk. "At the same time, however, we have allowed our University Presidents to continue receiving 5% pay increases to their $300,000 salaries. Our state legislature must take a proactive stance to keeping higher education affordable in the state of Connecticut."

"Unfortunately too many State Representatives, including Matt Lesser, have remained silent on this issue.  That is entirely the wrong attitude - UCONN, CCSU, SCSU, ECSU, WCSU, and the community colleges are all state run institutions and it is the responsibility of our lawmakers to make these colleges top notch and affordable”. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Auditions for Oddfellows Teen Repertory Company

On September 7, 8 and 9 Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater will hold auditions for its fall productions of RUR by Karel Capek, adapted by Dr. Claudia Novak and The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht from 7-9 p.m. The Teen Repertory Company is for students ages 14-20.

In preparation for the auditions, students can take part in Pre-audition Workshops Tuesday August 31, Wednesday September 1 and Thursday September 2 from 7-9pm. There is no charge for Pre-Audition workshops or to audition. Each Pre-audition Workshop is led by a different teaching artist. It is recommended that students attend at least one Pre-audition workshop.

The Teen Repertory Company is a unique opportunity for adventurous, committed teenagers to experience cutting-edge theater in a supportive, challenging, and noncompetitive environment. The Company takes on mature, thought-provoking material—classic and modern—with bold energy and high artistic standards. A diverse collection of young people from throughout central Connecticut, supported by professional directors and designers, combine to create a season that you won't find in many high schools. The Teen Repertory Company performs two mainstage shows this fall and two in the spring.

Pre-Audition Workshops and Auditions will be held at Oddfellows Playhouse at 128 Washington St. in Middletown. Tuition for the program is $250. Financial aid and workstudy options are available. Interested students or parents with additional questions should call Producing Artistic Director Jeffery Allen at 860-347-6143.

Buttonwood Buzz

submitted by Anne-Marie Cannata:

The Buttonwood Tree Performing Arts & Cultural Center was filled this weekend
with an array of events and more musicians than it has seen in one weekend since our tribute to founder Susan Allison in May of 2009. Thanks to all the musicians and poets who came to share their talents with all of us! Friday, Sympetalous and friends filled the air with poetry and other-worldly music when they presented "Dada Vita".
Saturday, Laura Siersema and her band came down from Massachusetts and brought us soothing, surreal sounds from her latest CD, "Talon of the Blackwater". Sunday, Michael Arafeh of The Coffeehouse Recording Studio sponsored an event that created emotional stirrings for many. Over 60 people came to pay tribute and show their appreciation to Nate Simmons, a real Middletown Bluesman who was a fixture in the Middletown music scene in the 80s and 90s. Nate inspired many musicians on our scene today, but a stroke forced him to retire. He, among some of the other musicians, were recording artists on Arafeh's record label, Coffeehouse Records. Yesterday, we were honored and grateful to hear songs composed just for Nate by some of these musicans. The performances were spectacular and speeches heartwarming. In this photo, playing from their hearts, were Vin Delaria and Michael Cleary, Joe Flood, Bill Shaka & Tommy Moses.

Interestingly, several of those present have shows booked at Buttonwood,
check them out at www.buttonwood.org
Shaka and the Soul Shakers - Sept 10
Cathy Kreger and Marci Geller of Lucky 13 - Oct 1 (with Sarah Blacker opening)
Joe Flood - Oct 8
Ben Ross (coming this winter)
J-Cherry & Tim Sparks, often with Tommy Moses can be heard weekly at our "Anything Goes" Open Mic on Mondays.
Notice, also in the photo, the artwork of the children in our 2010 Kids Arts summer camp, sponsored by Middletown's Commission on the Arts.

Middletown's Best of State

Five Middletown institutions made the annual Best of Connecticut list in Connecticut magazine. Not bad, considering that the magazine had 185 categories, and there are 169 towns and cities in the state!

As if you needed to ask:
  • Best Diner: O'Rourke's, Middletown
  • Best Italian Ice: Vecchitto Italian Ice, Middletown
  • Best Nachos: Coyote Blue, Middletown
  • Best Restaurant/Bar Beer Selection: Eli Cannon's, Middletown
  • Best Vegan Menu: It's Only Natural, Middletown

Middletown Ranks!
I suppose there must be lots of different ways to rank the towns and cities in Connecticut, each reflecting some part of the culture, history, and attractiveness of living. Connecticut Magazine does its own ranking, separately from the "Best Of" awards, but those rankings are subdivided by population so it is impossible to compare a large city like Bridgeport or New Haven to a medium city like ours. In the interests of directly comparing Middletown to the State's larger cities (and adding to the inanity of rankings), I offer the following.

When adjusted for population, Middletown boasts the 4th highest number of recognitions among the state's 20 largest cities (Middletown is the 20th largest in the State). New Haven ranked highest, with approximately 1 "Best Of" for every 6,000 residents; at 1 "Best Of" per 10,000 Middletown is only slightly less well represented than West Hartford.

