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A Conversation With the President

Q.Looking back over your first year as Council President, what would you change and why? A.I would change the Council’s relationship with the Mayor. The Mayor entered office with a plan to...

December, a month of celebrations; that is if you don’t count the possible end of the world which some doomsayers have attributed to the Mayan Calendar.  Personally, I don’t believe it.

But it did prompt me to consider, just on the off chance, one celebration which took place here in New London.

On December 3, 2012, the city council, in a break from tradition, returned Michael Passero to a second term as City Council President.

One of the difficulties associated with working with those we have elected to represent us is that frequently we forget that they are people too with their own interests, principles and beliefs and what could be an alliance of well-intentioned residents working together for the good of the community becomes a contentious crowd of haranguers.

With that thought in mind, City Council President Michael Passero and I sat down for a series of interviews.

Q. What prompted you to run for City Council?

A. It was a bit serendipitous.  In the summer of 2009, Peg Curtin asked me if I was interested in running and I told her I was not.  About a week later, she asked me again and I tried to impress upon her that I really had no ambition to run for office.  About a week later she called a third time, she told me that the last interviews for candidates was that evening and insisted that there was no harm in just meeting with the selection committee.  Peg is a very persistent person, so I relented and went to the interview.  I had a conflict and could not attend the Democratic Party Caucus the night they nominated candidates.  I really didn’t even know that I was under consideration, except that I had gone for the interview.  At any rate, I learned about my nomination later that night. 

Q. What has disappointed you about holding public office?

A. I haven’t had any great disappointments.  I didn’t go into it with any illusions.  It’s actually not as bad as I thought it be.  I’ve actually enjoyed it, for the most part. 

Q. What is your greatest concern about the future of New London?

A.  In the near term, money, revenue.  The problems with the property tax system of financing government are exasperated in New London.  We are really shoveling you-know-what against the tide.  In the long term, I think we will be prosperous if we can bring development to the City, which I am confident we can.  So, I think we just have to get through the next few years.

Q. What do you think is New London's greatest promise for the future?

A.  I think New London has a lot going for it and many advantages that no other nearby town has.  But if I had to pick one asset as holding the “greatest,” promise for the future, I would say the harbor.  It’s what made the City great and it can make the City great again.  It is a spectacular natural asset.  Of course, the City’s many great assets are working together to give the City a very promising future, including its rich history, the art’s community, the transportation hub and the educational institutions.

Q. There is a feeling among many people that this administration has used the concept of "fear" to promote its goals whatever they may be. Do you have any opinions on this?

A. Yes. I am detecting a pattern of eliminating organizations, or the leadership of organizations, if they were not perceived to be political allies during the mayoral campaign or enthusiastic supporters of the new administration.  This is probably not unique with this administration, and I suppose it’s just human nature, but it’s not good for a healthy democracy.

Q. Although many scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the popular end of the world theory on 12/12/12 supposedly based on the Mayan calendar, let’s assume it may be true.  What would be your plans for December 12? 

A. To be on my sailboat, Born To Run. Wherever I end up after the end of the world, I want to be sure to be with my boat. 

Q. With the number of families and children who live in East New London, why can't we get a playscape in Riverside Park?

A. A playscape can and should be put in Riverside Park. When the City put in the other playscapes recently, Riverside was supposed to get one but it was taken off the list because the powers-to-be planned to sell the park to the federal government.  Since that didn’t happen, thank God, I think we should put the most super-duper deluxe playscape there; the best in the City.  You’ll have to bring your kids to Riverside Park if you want them to enjoy the most spectacular playscape in the City.

Q. Given the recent confusion/conflict regarding the city charter, why did you vote against another charter revision?

A. I don’t necessarily accept the premise of your question as correct.  I know others have felt “conflict and confusion” over the Charter.  I haven’t.  The U. S. Constitution is approaching 250 years old and people continually disagree over its meaning and the courts are continually interpreting it.  You can re-write the Charter every year and there will still be ambiguities, unintended consequences, and questions that will arise.  I do not favor a Charter revision so soon after the last.  I would prefer to wait and develop more experience under the current Charter.  Today’s hullabaloo is often tomorrow’s ho-hum.  I also would like the State Legislature to permit a municipality to create Charter Revision Commissions with restricted powers to only consider certain issues.  If that could happen, I would be more willing.  As the law stands now, the only option is to open up the entire Charter for revision and I believe it’s too soon after the last revision. 

