Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Letter From C. Jon Pitser May 6, 2005

Published in the Spectrum, May 6, 2005:

Art Cummings recently identified some thought-provoking suggestions designed to improve the state of civility in our community.Below is my Top Ten List of suggestions to further improve in this area:

1) When we talk about a budget cut, it should mean that a budget was cut.Words mean things and are important. Some reporters will tell you that they are only quoting a board member, but then fail to explain that a budget was never reduced.Some say this is just semantics and everyone knows the truth, but this is a false premise. When people read that a budget was cut, they assume that a budget was cut.

2) Town officials who use unfounded rhetoric to raise taxes should be held accountable. Rhetoric is a powerful tool used to influence decisions. It is critical that it be grounded in verifiable data or empirical evidence. If it is not, please refrain from comment.

3) Only the superintendent should be seated at the table with our Board of Education. Currently, numerous administrators sit at the table with our elected officials. This may seem minor, but it defines the power structure for how decisions are made and the lines of authority are blurred.

4) The PTO should stop acting as a political action committee for the teachers and administrators. Most education associations have political action committees.If members of the PTO want to assist, I'm certain that the political action committee will let them volunteer. This allows PTO members to express their will without using money and resources donated to the PTO for other purposes.

5) The practice of having "Pride Night" at schools on the same night that we vote on our budget referendum, should cease. It is a transparent attempt to influence the outcome of the vote and unnecessarily exposes the town to State Election Enforcement Commission violations.Comments made in a public facility, in such close proximity to a polling place by someone who has a monetary stake in the outcome could easily cross the line of legality. Having this practice sanctioned by the Board of Education diminishes its credibility.

6) An endowment fund needs to be set up to benefit our schools without having strings attached by the administration. Clearly there are many in the community who feel school spending should be increased.This would give them an outlet for their beliefs without infringing on each and every taxpayer. If a person wants to donate money to the band then they should be able to donate money to the band.

7) Town officials and taxpayers need to understand that the cost of doing business, including tax burden, is the prime motivator that drives economic development in a community.Town officials have recently stated that business won't come to New Milford if our schools aren't performing. Kimberly Clark and Nestle's did not leave, nor would they stay, because of our test scores or per pupil spending.

8) Supporters of increased education spending need to stop comparing New Milford to neighboring towns that aren't comparable, like Ridgefield. The median household income in Ridgefield, according the US Census Bureau at http://factfinder.census.gov, is $107,351, and the median household income in New Milford is $65,354, a difference of $41,997 per household, annually.Comparing these towns as if they are similar to justify increased spending and salaries is either uninformed at best or deceitful at worst.

9) The town needs to reevaluate its role as the premier regional special education provider.Taking a town with the demographics and median household income of New Milford and transforming it into the premier regional provider of special education creates undue financial pressure that other communities don't have to endure; in fact they benefit from it at the expense of New Milford children and taxpayers.Perhaps Ridgefield or another community with a significantly higher median household income could better bear the financial burden of such an undertaking.

10) Please, become informed and go to the polls and vote.I think that these simple suggestions could go a long way in bringing civility back to our town.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Letters From Shelley Pitser '04 and '05

I'm not sure if these are the letters that are being discussed in my earlier BOE post but I think they may be of interest to the participants.


I recently attended the Board of Education budget review meetings and addressed the Board with suggestions and recommendations regarding our proposed budget. I am sharing this with the community because I believe it includes important information that will assist our community in separating fact from fiction this budget season.

"Thank you for your time this evening.

My name is Shelley Pitser. I am a resident of New Milford and I have two children in our school system.

I recently exercised the Freedom of Information Act and requested a great deal of financial and contractual information from our school administration. To a great extent they were very helpful and provided most, though not all, of the information that I requested.

I have performed an analysis of the data and I have reviewed the proposed budget that requests a 7.3% or $3.5 million increase.

As a businesswoman, I see numerous opportunities in this proposed budget. Here are just a few:

I notice on Appendix F-5 that we are currently negotiating our Custodial & Maintenance contract. My experience is that it is a powerful strategic tool, to regularly explore alternative opportunities prior to, or at the time of negotiating these contracts. This will ensure that there is an incentive at the bargaining table to keep the contract competitive. Additionally, you will likely find that it is not cost effective to employ these 49 staff members internally. Typically it is more cost effective to outsource these functions even if you still have to pay prevailing wages. Additional benefits include the fact that the firm that you outsource to may be a New Milford business that would contribute to our tax base, alleviating the burden on the individual taxpayer.

I have reviewed our student enrollment that is anticipated to be 5,273 this coming year. If you divided projected student enrollment by our proposed Certified Teachers of 378, you arrive at our proposed student teacher ratio of 14. Our average class size according to Appendix page D-3 is 21. Our teachers contract recommends 25, a difference of 4. Our Board of Finance last year identified that we’d save approximately $1 million with just one incremental increase. This represents 2% of the proposed budget and equates to one half of a mill in taxes to the taxpayers and it still keeps staffing levels well within contractual guidelines. I’m also curious as to how we are utilizing the 127 certified salaries that are not included in the average classroom calculation. 127 salaries at $64K equates to $8.1 million. I suggest we drill down on these expenditures and seek opportunity. These salaries don’t appear to be utilized in the classroom. What are we utilizing them for and do the benefits justify the expenditure?

I have heard numerous times in these budget presentations that fixed costs are driving the increase and that we have no control over that. In fact, our fixed costs are contractual obligations and you, our Board of Education, negotiate these contracts. You have full control over these costs. In my world, Corporate America, staffing is not fixed even when contractual obligations exist. Management has full control over the level of staffing. My expectation, as a taxpayer, is that these costs will be effectively controlled and managed.