Serra And Kasper Strongly Deny Charges of Inappropriate Communication With Chief Candidate

"It's fiction.  He would be a great fiction writer," Common Council member and Democratic majority leader Tom Serra said of Mayor Sebastian Giuliano's charges that Serra had inappropriate contact with a candidate for Police Chief.

Giuliano said that Serra had lunched with Michael Custer, a candidate for the job of Police Chief, prior to Giuliano's decision was made to appoint Acting Chief Patrick McMahon to that role.

"By the way, it's nominate, not appoint," Serra said.  "The mayor nominates, and we, the Common Council, confirm."

"I never had lunch with Custer," Serra said.  "It's a total fabrication that is trying to divert attention from the process of the appointment and the appointment itself."

Giuliano also accused Democratic council member Hope Kasper of meeting with Custer to help him plan to be able to keep his Middletown pension, and receive his full compensation as chief, if he were to be appointed.

"First of all, I never met with Mike Custer," Kasper said.  "He called me and asked it would be possible for him to continue receiving pension payments along with his Chief's salary.  I just gave him other examples of municipal employees who collected a pension, and a salary at the same time."

Kasper and Serra questioned the alleged inappropriate communication as a way to disqualify Custer as a candidate for the opening.

"All the candidates have spoken with Council members," Serra said.  "And Custer spoke with members of the minority caucus."

Serra mentioned that Custer had spoken to Republican council members Phil Pessina, David Bauer and Joe Bibisi.

Giuliano had called upon Serra and Kasper to recuse themselves in the vote for the chief's appointment.  Kasper said that Giuliano should also call upon Bauer, Pessina and Bibisi to recuse themselves in the vote.

Councilwoman Kasper is demanding a retraction and an apology from Mayor Giuliano.  Kasper released a prepared statement and said that she was planning to call Giuliano first thing Monday morning.

'I'm willing to work with the mayor, but only if he apologizes," Kasper said.

Serra also expressed a willingness to consider all candidates, with conditions.

"It's difficult," Serra said.  "We should be able to review the professional panel's ratings of the candidates so we can all judge.  And we haven't seen that.  And we should be able to review the ratings of the citizen panels.  But nothing has been shared with us, and we are half of the appointment process."

This is the statement released by Council member Hope Kasper:

Mayor Sebastian N. Giuliano’s accusations about myself and Councilman Thomas Serra in articles published Friday and Saturday are wholly untrue and I believe were made knowingly as such. The mayor’s demand that Councilman Serra and I recluse ourselves from voting to confirm his nominee for chief of police, Patrick McMahon, is unreasonable. The mayor is making this claim to attempt to disqualify our votes and artificially create an environment he perceives as more favorable to his chosen candidate.

The mayor accused me of meeting with a candidate for police chief, Michael Custer, to discuss Custer’s pension options. As the review process for chief began, Custer and all other candidates signed a notarized form acknowledging the members on the Common Council with whom they had had contact. Custer, in a notarized form, acknowledged having spoken to me by telephone and three Republicans – Councilmen Pessina, Bibisi, and Bauer. Given that such a form was notarized and turned over as part of the process, Giuliano should also be calling for Pessina, Bibisi, and Bauer to abstain from voting.

Mayor Giuliano I believe knowingly made false statements to the media on Friday when he said I had met in person with Custer. Custer and I had only spoken by telephone—as Custer did with Republicans on the council—and it was acknowledged in a notarized form prior to the review process.

I have been told that Mayor Giuliano and the personnel director demanded that a City of Middletown employee sign a statement affirming he knew of a conversation between Custer and me. The employee was told that if he did not sign the statement as demanded by the mayor and personnel director, he would be fired.

Mayor Giuliano has displayed a wanton disregard for fairness and equitability throughout this selection process. He stated recently that Acting Chief Patrick McMahon was always his sole choice for nomination as permanent chief. But he had previously told the public that he needed a review by a panel of police chiefs, and a panel of Middletown citizens. Then, he discounted the panel of Middletown citizens and argued that their results had been compromised. Then, he appointed a new panel. Then, he included the first panel’s results in justifying his final selection. Giuliano has said one thing and done another throughout this entire process. He has told lies about myself and Councilman Serra and has made false accusations in an attempt to impugn our credibility.

Giuliano knew he would appoint McMahon all along but he spent thousands of taxpayer dollars and requested dozens of hours from volunteer citizens to create an appearance otherwise. Giuliano has made slanderous statements and contradicted his own claims of what he did, why he did it, and when he did it.

Mayor Giuliano must apologize for the false statements he knowingly made about me and Councilman Serra. And more importantly, he must apologize to the people of Middletown for telling them he was doing one thing, while knowingly doing another.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Middletown Fire Department Fire Ops 101

Middletown Firefighters Local 1073 and the Middletown Fire Department will be hosting Fire Ops 101 in mid September. Fire Ops 101 is an educational tool developed to allow the training and actual hands on for scenarios firefighters face each day. We will be educating our political leaders and taxpayers of Middletown on what services are provided by the department daily. Most taxpayers do not know what kind of services we provide to our city. We will share first hand knowledge and demonstrations to any of our consumers who want to witness how these services operate. This is a series of articles which will detail the services and skills our department provides. The first team we will discuss is Technical Rescue.