Q. What is your favorite snack food?

A.  Cookies and milk 

Q. Looking back over your first year as Council President, what would you change and why?

A. I would change the Council’s relationship with the Mayor.  The Mayor entered office with a plan to establish the authority of his office.  To do that he felt the need to challenge the authority of the Council.  The conflict was inevitable.  I disagree with his strategy and believe it was counterproductive for the City.  The only way we move forward is by cooperating, sharing information and building consensus.   

Q. What do you consider your greatest success as Council President?

A. Establishing the authority of the City Council under the new Charter.   Our new government will only work if there is a strong Council that can act as a check on the power of an elected Mayor.  I believe the Council has established itself as an effective institution.

Q. You and Councilor Nolan have both come under fire from people charging that your positions as city employees make you ineligible as council members and/or that you cannot be objective regarding certain city matters such as the budget, etc.  How would you answer them?

A. People mistakenly believe that we are voting on our own salaries when we approve the budget.  We are not.  Neither Councilor Nolan nor I have any influence over our pay or conditions of employment when we vote on the budget.  The terms and conditions of our employment are determined in collective bargaining. It's a separate process from the budget process and, in fact, the budget is legally required to fund the cost of all expenses associated with a legally adopted collective bargaining agreement. In other words, those costs are fixed and not part of the budget debate.  Neither of us played any role in Council approval of the bargaining agreements that we work under.  We stand no greater chance of encountering a personal conflict of interest that other people who run for office in their home town.  Your typical person with business interests in the city (many of whom have served on Council over the years) have a greater chance of encountering a conflict of interest.  It’s not the risk of a conflict that should disqualify a person; it’s how that person handles a conflict when one arises.  No one, to my knowledge, has identified a situation where either Nolan or myself faced a specific personal conflict of interest.  Significantly, State statute protects public employees' right to participate in the political process and serve in elected office.

Q. The current administration has promised transparency in municipal matters.  Do you think they have done as much in that area as they could/promised?

A. I am disappointed in the lack of transparency. 

Q. What makes you laugh?

A.  I love Saturday Night Live type comedy skits.  Remember the one with Dan Akroyd doing Julia Childs?  I still hurt myself laughing when I see that clip.  Anyway, that type of shtick always gets me. 

Q. How would you like to be remembered?

A. No need.  I’m not planning on going anywhere.  

Q. The Day paper, formerly The New London Day, changed its name due to the fact that it is a regional newspaper and wanted their name to reflect that. Yet many people, including myself, think that The Day continues to focus its attention, a good deal of it negative, on our city. What are your feelings on that? 

A.  I think The Day does a good job.  I also like that it has managed to hang on against tough odds.  Many other communities have lost their paper.  The negative news we create ourselves; I’m not going to blame the paper for reporting it.

Q. What shocks or offends you?

A.  People who actually think that they are better than other human beings. 

Q. How has your life been different than what you imagined when you were 21?

A. Not much is different.  My “life” really hasn’t changed much, only my careers and economic circumstances.  I’ve found careers that I enjoy, which was always a goal and I’m reasonably comfortable.  I never aspired to be rich (of course, if I had, then I would be rich right now).  When I was 21, like now, I also spent a lot of time dreaming about sailing and sailboats.  I can’t say I “imagined” having the wonderful sailing life that I have, but I did “hope” to.  If anything, all aspects of my life are better than I imagined it could be when I was 21. 

Q. What one thing have you not done that you really want to do?

A. Argue a case before the U. S. Supreme Court.

Q. Upon being elected City Council President, you made some committee re-assignments-Councilor Macrino to Finance, Councilor Hyslop to Administration while you took over Public Works. What do you hope to accomplish by those re-assignments?

A. The changes were made to key committee chairs and, to a lesser degree, committee membership, to improve the effectiveness of Council committees and better reflect the individual goals of Councilors.   I also see it as a way to reinvigorate our efforts.  For me, personally, the work Chairing Finance was intense and it was never my primary interest when I got elected.  I got the Finance committee last year because no one else would do it.  I’m glad Councilor Macrino stepped up.  I look forward to pursuing interests I have that fall under Public Works. Of course, I remain on Finance and the first priority of the Council is to manage the City’s budget

Q. The recent budget process was contentious, at best, with much of that made public.  How do you think that affected the citizens’ trust in their elected leaders? Many people think that the budget process was marked by duplicity and prompted by political machinations from the new administration. Please share your thoughts on this.

