May 27, 2022
In This Issue:
From Paddi's Desk
CT Agency Corner
Municipal Roundup
Inside Scoop
This Day in CT History
KUDOS to Governor Rell

As a member of the Board of Advisors for The Governor M. Jodi Rell Center for Public Service at the University of Hartford, it was an exciting week. As the world around us turns more cynical by the day, distrust of our leaders and somewhat internally focused, “The Rell Center” has been planning a program for professional development opportunities for local, state, and federal officials in Connecticut.

Thursday the initial session of "Civility in Public Life 101" took place. The event was co-sponsored by the Senate President Pro Tempore Marty Looney, the Republican Senate Leader Kevin Kelly, the House Republican Leader Vinnie Candelora, and House Speaker Matt Ritter. Also in attendance were CT Public, the CT Association of School Boards of Education, the CT Conference of Municipalities and the Counsel of Small Towns. The event was a success. Over 180 people attended the 90-minute session led by the Institute of Civility in Government, and there was such a buzz throughout this interactive program! 

The chat room was bursting with both war stories of recent public meetings and the sharing of both unexpected and inappropriate reactions from those who attended those meetings with pleas of “how would you ….” comments filling the chat room. There were dozens of attendees who had similar stories, and even more looked for information on how to handle this next time as the two certified facilitators walked the crowded webinar screen through the basics of civility, public service, and the changing mood of the country—not just Connecticut. 

With some solid tips for addressing “escalating in-person discussions” that turn into shouting matches at local town meetings, and further instruction on how to manage hateful and inappropriate feedback on social media, the attendees were truly interested in what they can do as an appointed or elected official to change the tone, or even just ratchet down the temperature, so there can be a productive manner to resolve conflicts, acknowledge disagreement and begin to forge a solution. 

You may not know about “The Rell Center” which was established at the University of Hartford in 2011. 

Following Governor Rell’s legacy in public service, it was her goal to establish an organization that would promote what is great about public service. The 87th Governor of Connecticut wished to spread her thoughts on the values she exemplified during her more than 20 years in government. “The Rell Center” specifically focuses on the values of integrity in government and public service and responsible participation in public life.

The Center’s mission is to provide a community and academic forum for the discussion of ethics in government, the importance of civil discourse in politics, and how to engage and sustain positive citizen involvement in public service and government. 

After Thursday's session, I firmly believe that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of CT residents that yearn for better tools, expert thoughts, and direction on how to change the disruptive mood that has spread like wildfire. Even at the 90-minute mark, the chat box was streaming with questions, comments and requests for more learning opportunities. Participants gained more insights and skills, feeling confident that their next local meeting can flow with respect and understanding. They received the necessary tools to set the stage and make a difference. 

I left the session thinking that the Rell Center had found the pulse of CT’s committed public servants. They want to make a difference, they want to have engaged community participation, and they want to hear their frustrations and concerns. Above all, they want to be able to not control, but manage the civil discourse with respect, empathy and a strong desire to find solutions. They do not want to engage in offensive, disrespectful discourse. 

I’m hoping that everyone who signed up will return to their communities and bring one idea back to their fellow public service colleagues. This is certainly a moment when one person can make a difference. It’s my hope as a member of the Board of Advisors to the Rell Center that we can continue the dialogue, and create additional opportunities to inspire and assist all residents who dare to volunteer for public service with a foundation geared to help them better manage the new world out there.

Nice job Rell Center, and thanks to Governor Rell for seeing the vision and long-term needs of helping to prepare folks to give back to their communities. Ya done good!