Technical rescue refers to those aspects of life saving or property conservation that employ the use of specialized tools , skills, and training that exceed those normally reserved for firefighting, emergency medical calls and rescue. These disciplines include rope rescue, swift water rescue, confined space rescue, ski rescue, cave rescue, trench/ excavation rescue, and building collapse rescue among others. In Middletown, technical rescues will often have multiple jurisdictions such as police, water and sewer departments, and private entities operating together to effect the rescue, and will use the Incident Command System (ICS) to manage the incident and resources on scene. The rescue personnel must be trained to the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) level, and maintain the skills necessary to perform the rescue. The fire department will be the lead agency in all of these scenarios.

Middletown Fire Department began Technical Rescue almost 18 years ago. Confined Space Rescue was our first discipline and we created a team to meet the City's need. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) along with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) set standards which all rescue agencies and employers with confined spaces must adhere to. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.146 sets the bar for any employer who has a confined space, and the requirements for any rescue team. Both private and public sector employers in the City have hundreds if not thousands of confined spaces. Entries into these spaces are made daily in Middletown by a wide number of employers in many work places.

The department has 38 confined space technicians, and all of our firefighters are certified to the operational level in this discipline. All of our firefighters are also Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT's). Each shift has technical rescue team members embedded on them, so no matter what time of day, on duty personnel on all 4 shifts can handle any technical rescue which we are called upon to execute. There is no need for waiting for off duty personnel or mutual aid, and each shift will begin the operations immediately. We are the City's dedicated confined space agency, and provide all rescues and stand by's associated with it. Confined Space involves the rescue of down or trapped people in enclosed work spaces. This is a very physically challenging discipline and requires at the minimum 14 firefighters. The following personnel are required to perform these rescues: Incident Commander, Safety Officer, Operations/Entry officer, two rescuers, two back up rescuers, air cart attendant, communications officer, five firefighters for rope management including safety lines for all entrants.

High and Low angle rope rescue was added as an additional tool to assist our department with our skills. When most people think of rope rescue, they envision firefighters rappelling off of high buildings and mountains. This discipline is much more involved than that, and includes low angle rescue skills as well. The team has been involved in many rescues, including calls at Black Pond, Mount Higby, Middlesex Hospital parking garage, the zip line confidence course, and the ravine at South Main and Warwick streets. This requires as a minimum 8 firefighters ranging from Incident Commanders, Safety Officers, rescuers, and personnel to provide the lifting or lowering by use of ropes.

Vehicle extrication calls along with heavy machinery is another discipline we are well versed with. This type of emergency is the most common technical rescue skill used by firefighters each and every day. The department is called on to perform vehicle extrication's monthly. It is a skill which requires technical knowledge of both vehicles and heavy machinery. As a minimum this skill requires at least 3 firefighters, depending on the size and nature of the incident.

Swift water rescue in Middletown is something the department needs during the spring freshets. Many small rivers and streams become swollen during periods of heavy rain and following winter snow melts. There have been incidents in which the department has been called upon to perform this rescue. It is not a common occurrence, but can be very devastating to the community as a whole when it occurs.

Trench rescue is the newest discipline the department has adopted. Beginning at the end of September, the training will be delivered to all of our personnel. This is a very technical discipline and requires specialized equipment. The training is very intense and technical as it involves the rescue of workers who may be trapped in trench's below the surface. The ability to build support systems around the victim, while maintaining life saving EMS work test each entrant and victim. The skills needed must be developed and trained upon. By the end of October our department will have this service available to our community.

The entire team can be activated by the Battalion Chief's whenever the need arises. It is a discipline which we have fine tuned to an excellent service thanks to the citizen's of Middletown and our City's administration. Middletown Rescue 1 along with our personnel are fully capable of any technical rescue we are called upon to execute.

If you have any questions regarding this team, please feel free to contact the department. We can be reached at (860) 343-8004 any time of day. You can contact Chief Gary Ouellette, or one of the two team leaders, Assistant Chief Jay Woron, or Battalion Chief John Ricci. They will be glad to answers any questions, and provide you with details or tours of the stations and equipment.

Macdonough Back to School Bash Draws Crowd

It was part welcome back to school, and part carnival, as students, teachers, parents and staff gathered Saturday to celebrate the start of another school year.  Okay, "celebrate" may be a bit of an exaggeration when describing students' reaction to the end of summer vacation, but spirits were high as students completed a number of games of skill to receive a Macdonough tee shirt.

While hoop toss, golf and bowling were popular, the longest line was consistently observed at the dunk booth where Principal Jon Romeo, and several of his staff, took turns as students aimed for the target to dampen their favorite teachers. 

