Meriden Made

Apr 21

Daffodil Days

Photo Courtesy of Molly Callahan l Record-Journal

It’s that time of the year again…the Daffodil Festival

Festivals and fairs have never been my thing. People rave about the Durham Fair, the Big E, all of those things. Well, I think I’ve been to the Big E once, haven’t been to the Durham Fair in years, went to the Apple Harvest Festival for about 10 minutes…you see where this is headed.

In fact, before I started working at the RJ, I hadn’t been to the Daffodil Festival pretty much at all in years and years. I must get my enthusiasm for these things from my mom who also doesn’t get too excited for the Daffodil Festival.

I mean, for those from Meriden, you’ve grown up your entire life with it. Every year it’s fairly similar: the rides, the food, some combination of music, Hubbard Park, Little Miss Daffodil, and so on. If you’ve done it once, you’ve done it a thousand times.

Before I go any further down this road and those who love the Daffodil Festival come and throw rocks at my house, I’ll turn this post around.

See, the fall festivals I’m not big on. I like the fall for like 2 weeks and then it gets too cold for me. I always associated the fall with going back to school and therefore was not a fan. I’m a spring-summer type of person.

So back to the Daffodil Festival, which essentially signals the “real” start of spring. It also signals that things are headed toward summer. Since 2010, I’ve been to the festival each year. Most of those years I went both days either for leisure or for work. This year, it’ll be one day, Saturday for work.

In years past, I’ve covered the business expo, Little Miss Daffodil, the sponsor’s gala, the actual festival, and so on. I probably needed a few years away from the festival to learn how to enjoy it more.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate waiting in lines and having to push through groups of people. But the event altogether? Pretty impressive. You’re talking about thousands and thousands of people who come together for mostly just two days of enjoyment. Hundreds of people bank on just two days for good weather. If they get it, things go right for fundraising. Don’t get it, things go sour. Same for the Daffodils. You need the right conditions or you miss the flowers.

Right now, Weather.com shows 67 degree weather for Saturday, which would be lovely, if not for the chance of rain. A cooler 59 degrees for Sunday. It’s still early, so things could change, but some fingers will be crossed (including my own, having to cover the event).

I wish I had some great Daffodil Festival stories. The truth is, I don’t. I don’t remember many individual festivals, but I’m not sure you’re suppose to. When each year is similar, that’s the way it goes. But you go back every year, or nearly every year, for a reason. It might be the food, the fireworks, the music, the parade, whatever. The real answer is the people. You know you’re going to bump into people you know, live with, work with, hang out with, and that’s a real reason why you show up. Because once you run into your friends, you fried food with them, hang out and enjoy it all together. And few things are better than that.

Having played in the Maloney HS band, I did march in the parade for four years, or however many years the parade was not canceled while in high school due to weather. I’ll say I was there at least three out of four years. It’s a relatively short, easy parade, but then you hop back on the bus and leave. I don’t remember spending much time during high school there.

In middle school I do remember a handful of us getting left behind at the park following the parade. That’s another story, but still somewhat memorable.

But it’s the more recent years that I remember most, whether covering it or going with my wife and kids and simply enjoying the day. It gives you something to do on a Saturday or Sunday, but it’s also pretty well-done by the event planners.

Festivities are this weekend starting Saturday morning and running all weekend. And don’t forget Little Miss Daffodil and the other events throughout the week.

Apr 18

One week later…

Sometimes you file a story and you know you are going to get feedback, most likely negative. Sometimes you file a story and never expect feedback, but sometimes you get it any - could be positive, could be negative.

I was a bit stunned when I got no feedback on a story about Mayor Manny Santos. The story detailed Santos’ first few months as mayor and some of the incidents since then. I expected people to be happy, I expected people to be upset…I just expected something. Some others in the newsroom were surprised I got nothing.

But, no red light on my phone when I came in on Monday, the day after it ran in the newspaper. It was a Sunday story, meaning more people noticed it than usual.

Editors said they thought it was balanced, as did reporters who read it. Since that’s the ultimate goal, I’m glad they thought so. But you learn quickly in this business that very few ever think that something is fair and balanced no matter how sentences are worded or who is quoted.

Then you let it roll off your back after the criticisms come in. Oh well.

