WRA Comments to Common Council on Monday, April 3, 2017

The following is the complete text of the comments given by WRA Chair Jennifer Mahr to the Common Council on Monday, April 3 regarding items 7A and 8B on the agenda:

Good evening. My name is Jennifer Mahr and I am the chair of the Westfield Residents Association. I’m here tonight, on behalf of the association, to ask you to vote against amending the Director of Planning, Conservation and Development’s job description as proposed by Mayor Drew.

The WRA was formed in 1981 to ensure the rational development of Middletown. Our longtime Chair, Arline Rich, and her contemporaries, dedicated their lives to preserving the process of good governance, believing that city government exists to protect and promote the interests of the people whose tax dollars pay for the process.

If you google the question, “why should a city hire a certified planner?” The American Planning Association’s website says this about the American Institute of Certified Planners’ (AICP) certification process: “Planners with an AICP certification have the academic qualifications, relevant work experience, and mastery of essential skills required to serve communities effectively. Hiring a certified planner demonstrates your commitment to the highest standard of ethical practice.”

So, first, for the Director of Planning, Conservation and Development to serve Middletown effectively, he or she needs academic qualifications, relevant work experience, and a mastery of essentials skills. Perhaps, if we were a sleepy bedroom community like Middlefield, we could accept the argument that a great manager could gain on the job experience, and be certified after the fact. So you know, the AICP certification process requires 4 years of job experience for a candidate without a degree certified by the Planning Accreditation Board before the candidate can even take the certification test.

But Middletown isn’t a sleepy bedroom town. It’s a complex, robust city that occupies, literally, a central role in our state. Middletown hosts a university, college, a hospital, multiple high schools, critical junctions of interstate highways, an envious position on the CT river, and a host of other rich, competing qualities that set this city apart from other cities. Why would we settle for someone without the academic qualifications, relevant work experience and mastery of essential skills? We’re about to rewrite our zoning code and redevelop our waterfront. We don’t have 4 years to give someone on the job experience before certification: Middletown needs someone now who can jump in and provide relevant leadership based on previous experience.

The second reason for hiring a certified planner took me by surprise: “Hiring a certified planner demonstrates your commitment to the highest standard of ethical practice.” The your in that sentence is you, the Common Council and the Mayor’s office. The words “ethical practice” are hyperlinked to a page that summaries the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct: “Certified planners…pledge to uphold high standards of practice, ethics, and professional conduct. As such, the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct helps members negotiate tough ethical and moral dilemmas they sometimes face.” It is notable that the certification process exists to ensure that city planners are properly trained to serve the public’s interest. It’s not a side benefit of certification, it’s the purpose for certification. To me, it means the job comes with a danger, and to protect the interests of the citizens of this town, you, the Common Council, would hire a certified planner to demonstrate your commitment to clean, efficient, and honest government.

The entire process that got us to tonight’s vote is the opposite of good government. Don’t just take my word for it – consider the multiple Middletown Press and Hartford Courant articles which have commented on the highly irregular process that was the job description revision and subsequent nomination of Mr. Samolis to the position. This job cannot be tied to the Democratic city machine or the Mayor’s future political aspirations. The Director has to work for us, the citizens, not you, the politicians with favors to collect and dispense.

For that reason alone – the appearance of a conflict of interest or a manipulation of the government process to benefit something other than the public interest, you the Council should not approve this new job description or appointee. If that’s not enough, the appointee does not have the education or experience for the job Middletown requires. Taken together, voting tonight to approve the changes to the Director’s job description and to approve the nomination of Mr. Samolis would constitute an utter failure on the part of the Common Council to govern responsibly and ethically. There is no other way to consider your actions.

At the very least, if you are determined to let the mayor have his way, you must also create and fund a second job for a certified city planner. These two jobs have to be approved together to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and propriety. In other words, you can’t approve the mayor’s proposals tonight and just promise to try to create a planning job later. If our budget cannot support hiring a separate city planner, you can’t vote tonight to change the job description to drop out this expertise. Stephen Devoto, the Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission has already publicly stated that he and the other elected members of the Commission cannot do their jobs without support from a planning professional.

Please – put the citizens of Middletown first. Our long term stability and prosperity depends on the choices you make right now: don’t make a short-sighted choice based on political convenience to deprive our town of the professional experience we need at this critical moment. Thank you.

Important Common Council vote on Monday, April 3 at 7pm


On Monday, April 3 at 7pm, the Common Council will be voting to fill the vacant position of Director of Planning, Conservation and Development. The mayor has (1) proposed a change to the job description of this position, and (2) appointed his Administrative Assistant, Joe Samolis, to the post. The agenda for Monday night’s Common Council meeting can be found here.

The heart of the Executive Committee’s concern is this: the mayor proposes changing the job description of the Director of Planning, Conservation and Development to drop the requirement that the Director have a degree in planning. The Director would have to be certified as a Planner within 5 years of the appointment. The proposed job description is here .