I heard last evening that prior decisions such as purchasing a kiln that takes up significant space in a classroom, has reduced the capacity of our brand new high school. This was used as a reason to invest more. Let’s take a hard look at these situations that have compromised the capacity of our buildings. Perhaps we should get rid of the kiln and evaluate whatever else is limiting our capacity so that our students can have adequate space and a desk at which to sit.

Do we have revenue opportunities in advertising revenue, high school theater ticket sales, vending revenue or public and private donations? We have businesses asking to donate money to the school system and you have said “no thank you”.

As you spoke about all of the increased costs associated with Special Education and how we have so many costs sending kids to private institutions and all of the travel expenses, etc. It occurred to me that we have a commission in our town whose sole purpose is to attract business to New Milford. Perhaps, we could partner with this commission to recruit and attract a private special education facility to New Milford. We could serve special education needs for all surrounding communities, serve our children’s needs here, bring revenue to the town and contribute to our tax base. It could also serve to reduce special education expenses in our own school budget. Perhaps they could inhabit the Kimberly Clark facility right behind JPS.

As my elected officials, I believe that your primary responsibility is to provide oversight to our administration and to ensure that they are making prudent long-term decisions that provide for efficient and effective use of tax dollars while ensuring high quality education.

I am looking to you, my elected officials, to provide fiscal oversight to this process and require that we capitalize on opportunities to KEEP TAXES FLAT THIS YEAR.

Last evening the president of our PTO challenged you to go to the schools and ask questions of teachers and children about how they feel about various situations at their school. The presenter used these emotionally charged questions to illustrate or justify the need for additional spending.

When you go, could I ask that you add these to your list of questions? I think it will help to explain why the presenters’ child doesn’t have a desk at which to sit.

Ask a teacher what their average salary is for a 185-day work year. The answer is on average about $64K. If you annualize that it is around $83K. Ask an administrator, as well. Most of theirs are six figures.

Ask one of the teachers approved for early retirement how much they will be paid annually for three years. Answer: $7,500. Ask how many have been approved for early retirement.

Ask an administrator how many teachers we have on approved sabbatical where we are paying 75% of their salary while they are not in the classroom. I believe one was approved at the December board meeting. Ask that teacher how it feels. I suspect it feels a bit like a paid vacation.

Ask your administrators why in previous budget reviews they chose to eliminate lower level positions only to perform these duties themselves and then present them as reasons why we need more six-figure salaries in our budget. Then ask a taxpayer how this makes them feel.

Ask a teacher how it feels to have a contract that allows them to take up to 20 sick days, 3 religious days in addition to those observed by school closures; 3 personal days and 5 bereavement days for a total of 31 days off in a 185-day work year and I’m not factoring in snow days. I suspect this would feel fantastic.

Ask a principal or another administrator how many sick days they get. Theirs is even more generous.

Ask an administrator how much we pay in substitute teachers while our teachers utilize these contractual benefits. Our proposed budget shows around $400K. Then ask them how much we pay teachers to cover for other teachers while they utilize these benefits. Our contractual obligation is $30 per hour.

Ask a teacher what percent raise they got last year. Then ask them how much their step increase was on top of that. I believe the answer is 4% plus 4% each year for 3 years. I’m guessing that feels pretty good. Cut this in half and you’re still above what Corporate America receives. Ask them how much they earned in stipends in addition to this and then ask one of these taxpayers from Corporate America, who is footing bill, how they feel about this.

Ask a principal or an administrator if their increase was bigger or smaller than the Teachers’.

Ask who controlled the recent accreditation review at our high school and presented us with 55 recommendations, many of which will require additional spending and staffing requirements. I believe that you will find that these individuals are made up of teachers and administrators.

Ask a teacher, an administrator or a member of the PTO how it feels to illustrate stories of doom and gloom to a child and then ask that child to influence their parents’ vote. Then ask them if this is legal according to the State Elections Enforcement Commission law 9-369b.

Have you walked through the community of New Milford and asked a homeowner how it feels to write out their property tax check each year? Ask an 80 year old women who is barely getting by on her fixed income that gets smaller and smaller each year because of her tax burden.

What I am trying to illustrate for you is that there are two gut-wrenching sides to these issues.

As my elected officials, my request is that you find a way to keep taxes flat.

Let me thank you in advance for your consideration to my concerns, I do appreciate the time and the effort that you put into this process."


I am a New Milford resident, mother of two, wife of a New Milford business owner; I am a business leader in Danbury and I am confused. Along with teachers, I took the summer off from translating my observations into Viewpoints. Now that the children are back to school, I have again engaged in local politics surrounding the education of children and the tax dollars required to educate them. The timeline that I’ve been tracking is as follows:

May 2002 – Double-digit tax increase, $2.6 million increase in the education budget was referred to as a cut. CMT results disappointing.

May 2003 – Double-digit tax increase, $2.6 million increase in the education budget was referred to as a cut. CMT results disappointing.

April 2004 – Passionate pleas for double-digit tax increase because the children are still suffering.

May 2004 – New Milford approved the budget after great debate and disappointment resulting in a 6% or $2.1 million increase in the education budget. It was referred to as a cut.

August 27th, 2004 – An article in The New Milford Times by Lynda Wellman titled “Schools end year with surplus” identifies that our year-end surplus was $214,876. This was after the Board of Education scrambled to spend funds minimizing the surplus.

August 27th, 2004 – An article in The New Milford Times by Lynda Wellman titled “Town has over two dozen new teachers” identifies that nine teachers left and twenty-four were hired. It appears we gained fifteen teachers. Student enrollment is flat.