The first day of school for students is Wednesday.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Waning Hours of Devoto Day

Today was Stephen Devoto Day in Connecticut, according to a proclamation issued by Governor Jodi Rell.

The proclamation was presented to Devoto by Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz at a pig roast celebrating Devoto's 50th birthday (which technically fell in June).

Bysiewicz was joined by friends and family in congratulating Devoto at his home in Middletown.

Close friends contend that it should have been Fishmuscle Day.  Nonetheless, there are a few more hours to celebrate.

Full disclosure.  Stephen Devoto is a Middletown Eye correspondent.

Unity Day Saturday September 11

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mayor Blasts Council Members For "Inappropriate" Meetings With Police Chief Candidate

Angry at criticism by Democratic Common Council members that the mayor has not followed what they see as the correct procedure for naming the new Police Chief and Deputy Chief, Mayor Sebastian Giuliano has lashed back.  Giuliano named Patrick McMahon as choice for Police Chief and Gregory Sneed as his choice for Deputy Chief.

"If anything stinks about this process, the stink is coming from the majority caucus," the mayor said at a hastily called press conference Friday afternoon.  "And it's not a stink.  It's a stench.  Two council members have compromised the process by meeting with a candidate."

Giuliano accused Council members Hope Kasper and majority leader Thomas Serra of meeting with candidate Michael Custer before the mayor announced his decision.

Giuliano said that Kasper met with Custer prior to the interviewing of candidates by the first of two citizen panels the mayor appointed.  Giuliano said that Kasper had discussions with Custer which indicated she would  work to allow Custer to keep collecting his city of Middletown pension, on top of his chief's salary, if he was selected.

Giuliano said that Custer admitted to the mayor that he had spoken with Kasper.

In the case of Serra, Giuliano said that the Democratic majority leader met with Custer at a lunch a Eli Cannon's within the past three weeks.

The mayor said that because of these meetings, he disqualified Custer from consideration as a candidate for the chief's position.

"And when it comes to a vote on the candidates (McMahon and Sneed), I expect them (Kasper and Serra), to abstain," Giuliano said.

Friday, the mayor released votes from two citizen panels chosen to interview and rank candidates for Police Chief.  In the first panel, later dismissed by Giuliano because information was leaked, the ranking was: Patrick McMahon 88, Michael Custer 82, Gregory Sneed 81, Peter Agnesi 77.  In the second panel the ranking was: Michael Custer 88, Patrick McMahon 85, Gregory Sneed 84, Peter Agnesi 82.

The mayor said that based on the information he had on Custer's meetings with Council members, and the fact that McMahon was ranked highly by both panels, and based on his own assessment of McMahon and Sneed over the past 13 months, he made his decision.

Giuliano said that he made Sneed his choice for Deputy Chief because of his performance in that position as acting Deputy Chief over the past 13 months, because of his qualifications and because he is the only possible candidate from within the ranks of the Middletown Police department.

"There's not another Captain with enough rank," Giuliano said

Mayoral assistant William Pillarella, who sat with the mayor at the press conference, said that the mayor had been forewarned by Serra not to deliver McMahon and Sneed as candidates to the Common Council.

"If he came to us with these candidates we'd vote no," Pillarella said the mayor was told by Serra at a meeting during which Serra pounded the table, and exited abruptly.

"They don't want these candidates," Giuliano said.  "They want their guy."

Giuliano confirmed that "their guy" refers to Custer.

"There are about seven and a half billion people on the planet," Giuliano said.  "So I've got a lot of people to go through before I get to 'their guy.'  If they reject these candidates it will surely be because of politics."

Democratic Councilman Vinnie Loffredo stated firmly that he has not prejudged any candidates.

"My understanding is that the mayor would make his appointment, and that we would interview candidates at the Personnel Review Committee,"  Loffredo said.  "The mayor would make his appointments and we'd go from there."

Loffredo also indicated that the Democratic caucus had not met to discuss the appointments of McMahon and Sneed.

Giuliano said he expected the Common Council to reject his choices.  He said he will not call a meeting with Council members, or lobby on the candidates' behalf, but he allowed that McMahon could lobby the council members himself.

"Frankly I would have a hard time putting another candidate in front of this council, if they can't get a fair shake," Giuliano said.  "McMahon and Sneed can stay in their acting positions indefinitely."

Fortune Magazine Working On Major Kleen Energy Piece

Fortune Magazine will publish a major article on the Kleen Energy plant, it's financing, the plant explosion and its aftermath.  Over the past few months, a reporter from Fortune has been interviewing people in town.  The article will be published in the September 27 issue of the national magazine.

The Cheese Truck will be at the Market Today!!

The North End Farmers Market runs today, Friday from 10-2 in front of It's Only Natural Market, 575 Main St.

Today at the market, we'll have a great line-up of produce and dessert vendors, and our special guest lunch will be the Caseus Cheese Truck! Check out the website of this New Haven favorite. It looks REALLY good.

