Meriden Made

Oct 08

Meriden politics continues

So that happened Monday night.

If you missed it on Twitter or Facebook or on our website, here’s what happened Monday night at Meriden’s City Council meeting.

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Image courtesy of Richie Rathsack l Record-Journal

I could sit here and analyze the meeting, but for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t actually at a council meeting. Well, I stopped by briefly before it began, but that’s about it.

When I walked in to hand Richie a cable for the camera so the RJ could take video, there were people spilling into the hallways. It was one of the larger crowds I’d seen.

The topic isn’t a laughing matter, but people I spoke with in recent days couldn’t help but smile or laugh when this meeting was mentioned. Having attended dozens of these meetings, there are some that you can anticipate being contentious, heated and messy and you can’t stop it from happening. And I think that’s where the smiles or jokes come from - the ability to sense something from a mile away, trying to anticipate and then just living it out. Either way, there is a reason to be upset and there is a reason to try and let it all go.

Elected officials are on both sides of this issue both defending Rich and strongly opposed.

Those supporting him cite Lenny’s facts and say he is correct. By the definition of the facts, he is mostly correct. 2010 Census data was a little lower than 90% black in Detroit, but it could have risen within the last four years. Others supporting him have said Lenny said nothing wrong - they seem to think Meriden is headed the way of Detroit.

Let’s not lose sight of what was said though.

He compared the two locations. He was listing what he considers to be flaws of Detroit that have lead to a bleak picture. He cites the poverty. He cites the percentage of black people. He cites the graduation rate. Yes, poverty is a problem. The graduation rate is a problem. But unless you specifically argue that 90% black is a flaw because you’d prefer to see a more even distribution of races, then all you’re saying is that 90% of the people living in Detroit is a problem.

Lenny saw nothing wrong with what he said at the time. He saw nothing wrong when a story appeared in the newspaper two days later after we attempted to contact him multiple times.

He said the comment on Sept. 22. He apologized on Oct. 5., the night before a council meeting.

In his apology, Rich said he did not mean to bring race into the statement. Odd, considering he clearly did research and specifically mentioned a race.

The apology was done in an email. The email was sent to the City Council, Board of Education, some city staff, some BOE staff and a few reporters. Yet, he addresses the city of Meriden. He did not contact the Record-Journal asking for us to print anything. Were the elected officials supposed to contact all of their constituents to let them know Lenny apologized? Did he assume the RJ would just write a story. Credit to Molly Callahan, our Sunday reporter, who was on I-91 when she was called back into the office at 9 p.m. to write a story so the apology could be read by people BEFORE the council met that night.

Lenny made no statement at the council meeting. No apology. He told the press he had no further comment. He told reporter Andrew Ragali that it was the Record-Journal’s fault that it became a widespread media issue. Truth is, the Associated Press picked up our story and Monday morning, every news outlet in the state picked it up after that. Four TV news crews showed up Monday night. Chaz and AJ spoke about the issue at length Tuesday morning on their radio show. And a staff member from Chaz and AJ spoke about calling him Tuesday morning and his seemingly angry or frustrated response.

Now if he issued an apology earlier or only chose to issue one at the meeting, it’s less likely those same news crews show up.

Of course this isn’t Lenny’s first controversial situation.

Last year, he called me out on his Facebook page. I’m told not long after that went viral within the city of Meriden, his wife banned him from Facebook.

Prior to the ‘Detroit’ remarks, he made comments about Yale Acres and the people living there not needing a community center. That drew some criticisms from Democratic councilors and the people living there.

The police were requested at a City Council meeting in February because councilor Cathy Battista was concerned. She and Rich had some type of phone conversation in which she felt threatened. There was also an email exchange where he made mention to one of her family members.

There was the “There was a time when everyone but a few thought the (Earth WAS FLAT)” comment to a constituent.

Every time, he is defended with a comment about how Lenny is “unpolished” or “old school.”

Then there was the incident between he and I where I also got an apology. Back in May, the council was discussing the certificate of compliance program. Multiple recesses were called. A tri-party caucus was held on the council floor. And a task force was created.

You can read about the legal complications of a “tri-party caucus” as Rich called it here.

While people from the parties spoke during recess, people gathered to talk about the tense meeting around the Council Chambers. Some walked on the council floor to talk to other councilors or city staff. Others tried to listen to this meeting going on in front of our eyes, with a quorum, mind you.

I opted for a closer listen. I stood up. Walked a few feet forward. And listened. Some councilors were aware I was there and continued on. Lenny realized it when he turned around and saw me. He told me to get out of there. I asked what they were discussing, as they were discussing council business in the Council Chambers, with a quorum, and multiple parties (all of which help it qualify toward its own actual meeting).

Lenny stood up, put his hand on my shoulder and with some slight force, lead me back to the crowd. He gave me a little shove - enough to send me forward an extra step or two - and said to stay away. I told him I was listening and asked what they were talking about. He said it was a tri-party caucus and it didn’t involve me.

I’d heard enough so I sat down. Some people saw it, some people didn’t. Those that did were surprised he would put his hands on somebody. And in the weeks to come, so were many others who called and asked what happened or inquired. It spread and this is the first time I’m actually writing about it. Those who asked, I told. The fact is, some made it out to be a punch (which it was not) and others thought were were in a shoving match (which we were not). I’d prefer to clear the air.