August 30th, 2004 – Thousands of New Milford parents and taxpayers purchased school supplies for their children. They also purchased paper towels and basic supplies for the schoolrooms due to “budget cuts.”

September 1st, 2004 – These same parents and taxpayers sent their children to school with PTO donations and little brown bags filled with box top points to purchase playground equipment and other nice-to-have’s for the children.

September 3rd, 2004 – An article in The New Milford times by Lynda Wellman titled “Panel decides to leave policy on gifts to school system unchanged for now” identifies that people and businesses want to donate funds to New Milford schools. The funds must be used for their specified purpose and cannot be reallocated by the Board of Education. The Board of Education has said, “No thanks”.

Below are questions that cause my confusion:

What will the $2.1 million tax increase and the $215,000 surplus be used for? It would buy a lot of paper towels.

Our spending per student is around $8,500, which is far greater than most private school tuitions. Our CMT results continue to be below that of private schools. Why?

We lost nine teachers this year and hired twenty-four. Why were they necessary if student enrollment has not increased?

When I talk with acquaintances and townspeople “budget cuts” typically work their way into the conversation. I have lived in New Milford for nearly seven years and we haven’t once cut the budget. Why does this perception exist?

If the argument is true that more money equals smarter children, why are our CMT results not proving this? Is money really the answer, or the problem for that matter?

Losing Kimberly Clark and Nestle not only impacts the families of those employed there. It will impact us all. Corporate tax dollars from these businesses contribute generously to our budget. Likely, other businesses that support their operations will follow, further exacerbating our problem. Why did we chase so many businesses away that were eager to bring a significant tax base to New Milford? Allowing them to do business in our fine town benefits us all and alleviates our tax burden significantly. Additionally, they could have provided goods and services that this community needs.

What strategies will our town government employ in response to this lost revenue? What is their business plan to reduce the effect on the over-burdened taxpayers? Will buying open space reduce the burden? Will adding teachers when enrollment is flat reduce the burden? What cost reductions and opportunities for efficiency are being explored? Are all agencies supported through our tax dollars critically evaluated to ensure that the funds required to sustain them justify the benefits? Are the benefits of these agencies nice-to-have’s or must-have’s?

Forecasted events of April 2005 – Passionate pleas for double-digit tax increases because the children are suffering. Get ready to ante up taxpayers. It’s nearly time for us to again be asked to pay for the shortsighted emotional decisions of the past.

How will you respond when you are asked to vote next May? I know how I will respond and it has nothing to do with the children, for our problem is much larger than that.

Shelley Pitser
New Milford

'McLaughlin Nasty To The End'

Failed at his bid for Town Council, the "once powerful" George McLaughlin was in his usual form at his last Board of Finance Meeting, the Board of which he was once the Chairman. He was nasty to the end, giving a hard time to the request by the Pension Committee for $1,000 for a recording secretary.

Happee Voter
New Milford

Friday, November 16, 2007

Assessor Parks Resigns

After a 32 year run, Assessor Ron Parks confirmed a few moments ago that he has decided to resign effective January 31, 2008. Aided by a wonderful staff, Ron is one heck of a nice guy who has always been willing to help and to do so with good cheer. I wish him the best of everything.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What is the Role of the BOE?

The broad duties of boards of education are set forth in Section 10-220 of the Connecticut General Statutes: "Each local or regional board of education shall maintain good public elementary and secondary schools, implement the educational interests of the state as defined in section 10-4a and provide such other educational activities as in its judgment will best serve the interests of the school district."

BOE Members’ obligations to the children are obvious but what, if any, are their obligations to the taxpayers who foot the bills? Are the Members simply "cheerleaders" for the Superintendent as they have often been called, adopting her requests without sufficient inquiry or are they obliged to examine them diligently, taking into account not only efficiencies in the school system but the Town's finances as a whole? These are tough questions that may be debated in the next two years with the new composition of the BOE.

It should be noted that there is no mandatory training for any members of our boards and commissions and there are no qualifications to run for office. Seminars and other means of self-education are available but peer pressure and the voting booth may in some cases be the only motivators for many candidates who are elected, thrown into public service and may have little or no background in the subject matter. The Party system being what it is in New Milford, voters are often stuck with people who genuinely wish to serve the public but are often assigned to unfamiliar and in some cases, unwanted territory. I am also concerned that the BOE is a unique spot for those with self-serving agendas. Too many have children in the system and some Members will disappear from the BOE one moment after graduation day.

Some may have no experience in finance, little or no experience in government and a limited understanding of high-ticket budgets. As Town Councilman Roger Szendy says, "People have a right to be stupid." Indeed. I wouldn’t have such a big problem with the concept if we had more public awareness and public participation in government, far more transparency on the BOE and a big voter turn-out to replace those who’ve exhibited a less than stellar performance.

The budget process is ponderous. The BOE hires a Superintendent who prepares and presents a Budget to the BOE. After the Members have -- hopefully -- done their due diligence, this "estimate of expenses" is given to the Mayor who can make a bottom line cut and then presents it to the Town Council. The Mayor and Council and Board of Finance may make recommendations about its content but, with very few exceptions, have no authority to change any particular line. They do, however, have the authority to cut the bottom line, charged as they are with the duty to consider the amount of the BOE Budget as part of the Town’s finances as a whole, taking into account such things as outstanding debt, bond rating and undesignated surplus. This process ultimately winds up in the hands of the voters at a Town Meeting and Budget Referendum.