Taylor Ho Hits the Road

Taylor Ho Bynum, composer/cornetist/bandleader, is my guest today (8/27) on WMRD- AM 1150's "Best of the Valley-Shore" at 12:30 p.m. Taylor, who earned both his undergraduate and Master's Degree at Wesleyan, is one of the busier musicians I know and is about to embark on a unique tour of New England.  In this picture (snapped by his wife, dancer and teacher Rachel Bernsen), you can identify his mode of transportation (bicycle) and catch a glimpse of his brand new pocket cornet.  After Taylor and his new sextet open the Fall 2010 season at Firehouse 12 in New Haven on September 10, he brings his Trio (including fellow Wes alum Mary Halvorson on guitar) up to Middletown on September 11 to open the Fall 2010 season at Wesleyan's CFA.

The following day, he hits the road for Hartford and a 2 p.m. gig at Real Art Ways with trumpeter Stephen Haynes and it's off for a 6-state/14 day tour.  He'll play in Springfield, Mass, then Brattleboro, VT, off to Portsmith, NH, Portland, ME, Newburyport, MA, Boston, MA, Rhode Island (no gig scheduled there yet), Amherst, MA, and finishing in his hometown of New Haven.

We talk about this, and more, on the show.  He promises his website (www.taylorhobynum.com) will have all the tour information up soon but, if you want tickets to the New Haven show (which also features former Wesleyan Professor Bill Lowe) go to www.firehouse12.com.  For more information about the exciting new season at the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan, do go to www.wesleyan.edu/cfa

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bank of America Addresses "Minor" Embarrassment

From Main St., the Bank of America branch, across from the Police Station, is impeccable in appearance, with only some modern signage, and an ATM, appended to what was the old Middletown National Bank building.  The fact that it's surrounded by asphalt-covered parking lots is the topic for another post.

But the back of the building is another story.  For the past year it's been marred by graffiti tags, and in the past two months those tags have exploded so that the building is covered.  In an alley, which used to be a street, between the buildings and the Middle Oak parking garage, it's only seen by people like me who occasionally use the footpath as a shortcut between Court to College Street.

The good news is that Bank of America management have addressed the problem.  Bank manager Barbara Segaline said that a security camera has been ordered, and once it's installed, hopefully within a month's time, the building will be repainted, and the area surrounding the former drive-up window will be landscaped to discourage taggers from leaving their mark.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spear Park Makeover

 Work began this morning at the corner of Williams and Main St. to improve Spear Park. The land owned by the Housing Authority, but operated as a City park, has long been a concern, and is seldom visited by causal strollers on Main St. Those who work and live in the neighborhood, stay clear of this park, as it had become a day (and night) long hang out for the drinking and drug crowd of Middletown. The brick wall at the back of the park is being removed and replaced with grass that will slope down to the sitting area. Six tress have been slated and posted for removal. Note the trees in top photo, and the white signs hanging from them. For a number of years this area also served a community garden. This year there was no one to oversee the garden and assign space, so it became a free for all. Those who have gardened and tended
vegetables there in the past have found that they have little reward for there efforts as almost everything would be picked clean before they could share in any of the harvest. The City and the Housing Authority are optimistic that the changes will make this small downtown park a more welcoming place for all who visit downtown. At this time there are no plans in place to build on this location. For the foreseeable future it will remain a city park.

Lost Sewer Department Data Causes Reconsideration Of IT Roles

Mayor Sebastian Giuliano confirmed Tuesday that a computer server failure in the Water and Sewer department caused the loss of customer billing data, some of which was not stored on a backup server.

The Eye has fielded complaints from residents who were not able to have billing disputes resolved because of the lost data.

"It's my understanding that we haven't had an irretrievable loss of data," the mayor said.  "Most of the recent data has been recovered through searches in files on other servers.  But we do have some data older that five years that has been completely lost."

The mayor explained that the older data can be recovered because paper files are still available for most of those records.

Giuliano admitted that he was angry about the loss of data, but had not considered relieving IT Director Bill Oliver from his post.

"I'm not interested in getting rid of anyone," Giuliano said.  "It's more a matter of deciding whether we are an operation which is simply an electronic repair service, or if we are going to bring city hall to a new place when it comes to IT operations.  Bill has a very small staff, and because he spends most of his time chasing down problems with current hardware and software, it's impossible for him to have the time to consider the bigger picture."

"We're still operating the way we did 200 years ago," Giuliano complained.  "We carry stacks of documents from office to office.  Some of our funtions are automated, but they're of the simple 'fill-in-the-blank and send' variety. We need to transform the way we do business as a municipality, and IT is a big part of that.  We operate in a technological society, but we are using archaic processes."

Giuliano indicated that he would like to consider a restructuring of the department so that all maintenance and upgrade issues are covered, but so that more visionary approaches could be considered for municipal technology issues.

"If it means we have to hire an uber-IT director, then so be it," Giuliano said.  "I'm hopeful that our Council members will consider what we need to work as an efficient municipality in the future."