People above me at the RJ were not pleased with the situation. Looking back, I was not. And people contacting me were upset. When somebody here investigated the situation, Lenny flatly denied it. Said it didn’t happen.

It wasn’t until another councilor, who witnessed it, explained what happened that Lenny acknowledged it happened. He was spoken to by Dan Brunet. And came up and apologized sometime the next week. He shook my hand and said he’s sorry if he did anything wrong.

The point is, it’s not the first time he has had to issue an apology. It’s not the first time he has done something causing some controversy. The situation could have been avoided, as could have others. But I guess because he’s “old school” or “unpolished” they keep happening.

Lenny has three more years in office. This situation isn’t going to force him to resign. He won’t do that. But there is a question, of how many more incidents could happen. His comments, right or wrong, lead to a heated meeting Monday night.

And the meeting, in general, looks terrible for the city. People made fun of the city. People questioned what the hell is going on in the city. And it didn’t cause anybody to say ‘Hey, that’s where I want to live.’ My personal friends made fun of Meriden in their Facebook feeds and in talking to me.

So when people sit and wonder why some might not want to live in Meriden - you can point them to the political climate, for one.

Where do things go from here? I’m not sure. Guess we need to find out what happens between now and the council’s next meeting Oct. 20.

Oh, by the way, the certificate of compliance program was changed and the anti-nepotism policy was passed. And the real kicker of that meeting? If the City Council didn’t pass a resolution at the request of the mayor earlier this year allowing people to discuss any topic they wanted to during public comment - nobody would have been able to speak about Lenny. Go figure.

Oct 06

10 Stories To Know

I’ve been slacking on my blogging, so I’ll give you all plenty to read right here. This isn’t just a series of links, but some stories behind the stories. Hopefully this makes up for some of the lack of blogging. I’ve found myself busier, at times, with the new job, but want to keep people interested and reading so here is plenty of information…

1. Lenny Rich

By now you heard or read what City Councilor Lenny Rich had to say about Meriden and Detroit. Here is the latest.

Lenny issued an apology Sunday night just before 9 p.m. The apology came less than 12 hours before the next City Council meeting and almost two weeks after he made the comments. Of course, there were plans for a number of people, including the NAACP, to comment on Rich’s comments.

Now, not satisfied with his apology, NAACP President Jason Teal is calling for Rich’s resignation. Should be an interesting meeting tonight.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you read the columns from Glenn Richter and Eric Cotton who discuss recent political topics.

2. The Southington Sports Complex

What? This isn’t Meriden!

No, it’s not. But there is some relevance to Meriden here.

It surprised us when it was announced a sports complex might be built in Southington. The town is clearing all of the planning and approval hurdles. Once that’s done, a developer can just come in and do their thing.

Business. Friendly. That’s what that is.

People in Meriden are disappointed they don’t have a sports complex. But wait … they could. It was actually something proposed by one of the companies showing interest in Meriden’s downtown properties. I’d still say it’s possible. Why? Meriden has the better location than Southington. Will it happen? That’s another story.

3. Baseball Academy

Speaking of sports, Meriden could soon have its own baseball academy. The plan is to use space at the former International Silver Co. headquarters at 500 S. Broad St. To the people who don’t know, that’s the building behind the Starbucks plaza.

I can’t see much wrong with this. It brings an attraction to Meriden - something that could draw people from other towns. It fills vacant space. It’s a cool idea. And, get this, the guy who wants to do it called Meriden “business friendly.” Wow, go figure.

Of course I speak with sarcasm here, as the mayor and others have been saying Meriden is no such thing in recent months. Either way, this has to be good news for the Silver City.

4. Downtown Happenings

The bumpouts. Gone.

Well, not all of them, but that is where plans are headed.

The city began plans to remove bumpouts and brick sidewalks in favor of concrete and no bumpouts. It is something welcomed by pretty much anybody who has ever traveled downtown.

I drive through on a regular basis and the bumpouts create consistent problems. Among the problems is people stopping next to them to let people out. By doing this, you block an entire lane for an extended period. The blockage then stops traffic throughout the downtown.

Whether or not people agree with what is coming next, I’ve never heard somebody say the bumpouts were a great idea. That’s unfortunate because the city spent a lot of money on that.

5. Cook Avenue and So On

I was surprised one day when I drove along Cook Avenue to find the pavement milled. I knew it wasn’t on the city’s paving list and quickly remember Cook Avenue and Old Colony Road - all the way into Wallingford - is a state responsibility.

I decided to see how far the milled road would take me. I got to Hall Avenue and realized it would be pretty far. A chat with another editor made me realize it was the entire three-mile stretch.

The result of this, avoid it for the next couple of weeks while it is paved.

6. Working at Night

This is an interesting one. The Church and Morse demolition is now happening mostly at night.

How did we realize this one? By accident.

Our reporters don’t work late into the wee hours of the morning. They don’t work over night. There’s usually one that stays late-ish and another that comes in at 7 a.m. So there is a gap.