The Statutes give the BOE a startling array of powers. One of these powers is the right provided in Section 10-222 to transfer money from one line to another at whim except, because of a Supreme Court decision, with regard to capital items. The idea of moving money from one line to another at will is counterintuitive since one would think that the voters chose to pass a Budget that contained monies to be used for specific purposes that shouldn’t thereafter be ignored. This doesn’t quite fly on the Town side!

Another of these powers that’s counterintuitive is that the BOE doesn’t have to comply with the Town’s bidding ordinance, a problem that may cost taxpayers millions of dollars in wasteful spending. It’s just so easy to spend someone else’s money, isn’t it?

BOE Members have a lot on their plates and are responsible for spending about 70 cents of every tax dollar you pay. I believe that their job is not to "rubber stamp" each and every recommendation that’s put in front of them by the Superintendent. Don’t blame her; she’s just doing her job.

The BOE Members’ job is to thoroughly understand the needs of the children and to efficiently and diligently support those needs while taking into account not only the financial ability and willingness of the taxpayers to pay for them but the Town’s financial health, itself a complicated matter.

This job description seems to have been lost over the years in favor of a willingness to throw unlimited amounts of money at the system with little regard to the return or the impact on taxpayers.

Police Chief's Contract Renewed

Last night, by 7-0 vote, the Town Council renewed Chief of Police Colin McCormack's contract for three years. The initial vote was 6-1 but, at the end of the evening, John Lillis asked that his vote be changed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

DeLuca To Resign Effective November 30

Embattled Senator Lou DeLuca announced today that he will resign effective November 30, 2007. Moments prior to the dissolution of the Bipartisan Committee Of Review of which he is Co-Chair, Senator Andrew Roraback, Deputy State Minority Leader Pro Tem, said today that this was his "least desirable assignment."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

NMF Spam...School Leak Revisited; Investigation Necessary

On November 5, I posted a piece about a campaign-related e-mail that was sent by NMF to many people who had never given their e-mail addresses to anyone but the School Administration. Several parents who received this political spam wrote that they created new e-mail addresses just for school purposes. Thus it seemed readily apparent that there was a possibility of a leak of a School mailing list or lists. Now that possibility is morphing into a likelihood. The following is an e-mail exchange that sheds a great deal more light. I supplied the highlighting:

DATE: 11/04/2007 7:21 PM
FROM: NewMilfordFirst@aol.com
TO: undisclosed-recipients
SUBJECT: Election Day is TuesdayAs Election Day approaches, here are a few things you should know:Your vote counts. Democracy is based on maximum participation. Your vote will influence the future of New Milford.You do not have to vote for everyone. For example, the instructions for Town Council tell you to "Vote for any nine." You do not have to do this. You should vote only for those you really want to be elected. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. If you are not sure where to vote, visit www.NewMilfordFirst.org for a street-by-street listing of who votes where. If you would like more information about the New Milford First candidates, please download the sample ballot. If you would like to be removed from this mailing list, please reply with the word "remove."
To New Milford First;
How dare you invade my private e-mail address to promote your desperate political agenda. This despicable tactic is tantamount to telemarketing your poor product. New low (of many) in your history.I further hope New Milford's Public Schools system did not stoop so low as to betray parents' trust by divulging their list of e-mail addresses. That clearly was not the intended purpose of providing the school with the addresses.
Julian Munoz
To: shugrueg@newmilfordps.org (Principal)
I sincerely hope the High School administration was not the source of e-mail addresses used by the below mentioned political party. I do not want to believe such pandering occurred.
Julian Munoz
From: Jerry Monaghan, New Milford First
To : Julian Munoz
Thanks for your message.The list was provided by a fellow parent.The email message itself was generic, encouraging your participation in the democratic process. Any New Milford First information was contained in an optional download. New Milford First understands your comments, but appreciates the fact 24 percent of New Milford's voters believe New Milford First offers something positive for the town.--
Jerry Monaghan
To: Dr JeanAnn C. Paddyfote
From: Julian Munoz
Who is this "fellow parent"?How/from where did this fellow parent secure the address list? Does this "fellow" parent know me? Does this fellow parent have my consent to divulge my e-mail address for soliciting purposes? Is this fellow parent an employee of the NMPS system?Regards,
Julian Munoz
Dear Mr. Munoz,
Please be advised that the New Milford Public Schools does not intentionally release parent email addresses. If a school or teacher is sending an email to several individuals, they have been told to put the parent email addresses in the "Blind Copy" field.
Sincererly,JeanAnn C. Paddyfote
Superintendent of Schools
New Milford Public Schools
Dear Mr. Munoz,I have no idea who the New Milford First organization is talking about with respect to "parent". I have spoken with one person from New Milford First about your concern, and I was told they were given the email addresses from friends of NM First members. No one employed in the school district is authorized to give out email addresses of parents.My suggestion is that you pursue the matter with the New Milford First organization.
JeanAnn C. Paddyfote
I just have to use some straight street talk here because it so aptly describes the foregoing responses: there's some shuckin' and jivin' here at its best.

Let's first look at Jerry Monaghan's NMF e-mail. It would take a complete fool to not know that it was an NMF pitch. Pure and simple. Yet he claims that the e-mail "was generic" and "any New Milford First information was contained in an optional download." That's pure hogwash from a guy who considers himself to be the spinmeister of all spinmeisters but is really very little more than a hack who has been rejected by New Milford's major Parties and voters (including two days ago), who violated the Zoning Regs while on the Planning Commission and, together with a couple of other cronies including old ethics-challenged Davey Hubbard, is responsible for the Route 7 construction debacle that we suffer through day after day, month after month, year after year. "Generic," Jerry? Do you really think we and Mr. Munoz are that stupid?

