Members of the New London Irish Parade and Mayor Daryl Finizio have accused one another of improper motives in the parade committee’s decision to hold its 2013 event in another community.
Marie Friess-McSparran, who was elected to the City Council last year, said the committee was unable to come to terms with the administration and recently voted to hold the parade elsewhere. She said a new community has not yet been determined.
“I can't say this is final because I would have to bring it back to the committee for a vote. I don't make the final decisions, but the will of the committee is that they are pretty frustrated with the city administration,” said Friess-McSparran. “They have been unwilling to commit to a final amount so we can get our permit and move along with preparations for the parade.”
The disagreement between the administration and committee involved the costs associated with municipal services that would have to be used in the event. Finizio issued an executive order in May putting several strategies into place to have city departments stay within their appropriated budgets. One section said the city will not approve a permit for any special event involving city services unless organizers have accounted for the cost of these services and paid the amount up front.
The parade includes the use of services by the New London Police Department and Department of Public Works. The former department's services include officers and cruisers used to block intersections and direct traffic, while the latter department's work includes providing barricades and signage as well as painting symbols such as shamrocks or Irish flags along the parade route.
The 2012 parade, the fifth one held in the city, included a more extensive route which went down Jay Street, Huntington Street, Tilley Street, Bank Street, and State Street. The estimated police cost was $15,076.81. An item appropriating $15,000 to cover the extra police costs incurred in the event was unanimously defeated by the City Council on March 20, according to the council’s minutes. Finizio cited the police overtime costs for the parade as one factor motivating the executive order.
According to documents and e-mails provided by parade organizers and the administration, the initial police estimate to cover the same route in 2013 was $14,715.65. The initial estimate of the Department of Public Works was $3,489.79, including $1,867.79 for labor and $1,622 for equipment and materials.
The committee offered to pay $7,500 for municipal costs. Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard estimated that the cost of a shorter route encompassing only Bank Street and State Street, which the parade has done in the past, would be $6,437.26 This would include the use of three supervisors, 12 officers, and five cruisers. Reichard said expanding the route would require additional officers and cruisers at the cost of $343 per officer and $25 per hour per cruiser.
Public Works Director Tim Hanser said his estimate was based on 2012 costs. The projected services included the reviewing stand, trash cans, barricades, and a total of eight employees working between two and eight hours.
Hanser later reduced the estimate to $577.44 for labor and $1,022 for equipment and materials, a total cost of $1,599.47. He said this was done by eliminating both the use of a manager and asphalt painting along the route. Hanser also suggested a shorter route and taking out the reviewing stand for further savings.
Richard Mastrandrea, the parade committee’s vice president, expressed frustration with the process in a Sept. 25 e-mail to Zak Leavy, Finizio’s executive assistant. Mastrandrea said he thought Hanser had estimated at an earlier meeting that Public Works costs would be between $600 and $800, and said he thought suggestions he had mailed to the mayor’s office had been overlooked or ignored.
“We have spent the last month trying to get firm figures to secure a permit for our parade. At each step I am told it is difficult to predict what the final cost will be with the event [six] months away and that worries me,” Mastrandrea said. “I get the impression that a final amount can't/won't be finalized until some time after the new year and that will keep our securing of the permit in limbo.”
Mastrandrea said in a Sept. 24 e-mail to Leavy that the committee would not be able to vote on the permit without more concrete figures on the costs for municipal services.
“How can our committee conduct a conversation then vote on continuing to have a parade here in New London when we are provided with only vague numbers and incomplete information?” he said. “If this is the best information the city of New London can provide, I will present the committee with your findings and we will vote based on your e-mails.”
Friess-McSparran said she thought the event should be billed as a city event rather than a private one, noting that the City Council voted 3-2 on Feb. 21 to endorse it as a city-sanctioned event. She also questioned some of the costs cited by Public Works, saying the city already owns items such as the barricades, garbage cans, and reviewing stand.
“It seems like the administration was trying to find ways to bankrupt the parade instead of finding ways to make it possible for this small nonprofit to be able to produce this event which tries to shine a positive light on New London for one day a year,” said Friess-McSparran. “We were unable to get a final fixed price for the services so we could obtain our permit, be able to fundraise, book participants and solicit sponsorships.”
Finizio said he and other members of the city administration have worked with the parade committee to determine costs and try to bring them to the level of the $7,500 offer. He said he was disappointed to see the issue brought up in a David Collins column in The Day and considered it an attempt to cast aspersion on the administration.
“It’s just so obviously a political attack instead of a real consent for seeing this event go forward, which I thought was what we all wanted,” said Finizio.
Finizio’s mayoral campaign was a sponsor of the 2011 parade. He marched in this year’s parade as a co-grand marshal along with Superintendent Sandra Stosz of the Coast Guard Academy. At the time, he said the parade’s offer made him the first openly gay grand marshal in a sanctioned St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Finizio said he is willing to continue work with the parade committee to address the issues, offering to help support the event with personal funds. He said the city could also absorb some expenses if the costs run beyond $7,500.
“I recognize the tremendous importance of this event and the benefit it brings to the downtown business community,” he said.