Well, the RJ has a camera taking a photo of the demolition. It takes a photo every two minutes. Spread over a few weeks and mashed together, you get a nice time-lapse video.

The camera is turned on in the morning and off at night. One night, however, it was mistakenly left on. And then we captured one of the firs nights they were working. So the next day, when somebody was reviewing the photos, they came across the images.

So here is the story on that.

7. Working on Ebola

This is a pretty cool story. Meriden-based Protein Sciences, known best for its Flublok vaccine, is working on a vaccine dealing with Ebola.

No back story on this one is needed, as I think most are familiar with the Ebola situation. But this is pretty interesting and it appears this is on the fast track.

8. Just outside of the RJ

I miss work for one day and of course something happens.

Just outside of the window located directly behind my head, a man was arrested. Charges are yet to be filed, but it was quite the sight from what I hear.

Things happen outside that window all of the time. Usually it’s a car rear-ending another. Sometimes there is a crash at the East Main/Perkins intersection. In the winter, it’s a car struggling to get up the hill.

But arrests are a bit unusual. Especially one involving eight or nine police cars and officers everywhere.

9. Platt Opens

The new wing at Platt opened last week.

The timing was interesting and was quiet. The section of the school isn’t actually complete, but the story gave me the feeling the construction crews need to push the project along and that meant getting people out of the old wing and into the new one.

Either way, the halls look incredibly clean, which is to be expected. After following these projects for four years, it’s nice to see these coming to fruition.

A bigger opening will occur in the coming weeks when the section is fully done.

10. Engine 3

The Broad Street firehouse turned 125 this year.

It’s got quite a history, which I suggest you read. The pictures are fascinating to look at and see how much technology has changed.

Sep 29

Meriden Politics

It was just another week in Meriden politics, I suppose. When people say ‘this city will never change,’ you just point them to the elected officials. Because things are changing.

Not just in the makeup of the mayor and council, but also the way politicians operate. It wasn’t long ago that most of the council just got along. Things were passed. Oftentimes without discussion.

That can be a good thing or it could be a scary thing.

I’m not sure how I’d explain the current political situation in Meriden to an outsider, but I don’t think it’s a situation most Meridenites would be proud of. And I don’t think it’s a situation that people look at Meriden and express confidence in.

The mayor, Manny Santos, is doing what he thinks is right by “telling it like it is.” Telling it like it is apparently saying that the parks in the city are not maintained very well. He says the city is not business friendly. And he tells a city councilor that “You should find someone to start changing your diaper.”

Oh boy.

That same councilor, Brian Daniels, had concerns about the way Santos was talking about the city. He called the mayor uninformed, inaccurate, negative….so on.

This is all through email by the way. It wasn’t for show. I mean, initially it wasn’t. But it was forwarded to the Record-Journal pretty quickly thereafter. Coincidence? Not sure. But I do feel the residents of the city deserve to see groups of elected officials looking like, well, babies.

Then you’ve got Lenny Rich. Lenny spoke about Meriden headed toward the likes of Detroit at a recent meeting. He didn’t say it in a positive way, of course, and insinuated that there may be a problem with Detroit being 90% black. He certainly had a problem with its economy and cited the percentage and the percentage of students not graduating as points while talking about problems in the Motor City. Maybe he should talk to his son-in-law about the graduation rates in Meriden…

This isn’t the first time Rich said or did something that caused an issue. It likely will not be the last. People don’t always like polished politicians, but I’m not sure how many like Lenny’s comments either. While there weer some people defending his Detroit comments on Facebook, I didn’t find many excited about that 90% black statistic. Some said he is racist, some said he didn’t. I’ll let you decide what the comment meant.

The RJ Editorial Board had this to say about Santos.

The headline says it all” Mayor Santos has gone too far.

I’m not on the editorial board. I have no say what goes into that. We all know Santos has the right to say what he chooses. He can bash the city, he can say the city is wonderful. Whatever. But once you sit in that mayor’s seat or City councilor’s seat, everything you say is under a microscope. Both of those stories were picked up by a statewide media outlet. So now not only are local readers watching, but they have the attention of more people now. Maybe that was a goal, maybe it wasn’t. But now that they have the attention, it is important to choose words even more carefully.

Sep 23

Down goes Church and Morse

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Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

It’s always sad to see history go. Lucky us here at the Record-Journal, we get to see it firsthand.

I was driving down State Street toward this series of buildings. I got to the intersection of State and East Main streets and looked up. There was a small hole near the top of the building. Of course, I say small, but I mean it was still sizable.

I ran inside the building after parking. I went to our executive conference room. And I began shooting video.

Then things started falling. It was impressive to watch. It didn’t seem like there was a real strategy - just start poking and prying.

Bricks and debris came crashing down pretty quickly. Then it continued. Before long, things were close to gone, it seemed.

I stopped the video because it seemed like they weren’t going to do much more.

Nope, they were just strategizing.

As I said earlier, it’s sad to see history be destroyed. And it’s being destroyed basically just to get some work done behind the buildings.

Before I go any further, I will say the buildings have more than 100 years of history.

Having been in the buildings, it was clear they weren’t in great shape: inside or out. As I’ve said in the past - people (including the Fire Department) were told not to enter the building furthest up South Colony Street. It was dangerous and damaged seriously after a fire.