In addition, the self-proclaimed great media guru ought to get a web lesson from Kostes. Ask him to explain to you the difference between files "as attachments" versus "in-line." Depending upon computer preferences, the "optional download" was anything but and the NMF pitch appeared on-screen with the body of the e-mail.

Now JeanAnn enters the picture but does not satisfactorily address the issue. I'm sure that mailing lists aren't "intentionally released" and that no one is "authorized to release them" but who has access to them? What safeguards are in place to make sure that they can only be accessed appropriately? Does every person who uses the list know how to "bcc?"

JeanAnn wrote that she had "spoken with one person" from NMF and was told that it got the list "from friends" of NMF but Monaghan wrote that it came from "a fellow parent." Did he lie? JeanAnn told Mr. Munoz to "pursue the matter with" NMF. Did her investigation end there or is she looking at the School's e-mail records to find a leak? The "friends" of NMF got the list from somewhere!

Last but certainly not least is the law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) at 34 CFR 99 set forth the rules about what is called "directory information" and the disclosure thereof. It came as no surprise to me that the School's own Policy at 6141.324, I believe, are not in strict compliance with FERPA and are also internally inconsistent. Both are grounds for a FERPA complaint to the United States Department of Education.

There should be a comprehensive investigation of this matter by the Superintendent; she has more than enough information to move forward.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Problem With Votes For O'Brien, Diamond, Alexander, Francis and Rush

Head Moderator Jay Umbarger confirmed this morning that there is a problem with the count for the five who appeared on the ballot twice. The problem is being addressed as this is being written. Stay tuned.

Runaway Found

It is my understanding that Megan Roberts, the 17 year old New Milford runaway, was found in New Jersey and is home and safe. I have no further information.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's Mayor Murphy In a Landslide Victory

The unofficial vote is 3570 Murphy, 1125 Stillman, 1475 Kostes.

The winners in other races are:

Council: Szendy, Bass, Guendelsberger, Volinski, O'Brien, Mullen, Lillis, Lundgren, Bayer

Finance: Gutman, Sherry, Alexander, Wargo

BOE: Lawson, Diamond, Thomas, Llerena, Finney

Assessment Appeals: Brant, Burcaw

Planning: Francis, Morey, Rush, Volinski

Zoning: Tito, Florio, Ward

ZBA: Bogie, Alexander, Bayers

Two surprises: Town Clerk, George Buckbee and Tax Collector, Cathy Reynolds.


1) Disenfranchised, unendorsed and "once powerful" (as Nanci Hutson wrote) Republican George McLaughlin lost his bid for Council and got fewer votes than Democratic newcomer Mary Issavi!

2) Kostes got more votes than Stillman. I have to hand it to Kostes...he ran the most professional campaign that I've seen here in years;

3) There is something wrong with the vote count for those candidates that ran on two tickets: O'Brien, Diamond, Alexander, Francis and Rush. Their vote totals were astronomically high as if their votes on the NMF ticket were counted twice.

4) If Kostes was in the race to obtain a mayoral line for NMF, then he succeeded.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Ex Personnel Director Responds to Union VP

Again, I find myself coming from a different perspective from that of the Union Vice President. There is nothing professional when name calling occurs, which is easy to do behind the “power of the pen” or in this case email. Unfortunately, there are levels of decorum that cannot be found in a dictionary, levels of ethics that cannot be spelled out in black and white. Collaboration, when done well, usually produces positive results. It does not always mean that someone wins and someone loses, but for the most part there is a compromise in which a greater good gets met.

Negotiations should never be in the spirit of the union versus management. That is old school thinking and never promotes a business strategy. Since I no longer live in New Milford, the elections are not of much interest to me, but having my professional name bounced around on a well-read email is most unpleasant. Every day, we all get up and go to our professions. We work, and we work hard. We do what we think is right, we make decisions based on our education, background, training and experiences. Sarcasm and pointing fingers simply isn’t part of my professional life.I concur that the negotiations were amicable. I concur that they went smoothly for the most part. And under the circumstances, I stayed until one day before I moved away, in the hopes they would go smoothly after I left. The new Personnel Director had what he needed to GO FORWARD in continuing to work with the union. It is laughable to say “I was the team”. I was part of a team, but there is no “I” in team. My final draft is simply that, MY final draft. It is not the Mayor’s final draft, and she certainly has the final say. It is not Mr. Chapin’s final draft. Certainly he could have had input. It was not a final draft reviewed by the Town Attorney. It was simply the end of the line for me. I was moving, and I left a document for my predecessor. Whatever the Mayor, the new Personnel Director or the Town Council chose to do upon my departure was up to them, but it seems like AFTER I left is when the mess occurred.

Who was in charge of organizing things then? At my deposition neither the union attorney nor the union business manager bothered to show. I went out of my way to be available, as did the Town Attorney. Certainly if the union had issues or questions, they could have been present then.

Again, if you read the previous email from Mrs. Sanford, she restates what an “incompetent and disorganized person I ALWAYS was”. I am no longer disorganized just for this negotiation, but now it has escalated to “always”. Then I am accused of this being A TACTIC “in case things got screwed up”. So does this mean I would deliberately look bad, to cover something up, for later, when I’m not around? I’m not sure what all that blather means, but I don’t think that’s what the Town paid me “big bucks” to do.

Martha, are you familiar with the term LIBEL. I suggest you look it up.There is a mention of Sick Leave Caps in Mrs. Sanford’s latest writing. I am guessing this is the big issue. And as I read further, “I put the blame where I believe it should be, on your shoulders and the shoulders of the Town Council”. I guess I am in good company, since all of us are to blame.I am, however, going to draw a line in the sand with this last comment. The email reads, “You wrote up the most pertinent parts to bring to a vote. You worked with the President to make sure we were ready for the vote.” This is an outright lie.