Mayor Expects Tough Confirmation Process For Police Candidates

Tuesday morning, Mayor Sebastian Giuliano announced that Acting Police Chief Patrick McMahon was his choice to be the new Police Chief in Middletown.  He also announced that he had chosen Acting Deputy Chief Greg Sneed for the new Deputy Chief position.

"I'm expecting the confirmation process to be difficult," the mayor said.  "Because everything has been difficult with the Common Council."

Giuliano is referring to an ongoing power struggle between the mayor and the Common Council over who has authority over certain budget, financial and personnel issues.

Giuliano amplified the opinions he provided in a press release in which he praised McMahon's qualifications, experience and the work he's done in the thirteen months that he's been acting chief.

"I know the issue of residency, or domicile has been raised by the Council," the mayor said.  "But we have a person who's bought a house in town, who votes here, who pays taxes here.   He's gotten involved in community activities far more than others who live in town.  And because his wife still owns property in Norwich, we're somehow going to make an issue about the hours when he's asleep?"

Giuliano also said that other on-call town directors have summer homes and spend every evening during the summer away from Middletown, but not so far away that it's a problem.

"We had a former police chief (Brymer), for whom the Council passed a special resolution saying that he did not have to honor the residency requirement for chief so he could live up in East Hartford," Giuliano explained.

The candidates for Chief and Deputy Chief will be interviewed by the Personnel Review Committee on September 31, and it will be up to the Common Council to decide whether to consider the appointments at the regular October meeting, or to call a special meeting to consider the confirmations.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Change for Parking

Meeting Notice:

Presentation of Parking Improvements and Rate Changes
Wednesday, August 25th
• 8 am at 330 Main (2nd floor, over Javapalooza)
• 5 pm at 330 Main (2nd food, over Javapalooza)

Parking Director Tom Hartley will outline proposed improvements and changes in the parking rules and rates for downtown at two public meetings on Wednesday, August 25th. All members of the public are welcome to come to the presentation and share their questions and concerns. The final decisions on these proposals will be made by the Common Council at their upcoming meetings.

As readers of the Eye know, Tom Hartley was appointed as the City's new Parking Director last March. The creation of a new parking department with professional leadership was one of the key recommendations of the Parking Study, primarily because of concerns that the resources were not being managed to Middletown's advantage. In his short tenure, Hartley has focused on improving collection and billing systems (with a solid rise in revenues as a result) and in testing new parking technology for Main Street meters. Over the summer, Hartley worked with the Parking Committee (of which I am a member) to develop a plan to upgrade the quality of parking in town and balance the supply and demand, including a pricing system that will pay for improvements and help us develop new parking as needed.

At the outset, I'd like to say that the current parking system is not helping business growth in Middletown -- for decades, the City has deferred maintenance on signage, paving, meters and other collection systems, and just about every aspect of parking. The downtown business community and city government both recognize that a poor parking system is depressing property values downtown, and affecting the kinds of business owners that will locate here. And hopefully every Middletown taxpayer knows that increasing downtown property values is the key to stabilizing taxes for homeowners; the more downtown is worth, the greater share it can pay of the costs of running this city.

I'd encourage anyone with a strong interest in this subject to attend one of the meetings, but I'll attempt a summary of the presentation for those who can't make it.


The improvements that are proposed would bring Middletown's parking up to the basic standard that most cities offer.

•Upgrade the meters for each parking space on Main and the side streets. This includes a meter that would take both coins and credit cards, and a sensor which would tell the attendant that a meter has expired or turned over.
•Upgrade each parking lot so that it has adequate lighting and signage, including safety features like call boxes and cameras. In a few cases, re-paving is needed.
•Install gates or multi-space collection kiosks in parking lots, depending on how that lot is used.

Rate Changes

Before we address the issue of raising the funds to pay for those improvements, Middletown has to solve the problem of our out-of-whack pricing for parking. Everyone, of course, wants to find a space on Main Street. But those spaces don't turn over frequently and are often filled with employees -- that's because our pricing encourages people to park on Main. In fact, it currently it costs less to take up a Main Street space all day (moving your car every two hours, as many do) than it does to park in one of the off-street lots. Our highest demand spaces have our lowest prices -- oops!

•Flip the prices of on-street and off-street parking. In other words, raise the Main Street price by 50 cents/hour, and lower the Melilli price by 50 cents/hour. In terms of cost or revenue, this is pretty much a wash, with a net gain of 34 spaces that will have a higher rate than they do now.

In addition to the need for better balance in the pricing system, the rates would also face an increase to pay for the proposed improvements. The following increase would allow us to fully pay for all the proposed improvements over a five year period.

•increase rates in off-street lots by 25 cents/hour. For example, Main Street would cost $1/hour and off-street lots would cost 75 cents/hour.
•reduce free parking in off-street lots from 2 hours to 1 hour.
•permits for monthly parkers would be available in the Riverview Arcade for $75/month for long-term parkers - or roughly half the cost of parking in a metered space all day.
•those who wish to purchase a "vanity space" with their name on a sign that reserves the space for workday hours would pay the full value of that space, at $150/month.