As for the interview with the mayor, he is the first to admit things haven’t gone smoothly. When I asked him about running on a platform to unite the council, he gave a smile because he knows the situation. Things have been contentious as ever. But are they improving?

Some to think so. I mean, those lawsuits are still pending, but I think there is less fear or concern when I walk into City Hall now. Many still see Santos as unpredictable, but some see him as improving.

Things aren’t perfect still. Especially with the council. Brian Daniels is quick to point out Santos hasn’t offered a lot, in his opinion. Plenty will say it’s just rhetoric. Some councilors just don’t communicate with him. Others, have sat down with him and had friendly conversations.

Councilor Steve Iovanna was among that was able to work things out with him this past week, solving the appointments/reappointments issues. Neither side got exactly what they wanted, but they settled, compromised and came to an agreement.

Santos is still getting to know things. His first few months were getting to know the job and as Dan Brunet noted in the story, sometimes people come out “aggressive” in their approach. This was probably an example of that.

I won’t compare Santos to former Mayor Mike Rohde. Rohde knew the city far better when he came in. He got involved in everything. He as a politician, but also somebody who deeply cared. And I think Santos cares, but he was only involved in a few small things and certainly wasn’t a politician or immersed in the community. It’s easy to be critical from where he was standing.

Whether or not Santos’ mayorship works out, time will tell. He seems to be going to more business-type tours and meeting with various groups and attending events. It makes sense, that’s what Meriden mayors do.

So his first few months should not come without criticism, but we will see what the next few months have in store. Either way, I guess we will simply hold the criticism on my story too.

Apr 17

And then there were 5

Image courtesy of City Councilor Steven Iovanna

This about sums it up. I wasn’t at the City Council Finance Committee meeting last night in which the public had an open floor to comment on the proposed city budget, but this explains the input.

A total of five had something to say. Just five.

You can somewhat factor out the handful of regulars that showed up and you aren’t left with much. Somebody spoke about the Meals on Wheels program, that’s about it.

So is there no interest in this budget?

“It was definitely the shortest budget hearing I’ve ever been to,” City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said afterward. “It shows that we must not be doing anything too controversial.”

And that is probably true. Last year, several different cuts were being proposed and people showed up. This year, not many programs were being cut and city services weren’t really being changed. Those not in favor of the budget say “you’re spending too much,” but there hasn’t been much of an alternative offered.

The tax increase amounts to about $100 for the average homeowner in the city. This comes a year after they didn’t even increase by $30 for the same group. Two years prior, most of the city didn’t feel anything or may have had their taxes lowered due to a revaluation.

So take that 100, divide it by 12 months, and you’re paying less than $10/month extra in taxes. Obviously taxes are quarterly so it’s a little higher, but, in the long run, are you feeling it? Probably not a whole lot.

To be honest, I went and had my taxes done over the weekend. My jaw dropped when I saw what my wife and I made last year, combined. She was laid off last February and wasn’t hired elsewhere to almost September. Our total income was basically pennies. And right now, I’m not sure how we made it through last year.

But we did. So I’m pretty sure, now, with her job, we can make it through a tax increase.

It is a bit disheartening that only 5 people showed up to say something at a meeting about the city budget. Ya know, the thing that explains where all of the city revenue is coming from and how things get paid for.

But again, nothing controversial, not a lot being cut, so there you go. People will gripe that taxes are too high and they can’t afford an increase. Do people move out? Yup. Do people move here? Yup.

The complaint about taxes is something that goes back quite a while. I remember Managing Editor Eric Cotton coming up to me showing a clip from the very early 1900s in which people were livid about this tax increase of pennies, literally pennies. Of course, nobody knew what specifically to cut, but that’s another story.

Maybe people think the council just won’t listen. Maybe they just don’t care. Maybe they will just accept it. I’m not sure. But five people? Either you doing something really right or something really wrong. For now, I’ll lean to the former.

Anonymous asked: why's the sky blue?

A quick Google search will tell you the answer to that question. Here’s a link from NASA that helps explain it.

Apr 16

I’ll keep it short today. Because I had off from work and don’t have my laptop at home, no blog post. I do have some items the next few days though. In the mean time, enjoy this picture of Xander and I. We spent the day together because he has the next few days off from school. Hope everybody enjoyed their day at work!