The final day that I was present for the negotiations, there were I believe, four items that the Mayor wished to review. I believe they were wages, medical insurance, tuition reimbursement, maybe civic duty day…I am not sure exactly but these were the last of the items. The Town and the Union came to terms on these items in that the Union stated they could agree to the terms the Mayor was requesting. At the end of that meeting, in which we all thanked each other for a good session and shared our goodbyes since it was my last meeting, I stated point blank that I would take this information back to the Mayor (and try to get it typed) and that going forward the Mayor would review the draft with the new Personnel Director, schedule time with the Town Council to review it and that the new Personnel Director could finish up the other items THAT WERE STILL OUTSTANDING (ie some appendix work, pay grade issues, and those insidious “typos” that needed some fixing”. The next document could be completed by the new Director, the Mayor and review by the Town Attorney.

I NEVER had any discussions or meetings with the President to “make sure we were ready for the vote”. Have you forgotten, Martha, I am supposed to be on the management side, not the Union’s, as you so eloquently stated in your email. I am not holding the President responsible for that statement since it is the Vice President making the comment, but those discussions did not occur.And, you can bet your bottom dollar, if you continue to libel me, I will write back.

Paula Kelly

And The NMF Big Money Winner Is.....John Kane!

Yessireee. The King of the Hypocrites made a lot of money this election season. The NMF October 30 filing discloses that Kane, also a NMF candidate for Council, was paid $4,637.62 for web services, art work and handouts. Also interesting is a $1,000.00 contribution from Paul Garlasco, who may be hoping to be Town Attorney in the unlikely event that Kostes wins tomorrow.

NMF Spam...A School Leak?

Some of you may have received unsolicited campaign-related e-mail from the NMF group. Some who received it have never given out their addresses except to the School system. These mailing lists are extremely valuable (read, big $$) and are solicited aggressively. I wonder what measures the School Administration has taken to protect these lists and if there is a leak.


A $1,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who damaged hundreds of trees belonging to Barbara Chappuis on her property on Geiger Road. Please respond by contacting Officer Robert Kirschner at the NMPD (355-3133) or by sending e-mail to chappuisfamily@gmail.com

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Now It's Stillman Who's Violating the Campaign Law

Democratic Mayoral Candidate Larry Stillman paid for a large ad on page 5 of this week's New Milford Times.

Promoting the "Democratic Team," the ad is "Paid for by 'The Committee to Elect Larry Stillman,' Tom McSherry, Treasurer." On page 7 is an ad, paid for similarly, promoting the Democratic BOE Members. All nicely done but....

Section 9-601(4) of the Connecticut General Statutes defines a "Candidate Committee" [the Committee to Elect Larry Stillman] as any committee designated by a single candidate, or established with the consent, authorization or cooperation of a candidate, for the purpose of a single primary or election and to aid or promote such candidate's candidacy ALONE for a particular public office or the position of town committee member, but does not mean a political committee or a party committee.

Thus, ads paid for by Stillman's Committee to promote the candidacy of others is improper.

AFSCME Responds

I know you are annoyed that I feel you are unorganized but you have to remember the first meetings when you were shuffling papers around and jumping from section to section. I would come out of those first sessions shaking my head. That was when I put everything in black and white so we had a process to follow. This I thought would have come from your office. I only noted the dismay of Union members, in regards to my comments, because I understand the rules about confidentiality but I wanted to address the process not the specifics of issues, so I continued with free speech. I didn't think, and still don't think, that this should be a political basketball during election time. Maybe this is why your letter is written so close to elections to get it on the front burner.

I do have to ask Why were you at the meetings if not for negotiating for the Town? My handy Webster defines negotiate as:
1. to discuss with a view to reaching agreement;
2. to settle a transaction

I know this is hard but does it say reaching an agreement to bring back to discuss with all parties involved. No! You were the team. That's why you got paid the big bucks. Do you remember setting dates for further negotiations! Do you remember commenting on how glad we were it went so smoothly? Do you remember saying at least it's done before your final days? Do you remember writing the Final Draft? Again Mr. Webster defines Final as:
1. end;
2. conclusive
3. last

Any logical person would have taken your final draft to mean the end of all drafts; no more; this is the last one; over; done. No more DRAFTS in the future.I'm sure you know that the Town Council has forty-five days to act upon a contract. They did not, so AFSCME had an article done to nudge them a little. That was the article you spoke about. It was after the time limit, we made sure of that. Confidentiality ended when it went before the Union members for a vote and before the Town Council to act upon. After the forty five days we could have printed our own paper with it, if we wanted to.

The only meeting we attended after you left was to bring the Director up to speed with your Final Draft. Done; over! Again if the Town thought we had to meet again then meetings should have been scheduled. Nothing, from the new Director.

You were right; I would not ever call Tammy Reardon, Marla Scribner or Monika Roberts disorganized. They run an exceptionally well organized office for the Mayor, so that she can work for the good of the Town.

To be perfectly honest Paula, I do think you are incompetent because of the disorganizing state you seem to always be in. Of course that was probably your tactic in case things got screwed up. I'm happy you have a great position in Fl. (you can never contemplate how happy I am) but I'm sure you now have an office with capable employees under you to keep things going on an even track and focused. Maybe they also make sure your office has papers in the files instead of the on your desk, chairs etc.

I was here fifteen years when the lay-offs started how did you gave me a break? Would you throw away all the money the taxpayers spent on educating me to be in this position, just so I could go to another Town and possibly be their Assessor? In a Town that understands where the money comes from and pays their Assessor accordingly. It was bad enough we lost one employee that was almost finished with her certification to Brookfield. The Assessor's Office is still feeling the affects trying to get employees educated in the Assessing field. What a gain!!!

