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Friday, October 24, 2008

How Low Can We Go?

Last night I attended the City Council Budget hearing and once again watched in disbelief as Lee Erdmann bobbed and weaved as he has throughout the hearings. Every effort has been made to avoid information becoming public to answer the question as to how we now find our City in a huge budget deficit at the hands of a corrupt and incompetent administration. Despite Sarah Barr's mantra that the Perez Administration is open and transparent, accurate numbers, if in fact there are any real numbers, are not forthcoming, even to City Council members.

But as I sat there and listened to Erdmann and Jim Keaney, both from the Mayor's Office, I began to think about the pending layoffs coming today, Friday. I wondered how the Mayor could face a laid off employee in the grocery store and explain why a lay-off was necessary, when at the same time the Mayor's staffer, Mr Keaney would be driving home from his $85,000 plus a year job in his $30,000 city provided SUV. How do you explain that Mr. Keaney apparently "negotiated" his SUV as a perk for his hiring contract, when at the same time some of the lowest paid employees are being laid off due to mismanagement by Perez? How do you explain to a laid off employee that their job is being cut, while at the same time positions are being created for Perez's political allies. As an example, former State Representative, Perez political "consultant" and recipient of a lucrative $65,000 consulting contract, Evelyn Mantilla recently landed a $71,000 a year job in the Hartford Health Department. Mantilla also abandoned Hartford a couple years ago and moved to the suburbs. How do you explain these actions to a laid off employee and make any sense out of it?

How do you explain laying off an employee while at the same time the Mayor and a staff member decided that the city should pay almost $3,000 for their airfare to Ireland at the onset of a budget crisis. How can you explain that someones livelihood is being eliminated while at the same time Councilmembers continue to fly around the country on junkets. One councilmember even went so far as to justify these trips claiming that is how she learned that councilpeople in other parts of the country are paid upwards of $80,000, and that is why the Hartford City Council deserves a raise.

As I spoke with a few city hall staffers at the rear entrance of City Hall, laid off employees passed us on their exit from the building carrying boxes and bags of personal belongings that they were forced to clean out of their desks, some under Police supervision. Again, I thought to myself , how could you possibly face these people and justify the layoffs.

When I thought that Eddie had reached an all time low for his actions as Mayor, I received a phone call and was asked if I had read the Hartford Courant yet. I replied no, and the caller told me to read it, quickly. When I picked it up and read about the childish antics and mudslinging on the part of the Mayor and Council President and Perez puppet Cal Torres I was furious and my belief that Hartford suffers from a total lack of leadership was reinforced. Even more so, I was aggravated that the comments regarding Councilman Kennedy's "child out of wedlock" were newsworthy. I have a lot of respect for Jeff Cohen, the reporter writing the article, and was surprised that he would even write an article with those comments in it. By luck, minutes later I crossed paths with Jeff Cohen, and made my opinion known to him. After the conversation was over, I left with a totally different opinion of the article. A cloud that had been hanging over Ken Kennedy was now lifted, and issues that had been rumoured in the community for a couple years were now out in the open. I had expressed my disaapointment to Kennedy almost 2 years ago when he was at a meeting at St. Augustine's Church, and at that time in a private conversation he explained the matter in an honest and candid way and did not try to spin the situation or lie to me about it. He did not owe me any explanation, yet he did explain the situation, and his honesty was refreshing. Ken Kennedy is someone I do not always agree with, but none the less, he is an honest man, and showed that by admitting his errors and apologizing for his actions (not that he owed an apology or explanation to anyone other than his wife and family). But as for Cal Torres and Eddie Perez, they might want to read a chapter in the Ken Kennedy handbook on being a man with integrity and accepting responsibility for your actions. The day is coming when Perez, Torres and many others, men and women, will be answering questions about their actions in regards to corruption in Hartford city government. We will see if they face it like men of integrity and accept responsibility for their actions like Mr. Kennedy did, or will we see more disgusting excuses such as when Perez's house was searched by the State's Attorneys office and he blamed it on being distracted by his wife's aneurysm and poor health.

What this city needs is leadership, not the petty politics and sniping that we have come to accept. Unfortunately we are not going to get that leadership from Eddie Perez or Cal Torres, but there does seem to be hope and promise in Ken Kennedy. Remember Ken, Hartford's motto is "After the clouds, the sun" , your cloud has just been lifted, go for the sun.

Hopefully, Hartford's next round of layoffs will be coming courtesy of the Connecticut Chief States Attorney's Public Integrity Unit, and as Cal Torres says, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander". Eddie, Cal and others, prepare to be goosed.