A. We were not required to let the process play out on live TV, but I believe that it was our responsibility to give as many people as possible the opportunity to watch the process.  Government should be as open as possible.  If it’s a messy process, then most likely it’s a healthy democratic debate. 

Q. How does the number of non-profits in New London affect local taxpayers?

A. We are blessed with a large number of non-profits.  They help the taxpayers in many ways.  First, they are a significant part of our local economy, employing people and generating revenue that is rolled back into our local economy.  The non-profits also perform many functions formerly done by government.  For example, the City hasn’t provided social services in nearly 10 years; the non-profits have stepped up to fill that void.

Q. Other than your boat, where is your favorite place in New London?

A.  I love to be along the river, really anywhere along the river.  The Pequot Avenue neighborhood near the College has a special spot in my heart because that’s where I played as a child.

Q. Your name has already been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate in the next election.

What are your thoughts on being the mayor of this city other than "It's too early?"
A. It would be a great honor to lead the City that I have committed my life to.   

 

 

 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ken December 11, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Great interview! In regards to the relationship between the mayor's office and the city council--"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." I am sure all NL residents hope that the powers-that-be achieve unity in both identifying the essentials, and their stance on them, as quickly as possible. Passero's point about the harbor is on target. The commercial and recreational aspects of the harbor deserve a lot more attention, especially as to how their further development can add to the city's revenue. Another issue that needs to be addressed is NL's aging housing stock. The average age of houses in some neighborhoods already exceeds 100 years. If NL is not careful those neighborhoods will fall into the same fate as the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. Perhaps it is too much to expect those neighborhoods to be treated the way Starr St was treated, but it would be good if some mechanism to encourage "historical" preservation were put into place. After all, preservation increases property values which in turn lowers the mill rate for everyone.
Sue P. December 11, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Very good interview Kathleen. It's nice to see someone who is truly looking out for the citizens. I do wonder one thing, I know Mr. Passero did not think there was something wrong with the charter before when the citizens wanted to change a few words in it. I wonder after the petition fiasco if he feels the same way?
Kenneth R. Lewis December 12, 2012 at 05:28 AM
I liked the interview as well. I just wish that Passero had the guts to vote for and get the charter review passed. That was a great failure by Passero as council president.
Kenneth R. Lewis December 12, 2012 at 07:40 AM
http://theday.com/article/20121211/NWS01/121219904 Let's all watch as SKIPPY goes to Hartford!
David Irons December 12, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Ken, if I recall, and I have been around here for more than a few years, wasn't the Star Street initiative the result of investment by the old Savings Bank of New London? As I remember it, the city had little or nothing to do financially with its preservation and improvements.
Kathleen Mitchell December 12, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Kenneth, Did you miss Council President Passero's answer to why he voted against another Charter Revision Commission or are you just looking for something to complain about?
Lisa Beth December 12, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Starr St. wasn't about "historical preservation". It was, basically, taken over by a bank, people were kicked out of their homes, houses were upgraded then flipped. Sort of a mini-Fort Trumbull. I don't care to see anything like that happen again. So yes, you're right, if WE are not careful all of our homes and neighborhoods could end up like Fort Trumbull. Just because something is old doesn't make it worthless or not any good any longer. Just as an aide to the article; the world isn't slated to end today 12/12/12, it's slated to end 12/21/12 so we still have 9 days left.
Kathleen Mitchell December 12, 2012 at 06:50 PM
LB, If I remember Starr St correctly, there was no comparison to the homes in Fort Trumbull. It seems to me that many of the homes on Starr St were abandoned and some used for illegal activities while many homes in Fort Trumbull were lived in and maintained by families who had lived there for generations, others had been restored or were in the process of being restored, there was little or no criminal activity and taxes were being paid on all the properties. There was no reason to take the homes at Fort Trumbull other than NLDC,(renamed Renaissance by Mayor Finizio) with the backing of the city, thought they could make more money with the property. Over ten years later, we see how that worked out.