I’ll keep it short today. Because I had off from work and don’t have my laptop at home, no blog post. I do have some items the next few days though. In the mean time, enjoy this picture of Xander and I. We spent the day together because he has the next few days off from school. Hope everybody enjoyed their day at work!

Apr 15

Replacing a City Staple

When you think of Meriden and symbols, Castle Craig probably sits at the top of the list. The traffic tower is probably two. The steamed cheeseburger might be number three.

But somewhere up there has to be City Hall and that infamous clock tower. The tower has been around for years. And years. And years.

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Photo courtesy of Clem Kasinskas

Over 100 years to be exact. It was put up when the building was constructed in 1905-1907. It was renovated in the 1950s/60s, but for the most part it is the same. And old.

So, Larry Kendzior included the replacement of the tower in the capital improvement project fund. It’s a cost of $350,000, which is a much larger expense than most things that appear in that section of the budget. It came before the City Council Finance Committee last week and was briefly described, but it caught the ear of a few councilors.

$350,000 is a lot of money to spend on a project being described in a couple sentences or less, councilor Brian Daniels pointed out. While it’s a natural fit in that area of the city with the architecture there, it’s also expensive. Daniels asked what the alternatives were, but there were few. You could replace/renovate it or your could remove it altogether with the cost not really known. Or you could look for a cheaper solution.

The city spent thousands of dollars on it a little less than 10 years ago, putting gold leaf on the top of the dome. It was real gold from a place in Italy, one of the only places where the gold leaf can be found. That said, it is something done all around New England, Kendzior noted.

Curious, I asked if we could go up there and see it. Pietro Galluzzo, better known as Peter around City Hall, took us up there. He supervises the building maintenance in the City Hall and is quite the handyman and knowledgeable about just about anything maintenance-wise.

I had no idea how to get up to the roof of City Hall. Turns out, it’s not at all complicated. There’s a room in City Hall at the end of a hallway that’s a typical office. The office just so happens to have a door that leads up to another level. Walk up those stairs and there’s an attic-like room with a series of steps that lead to nowhere. But the nowhere is actually a window that Galluzzo easily removed and out we went on a cooler, very rainy, day.

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I didn’t initially spot this massive piece of architecture, but there it was. And it really is massive when you see it up close. Also prevalent is the damage to the tower from weather and age.

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It’s not an easy thing to take a picture of. You only have so much room between the tower and the white railing that lines the roof. The roof also isn’t flat, which you expect it to be from the street. It’s slanted and has a rubbery-type membrane for weather reasons.

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On this day, a rainy one, it was pretty wet.

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Of course that didn’t stop Galluzzo and photographer Dave Zajac from taking a walk up there.

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Before we went down, I had to get a couple pictures of the area. In addition to rain, it was cloudy and you can’t see the Hanging Hills all too well. It would’ve been great on a sunny day, but no such luck.

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You also don’t realize how high off the ground that railing is. At eye level, you have to look through it.

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And one more before we headed back inside…

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As cool as it was from outside, Galluzzo seemed anxious to show us the inside. It was like stepping into a time warp.

From the room you enter where the window is, there’s a “staircase.” That case of stairs is actually an old wooden ladder with a railing to kind of walk up on. It’s dark and then you head up another ladder. Again, dark, but this is what it’s like looking up.

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When you get to this level, you’re met with this:

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Every hour, on the hour, that thing rings. We timed it pretty well, meeting up around 10:20 a.m. so we didn’t get stuck in there with the ringing. Galluzzo told us it’s loud and you don’t want to be around for it. I believe it. We actually just missed it by a minute or two.

That previous ladder was steep and it certainly seemed like it was built in 1907. You think it’s going to break, but alas, here I am typing this.

Now the next ladder, that had me nervous. I hate heights and the ladder is constructed OVER the opening of the previous ladder. If this breaks, you have a made-for-movies type-moment where you plummet down a few flights through the wood.

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Made it up there again though. At this point, it’s bright. You’re inside the actual clock and it’s translucent. Up here it’s like a whole different world.

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All sorts of dates were sketched into the wall to mark when the tower was checked. And apparently there’s a magic switch to turn the clock off.

