It’s been a tumultuous year for New London. From hospital layoffs and private school closings to successful fundraisers and food drives, there were plenty of important things happening around town. Looking back on 2012, these are my choices for the top 10 stories of the year.
10. Joel Matthews charged in double murder
A house fire quickly turned into a homicide scene after investigators determined that 57-year-old Noel Starback and his girlfriend, 50-year-old Sherry Roush, had not died in the blaze but rather had been beaten to death. According to the a police report, upstairs neighbor Joel Matthews confessed to the murders and setting the fire in an attempt to cover it up. The double homicide has warranted a capital murder charge, for which Matthews may face life in prison if convicted.
9. New London CAPT scores improve
The Connecticut Academic Performance Test scores compiled by the Connecticut Department of Education in 2011 revealed that the New London Public Schools were trailing far behind the state average, with some of the worst scores in the state. After a concerted effort, including a “CAPT Academy” program, the scores showed a marked improvement this year. The scores remain below the state average, however, and continuing improvement is one of the goals of the Board of Education as it drafts a strategic operating plan for the district.
8. Two sentenced in Jared Silva murder
The court finally closed the files of two defendants charged in the 2007 murder of shopkeeper Jared Silva. Following a 2011 trial resulting in a hung jury, Gary Clarke halted his second trial by pleading to the lesser charge of manslaughter with a firearm and saying that he shot Silva by accident during a botched robbery. Clarke was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The plea also resolved the case of Cosmo Frieson, who pleaded to robbery in 2009 and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against Clarke; Frieson will serve 14 years in prison.
7. OpSail 2012 comes to town
In the War of 1812, New London renewed its success as a port for privateers…at least until the British kept the Thames good and blockaded. Two hundred years later, the city was one of six ports selected for the bicentennial events in OpSail 2012. The Coast Guard and Navy were especially active, with New London’s own barque Eagle leading the Parade of Sail and participating in OpSail celebrations all along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast.
6. Tensions in the New London Police Department
Relationships between Mayor Daryl Finizio, Police Chief Margaret Ackley, and the New London Police Union were a bit strained for much of 2012. The year started with the departure of the deputy chief and two captains, with the captains suing the city after the City Council voted against funding the extra money required for their retirement agreements (the lawsuits were settled later in the year). The beginning of the year also saw the release of Ackley’s complaint against former city councilor and mayoral candidate Michael Buscetto III and an investigator’s report on the issue. Two police officers were fired. Todd Lynch, president of the police union, sued Ackley and the city after accusing her of retaliatory actions against the union; Lynch also pushed for an investigation of Ackley on similar issues, ultimately resulting in a formal reprimand for Ackley. The year also saw the promotion of two officers to captain, the hiring of a new deputy chief, and an agreement between the city administration and police union to resolve several grievances.
5. Firefighter layoffs avoided
As part of the 2013 budget talks, Finizio said 35 layoffs in the police and fire departments would be necessary if the departments were to finish the year under budget. The City Council instead voted to defund several administrative positions and move that money to the departments, a move Finizio vetoed. Although negotiations with the police and fire unions avoided the layoffs, there was a brief resurgence of the issue as the council considered whether to reject the agreement with the fire union. The agreement was accepted after it was amended to put a cap on city contributions toward a pension plan.
4. State intervenes in New London Public Schools
Following a Connecticut Department of Education governance and management audit critical of the Board of Education, Superintendent Nicholas Fischer requested a state intervention in the district. The intervention was approved by the State Board of Education with the intent of improving student achievement and oversight of the district. Dr. Steven Adamowski was appointed as a special master and has been meeting with the board to develop a three-year strategic operating plan. Adamowski has also urged the board to support his proposal to develop New London as an all magnet school district.
3. Hurricane Sandy packs a punch
New London was spared the worst of the flooding Hurricane Irene brought to New England in 2011, and also avoided the destruction that Hurricane Sandy visited on New York and New Jersey despite concerns over a potentially devastating storm surge. However, Sandy did sweep away a well-known pavilion at Osprey Beach, topple several trees and boats, and leave shore roads covered with sand and debris. Although no residents were killed, the HMS Bounty—sailing from New London to Florida—went down in the storm with a loss of two crew members.
2. All defendants plead in Matthew Chew case
After expressing uncertainty over whether to accept a plea deal from the state, Marquis Singleton entered a plea to manslaughter last week in the 2010 death of Matthew Chew. Singleton was the last of six defendants in the case to plead in the case, which stunned residents after it was charged that the teenage defendants decided to attack a random person out of boredom. Idris Elahi, whom co-defendants identified as the person who stabbed Chew, was the first to plead and received a 35-year prison sentence. The other defendants are scheduled for sentencing in February. Singleton, along with Brian Rabell and Tyree Bundy, will serve eight years following cooperation with investigators; Matias Perry and Rashad Perry (no relation) will serve 15 years.
1. The never-ending budget
How long did it take to resolve the 2013 budget? Well, we’re only a few weeks from the one-year anniversary of Finizio’s announcement that the city was facing a major projected deficit. And even now the budget is in a strange limbo state. There was Finizio’s first budget proposal, which the City Council pared down, which Finizio vetoed, which the council overturned in adopting a compromise budget, which was rejected at referendum. The revised budget was challenged, Law Director Jeffrey Londregan contended that such a challenge was not possible, and the council rejected this notion but found itself scheduling a referendum for after the completion of the fiscal year. Londregan advised the council to work with the most recently approved budget, and this is what revised January tax bills are based on.
The school budget was not quite so complex, although Adamowski said its anticipated revenue increase and finance office consolidation were not feasible and halted both. As a result, the New London Public Schools again saw the same level of funding as last year and the district lost 46.5 positions.