The other buildings weren’t in great shape. Could they have been rehabbed? Probably. But they could just as easily be destroyed and the site could be redeveloped in the future. If there is interest.

At some point, it would be nice to see something there. A parking lot, obviously, would not be ideal unless there is a plan to develop something else in the area further. It was briefly mentioned further extending the Record-Journal building in some way through its back parking lot. Then, the South Colony Street property could become a parking lot.

Let’s face it, that stretch of South Colony Street needs a facelift. After that property is a former RJ property now owned by a local karate studio. That building needs work. Then you have a small lot for vehicles, then a warehouse used by Beat the Street, and a former brewery. After that, it’s mostly an industrial zone with residential on the other side of the street.

It’s been a long time since the area along South Colony Street looked nice. The housing is not in great shape.

So while many are critical of this demolition, let’s hope it’s the beginning of a revival for the area. Or maybe not.

Sep 22

Live where you work?

The question of whether or not department heads and department managers should live in the town they work is a topic that could be debated for days. Unfortunately, the City Council committee of the whole won’t have that much time tonight. Or they probably won’t. I mean, they have to debate that whole anti-nepotism policy thing too.

But while it seems everybody is in agreement there should at least be some type of anti-nepotism policy, the same cannot be said about the residency issue.

And so we looked into that matter some more.

Andy Ragali, Jesse Buchanan and Richie Rathsack on graphics did an in-depth look at what people really thought about this. It’ll be up to the council, but we decided to talk to some of the people who already serve as department heads. They won’t be impacted, but their successors could.

What we found was interesting. Wallingford and Southington heads like living in their towns. Very few from Cheshire do. And Meriden was somewhere between them.

Department heads from Meriden (or most of them) made the argument that you are limiting the pool of applicants when you force them to live in Meriden. Bob Bass, director of public works, made the point that his successor could be either of the associate engineers right now. They have proven themselves in Meriden but don’t live here. Suddenly they will have to move to Meriden and move their families.

Another point was that a lot of Meriden’s department heads (or some, at least) live in neighboring towns. Hartford used to have a mile restriction - so you could live 10 miles from Hartford and still qualify.

As we found, it is more common for larger cities to have these requirements. It should be noted those larger cities have a longer list of “internal” applicants. It should be added that they have also struggled, in some cases, to hire for some big six-figure jobs.

The mayor is right, Meriden does have plenty of nice places to live. You could easily take a six-figure (or close to it) job in Meriden and then quickly find a nice place to live. Meriden isn’t Hartford or New Haven. It isn’t this huge city. It’s much smaller. And it would make some sense to require people to have a vested interest in the town, further than what they have now.

Then again, why require somebody to live where they work? They will already spend (at least) eight hours every day working there. You should have the right to live and raise a family where you want, some will say. And would living in the city negatively impact your job performance? Would you make a selfish decision because you are in Meriden?

See how we can debate this all day? Unfortunately, as I said, the council has a committee meeting tonight and then another meeting early next month. By then, we should probably know the future of where department heads will be living.

Sep 17

Hubbard Park and Gates

This situation continues to boggle my mind.

Gates to Castle Craig close at 4:45 p.m. The sun stays up much later, especially during the summer.

The conversation continued last night about whether or not to keep the gates open later. Some say it should happen now. Others say it should be discussed further.

I think everybody is in agreement that the gates should be open later. Why shouldn’t I be able to go up to Castle Craig, get that great view and drive back down at 7 pm on a weekday? Or weekend?

It’s silly to close one of the best, if not the best, things the city has to offer way before it should be.

Why is it closed early? Parks and Recreation Director Mark Zebora wasn’t quite sure why it closes when it does when I asked him last month. I’ll guess it has to do with time people go home from work, or it did at some point. But who knows?

I get that it should be closed. Otherwise, you’re inviting people to trash the area at night or late afternoon. It’s also a safety issue to have people driving there at late hours. And people do like to walk, run, and bike the area. Let’s face it, that road is narrow.

So it doesn’t boggle my mind that this discussion is happening, but what is confusing is why it takes so long to figure this out. It shouldn’t be too hard. You’re not going to please everybody, but I think most agree you can keep the gate open longer. And it makes most sense to do that A.) in summer or warmer months and B.) when temporary workers are available.

Lifeguards work at the pool. They work seven days a week during the summer. They are seasonal workers. They could do it since they go home later. OR you could give a stipend to somebody. Or get volunteers, though I realize that brings some issues.

It’s not an issue that should take three months to decide. Or two months. Or seven months. The money shouldn’t be an issue either. Sure, it may cost a few thousand dollars, but I’m sure the city can find some money.

The gates are only open in some months. And it probably makes sense to narrow the dates to account for the sun setting earlier in some months. These aren’t the most difficult decisions the City Council will make this year or next year though. The questions should be asked, answered and they should move on.

Or continue as it is now and waste a few hours of sunlight every day by not allowing people to visit the best place in the state to get a view from.

Sep 15

Communication Lacking?

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Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal


I was a little surprised to find out the Meriden Housing Authority was purchasing two downtown buildings. I was even more surprised to find out they had no intentions to convert them to housing.

But that isn’t what surprised me most.