Ken December 12, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Well, perhaps memories age a bit. My memory has it as Starr St., not Star St. Also, I seem to recall that it was a joint venture involving, at least, the New London Savings Bank (did they hold mortgages? I can't remember), and the trust managed by the New London Day. However, I believe I neither wrote, nor implied, that the City of New London had any role in bank rolling Starr St. So, you can surmise that I am not advocating the City of NL play any role in bank rolling the renovation or preservation of any neighborhood. And, I would suggest that the city not wait around for a Starr St sugar daddy, either. I thought I was clear. The aging housing stock in NL is an issue that becomes more pressing with each passing year. No doubt there are very many solutions, ranging from liberal payouts to libertarian 'hands-off' policies. But, there must be a political consensus before any solution can be put in motion. Even though NL has gone through the Model Cities redevelopment of the 1960s, Starr St of the 1970s (I think), and Ft Trumbull--all designed to renovate what was perceived as derelict neighborhoods--I have not heard much in the way of building consensus around policies that will be successful in preventing other neighborhoods from falling into that status. Everyone should be well aware that if more neighborhoods decline into a derelict state, the property values in those 'hoods will decline, and consequently, the mill rate will rise for everyone.
Clark van der Lyke December 12, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Starr St. homes were not historical restorations, they were renovations that incorporated period designs. But, the same approach, acceptable to all but the purist, could have taken place at least in parts of Ft. Trumbull. I just don't understand the vision behind what was done and what has not been done since. Enough with the college professor study groups, sustainability groups or "awareness" efforts. We need less talk and more action. Perhaps we should immediately begin to refer to the area as "Fort Christmas." Even erect a sign and plunk it on the overpass. That would insure that we would be certain to be visited by some government authority, concerned that some group would be offended and at least take some notice that the area exists. As bad as the old Starr Street ever was, it was never as bad as empty land that has accomplished little for the city but a gigantic ongoing tax loss and the totally destruction of an established neighborhood.
Kathleen Mitchell December 12, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Well, I didn't want to do it but you guys forced me into it! I just uploaded a screenshot of The Day's reporting of the September 13,1979 re-dedication of Starr St. A lot of interesting information in there.
Kathleen Mitchell December 12, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I was wondering when you were going to get here, Clark and, now that you're here, what makes you think there was any "...vision behind what was done and what has not been done since." at Fort Trumbull other than making money for some and giving out of towners something to do in their spare time. My favorite statement to come out of the mess at Fort Trumbull was from Ann Baldelli and was something close to this "The only city that tore down a thriving neighborhood to make way for a giant brownfield." Re Starr St, I just uploaded more information and two old photos from The Day.
Ken December 12, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Interesting reading! I guess I'm wrong about The Day also being involved in the Starr Street Rehabilitation Program. I wonder if in hindsight that program is judged a success. I seem to remember that it had the ambition of encouraging rehabilitation throughout the downtown area. Here's a link to another article about Starr St-- http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=NgAhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=GHUFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1871%2C5325124
Clark van der Lyke December 13, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Yes, vision was too kind a word and implied the ability to have had some. However, I think the subject was President Passero. But I guess it all relates to how we are going to move ahead or at least think about moving ahead.
J. Scagnetti December 13, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Great article! In case there's a follow up might i pose a few more questions such as: what's your favorite flavor of ice cream? Whose your favorite smurf? How far do you think you can swim? What's the cuter bear panda or koala? Is a shark faster than a jet ski? Who would win in a fight between macguyver and magnum p.i.? Thats just for starters, got plenty more if ya need em!
Kathleen Mitchell December 13, 2012 at 01:33 AM
J. Scagnetti, Actually, those questions had already come to mind but I was saving them for my interview with the mayor. But keep 'em coming. You may come up with some I haven't thought of.
Wayne Vendetto December 13, 2012 at 01:47 AM
A shark is definitely faster than a jet ski. I saw it during Shark Week.
Smell the desperation December 13, 2012 at 09:39 AM
Not opening the charter was clearly payback for the very lucrative increase in retirement that Passero will receive under the new fireman dea! About 30k a year extra for life)l. Like mike said, it's probably human nature, but it's not right or transparent and a reason why we should never vote for city employees to serve. Also, the reason he gives for voting against charter revision, which his sister was a part of and he voted for, is ridiculous. The holes are big enough to drive a truck through and very obvious. It was an incredibly sloppy job that in the end will cost millions in litigation and repairing other documents and commissions to work within the charter. In the end, no matter what a committee brings back to the council, they can change it to their liking. So what is the real concern? I suggest it is just an excuse to cover up a deal that was already made. Love Kathleen!