Even as the lay-offs happened we all knew it would never work but they attack only the AFSCME employees. Most of those employees are back at their previous job and others hired to replace the ones that were lost. What did we gain? The only thing that was gained is the knowledge that the Town Council and Board of Finance, at that time, really knew how to screw things up. Some members still sit on the Boards, with their out dated thinking, but I always feel better when I vote.

The Union is not screaming. We have no dissention, we are firm. The Union is not running up legal bills but think really hard and try to remember the number of times the Union President contacted you to say you were missing the cap on sick leave accumulation in all the drafts and then the Final Draft. Would we be in this position if you did the first draft right?

Yes, Chris, Marilee and I do know how to negotiate but I'm not sure what it is that we personally are getting out of it. Promotions..no; upgrades..no..maybe more money than the other members..no. What self serving agenda did we have?

About the Mayor:We did not kick her in the teeth. She not only treated us fairly, she TREATS us fairly. None of this has ever been about the Mayor. If she stays here another ten years I hope that I would be able to be part of the wonderful things she will accomplish. I have never, in my twenty years, worked with an administrator who has treated us with the respect that she has. Probably the last was Stubby Chapin. We are not always employees but at times friends. She knows how to be an administrator for the people.

I put the blame where I believe it should be, on your shoulders and the shoulders of the Town Council that did not have the gumption to take a vote the night the Mayor put it on the agenda. They should have said something...anything. They should have asked that we negotiate some sticking points a little more. I personally don't think the Union would have disagreed. They choose to be silent. Now they can blame us.As for the vote at our meeting, you wrote up the most pertinent parts to bring to a vote. You worked with the President to make sure we were ready for the vote. You can make it appear as though all this is because the Union jumped the gun but in reality those of us that negotiated know the truth...and I for one feel that is what counts.

Everyone can say and print what they want but in the end we are the ones that really know. That is the last to be said about this.I believe that this was the right idea to negotiate without the expense of Attorneys. Maybe your right, the next one should have the Mayor, a Town Council Member and a Board of Finance Member and of course Personnel Committee. Maybe then someone, other than the Mayor, would actually know what we do here. I welcome George to the table anytime because as taxpayers ourselves we are not trying to increase the tax burden. The Mayor was right..."we" really could have accomplished this.You can answer this if you like but I will not write again. It's over..your gone..and now we will pick up the pieces.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Mayoral Debate Air Dates

Channel 21 on Saturday, November 3 at 10 p.m.; Sunday, November 4 at 1 p.m. and Monday, November 5 at 5:00 p.m.

Kostes Wants Jet-Capable Airport Near Merryall; How To Make Your Buddies Into Enemies

In a widely distributed e-mail, Mayor wannabe Kostes wrote that he "was a little disappointed that there was no mention of air travel" at the Planning Commission's Meeting about the Plan of Conservation and Development. "Very light jets" are very quiet, he wrote, and suggested that there ought to be an airport in New Milford capable of handling such jet traffic. One of the spots to look at, he says, may be "The quarry near Boardman." Yep, right on the Merryall border. That'll go over real big.

Former Personnel Director Comments on AFSCME Issue

On Friday mornings, as I always do, I take a look at the week via newspapers and various websites, just to get a nice picture of both the world, and local news. I still look at the New Milford Times and your Web Page. In scrolling down, I read two different entries from Martha Sanford, AFSCME Vice President, regarding her take on the stalled union negotiations. One goes back to September 8, and one to September 10.

I cannot help but “scratch my head” when I read certain things. Let us begin with Martha’s comment, “Probably to the dismay of fellow Union members”. Martha made the decision to present her opinion of the process with disregard for her fellow union members, which certainly reflects on the continuing disregard for fellow union members who would like to see the issues resolved and move on with life.

The next comment that stands out is “the Mayor and the Personnel Director negotiated for the Town” and that “we were not to discuss the issues until the time of voting”. I for one, and I can vouch for the Mayor, did not “negotiate for the Town” without regard for the employees as well. Without the employees, the Town would certainly have difficulty running itself, and the Mayor has always respected and valued her employees.

Negotiations are done with an eye toward what is fair and reasonable with respect to the budget, what provides for the retention and recruitment of good employees, and what makes for the promotion of strategic initiatives going forward in accomplishing Town business. We never discussed the issues outside of the negotiating arena while I was there, but I know for a fact that the union did because information became public in the newspapers. I don’t remember the dates, but I do remember reading an article in the paper with quotes from Christine Thomas referencing bargaining issues. It may have been missed by the general public, but it didn’t pass by me.

As I move on I see Martha’s comment, “This is the Process:” and she goes on to describe the process except that she leaves out the very first, important step….are we done? I firmly believe that the members of the negotiating team took advantage of the fact that I was leaving, knew there would be a gap and a learning curve for the next Personnel Director, and rushed off to “take a vote”. I cannot speak to what happened after I left, but I can assure you WE WERE NOT DONE. I explicitly said that I would try to type everything up, get it into my last draft (i.e. my “final draft”) and then would pass this along to the next Personnel Director, who would have to hit the ground running and play catch up. There were labor pay grades that required finalizing, the Facilities Maintainer’s pay scales that needed some corrections, the appendix wasn’t done, and the Town Attorney still needed to review the document. It had not been to an Executive Session yet, and all of these processes are consistent with how negotiations have always been done at Town Hall. I know because I served on the negotiating team twice in six years for five different contracts. In addition, there were no TA’s, which the Mayor always does when she is firm on an issue. So, for the union negotiating team to say “it’s done” is an out and out falsification.

