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Ron Responds

July 20, 2008

Mike: Drop the Politics

By Ron Gambardella

Note: The following is my response to Board of Ed Chairman Michael D’Agostino’s letter that appeared in the Hamden Chronicle. In his letter, Mr. D’Agostino provided his opinion relative to three areas: 1) Education Task Force, 2) budgets, and 3) BOE meetings. His letter was in response to a recent column I wrote.

In my column, I was seeking to reach out to Chairman Michael D’Agostino and others as a goodwill gesture to applaud the efforts by the BOE relative to the non-resident student issue in the Hamden Public Schools. It is unfortunate Mike's response appears to be politically motivated and reeks of partisanship. His tone is quite unbecoming of a BOE chairman who is supposed to be open-minded and speaks on behalf of all members of the Board.

Hamden schoolchildren represent our town’s future. Let me remind Mike and others what I am proposing. We can and must explore every avenue possible to make sure we provide students with the tools necessary to be successful in the 21st century. Through the education task force concept that I have proposed, we will seek input from business leaders, community activists, parents, teachers, education system retirees and students for a common goal: to offer suggestions and propose realistic solutions to make Hamden’s education system stronger and more vibrant than it is now. It is unrealistic for Mike to assume a nine-member Board can take on such a task without it consuming 100 percent of their time.

Hamden's diverse community is our strength. It is imperative that we utilize this wealth of talent and ideas from our residents in a positive and constructive manner. Through collaboration and innovation, we can set goals and make the improvements to our schools that we all seek. Does this seem unreasonable?

To Mike, apparently it does.  

It is regrettable Mike continues to admit time and time again that he is fresh out of new ideas to improve the education system. This is evident in his response and I quote from his letter in the Chronicle:

“The only way to ensure that Hamden maintains reasonable class size and the overall high quality of education it offers is to fund an adequate school budget each year.”

So Mike, the only solution you offer our town is more and more spending? That’s it? With the current economic realities we face your solution is short-sided. As a town, we need to think outside the box and bring in fresh ideas. Even Hamden's new superintendent admitted at a council presentation recently that more money is not always the answer. And by the way, current Board members Adam Sendroff, Austin Cesare, Ed Sullivan and Lynn Campo have all expressed to me they have no objection to an Education Task Force.

So does Mike speak for all of them?  I think not.

Let’s look at another distortion of truth from Mike. He writes: “You may recall however, that Ron proposed slashing millions of dollars from the education budget in his last years on the Council.”

What Mike neglects to inform the public is that Councilwoman Betty Wetmore and I actually proposed to increase the BOE budget the previous year by $2 million, with the understanding that the increase would be sufficient for two years.

At the time, the BOE was more than willing to accept the increase. Unfortunately, the next year the BOE budget request came to us with an increase beyond the previously understood maximum. When then-Councilman John Flanagan, a member of Mike’s own party, made a motion to reduce spending for one year, I supported it along with many other Council Democrats.

Were these Council Democrats, who supported the Flanagan motion, also wrong? You see Mike, half truths, sensationalism and distortions will never achieve its purpose.

Rest assured, I am talking with the public each and every day and I hear their concerns. The education of children should and must come first, not the partisan game of "gotcha" and/or distortions of the truth for one's own political benefit. Let's all work together to put partisanship aside and make Hamden Public Schools even better than they are today.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

July 10, 2008

All Together Now
Moving forward collectively to create the best school system

By Ron Gambardella

I read recently that the number of non-resident students attending Hamden public schools has approached 100 in the last three years. It seems that students from outside Hamden want so badly to attend our schools that they are willing to risk being asked to leave at some point during the school year. I was also pleased the Board of Education created a Residency Committee to deal with this issue.

I do feel for the students who are being removed. Moving to Hamden would certainly solve the problem, but economic realities may not allow students to go that route. Board of Education member Austin Cesare's letter to the editor concerning the issue of non-residency has raised public awareness of the issue. I was pleased to see that a bipartisan group of individuals came together and proposed meaningful changes to our district residency rules. For too long, Hamden has either ignored or was unaware of the number of students who illegally attend our schools.