Kathleen Mitchell December 13, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Smell the desperation, What you seem to present as fact is really only your opinion, one that I disagree with and does little to further any cooperative effort between officials and citizens. As I said at the beginning of this article "One of the difficulties associated with working with those we have elected to represent us is that frequently we forget that they are people too with their own interests, principles and beliefs and what could be an alliance of well-intentioned residents working together for the good of the community becomes a contentious crowd of haranguers." The timing for the last Charter Revision Commission was inopportune given that changes had to be approved by the Council and at least three members of that council were already announced candidates for mayor. I, also, would like to see another Charter Revision Commission but I doubt that making wild and unsubstantiated claims will help that happen.
Lisa Beth December 13, 2012 at 03:53 PM
The old "urban blight" scenario, which most of us know actually translates into something along the lines of "you're not good enough to live here." I never saw Fort Trumbull or Starr St as being properties that 'needed' to be taken away from people for some 'greater good' that never came about. I live in a state that is somewhere near 450 years old. I am proud of my heritage and my state's history, including the buildings within it. However, if someone really finds this a problem the fix is easy; lower property taxes. That way the few people who actually live in the homes they own in this city can spend money fixing them. An even better idea might be for the city to take care of the property it owns;sidewalks, roads et al, that way those who live in the homes they own might not feel so ripped off and have incentive to fix up their homes. Who wants to spend a few thousand dollars on home improvements when you can't even walk on the sidewalk in front of your house? Just a thought.
Ken December 13, 2012 at 04:27 PM
LB, No, not really. If you take 100 random residents who had seen Starr St before it was renovated and ask them if they would describe it as 'derelict'. I would bet that 100 of them would say 'yes'. Also, I had not heard that properties were taken away from people on Starr St. I thought the bank bought up derelict properties that were scheduled for demolition. As far as I know eminent domain was not even considered. As for Ft. Trumbull, that is a different story. Whether Starr St was a success or not, I cannot say. I guess first you have to define what you mean by success. Certainly, the buildings still look nicer than they did back then. I agree with your statements about the city taking care of sidewalks and the impact that has on motivating homeowners.
Lisa Beth December 13, 2012 at 05:07 PM
I was in high school when Starr St happened, I had friends living in those houses and they were suddenly homeless. That's what I remember most about Starr St; the pain, anguish, and heartache it caused my friends. There in may lie the big difference I guess. Maybe some people see people and others just see dollar signs.
Kathleen Mitchell December 13, 2012 at 06:20 PM
LB, You said "...if someone really finds this a problem the fix is easy; lower property taxes." I think that most people would agree with you that property owners (and renters) are suffering under the burden of property taxes especially here where approximately 60% of the city's taxable real estate is non-profit for which the city receives only PILOT funds (60%) which I believe were lowered this year by the state. According to the city's Plan of Development and Conservation, this is "A factor which contributes significantly towards the inability of the City to generate sufficient revenues to support essential public services..." http://www.ci.new-london.ct.us/filestorage/27/55/314/Combined_PODC_02_09_09.pdf Other states have allowed counties/cities/towns to use special purpose, time and purpose limited taxes such as LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) and SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) but Connecticut is not one of those states. The fix to high property taxes is not as easy as you may think.
Clark van der Lyke December 13, 2012 at 07:46 PM
A bit late in this post, about the council president and stuff, but I have suggested that a Charter Committee be established to examine the many suggestions and proposals that could be then submitted to a Charter Revision Commission after everybody has had their say and fought over proposed changes. This would take the pressure off the commission a bit and give people time to get into the nasty details that seem to cause so much stress.
Kathleen Mitchell December 14, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Smell the desperation, New London is a small city and it's hard not to hear things. One of the many things I've heard is that Passero may not even have been a fan of giving up his 401 and, in fact, some of the firefighters have done very well on their investments and would just as soon not have thrown their retirement fates in with the State which is having some significant financial difficulties of its own. Even though Passero has steadfastly refused to comment either way on the issue and he’s just one member of the bargaining unit that was apparently overwhelmingly in favor of selling their 401 accounts to buy into the state plan, the rumor still makes sense to me. In the meantime, the mayor appears to continue getting a good chuckle at any controversy pertaining to the fire department because, I suspect, it turns the attention of some of the community against Passero instead of himself - at least momentarily.
Lisa Beth December 14, 2012 at 04:45 PM
All I want from this city is to actually get what I pay for rather than seeing my money go down the proverbial toilet on every hare brained scheme that comes down the pipe. A big part of the fix in this instance is to stop selling/giving away land to those who will never pay taxes on it. More taxpayers. More homeowner residents. Less non-profits. That's a start anyway.

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