The fact that some city officials did not expect these purchases or were surprised is what truly surprised me.

The city and MHA have had a pretty good working relationship over the last few years. They communicate, they seem to be working together and they won a $500,000 grant because they are working together so well and have strong plans for downtown.

Their coordinated efforts are also supposed to result in a mixed-use development on Colony Street. It would be one of the first real developments in downtown in 40+ years. That’s saying something about the downtown.

Then this.

You can clear read the frustration coming from the city manager. The city has plans for downtown and each building has some type of role. At least, in their eyes. Then the MHA, which has close communication (usually) goes and buys some buildings.

The MHA officials say they only plan to fix up the buildings, but some would argue the MHA has no business buying up buildings unless there are housing plans attached. And some would argue even further that the MHA shouldn’t be buying property, period.

I’m not sure what this means going forward. The last thing you want is a fracture as the city and MHA apply for millions of dollars, which could really change the downtown. You don’t want the appearance of a fracture either, but, for now, that’s what you have.

Sep 05

Preparing for Change

I’m sitting here at my desk on a Friday afternoon. It’s just before six o’clock. I’ve wrapped up two stories, done everything I need to do and about to head out for the weekend. But I couldn’t leave just yet.

I’ve been putting something off.

I’ve known for a few days, people at the RJ were informed for the most part yesterday, and now I can tell everybody else. In fact, I’ve told many of my ‘sources’ and will continue that process over the weekend.

My time as a reporter covering Meriden has come to an end.

It comes at an interesting time. The official announcement came yesterday, Sept. 4, as I was celebrating my 26th birthday. I think 26 is the age where you start losing track of how old you’re going to be and so does your family because I had that question come up seven or eight times yesterday.

It also comes on the week of my four-year anniversary with the company. I’ve technically been here longer than that, but I’ll quickly explain.

I began interning at the RJ in the spring semester of 2010. It was my last semester at Southern Connecticut State University. I took 17 credits that semester including the 4-credit internship where I basically worked here two days a week. I covered events, feature stories, a fire or two, and some other random stories.

After that, I was hired to work for the Southington and Plainville Citizen weekly newspapers. I did that for about a summer before being hired to cover Wallingford education. Then I ended up never covering Wallingford education. I was shifted to Meriden and the rest is history, I guess.

Rick Reilly, a national sports columnist, wrote in a column to never use the word enjoy. Use something better. But for now, I’m sticking with enjoy to keep this simple. I’ve enjoyed this job as a reporter in Meriden.

Covering your hometown is an interesting experience. You feel closer to topics, to sources and to the events going on. It’s hard not to. Still, you remain objective and unbiased in your reporting because that’s what a reporter does and has to do to deliver the news.

At some point, I started this blog. I did it for a number of reasons. I won’t explain them all, but it was one of the best things I did since being here. Well, that and being among the first to join Twitter and all of that reporting stuff I did along the way.

But the blog gave this reporter a bit more of a voice and another way to connect with the reader. A blog is different than a story. It’s different than the newspaper. It’s allowed me to explain some more. It’s allowed me to go more in-depth and it’s allowed people to gain an extra glimpse into what’s going on. The newspaper doesn’t have endless pages for me to show pictures of a construction project and I am not editing all of those for the website. So I can dump it all on here and let you guys choose what you like and don’t like.

The blog will stay. It will continue. In some form or another.

The first three people I told about the change in my job all asked the same question “Are you going to keep the blog going?” Yes, I guess I have to now. there’s a demand for it. and because you’ll see less of this face and fewer bylines, I’ve gotta write somewhere.

If you haven’t noticed in the past, most of what goes on here is unfiltered. I don’t go back and edit every word. There are spelling mistakes and capitalization issues and so on. If I took the time to do all of that, my actual stories would suffer. Up until now, those have been priorities. Then again, I’ve had some blog posts published in the paper. Those go through the eyes of an editor, obviously.

So here’s the buried lead: I am staying right here at the Record-Journal. I’m not going anywhere. Hell, I’m not even leaving my desk.

I’ve accepted a position as the RJ’s city editor. I will be overseeing some of the news coverage and working with reporters and editors to continue improving what we do. I won’t get into all of those details right now, but I will say I’m excited.

So the blog will continue. My interactions on Twitter and Facebook will continue. My byline in the newspaper is not expected to.

After all that buildup though, I do want to say thank you to everybody who has read and been reading the blog over the last two years, or so. It’s come a long way. It’s been fun. I’ve gotten a ton of great feedback. I don’t know what will happen or how it will change, but I look forward to more feedback. Hopefully I can continue fueling some of the conversation about Meriden from this site.

I told people and sources this earlier, but it’s been an eventful four years in Meriden. Projects are starting to take shape and what I witnessed was a lot of the planning and approvals of those projects. For better or worse, they will continue and I’m anxious to see how it shapes the city for the future.

Where to Live?

Should the heads of city departments be required to live in Meriden?

I’ve tossed this question around in my head a few times since writing the article and numerous times before it. And if you missed it, here’s the story.

Long story short, the mayor wants to require future department heads, city managers and non-union managers to live in Meriden within 18 months of being hired. A lot of people I’ve heard from or seen commenting on Facebook feel the same way.