I applaud Superintendent of Schools Fran Rabinowitz, Board Chair Michael D'Agostino and the other committee members, Diane Marinaro, Valarie Stone and Hamlet Hernandez, for stepping up the efforts to protect Hamden tax dollars from being spent to educate students from beyond our borders. This effort will help lower class size. It is a fact that lower class size does increase performance of teachers and students alike. Hamden classroom sizes need to be as small as possible, in order to give all students the most attention possible by the teacher. We also have a limited amount of resources available to fund education. Textbooks, computers and such are expensive; let's make sure we are providing the best we can to Hamden students.

The Board of Education does a very good job at handling these types of issues, but like everything else, there is room for improvement.

Let's encourage an open debate. Imagine what we can do if residents were empowered by the mayor, through a series of education forums sponsored by him, to come together and discuss new ideas for our schools? Let's roll up our sleeves and hold a series of town discussions on the needs of Hamden education through a Mayor's Education Task Force, something I proposed last year. The task force would be charged with identifying issues of concern, and empowering residents to get involved in the process though community conversations held at various locations around town.

The Hamden Education Task Force can be modeled after what the Board of Education did when they looked for and hired a new superintendent. They got extensive public input! Let's have business leaders, community activists, retired teachers and administrators, PTAs, seniors and students come together to discuss and formulate recommendations for improvement of our schools to our Board of Education. Why not?

The only way we are going to move forward in a positive direction is to get everyone involved. We must create stakeholders in the education system we all help fund, in order for all of us to take ownership. Then, maybe we can tackle other issues facing our schools and town in the 21st century.

It is a credit to the job our fine teachers are doing that so many out-of-district students wish to attend our schools. I do believe the Board and school administration made the only decision they could have made given the current economic realities facing the town. It may be time to think beyond our traditional model to identify and tackle other issues of concern to the taxpaying residents who pay the bills.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

July 6, 2008

‘Dog’ Deficiencies

By Ron Gambardella

Listed below are some of the findings from the report filed June 27, 2008, by Andrew Houlding who was hired by the town to investigate the dog-dumping matter that made national news. From the findings, it appears that the town is having a very difficult time with recordkeeping and accountability. This shouldn’t surprise anyone given the mayor’s own issues with filing unsubstantiated travel logs.

Moreover, the findings show that police Capt. Ronald Smith refused to cooperate with the investigation. Once again, this should surprise no one given that Chief Financial Officer Michael Betz refused to show up at the Ethics Board inquiry. He was requested to appear before the committee to explain why he chose to pay the mayor for his unsubstantiated mileage by dipping into funds earmarked for other public requirements.

To date, we have not heard from Mr. Betz. Apparently, there is no obligation by town officials or employees to cooperate with an ongoing investigation.

Read for yourself.

Findings of Fact

From Andrew Houlding’s June 27 report:

  1. Reports filed by Smith and Gimler pursuant to Connecticut law contain inaccuracies and inconsistencies, and those reports have been filed outside Statutory time limits.
  2. Smith and Gimler have contended that the Hamden Department of Public Works employees at the Transfer Station were responsible for the burial of the animal carcasses and failed to do so. However, we find that the Transfer Station employees were not adequately informed of the existence of the animal carcasses, their number and their location, and that the Transfer Station employees did not become responsible for burial until they were made aware of the existence and location of the carcasses.
  3. Smith and Gimler failed to inform the DPW personnel that they had a substantial number of animal carcasses, including domestic animals, in their van when they arrived at the Transfer Station on December 12, 2007.
  4. Smith and Gimler pushed animal carcasses, including dogs, cats, and a coyote, over a steep incline near the northern boundary of the Transfer Station.
  5. By pushing the animal carcasses over the edge of the embankment so that the carcasses rolled away from the base of the embankment, Smith and Gimler made it difficult to bury them.
  6. ACO Smith's direct supervisor, Hamden Police Captain Ronald Smith, refused to cooperate with our investigation. It was not possible, therefore, to determine whether, and if so when, he was made aware of the disposal of the domestic animal carcasses at the Transfer Station.
  7. DPW truck driver Frank Roche Saw the exposed animal carcasses on or about February 19, 2008, and reported the sighting to his supervisor, David Rhone. Rhone promptly informed Superintendent of Sanitation Dave Lockery who promptly contacted ACO Smith.
  8. ACO Smith acknowledged to Lockery that he had dumped the carcasses. However, ACO Smith failed even at this date to request immediate burial of the carcasses. Instead he requested that the matter be kept quiet.
  9. ACO Smith failed to inform his superiors in the Hamden Police Department on February 19, 2008, of the DPW discovery of the unburied carcasses.

