My crystal ball doesn't seem to be working right. The majority of the calls I have received recently have been in regards to the future of City Hall with people asking me "What is Luke going to do?". The answer is, I don't know.
I have high hopes for the future of Hartford, starting right away on January 1st.. My immediate response would be that the bar hasn't been set too high by the Segarra Administration. With that being said, there is so much work to be done, it is going to take a concerted team effort by the best that Mayor Bronin can find to begin immediate progress.
Department head choices will be very important to bring both continuity and accountability to City Government. I think the biggest flaw by Segarra, besides his lack of leadership, was his inability to make proper choices and select competent department heads for all city agencies.
Too many departments were in constant flux or void of any direction by poor choices. Several key departments had "acting" department heads for most of Segarra's term. DPW and Finance are two of those Departments. Most people, including City employees want leadership and direction, and with that comes accountability. "Acting" positions don't bring that to the operation.
The finance department, with some solid leadership would have avoided many of the pitfalls that proved embarrassing to Segarra. P-Cards and insurance payments are two instances that come to mind. If the City credit cards were being properly monitored and audited, rather than receipts being kept in a shoebox on a shelf, someone might have noticed caviar and rack of lamb charges before it became a huge mess.
If proper procedures were being followed, no checks would have been cut for the O'Garro insurance payments. If the warrant for payment had not been attached to the request for payment, no check could have been cut. The policy was in place, just no accountability to following it. We need a finance director who is more concerned about Hartford's actual finances rather than how many Girl Scout cookies are sold out of the office.
Department of Public Works- Where to begin here? Proper management and accountability is key here. I think it may have gotten a little better under its "acting" Director, but it needs steady, strong management. This is one of the high profile departments that tell our neighbors whether Hartford is being run properly or not. Are the streets being plowed? Are potholes being repaired? Are our parks in decent condition?
It is a tough Department to manage. It is difficult to motivate employees if they feel they aren't being respected. Workers comp claims and injuries are high, much of that because of the nature of the work. In a cash strapped City, we need a Director who has an eye toward automation on some of the labor intensive processes such as trash pickup . The "one arm bandit " type trash pickups would eliminate the human factor in much of the trash operation as well as the back injury type claims. It wouldn't require any lay-offs, but may free up workers for other duties and attrition would solve some of the issues.
An "adopt -a spot-program", similar to those used in many other City's and towns would also help keep our parks and public spaces presentable. I have tried several times to present such a program, even provided Council members with an outline and all of the release forms used in Waterbury, but it has never gotten off the ground here.
The next DPW Director also needs to make Hartford's Flood Control a serious priority. It has been ignored for far too long, to the point some question its stability as to where there are questions if it will actually hold up, or can we make downtown a marina after the next disastrous flood.
MHIS- Aside from the updated name change, no real changes needed here. With the exception of the 311 system. Either get it fixed or scrap it and allocate the savings somewhere else where it is needed. I haven't been hearing the complaints regarding 311 that I used to get regularly, so maybe the move out of the Dispatch Center control to MHIS is working.
Hartford Fire Department- Where do I begin on this one? HFD needs something it hasn't seen in years... solid leadership, strong management and much better decision making. Assuming that there is a change in management (I don't see how there can not be ) the next Chief needs to be a top notch manager.
I don't think we need a Fire Chief that knows how to hook up to a fire hydrant. We need a fire Chief that understands labor law and proper decision making to start avoiding many of the law suits and labor claims that have been the hallmark of HFD for several years now. We need the type of decision making and leadership that you often see in the Corporate world where poor decisions are hardly ever rewarded , but do result in unemployment slips.
Poor decision making on many labor issues have been overturned by the Labor Board and Courts to the tune of hundreds of thousand dollars in back benefits and legal costs, and that number promises to escalate as more of these poor decisions move through the legal pipeline.
HFD alo needs to establish a " community policing " type plan for the Fire department. Firefighters need to get out of the firehouses more and start interacting with the Community. Whether that is sometype of fire safety inspections or even attending more community meetings and events. We have seen the number of fatal and serious fires increasing.
If there isn't enough budget money to make the state mandated annual inspections, "walk thoughs" of a building by firefighters can locate and identify serious deficiencies fur further inspection by the Fire Marshall's Office.I routinely am in buildings with serious issues, locked or blocked emergency exits are just a couple things that even I can identify, a firefighter walking though surely could.
Remember after the Station Nightclub fire in Providence several years ago, the City routinely showed up at bars and places of assembly checking for occupancy and safety issues,. When was the last time you saw or heard of that happening in Hartford ?
I think the next leader for HFD needs to understand that the Firefighters Union has a role in protecting its employees, but Union leadership is not charged with management or day to day operations.
HPD- It has been a bad year for high profile crime in Hartford, homicides and shootings to be specific. This is one of those cases where doing more with less just doesn't work. City hall, specifically the Council needs to step up and do their part. As of today HPD is apparently at 389 officers, far short of the 482 officers most say they should be at. (A few years ago, Hartford took Federal money "COPS Grants" and agreed to maintain staffing level of 465 officers. we are no where near that now)
Trips to the White House do nothing, unless you are returning with checks to hire cops. Chief Rovella and his forward , creative thinking deserves to continue. He needs the support of the Council, not just support or lip service at budget time or election time. Rovella has had a strong impact on the safety of Hartford by creative programs like the Shooting Task Force , and his support of Project Longevity and Prosper. The latter two being programs that will continue to show the benefits years from now as the culture of lawlessness is changed in Hartford.
And for those that think they are ready for "prime time" and Rovella's job, think twice. Your time may come, but right now we need a Chief with Jim Rovella's management qualities.
In the current climate of Law Enforcement in this country we should be thankful we have a Chief Rovella type at the helm. Community policing and relationships are clearly a priority in Hartford, and you can see that first hand by watching our CSO's interact with community members at various meetings across the City.
The mounted unit is also an example. Despite numerous attempts to eliminate them at budget times, the horses ( and the officers that ride them) are one of the best public relations tools that money can't buy. It is probably an important time to start a real effort for corporate sponsorships for the mounted unit to avoid any attempts to cut spending and eliminate the unit.
Corporation Counsel- An effort needs to be made to find a City Attorney that can better evaluate and staff the Corp Counsel Office. I think even as far as labor law, much better decisions can be made . Possibly lawyers with more precise expertise in certain areas, such as ;labor law, need to be recruited. Corporation Counsel Office can no longer be the clearing house for political patronage and payback for well connected law firms. Things as basic as real estate closings and FOI complaints should be handled in house by staff. Either that or eliminate staff, it doesn't make sense to have both.
I am going to stop here, because these are the Departments that I feel comfortable writing about, but all departments are important when it comes to the proper functioning of City Hall. It needs to be an entire team effort and accountability needs to be the key phrase. Accountability to the overall operation and accountability to the people the departments serve.