Martha goes on to say, “the sad part is the taxpayers have to pay for the Town Council’s inability to complete the process” and “if the Mayor had a more organized associate to work with, then none of this would have been a problem. It was always the Union with the help of the Mayor trying to make the process easier to flow and understand”. That’s quite a mouthful, wouldn’t you say? Let’s see in two sentences she has basically called everyone on the Town Council incompetent, and I assume that I am “the associate”, unless she is referring to Marla Scribner, Tammy Reardon or Monika Roberts which I don’t think she is. Again, this speaks volumes. Don’t you think it’s a good tactic in labor negotiations to put into writing that the other side is incompetent and apparently disorganized and that the only competent members are the union? Can you imagine what is being said “behind our backs”. How I ever got through life I’ll never know. How I have managed to move to Florida, find a great job as a Human Resource Director, complete an entire negotiation here, signed sealed and delivered and life has moved on, I’ll just never know.

There was a comment about a “leaked email” and a pizza party. The union is not to use Town equipment, which includes emails, for union business. If it was a private email that was leaked my apologies. If it was on the Town’s equipment, another rule violation. But who’s counting.

There was also reference to the layoffs when Gambino was Mayor and Martha’s position that was again the Town’s horrible treatment of them. Layoff’s occurred because the Board of Finance made huge cuts to personnel. Then Mayor Gambino had no choice.He went to his Directors for input, as he should have, and then had to make the cuts based on how best to move the town forward. Unfortunately, due to the UNION’s bumping clause, which lets the most senior employees bump those under them, a waterfall occurred that was truly horrendous for the employees. No one within AFSCME had any security at the time due to their bumping clause. That clause hasn’t changed if anyone wants to look. Seniority, a cornerstone in the unions…obviously not competency, will prevail.

Actually at the time, Martha Sanford was in a probationary period, because she was in a new position. The union contract said that employees “on probation” would be the first bumped. I contacted Katherine Thomas, our labor attorney at the time, and we reviewed that and we determined that it probably did not mean those employees on “probation” as promotions. I GAVE MARTHA SANFORD A BREAK. Thanks Martha for a vote of confidence. (You can go check the personnel records on that)

Martha’s final comment references “120 sick days”, as though the Mayor wanted to eliminate that. Carrying 120 sick days in the bank, with a payout upon retirement is a nice benefit. HOWEVER, let us remember that AFSCME also has a short term disability package, which allows after one year of employment, to get up to 26 weeks short term disability, and another 26 weeks long term if need be. All AFSCME employees have this benefit after one year of employment, which is a huge benefit. The Mayor and I wanted to amend the prior agreement which put a cap on the bank when they got this benefit, since there were so many complaints about it. We said we would go back to original past practice, which was the ability to accrue 120 days in the bank AND still have the short term disability benefit. Check the other union contracts….Teamsters and UPSEU, they don’t have it, or at least they didn’t when I was there.

So what is the union screaming about and ringing up those legal fees, fueling dissention….all over the number of hours accruable in the bank? Ask the non-union Directors and supervisors, who cannot accrue overtime, if they get this benefit?

In closing, I would like to say that there are two forms of bargaining, distributive, and positional. I am sure Martha and Christine are familiar with both, since they are so much more organized and professional than I am. Distributive bargaining presents the position that there is one issue in which the two bargaining teams are at conflict with, and one of the parties will lose and the other will gain. The two try to come to terms to compromise so there can be a win-win. The other form of bargaining is Interest Based Bargaining versus Positional Bargaining. In interest based bargaining one looks for a common ground. In positional bargaining, negotiators lock themselves into their positions and find it difficult to move away from these positions. They lose sight of the underlying problems to be resolved and place the emphasis on winning their point. There is a duty of fair representation when negotiations occur. This requires that the unions act fairly on behalf of their membership. You decide which position is being taken.

Frankly, I think the union, under the leadership of Christine Thomas and Martha Sanford, have kicked the Mayor squarely in the teeth and put their self promotion before the needs of their membership. She was good to them, she went to bat for them, her door was always open to them and they know it.

As the old phrase goes, “no good deed goes unpunished”. And obviously, all of the times I went before the Town Council to get them pay increases (much to the consternation of the council) and to better their work conditions, carry no water. I am apparently still an unorganized “associate” and the Mayor is a callous leader who, if the union met with her, “would provide them nothing to gain but the feeling of giving in again”.

Maybe we should put George McLaughlin on the next negotiating team for the Town. I read Tom DiCandido’s comment about having George on the Town Council. Might be interesting to have him on the negotiating team.

Paula Kelly

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Kostes Team Violating Campaign Law

At the Mayoral debate, Kostes couldn't name any of the candidates for President of the United States because he's so focused on his campaign for Mayor of the Town of New Milford.

Not quite focused enough.

You see, Section 9-606(d) of the Connecticut General Statutes prohibits a candidate from acting as the treasurer of any committee (candidate, slate, or party committee) that is designated as the authorized funding vehicle for that candidate's campaign.

Howard Lapidus is New Milford First's Treasurer and is himself a candidate for ZBA.

A Staff Attorney at the State Elections Enforcement Commission confirmed that there's a problem and the prohibition is fully explained in the February, 2007 Edition of the Commission's Publication entitled, Understanding the Connecticut Campaign Finance Laws, A Guide For Municipal Candidates.

Kostes, at the top of the ticket, is ultimately responsible for this. If this is what we get from him now, I can only imagine the disaster we'd get later. Another good reason not to vote for him.