Click here to access the Rell Center's web page.
List of Legislators not Seeking Re-Election

We would like to give a huge thanks to the following legislators that will not be seeking re-election this year for all they have done for Connecticut. We wish them all the best in their future endeavors!
  • Rep. Cathy Abercrombie (D)
  • Rep. Dave Arconti (D)
  • Rep. Harry Arora (R)
  • Rep. Whit Betts (R)
  • Sen. Dan Champagne (R)
  • Rep. Tony D'Amelio (R)
  • Sen. Mary Daugherty-Abrams(D)
  • Rep. Joe De La Cruz (D)
  • Rep. Laura Devlin (R)
  • Rep. Mike France (R)
  • Sen. Paul Formica (R)
  • Rep. Robin Green (R)
  • Sen. Will Haskell (D)
  • Rep. John Hampton (D)
  • Rep. Brandon McGee (D)
  • Sen. Craig Miner (R)
  • Rep. Chris Perone (D)
  • Rep. Bill Petit (R)
  • Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R)
  • Rep. Emmett Riley (D)
  • Rep. Sean Scanlon (D)
  • Reo. Charlie Stallworth (D)
  • Rep. Brian Smith (D)
  • Rep. Stephanie Thomas (D)
  • Rep. Dave Wilson (R)
  • Rep. Mike Winkler (D)
  • Sen. Kevin Witkos (R)
Questions on Solvency of the Paid Family Medical Leave Fund Addressed by the Executive Director

Despite the growing narrative that families are having trouble accessing Paid Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits, the program's executive director shared developments and actuarial data to the state this week citing that cases being granted, and the rates of the fund being made available, are better than even projected by the state.

This week, Andrea Barton Reeves shared with executive and legislative branch officials some interesting statistics on how many residents in the state have filed for benefits, and the rate of which benefits are being received. The fund, created in 2019, is funded mostly by those who work in CT, having .5% of their paycheck deducted each year. The deduction began in 2021, but the benefits were not made available until January of 2022. Reeves shared this week that the first month of eligibility began at 5,000 applicants, and that trend grew by a couple of thousand applicants each month to date.

AFLAC manages the fund in a partnership with state officials who also reported a payout of approximately $130M to date, which is well below what was originally forecasted to be $230M. That said, some of this distribution has created controversy due to the fact that those who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and were required to miss work were deemed ineligible to claim the paid FMLA benefit.

It’s also been projected by the CT Business and Industry Association that the amount of paid employees to support one FMLA recipient is a 24:1 ratio (meaning that 24 employees must pay into the system for one employees to be able to claim the benefit and have the system be solvent). The benefits ran for a full year to try to prevent overwhelming the system, but based on the recent math shared by the state, it looks like the state is fast approaching almost 45,000 claims being filed (but not awarded) where the state, in an absolute bare bones scenario, can only award claimants a certain amount before the fund could run out of funding. Here is a link to the article issued by CBIA earlier this year on their math of the program.

In short, there’s temporarily good news that the fund doesn’t appear close to heading to that point. But if the economy takes a sharp downturn and job growth is stalled, it could mean harder realities lying ahead for the FMLA fund.
Affordable Housing

One of the hot topics that we’ve reported on in previous “Municipal Roundup” articles has been the issue of affordable housing policy here in CT. In brief, many local communities, predominantly small towns, have not been able to meet the state threshold of affordable housing in their communities. There has been a plethora of legislation geared at mandating and creating penalties if those towns don’t meet their affordable housing obligations. Darien, a small southeastern community in Fairfield county, is one of those towns and this week a developer seeking zoning approval to build new housing has made that a major issue during his application process.

At an Architectural Review Board meeting last week in Darien, the developer of a three story, 22 unit apartment building proposed on Sedgwick Ave. threatened to change the project to a larger 8-30g project with 40 units after disagreements with the board about setbacks, height, green space and usage of the first floor. 8-30g is the statute requiring certain percentages of affordable housing in communities. These developments are typically small lot sizes and condensed. It is apparently not the first time a developer has proposed changing a project to 8-30g, a law that allows developers to bypass local zoning restrictions if at least 30 percent of the apartments are designated as affordable housing.