My Conclusions

What seems evident is that the mayor put little or no thought into hiring an unqualified animal control officer. The mayor, along with the police chief, relied on Smith to carry out a policy change that was ill-defined. From the report, it seems likely the chief and mayor assumed Smith was to bury the carcasses. A more experienced animal control officer might have done just that.

However, Smith appears to have taken it upon himself to cast the carcasses down an embankment as a quick method of disposal. The report doesn’t present any concrete evidence that Smith ever intended to bury the carcasses. After this folly was discovered, Smith blamed Public Works for the deficiency.

It seems clear that this administration’s policy of favoritism, cronyism and complete disregard for the taxpayers continues to blemish our town government. Not only did the mayor not save any money with his policy change, but it will most likely cost in excess of $7,500 for the investigative report. Once again, you and I must pay for all of this.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

June 30, 2008

Leng Sings Same Old Tune

By Ron Gambardella

I find it amazing that Mr. Leng came so quickly to the defense of the administration by attacking my criticism of the slow-paced pet-dumping investigation. Residents have seen all too often the many sides of Councilman Curt Leng.

One of his sides seems to be completely satisfied with the slow pace of the investigation into the dead dogs found dumped at the transfer station. Then there is another side that responds when he sees an opportunity to embellish and/or enhance his own political career. When there is nothing for him to gain politically, he is quite comfortable allowing time to erase all misdeeds from the minds of the voters. Why would we expect anything different? After all, he is the third leg of a three-legged stool propping up the administration.

Just think about it for a minute. We have Finance Director Mike Betz, a key figure in a potential ethics violation, refusing to cooperate with the Ethics Board on a request initiated by the mayor. As a result, the board was unable to render a ruling because it couldn’t gain access to information only Mr. Betz could provide.

Where is Mr. Leng’s outrage on this issue?

You would think Mr. Leng, as legislative Finance Committee chair, would have at least publicly called Mr. Betz to task. Well, you would be wrong. We haven’t heard a peep from Mr. Leng on this issue. Instead, Mr. Leng got fired up and wrote a letter about what? Lyrics of a song written in the same vein as ’60s protest songs. Mr. Leng should have publicly demanded Mr. Betz attend the Ethic Board meetings. And yet again, we have another investigation going nowhere.

Perhaps Mr. Leng should give up his Finance chair and focus his attention on becoming a music critic. Hamden craves new leadership. Mr. Leng continues to play politics with every issue rather than doing what is right. Mr. Leng, step up to the plate and call this administration to task! Folks, we can and must do better.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

June 26, 2008

Dead Dog Ditty

By Ron Gambardella

Last election season, I was asked by St. Stephen’s School on Ridge Road to address the student body relative to issues facing the town of Hamden. The students were very attentive and polite. However, they seemed anxious to ask me about a song I wrote while I was on the campaign trail.

They seemed fascinated that I would use this form of communication to engage the voting public. Two students actually put the lyrics to music and sang it for me. I was delighted by their efforts and spent some time helping them understand the subtleties embedded in the lyrics.

With this in mind, I decided that another song was overdue. Listed below is my latest lyrical attempt at getting folks engaged in the town affairs. After reading in the Hamden Daily News how slowly the investigation was going on the dead dogs found dumped down a ditch at the transfer station, I decided a song was the only appropriate way of showing my dissatisfaction with the process.

While this may seem partisan to some, be aware that both Democratic and Republican Council members have called this administration into question.
Here it goes.

Dead Dogs

Mayor say – we need to save some money.
Chief say – this may sound a little funny,
Animal disposal is a costly expense,
I have a plan that makes more sense.

Dead dogs! Dead dogs!
Down at the transfer station,
Dead dogs! Dead dogs!
Is the talk of the nation.
Mayor say – tell me more.
Chief say – now here’s the score.
I was talkin’ to our friend Smitty,
Remember he has no experience working in any city.
He say – we need no burial,
We can save more money by simply going aerial.

Dead dogs! Dead dogs!
Down at the transfer station,
Dead dogs! Dead dogs!
Is the talk of the nation.