Then there are also plenty that feel the opposite way.

In theory, it’s hard to argue with the idea. And proposing something that is hard to argue with is always a good political strategy. Political or not though, it’s something people have asked for in the past.

What’s the pro of having somebody live in Meriden? It forces them to buy into the city. To invest in the city¬† where they make decisions. It makes them be a part of the city.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s clear plenty of people in these positions care deeply about the city they work in. It’s hard to not care when you do things like put the Daffodil Festival together or champion the city 24/7 fighting for businesses to come to the city. I remember talking to one department head who said they live outside of Meriden, but they do all of their shopping in Meriden and spend the majority of their time in Meriden. I’m sure that goes for plenty of them.

Then again, when you live in Meriden you live with any decisions you make.  That might be what the elected officials are there for though. They oversee most decisions or have a voice in those decisions.

It’s pretty clear the decision will limit the eventual talent pool. Not everybody who works in the city wants to move to the city. Maybe they don’t want to move their family, they’ve invested deeply in a house, they prefer to live by the shore, or they prefer to live on a farm. Meriden has a lot of different areas to live in and it’s only a 20-30 minute drive to the ocean is the counterpoint there. And there will always be counterpoints. They are endless.

That’s what makes this debate so difficult. There’s no right answer and no wrong answer. You can play devil’s advocate for anything and everything.

So what will happen? The City Council will get to vote on it. The way things have gone, it will be political. There won’t be a consensus on the council, I’m pretty sure of that.

Historically, it’s been discussed. It was never required. The City Charter does require the city manager to live in Meriden, though. The previous fire chief was asked to move to Meriden though. As I indicated in the story, most live in surrounding towns. It certainly couldn’t hurt to bring more six-figure salaries to Meriden for the sake of the city, but it’s a battle of their wants and needs and desire to live where they want versus the resident’s wants and needs.

I saw it suggested on Facebook to somehow offer incentives to live in Meriden. That’s probably not a terrible idea or at least something that could be built upon. Then again, should somebody with a six-figure salary (or close to it) really need an added incentive?

See how I’m doing this? Just playing devil’s advocate for everything. And that’s going to be the problem with this decision. There are two sides - there may be no clear answer - and it might become an issue that divides political parties once again.

Sep 03

A few months ago I explained why Christmas in the Village was canceled.
Now, it’s not canceled.
This is an odd story. There’s a good amount of he-said, she-said/ you’re involved, no, you’re involved legal stuff to sort through. It’s complicated, but the result was that it was canceled because there was not insurance coverage for the event.
OK, it goes beyond that, technically. The city offered to cover the insurance if Christmas in the Village joined up with the Neighborhood Associations. It made sense since some of the people overlap.
But nope. CITV (as the South Meriden-ites have referred to it) will continue on and as an independent group. A limited liability company was formed and it has obtained insurance coverage for the event.
It seemed there were also some bad feelings over the situation, which lead to the event being canceled. CITV committee and the neighborhood associations were initially left to hang out to dry by the city after the Council of Neighborhoods was brought into the lawsuit. Plus, CITV organizers were told years ago they were covered as far as insurance goes. That was not the case.
Rather than fixing the situation, they canceled it. They also refused to set up the flowers in South Meriden and the American flags for a good portion of the summer. It seems the Christmas spirit has returned, however, and they are back up while the event has been announced as back on.
People were pretty upset to find out CITV was canceled, so I’m sure they are pleased to hear it is back on. It really is a unique event when the whole area being shut down.
Then again, South Meriden is a unique place and I think they like it that way. It’s its own little place. I’m not sure about the limits or the boundaries, but there are some, somewhere I’m sure. If anybody ever finds that out, let me know because the newsroom has been debating it for years. Maybe that’s a post for another day.
In the mean time, celebrate the rebirth of CITV.

A few months ago I explained why Christmas in the Village was canceled.

Now, it’s not canceled.

This is an odd story. There’s a good amount of he-said, she-said/ you’re involved, no, you’re involved legal stuff to sort through. It’s complicated, but the result was that it was canceled because there was not insurance coverage for the event.

OK, it goes beyond that, technically. The city offered to cover the insurance if Christmas in the Village joined up with the Neighborhood Associations. It made sense since some of the people overlap.

But nope. CITV (as the South Meriden-ites have referred to it) will continue on and as an independent group. A limited liability company was formed and it has obtained insurance coverage for the event.

It seemed there were also some bad feelings over the situation, which lead to the event being canceled. CITV committee and the neighborhood associations were initially left to hang out to dry by the city after the Council of Neighborhoods was brought into the lawsuit. Plus, CITV organizers were told years ago they were covered as far as insurance goes. That was not the case.

Rather than fixing the situation, they canceled it. They also refused to set up the flowers in South Meriden and the American flags for a good portion of the summer. It seems the Christmas spirit has returned, however, and they are back up while the event has been announced as back on.

People were pretty upset to find out CITV was canceled, so I’m sure they are pleased to hear it is back on. It really is a unique event when the whole area being shut down.

Then again, South Meriden is a unique place and I think they like it that way. It’s its own little place. I’m not sure about the limits or the boundaries, but there are some, somewhere I’m sure. If anybody ever finds that out, let me know because the newsroom has been debating it for years. Maybe that’s a post for another day.