Also, to help downtown employees cope with higher parking costs:
•through their employer, allow downtown employees who make less than $15/hour to purchase $3/shift parking passes.
•through their employer, set up a program that helps employees pay for parking with pre-tax income, as allowed.

The good news is that on average, the proposed increase is only 25 cents/hour; the bad news is that our current system is so convoluted that some spaces will have to go up more in price while some go down. That may create some "parker rage" in the short term, as people get used to the new system.

Future Parking

Hartley's presentation will also address the issue of where Middletown needs to add parking in coming years. One option under consideration would be to repair the existing Riverview Arcade and keep it in use until more parking can be developed by constructing a multi-story, mixed-use parking garage on the Washington Street side of Melilli Plaza. The cost of the Arcade repairs would be paid through the increased income in that lot.


Increasing the cost of parking to customers and people who work downtown is not a step to take lightly - and that's why these public meetings are an important opportunity for us all to discuss the impact of both improvements and cost increases. Please join the debate.

Middlesex Community College Announces Reid Smalley as New Dean

Middletown, CT – Middlesex Community College (MxCC) welcomes Reid Smalley as the new Dean of Workforce Development, Continuing Education and Community Services (WDCECS). On August 13, Mr. Smalley relieves Larry Smotroff who has been the interim dean on a part-time basis since September 2009. Smotroff assumed the position assisting MxCC after retiring from Dean of Workforce Development, Continuing Education and Community Services from Naugatuck Valley Community College where he retired from on July 2009.

A demonstrated leader in the academic community, Smalley served as the Coordinator of Continuing Education at Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania for eight years and was the Director of Continuing Education and Workforce Development at Fulton Montgomery Community College (FMCC) Johnstown, New York, for the last twelve years. He also brings an extensive training background in leadership and team building.

Mr. Smalley’s experience in developing and managing non-credit, continuing education divisions will be a tremendous asset to Middlesex Community College. “I am delighted to welcome Mr. Smalley and am sure that he will enjoy using his talents and energies to help the College’s students and programs,” says Interim President Dr. Jonathan M. Daube.

Among his various duties, Smalley will be responsible for overseeing continued development of workforce development opportunities, including new training in electronics and green technologies, online training, and the new, non-credit Veterinary Assistant Program that will be offered this fall. He will lead the expansion of the allied health programs and supervise the development of The Meriden Foundation Allied Health Lab at the Meriden Center. He plans to expand and develop partnerships and collaborations with area institutions and organizations to serve their clients or members. In addition, the successful Kids on Campus program and other personal enrichment programs are expected to grow.

Smalley says, “Middlesex Community College has an incredible staff, faculty, and resources to serve the eighteen towns in the College’s primary service area and the citizens of Connecticut. I am excited to have the opportunity to join the College and keep building on the great work already done. We look forward to advancing these efforts as we address our communities’ education and training needs for our future. It’s all about people and building a better world.”

Smalley received a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Training & Development from Pennsylvania State University. He currently resides in Middletown.


Media Contacts:

Daisy Trahan, Communications Assistant, dtrahan@mxcc.commnet.edu, 860-343-6921, Marlene Olson, Marketing & Public Relations director, molson@mxcc.commnet.edu, 860-343-5869

McMahon Says He's Honored To Be Selected

"I'm honored that Mayor Giuliano has appointed me chief," Chief-designee Patrick McMahon said today in a phone interview shortly after his appointment was made public.  "But it's just the first step in the process."

McMahon indicated that all director-level appointments in the city are reviewed by the Personnel Review Committee (who have already scheduled a meeting to do so on September 21), and once vetted by the PRC, the appointees must be approved by a vote of the Common Council.

"I've enjoyed the support of the Council as a department," McMahon said.  "While other cities have been forced to lay off officers, the Council has added new officers to our department.  I look forward to their support as a designee, and their thorough and objective review of my credentials."

McMahon indicated that he has a resume that he feels qualifies him for the position, and that his record as acting chief speaks for itself.

"I've had thirteen months in this position," McMahon said.  "And the department, and the city has seen some triumphs and tragedy."

Mayor Giuliano in his announcement cited numerous improvements in the department under McMahon's watch, and notes the work done during the Kleen Energy explosion.

"But it's not just the big things," McMahon said.  "It's re-establishing connections to the community and doing things like cleaning up Donovan Park behind McDonough School where we had gotten complaints about criminal activity and drug dealing.  We patrolled the park, made sure new basketball hoops were installed.  I've attended activities there, and so far, we have gotten no new complaints."

The mayor's press release also acknowledges a controversy surrounding McMahon's city of residence.  McMahon owns a house in the city's North end, but still spends time with his family in Norwich, his former city of residence, where his son is attending high school.

"He has been upfront with me," the mayor said.  "And I respect and support his decisions."

Giuliano Picks McMahon as New Police Chief, Sneed as Deputy

From the office of Mayor Sebastian Giuliano

Courant Reports Public Owner Suing City

In a story by Erik Hesselberg, Middletown writer and former editor at the Middletown Press, the Hartford Courant reports this morning that Tyler DeVecchis, former owner of Public Bar and Grill is suing the city of Middletown for violation of his civil rights.