Mayor say – I like the plan.
Chief say – here’s where we stand.
You ready to jump and holler,
We saved nearly 30 dollar.
Smitty tells me not to fear,
He found a place far from here.
Dead dogs! Dead dogs!
Down at the transfer station,
Dead dogs! Dead dogs!
Is the talk of the nation.

Mayor say – I saved on cremation.
Council say – we need an investigation.
You got caught,
It was all for naught.
Now we’re concerned about the seats we sought.

Dead dogs! Dead dogs!
Down at the transfer station,
Dead dogs! Dead dogs!
Is the talk of the nation.

There you have it, short, sweet and to the point. Folks, while these lyrics may be poignant make no mistake -- the needs and concerns of Hamden residents continue to be ignored by this administration. Urgency in this matter seems appropriate.

Residents should be able to trust their mayor to do the right thing. It is unacceptable that the pet-dumping investigation has taken as long as it has. Hamden’s residents deserves answers now. We can and must do better!

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

June 10, 2008

Oz Revisited

By Ron Gambardella

Look what the political elites are doing now. Gorman, Fitch, Leng, oh my! Where have I heard that before? Yes, I remember, it was in the “Wizard of Oz” where Council President Al Gorman played the tinman, Majority Leader Matt Fitch played the lion and Finance Chair Curt Leng played the scarecrow.

When you consider these characters it is not a far stretch to apply what is happening to Hamden’s political scene to the ineptitude of the three and their blind support of the Henrici Administration. Let’s take a closer look.

Beginning with the tinman, President Al Gorman has all but rusted in place. He has been sitting on the council so long that he has lost any ability to challenge even the most outrageous sort of nonsense coming out of the Henrici Administration; most recently the miraculous appearance of $200,000 of un-cashed checks that came along just in time to balance the budget. This man only takes action when he is greased. As far as I can recall, he hasn’t once used his ax to cut any fat in the budget. It appears he is content to sit there rusting in place.

Next we have the lion. If only Majority Leader Matt Fitch could muster up some courage to challenge the administration. He remained silent when dog carcasses were piling up in the town dump. He has no comment when departments are being investigated. He appears to be fearful to ask the administration for the status of outstanding projects such as the long ago promised ambulance service or the town-wide deployment of Wi-Fi. He has not followed up on charter revision.

Yet he boasts of accomplishments that come from the backs of the taxpayers. Any loud or abrupt noise coming from the taxpayers tends to find Mr. Fitch running for cover.

Finally, we have Finance Chair Curt Leng. Like the scarecrow, Mr. Leng has been challenged in the basic principle of logical thinking. Mr. Leng recently boasted that he managed a slight tax increase for the citizens of Hamden. Apparently, Mr. Leng cannot think back to the past two years. Hamden residents had to endure two back-to-back tax increases -- one historically high.

At a recent Council meeting, Mr. Leng touted more senior tax relief. Where was Mr. Leng's commitment to seniors two years ago, when Hamden taxes went up nearly 30 percent for many seniors? Mr. Leng concluded that the folks in Hamden should be grateful -- under his "watchful" eye as finance chair -- for a third year of tax increases. It is very clear to me that Mr. Leng is challenged in the most rudimentary understanding of how tax increases affect residents. Mr. Leng, Hamden residents, young and old alike, are tapped out. They cannot afford another tax increase under your watch. They want change, not more of your rhetoric.

So we now have these three characters all going to the Wizard (otherwise known as the taxpayers) to once again solve their problems. So how do the taxpayers respond?  Simply by telling them that they already have what it takes to solve these problems. Don’t expect the taxpayers to continue to underwrite your shortcomings.

Tinman, take that ax of yours that you haven’t used in years and apply it to the budget. If you actually do something, you won’t continue to rust in place.

Yo lion! Get some guts and call the mayor to task. You continue to defend him for fear of losing your own seat on the council. You will be amazed at what can happen if only you try.

Lastly, scarecrow. You already know what to do. You can’t continue to hide behind your votes. We know that as finance chair you orchestrated all the budgets that this town has had to suffer through for many years. Once the vote has been decided in caucus, you try to advance your political career by taking an opposing view. You may want to stay away from open flames for fear that you might be totally consumed by your duplicitous behavior.

Friends, these three characters have done more harm to Hamden’s taxpayers than any other members of the council. Their blind, loyal support of the mayor has caused the town national embarrassment. As you know, they must go.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.


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