There were some tense moments during the meeting where the developer threatened to bring in advocacy groups to protest for more affordable housing. Ultimately, the conversation between the town and the developer ended whereby the developer would come back to present to them with some alterations to address concerns raised about the size and scope of the project on a small lot size.
The Bond Commission

One of the budgetary steps that the state has to take is the approval of the Bond Commission Agenda. The State Bonding Commission exists under statute and aims to approve project funding requests on an agenda submitted by the Governor, while also approving the amount and timing of bond sales as requested by the State Treasurer. As we know, the state is in good financial standing, making these meetings easier to swallow. The more recent meeting took place on Thursday morning where just $338 million in general obligation bonding was approved by the commission during its morning meeting. It is normally a cordial meeting, and yet, sometimes there are fireworks around some of the agenda items. It takes you right back to the old world of earmarks where a ton of tax dollars (many times in the millions) are approved for specific projects throughout the state. Let’s dive right in by looking at a few that were approved at yesterday’s meeting.

  • $20 million to complete the redevelopment of New London’s State Pier (see below).
  • $3.47 million for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for repairs and improvements to DEEP-owned flood control systems.
  • $5.6 million for Connecticut State College building upgrades.
  • $10 million grant to East Hartford to redevelop of the Silver Lane corridor.
  • $250,000 each for the Harriet Beecher Stowe House and Mark Twain House (and museums)
  • $224,000 to install 33 light fixtures and add an outdoor fitness area to Arbor Park in Ellington.
  • $917,000 to reimburse nine police departments for the purchase of body cameras, dash cameras, and video storage units was also approved.
Historically, this bi-partisan commission approves several state projects that vary town-by-town. In year’s past, their focus has been on specific streams for museums, infrastructure upgrades, IT upgrades, and funds to support town construction projects. There is usually little conversation that happens during the Commission meetings. The Commission is led by many well-known leaders in state government, including Governor Ned Lamont, Jeffrey R. Beckham, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden, Comptroller Natalie Braswell, Attorney General William Tong, DAS Commissioner Michelle Gilman, Senator John W. Fonfara, Representative Sean Scanlon, Senator Henri Martin, and Representative Holly Cheeseman. Projects can sometimes run over cost – like the New London State Pier project which received the only fireworks of the day for the project cost. The project was originally estimated around $93 million but will cost more like $125. The recently approved $20 million was deemed necessary to finish the project. 
May 27th: Organizing the Fight Against a Deadly Enemy

From the earliest days of Connecticut history, fire posed one of the greatest mortal dangers to Connecticut residents — especially to the English settlers whose homes, barns, fences, and other structures were made of timber and often clustered closely together. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, before the advent of portable water pumps, fire-fighting methods were primitive and largely ineffective. Residents would keep large leather fire buckets in their homes and form “bucket brigades” whenever the town was alerted to a local fire. Men, women, and children would form a continuous line from the town well or other water source and pass a steady line of water-filled buckets to the site of the fire, where it was thrown on the flames. In a later improvement, these same bucket brigades passed water to fill the reservoir of a water pump used to spray water on the burning structure.

As residents of one of the oldest English settlements in Connecticut, the people of Wethersfield have a documented history of fighting fires dating back hundreds of years. In the late 17th century, the town purchased a number of ladders and extra fire buckets to keep in storage at the Congregational Church at the center of town. In 1803, following decades of prosperity and population growth, the town felt a need to increase its fire-fighting capacity. Wethersfield petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly for permission to establish its own formal fire company, which the state legislature approved on May 27.

The new volunteer fire department originally consisted of 16 men and two “force pumps” — small wheeled water pumps which could be moved to the scene of a fire by men or horses. And though its numbers have increased, and its fire-fighting equipment has vastly improved over the years, the Wethersfield Volunteer Fire Department is still going strong today. Its three separate companies answer hundreds of emergency calls every year. With more than 215 years of uninterrupted, active service, it has the proud distinction of being the oldest continuous volunteer fire department in New England.

The original article from the CT Humanities Council can be found here.
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