"Creating the Nonstop Garden" Author to Speak Tomorrow in Rockfall

Local Author Jennifer Benner will speak at a Connecticut Forest and Park Association function on Wednesday evening. The title of Benner's talk is Creating the Nonstop Garden.
  • Wednesday, August 25
  • 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
  • CFPA Headquarters in Rockfall
Put down your weeder and recharge your gardening batteries! Jennifer Benner (CFPA staff member, horticulturist, author, and a former editor of Fine Gardening magazine) will give a lecture exploring strategies for creating a four-season garden--the subject of her new book, The Nonstop Garden from Timber Press, co-authored with Stephanie Cohen.

After the lecture, attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and have books signed. This is the first of a three-part lecture series.

This event is FREE for CFPA members, $5 for non-members. Members are also invited to attend a special members-only reception to meet Jennifer in the Camp-Ellsworth Library (at the CFPA Headquarters, 16 Meriden Road; Rockfall, CT) from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Please RSVP for the Member Reception, (860) 346-2372 or info@ctwoodlands.org.

Tag Sale to Benefit Kids With Alopecia

Tag sale on August 28 from 9-2 at 181 Elizabeth Lane, Middletown. All the proceeds will benefit the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF.org). This sale is being organized by a 12-year-old Middletown resident in honor of her friend, also of Middletown. Alopecia causes a child’s hair to completely fall out. TOYS TOYS TOYS and other children’s items. Barbie, puzzles, games and more! HELP A CHILD RAISE MONEY FOR A WORTHY CAUSE!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Attorney General Sues Former Wesleyan Investment Director

From the Office of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is suing Wesleyan University’s former investment director and three private companies for allegedly misusing university endowment assets for personal trips and other inappropriate expenses.

            Blumenthal’s lawsuit alleges that Thomas Kannam, when he served as Wesleyan’s chief investment officer, failed to disclose his ties to multiple investment groups, including Belstar Group, LLC, Vietnam Capital Partners, LLC and Advanced Device Technology, Inc.

            Kannam allegedly used Wesleyan employees and resources to provide research and other professional services to these private firms, which are also named as defendants. Kannam also allegedly billed Wesleyan for business trips that strictly benefited these companies and involved little to no university-related business.

Blumenthal alleges Kannam also billed Wesleyan for a number of personal trips -- including a “golf outing of the century” in California, a Super Bowl trip, and a trip to the United Kingdom with his entire family to interview for a job at Cambridge University.

Blumenthal said this alleged misuse of the university’s endowment assets, which are strictly for the benefit of Wesleyan’s charitable and educational purposes, violated the state Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act.

            “Wesleyan staff and assets were allegedly treated as personal fiefdom -- abused and misused for private gain,” Blumenthal said. “Our lawsuit seeks to recover every dollar diverted from Wesleyan University’s charitable assets by its former investment chief. This misuse of Wesleyan’s endowment resources deprived all Wesleyan students and staff of potential resources.

“Wesleyan’s endowment strictly promotes education and charity -- not private profit and personal trips. So-called golf outings of the century and new job-seeking trips abroad illegally drained school resources. My office will fight to recover charitable resources and restore public trust.”

Blumenthal’s lawsuit will support Wesleyan’s independent ongoing litigation against Kannam, and also enable the state to pursue additional remedies, including penalties under the Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act.

Kannam served as Wesleyan’s Director of Investments from December 1998 through 2005, when he was promoted to serve as Chief Investment Officer. He was one of the university’s most highly compensated employees.

As a condition of employment, Kannam was prohibited from serving in any other positions or on boards, compensatory or otherwise, without permission from the university president.

In 2006, Kannam became involved with, and eventually became an owner of and the Director of Investment for, Belstar. He did not seek consent or disclose his affiliation with Belstar to the university.

Kannam allegedly used university resources, including university investment staff, to perform work for Belstar’s benefit. The university received no benefit from those activities. Kannam also sought university reimbursement for trips that he took on behalf of Belstar -- including weekly trips to New York City and a trip to Texas.

Beginning in 2008, Kannam also began serving -- unbeknownst to Wesleyan officials -- on the board of Vietnam Capital Partners (VCP). VCP operates the Vietnam Equity Growth Fund, which is a $250 million hedge fund investing in the public and private equity markets of Vietnam.

Kannam allegedly used his position at Wesleyan to assist VCP in securing investors within the charitable higher-education endowment community. He also used Wesleyan staff to provide research and other professional services.

On multiple occasions, Kannam also provided lobbying and other services on behalf of his father’s corporation, Advanced Device Technology (ADT). Kannam billed the university for at least two trips to Washington, D.C. that were made on behalf of ADT, involving little to no university-related business.

            Blumenthal’s office estimates that Kannam -- who was terminated in October 2009 -- misused, at a minimum, tens of thousands of dollars in university assets.