Please note that a national search for a new Director was conducted this fall, with over a dozen qualified candidates (under the old job description) applying. Joe Samolis was involved in evaluating these candidates, including participating in the interviews. The mayor then decided to hire none of the applicants, to change the job description, and to hire Mr. Samolis as the new Director.

Stephen Devoto, a longtime WRA member and the current Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, is vehemently against this proposed change to the Director’s job description UNLESS the change also creates and funds a separate city planner position. In his opinion, and the WRA Executive Committee concurs, Middletown is too large a city to not have professional expertise in planned development. In fact, one could argue that there should have been two positions long ago: a director dedicated to administration and oversight, and a planner dedicated to long term city planning and day-to-day implementation of that plan. Middletown’s Zoning Code is in dire need of revision, and that process was started over a year ago, only to be halted during the search for a new Director. Hiring someone with no certification in planning to oversee this process is irresponsible and reckless.

Here are links to several news articles for background reading:

It is the opinion of the Executive Committee that Middletown needs a certified planner on staff. It may be possible that said planner isn’t the administrator Middletown requires to meets its planning, conservation and development needs, and that’s OK. But, to modify a job description to justify the hiring of someone with no planning education or experience is unwise and a poor allocation of tax dollars.

What can you do?

1. Attend Monday night’s Common Council Meeting and voice your opinion during the public comment session.

2. Call or email Common Council members before Monday’s meeting to share your opinion. A list of Council members can be found here. In particular, contact the Deputy Majority Leader Mary Bartolotta (Mary.Bartolotta@MiddletownCT.Gov) or Councilman Gerry Daley (Gerald.Daley@MiddletownCT.Gov).

3. Tell your neighbors and ask them to do #1 or #2.

Firing Range Building Committee Meets February 7 at 6pm

The Firing Range Building Committee meets tomorrow, February 7, at 6pm in the Community Room at the Middletown Police Station.

The Firing Range Building Committee was established to oversee improvements to the Dingwall-Horan Joint Firearms Training Facility at 260 Meriden Road (near Guida’s Restaurant). The Middletown Common Council has approved two $750,000 bonds: one to deal with noise abatement and one to deal with environmental mediation and the building of a bullet-entrapment system.

The members of the Building Committee are:
Carl Chisem, Chair
Robert Santangelo
Philip Pessina
Joseph Bibisi
Mike Timbro
Robert Kronenberger
Jennifer Mahr
Barbara McCauliffe

Agendas and Minutes can be found here.

Members of the public are welcome to bring their concerns or questions to the Committee’s attention, either in person during the Public Comment portions of the meetings or via written comments.

Starting in March, the Firing Range Building Committee will meet on the third Tuesday of each month at 6pm in room B-19 of the Municipal Building, unless otherwise directed. The schedule is as follows:

March 21, 2017 at 6 p.m.
April 18, 2017 at 6 p.m.
May 16, 2017 at 6 p.m.
June 20, 2017 at 6 p.m.
July 18, 2017 at 6 p.m.
August 15, 2017 at 6 p.m.
September 19, 2017 at 6 p.m.
October 17, 2017 at 6 p.m.
November 21, 2017 at 6 p.m.
December 19, 2017 at 6 p.m.
January 16, 2018 at 6 p.m.

Meet the Candidates Forum – a fantastic evening with the candidates!

Thank you to all the candidates who attended this evening’s forum. Channel 3 filmed a good portion of the evening, so perhaps we made the news! The following races were represented:

US Senate – Dan Carter and Richard Lion
US Representative District 1 – Matthew Corey
US Representative District 3  – Angel Cadena
State Senator District 9 – Paul Doyle
State Senator District 13 – Dante Bartolomeo and Len Suzio
State Representative District 33 – Joseph Serra and Linda Szynkiwicz
State Representative District 100 – Matt Lesser
Middletown Registrar of Voters – David Bauer

The audience had great questions and the candidates were well behaved. It was a great evening and a privilege to watch democracy in action. Thank you all!

Meet the Candidates Forum – Monday, October 24th

The following candidates will be attending the Meet the Candidates Forum held in the Third Congregational Church’s Fellowship Hall (94 Miner Street in Middletown). The Forum will begin at approximately 7:30pm, following the WRA’s Annual Meeting.

US Senate: Dan Carter (R) and Richard Lion (Libertarian)
US Representative District 1: Matthew Corey (R)
US Representative District 3: Angel Cadena (R)
State Senate District 9: Paul Doyle (D)
State Senate District 13: Dante Bartolomeo (R) and Len Suzio (R)
State Rep. District 33: Linda Szynkowicz (R)
State Rep. District 100: Matt Lesser (D) and Anthony Moran (R)
Middletown Registrar of Voters: David Bauer (R)