The state’s Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor received a letter from the US Department of Education last week telling him that Connecticut has another year to implement a system of teacher evaluation that is linked to student performance — much to everyone’s relief. The state was supposed to start the new evaluation system next year, but this aspect of the state and federal government’s push for education reform has proven to be an easier thing to talk about than to implement.
When Newtown property owners got their local tax bills last year, there was concern and consternation among some people for whom the basic calculus of assessment and taxation seemed to have changed. In addition to the 3.5 percent increase in the tax rate for 2013-14, certain property owners were facing assessment upgrades in the recently completed revaluation. Owners of waterfront homes and other “high value” properties throughout town and those who bought over-55 condos were hit with the taxation double-whammy. The news was especially grim for the senior citizens among them. With limited and fixed incomes, some elders opened their tax bills and had to face yet another life decision: whether to abandon Newtown for a more affordable place to live. Now, nearly a year later, the town is taking steps to try to address their dilemma.
Starting this Saturday morning, four-legged family members can join the bipeds for some unleashed exercise at the park. At 11 am, May 3, Newtown will celebrate the grand opening of the Park & Bark, a two-acre field on Old Farm Road at the Fairfield Hills Campus that that has been transformed over the past year to become the town’s first dog park. Administered by the heretofore people-centric Parks and Recreation Commission, this newest addition to the town’s park system has come about largely through private bequests and fundraising, with minimal investment of public funds. It is a long-overdue formal recognition by the people of Newtown that most occasions are a lot more fun when dogs are around.
A particularly bad idea has taken root in the state legislature with the encouragement and nurturing attention of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Connecticut, Inc (HBRA). It is sprouting under the nondescript name of Senate Bill 405, “An Act Concerning Public Hearings on Subdivision Applications.” The proposal would effectively cut the public out of local land use agency reviews of subdivisions by prohibiting public hearings on the development proposals. Current law allows land use agencies to conduct public hearings on subdivisions whenever they find it useful for their review. The HBRA, however, would prefer to dispense with the utility of public insights on the interpretation and implementation of local land use regulations. The builders would prefer that the volunteers on local planning and zoning commissions rely solely on information and assessments provided by their own hired experts.
Newtown voters have been invited to the polls on April 22 to commit themselves to $111 million in expenditures and another round of property tax bills for 2014-15. While overall spending in the proposed budget does inch up by slightly less than one percent, the accompanying tax rate does not increase at all, thanks to growth in the grand list, supplemental motor vehicle taxes, and various unanticipated grants and payments from the state. This reprieve from Newtown’s long legacy of annual tax increases, however, is not just happenstance or serendipity, like a mild winter or a found fiver in a forgotten pair of pants. It is the result of unprecedented teamwork by the town’s budget-making Boards of Education, Selectmen, and Finance, and the Legislative Council.
One of the first lessons of marketing is that novelty sells. That is why all those products you’ve seen a million times before are invariably marked “New!” at the point of sale. But every now and then, something truly innovative comes along and starts selling briskly even before consumers know very much about it. The novelty of e-cigarettes for erstwhile smokers is almost irresistible. They are in essence a nicotine delivery system that dispenses with the sooty old-school ritual of burning tobacco and inhaling the toxic results, which made a mess of pretty much everything from car interiors to mortality rates. The propylene glycol vapor produced by e-cigarettes is “generally recognized as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration, and it also seems to vaporize the guilt and stigma of modern-day smokers. No wonder the top four tobacco companies started marketing e-cigarettes.
Once again this week, we have been reminded that at least some of the key players in Connecticut’s political realm view the democratic process as more of a game with mutable rules than a trust between the electorate and their chosen representatives. A deep-pocketed businessman, Brian Foley, and his wife, former congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, admitted in US District Court Monday that they conspired with former governor John G. Rowland to skirt campaign finance laws and hide $35,000 in payments to Rowland for political consultations in Ms Wilson-Foley’s 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination in the Fifth District. Rowland, as we all recall, was forced from the governor’s office in 2004 and subsequently convicted of corruption. He spent ten months in federal prison for accepting gifts from state contractors. Why anyone would accept even free political advice from someone with such poor judgment — much less pay $35,000 for it — is deeply confounding until you consider that the whole fiasco was predicated on cheating. In that case, Rowland’s your man
With so much focus on the March 31 deadline for signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, it has been easy to overlook some of the other seismic shifts in Connecticut’s health care landscape that have the potential to affect how people access medical services in the future. Having insurance is important. So is having a health care delivery system that preserves the primacy of the physician/patient relationship over profits.
When the ceilings opened up and unleashed torrents of water down through the lower floors of the C.H. Booth Library on January 4, the extent of the damage to the furnishings and infrastructure astonished and completely discouraged the library’s staff and regular patrons. Finally, after months of pulling down walls, pulling out hardware and wires, pulling up carpets, and replacing it all from the floor up, the library doors opened again on March 8 and patrons emerged from their involuntary winter hibernation, reacquainting themselves with this place of cultural wakefulness and hungry for the full menu of programs and services available at The Booth.
When the legislature passed a law last year that shielded from public view the crime scene photos from the 12/14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, lawmakers were standing in line to express their solidarity with the people of Newtown. They wanted to stand with us in our grief and our resolve to resist sensationalist exploitation of the horrific tragedy that shook this town and shocked the world. Now we are seeing signs that political fidelity in Hartford has a limited shelf life.