Reflecting on his first year in office, Mayor Daryl Finizio said New London’s politics have been tumultuous at times but that he feels the city is improving.
Finizio’s first year in office concluded on Wednesday. He was , after winning that year’s general election to become the first strong mayor elected in New London in 90 years.
Finizio said the city is likely to face continued financial difficulties in the short term following a prolonged budget process for the 2013 fiscal year. However, he said the administration and elected officials have been working not only to address problems that arise but to take steps to help improve the city.
“It’s tough one year in to assess all this, because this is all the foundation work for the progress that needs to be done after it,” he said.
“Decades overdue” reforms
Finizio said he considered that the reorganization of several municipal departments have resulted in more efficient operations and more openness to the community. Finizio’s appointments included restructuring the City Clerk’s Office, replacing the director of the Department of Public Works and hiring a director of the Office of Development and Planning, and replacing the deputy chief and two captains in the New London Police Department.
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Finizio said he considered the reforms to these departments to be “decades overdue.” He said the changes in the City Clerk’s Office have improved accessibility, with some new employees fluent in Spanish and better able to serve New London’s Hispanic residents. He said Kristin Havrilla Clarke, the ODP director, has brought in close to $1.5 million in grants and reimbursements in her first year while Public Works Director Tim Hanser ensured that the department came in under budget in the 2012 fiscal year and oversaw a department that received “rave reviews” for its response to Hurricane Sandy. He said the New London Police Department is placing a greater focus on community policing and that steps have been made to improve relations between administrators and the New London Police Union.
Finizio said there is significant work ahead on issues facing the city, but that strong efforts have been made on problems he identified at a “State of New London” address in January.
“In the past year we’ve begun the difficult process of addressing them, and I think we’ve made progress on all fronts,” he said.
Finizio said other accomplishments in the past year include a reconstitution of the New London Development Corporation, an executive order barring the future use of eminent domain such as that which occurred at Fort Trumbull, OpSail 2012’s visit to New London, discussions with the Coast Guard to have the Coast Guard Academy expand within the city and put a planned national Coast Guard museum in New London, and efforts to bring green technology to the city. He said the mayor’s office has also worked to be transparent, reinstating the check register to the city’s website and holding public forums on issues such as the budget.
Finizio said he thought the budget process for the 2013 fiscal year has given the city a better sense of its finances and what must be done to run a responsible budget. He said he was surprised by the scope of the city’s financial difficulties, identified in January as comprising a potential $12 million deficit over a three-year period, but also frustrated by allegations that the situation was not as serious as suggested.
“That kind of a response was a shock because I think the numbers don’t lie,” he said. “The numbers have been clear since we announced the budget crisis in January.”
Although the City Council and Finizio have had frequent disagreements, Finizio said he believes that relationship is improving. He said he thought part of the initial struggle involved a split in the Democratic Party with some councilors on the Democratic ticket for City Council more supportive of Finizio and others more supportive of Michael Buscetto III, a former councilor who won the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement for mayor. Buscetto later lost the Democratic primary to Finizio and ran as a write-in candidate in the general election.
“It’s been a long political struggle but I think that finally it’s ending,” said Finizio. “You’re never going to have complete consensus. There’s always going to be factions within parties. But I think this civil war within the Democratic Party and the community is finally coming to an end.”
Recalling a statement he made at the last debate of the mayoral campaign, Finizio said his stance has been to keep an open mind and possible adjust his position on matters if new evidence warrants it. He said that although he has made changes to decisions over the past year, he has been satisfied with actions he took based on the information he had at the time.
“There’s nothing I’ve done at this point that I’d say I would change, because those things that I’ve done that I’ve found were misguided I’ve tried to correct,” he said.
Finizio cited the termination of firefighter recruit Al Mayo as an incident he “deeply regrets,” saying the decision was made with information available at the time but that a later investigation showed a number of missteps in the communication between the state fire academy and city. Following the investigation, Mayo was reinstated with back pay.
“I’ve received his probationary reports. He’s doing a great job,” said Finizio. “But certainly when I look back over the past year I wish that’s something that could have been avoided.”
Finizio also defended a number of executive orders signed on his first day in office, including ones instructing police officers not to charge people in certain cases of marijuana possession or inquire about a resident’s immigration status if it does not pertain to an investigation. The former order was later modified due to a court order, but retains a portion saying that officers will not be punished if they do not pursue certain marijuana possession incidents.
Finizio said he feels that convictions on minor marijuana possession charges have a detrimental effect on people’s lives and show a bias against the young, poor, and minorities. He also said he supports nationwide legalization and regulation of marijuana.
“I was very happy that the state decriminalized it, and from a local perspective I think it [pursuit of minor possession cases] is a waste of resources,” Finizio said.
Finizio said the goal of having the orders on the first day was to immediately provide a statement of law enforcement priorities. He said they were meant to signal that the police department would treat all residents equally, welcome assistance from residents, and focus on more serious crimes.