In the mean time, celebrate the rebirth of CITV.

Aug 29

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Getting there…

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Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

Isn’t that beautiful?

I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty close look at the demise of this building. Of course, I’m saying that with a ton of sarcasm.

Truth is, the building has a great story. It was a thriving business for such a long period of time. It was a hardware store that met its match shortly after I arrived at the Record-Journal.

The owner could no longer run the operation and the decision was to close it. I remember covering the closing and the auctioning off of every last item that was inside. I remember navigating through the building and watching as boxes of nails, saws, hammers, shelves, signage, everything was sold off.

I watched as the building deteriorated. I followed as the city began the process of buying it. I went in the building when the Fire Department was practicing and training in there.

It continued to deteriorate, but finally, it seems, the building is coming down. And to backtrack, I saw the building start to be taken apart and then watched it stop.

Being next door to the former Church and Morse building, the Record-Journal got a close look at this. As anyone would agree, it’s unfortunate a business had to fold. The building wasn’t in bad shape, especially when compared to the adjoining buildings. The one furthest up South Colony Street was the worst, I’m told. I never confirmed it, but was told if the section ever caught fire the Fire Department likely wouldn’t be going inside that building to put out the flames.

Once demolition takes place and the bridge behind the building is fixed, there are no real plans for what happens to the parcel. What I do know is some of the private developers interested in the city seemed interested in that property. Logically, it make sense for parking if the parking lot behind the RJ building is built upon.

Fun fact: I started this blog post on Wednesday. I saved it. And then forgot about finishing it. so here I am on Friday writing it up.

Still, no demolition has taken place. But when it is, it will be captured on film from the Record-Journal building. We set up a camera to capture it and then it’ll be turned into a time-lapse. We are doing something similar with the Hub. When transformation happens, it’s important to document it one way or another.

Aug 25

Picking Downtown’s Future

Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

Whenever I write a story about this situation, I never know if people fully get it. My thought process is based on the feedback when the stories are posted to various Facebook pages.

Meriden has been down this road before. They take empty buildings and vacant parcels and try to find a developer that can come in and rehab them or redevelop the property. I walked through the building above, I’ve walked through the old hospital, I see Factory H, I work across from the Hub and I work in the Record-Journal building. I know the properties. I know what condition they are in. I’m not an expert. But it’s clear there are challenges no matter what.

So I get the concern. I know why people are worried. I have read countless articles about people who had grand plans for most of these sites only to have them fall through.

So what has changed?

For one, every article about 116 Cook, the Hub and the hospital - they all seemed as if they were passed off to the first person interested. How much research was done prior, I’m not sure. But if you had a plan or an idea, you can have that property.

116 Cook hasn’t improved. The Hub is undergoing redevelopment paid for by the state and federal government because nobody else could take the project on. The hospital owner fell wayyyy behind on taxes and Factory H was a mess for a longtime. And here in the Record-Journal building, it’s just another city-owned building. The business and industry changed and we have a building too big for the company.

Back to my point.

People are either hesitant to believe there is interest, don’t understand the interest or don’t want the interest in the form it’s coming.

Hesitant

The hesitation comes from the reasons listed above. Why should people believe after years of projects being put off? Why should people care that yet another group of people have some interest. The city has been down this path before, isn’t this the same thing?

Not quite. Yes, it is a developer showing interest. This time, however, there are multiple developers. And they all have qualifications. They all have money and financial backing. And they are all committed.

This isn’t one person, it’s a team of people. They have the financial wherewithal to make something happen. At least, that’s what their qualifications tell me.

Another thing: the developers submitted their qualifications. City officials are being incredibly hesitant to hand these properties off. Some people want these to be handed off ASAP. But it’s in City Manager Larry Kendzior’s nature to go through a careful, thoughtful consideration process. He is at the helm and my guess is that is what is going on here.

If you clicked the link at the top, you’d know a first round of interviews for four firms has been completed. In the end, it’s my guess that two firms will be selected across the five major properties. I have a guess as to which two firms will be selected and which properties they will have. But now is not the time for that. There is still a process to be followed. More in-depth plans will be submitted. More in-depth interviews will happen. And then, at some point, a selection will happen. So I don’t have all of the facts, I just know what can be pieced together through talking to city officials, the firms and reading through their submissions.

Don’t Know

There is likely a group of people who just don’t understand what’s going on. And I get that. I understand. This is a complicated process - as are most governmental processes - I’m just working my way through this.

In one way or another, the city acquired these five properties. Purchase, auction, foreclosure, whatever…Now they have to do something with them. It’s not in the city’s best interest to own property. I know that, the public knows that and they know that. Ideally, a private owner owns them and does something productive with them. That was not the case with all of them.

The city’s purchase does a few things. It erases any unpaid taxes. It gets them out of the hands of owners who can’t handle the buildings. It (in the Record-Journal’s case) helps out a business who needs it and keeps them in the downtown where city officials are working to revive the area. It controls the process as things move forward. And it opens up doors for funding to help with environmental remediation/demolition/etc.

Think of what the city did as an advertisement. It posted something in the newspaper (and elsewhere) asking for responses. It said “show us what you’ve done, we want to work with you and we want your help.” So some companies respond, show their work, look through the buildings and interview. They see potential.

The city will review, then ask for specific projects. So the companies go back, draw up their best plans, do some studies on the area and then respond. Then city staff will select which firms they want for specific projects based on what was presented and submitted.

The properties likely won’t be handed off without question from there. Some contract will be worked out. Plans will have to be fine tuned, the city will continue applying for state and federal funds, etc. in order to help with the redevelopment.

But what you’re looking at is a real plan to redevelop these properties. Something much more firm than “I think this would look nice as a medical office building,” which is quite literally what got the buildings off in the past. Not that the buildings were handed from the city to private owners - it was typically private to private - but people were reassured it was a possibility with these grand schemes that never panned out in most cases.

No interest

Those who have done their homework, know what this will lead to and many don’t like it. Most of these buildings will have low income housing units in them. They won’t entirely be low income units, but there will be some.

There are 140 units at Mills. In order to take Mills down, you need to replace all 140. Not wanting them all to be in the exact same location, they will be spread out throughout the downtown. About 25 are going to the 24 Colony St. project. The building there will house people of all different incomes, including 7 market rate housing units.

The goal for the rest of the downtown developments is to get more market rate than just 10% of the building (like 24 Colony).

Anything but market rate is not good enough for some people though. I agree, it would be nice to get 100% market rate units in downtown Meriden, which is what Mayor Manny Santos has made a push for.

I’m not sure what it will take. The city hasn’t seen it yet. I’m not sure it will. It certainly would take more business in the city and that’s something still lacking.

But through different funding sources, these private companies can have an easier time building or rehabbing these city-owned buildings. They might even get a tax break when it’s completed. So they use the public funding they are eligible for through low income housing and figure out the rest of the cost.

You can’t blame people for wanting luxurious, market rate rental units. Everybody wants a nice place to live and a thriving downtown. Certainly people will disposable income would bring just that. It’s just a matter of how that happens.

Now that I’ve explained all that - I just wanted to make something clear. I cover each step, whether it’s understood or not, because it’s an important time in the city’s history. Every big project is a story. It can either boom or bust, flop or succeed. Or do much of nothing and remain what it is. Either way, I read old stories and see a lot of nothing. Projects that never occurred and that the time, that was important. It creates a record at the very least. We will see what this record shows.

Aug 22

Disappearing Brooks

Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

You can Google them. You can look for them on Google Maps. You can even physically go out and look for them. Chances are, you’re going to struggle to find Jordan and Clark brooks.

Still, these two brooks flow through densely populated areas of Meriden. Like Harbor Brook, they spend a lot of time underground. Even more so than Harbor Brook, really.

But as I wrote and researched more and more about Harbor Brook and the city alleviates the brook’s flooding issues, I remained curious about these two other brooks.

The average person in Meriden has no idea they exist. If they do, they likely won’t find them.

Jordan Brook

Thankfully there are some people with great knowledge of these brooks and one of those people is Dwight Needels. Dwight went out with GPS equipment and tracked down these brooks from starting point to end point.

This look above likely means nothing to you. So let me help. The brooks that goes diagonal from the bottom left to the upper right corner is Harbor Brook. The brook that runs mostly parallel to Colony Street in the light blue is Clark Brook. (Light blue means underground, dark is above.) And the brook with an end point near the intersection of Broad and East Main streets is Jordan Brook.

The more you know…

Dwight is responsible for sending me that and for mapping it. So I use the map with his permission.

As you can see, Jordan barely runs above ground at any point. I sent a photographer out to look for it. He couldn’t find it.

The brook runs an interesting path, starting underneath the parking lot of Stop and Shop. When the supermarket was built it had to get inland wetlands approval, which is interesting because it doesn’t strike you as a wetland. But it is.

The brook has a fascinating story. It runs down a long, but steep slope between Broad Street and Pratt Street. You can imagine how much water comes gushing down in a rain storm. It actually used to be wider and it had a waterfall, but that was later filled in.

Jordan Brook runs underneath a house at the corner of Liberty and Hobart streets and then heads back down the slope. Interestingly enough, the city is selling the property behind the house to the house’s owner.

There used to be a water tower on the property. The map above dates back to 1868, but there is actually a better view of the brook on it than anything you can find today.

It’s a fascinating map for plenty of other reasons, but it gives you a better idea where the brooks run.

Jordan Brook gets its name from a church. The church would perform baptisms in the brook and it was named Jordan Brook after the Jordan River where Jesus was once baptized.

Clark Brook

Dwight knew a little less about Clark Brook, but things are a little clearer when it comes to Clark.

It remains above ground for longer stretches. It runs along the railroad tracks and Colony Street, which is a well-traveled area.

Like Jordan, the brook stretches into the Hub. When the project at the Hub is finished, people will have a better idea they actually exist.

The plan is to install headwalls on each side of Harbor Brook. The brooks will flow into Harbor Brook and for the first time in decades, people may have an idea they exist.

It won’t be your basic cement, either. There will be some actual design to make it look nicer.

Until then, you’ll just have to go out and look for the brooks yourself.