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Then there was another ladder, also built over the opening, that lead to the dome. There was a slight leak with water dripping and the plastic bag diverts it. At the bottom, you can see the other ladder.

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With the wind howling and the rain pouring down, it wasn’t in our best interest to go up there. So the three of us stood in this small space and talked about the tower and its history.

One of the most important pieces of the history is the machine that runs the clock. Saved from the 1904 fire that burned down City Hall before the new one was constructed, was a piece of machinery. The machine turns the gears to make the clock run. It’s not electrically run, but still impressive, nonetheless. Galluzzo said that the clock can only spring forward, so when it’s time to “fall back” an hour, it has to go through the entire clock, which means ringing the bell.

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There’s no obvious date on there, but it clearly dates back to the early 1900s if not the late 1800s. But it’s still working just fine.

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We spent maybe 15 minutes in the room, while Dave took some photos. The light in there was impressive and I can’t imagine what it’s like on a sunny, clear day.

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We climbed back down, carefully, and made our way out. As we hit the final steps, the bell chimed marking it as 11 o’clock.

For now, it’s not known what will happen with the tower. It will be renovated or removed. My money is on it being renovated, but something has to happen because the wood is clearly rotted. The money will stay in the CIP fund and either be allocated differently or specifically for the clock tower. We will see, but it was a pretty cool experience and piece of history very few get to see.

Apr 14

The Gateway to Downtown

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Photo Credit: Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

Getting downtown

There’s probably few less-inviting ways of getting into a city’s downtown than what Meriden has right now for those getting off Interstate 691 West at the State Street exit.

You pull off the exit, head down a ramp and to a stop sign. Depending on the day, the stop sign might be in OK shape, or slanted. The Welcome to Meriden sign had fallen down a few months back and for a long period of time lay in the bushes.

You turn to the left and head under a bridge. The bridge covers four lanes, I believe, and so it’s a pretty good-sized bridge. And it’s dark. You look to the left and for a while there was graffiti that read “End the Fed.”

Attractive.

Before you get there though, at the stop sign, you stare at a little-used rail yard that is more-or-less exactly how you would expect a little-used rail yard to look. Not good.

After the bridge you hit a couple factory-type buildings. Every time I drive by people are on some type of break and hanging out in the area. I don’t have any issue with people being on their break, it’s just not how one envisions entering a downtown.

Then you have to cross Camp Street where traffic stops on the opposite side and left side of you but not on the right side. No, instead, those people come flying over a hill so you are typically inclined to put the pedal to the floor.

Assuming you’ve made it this far (both in my long explanation and in your journey) you get to see Mills Memorial Apartments that mostly anybody would say needs to be ripped down and then the (until now) little-used Hub site.

I won’t do what I just did for what happens if you get off the “downtown” exit on Columbia Street in Meriden off I-691 heading east, but the point is, you won’t hit downtown very easily. In fact, very few in Meriden will say they know what Columbia Street is. But you have to go quite a ways to fine what is typically considered “downtown Meriden” and you don’t see any immediate signs of downtown, either.

City Center

A few years back, Meriden had this genius plan of re-working highway exits and getting people right off into downtown. It was called the City Center Initiative and, if you want a Throwback Thursday-type moment on Monday (when I’m writing this), then check out the website. Is the city still paying for the domain name?

Anyway, Bob Bass came up with a simpler, less costly plan: change the highway signs. That’s right. Tell people, “No, this isn’t the downtown exit, this is.” It’s kind of a genius plan. I mean, if you’re coming out of town and wanted to get off in a downtown, wouldn’t you just look for the sign that said “downtown?”

And if there were a bunch of signs after that, which is what is planned, you’d have no problem finding it pretty quickly. Since this plan was suggested a few years back, I often take the suggested Broad Street exit to get into downtown. I follow Pratt street, as suggested, and follow it to downtown.

My route

Confession: I prefer this method. Pratt Street has its issues, of course. You hit a weird jog/turn coming off Broad onto Camp and onto Pratt. It’s more of a turn than you anticipate and you take it with more speed than expected because of the four lanes that could probably fit a fifth or sixth. Associate City Engineer Howard Weissberg once laughed saying you could land a plane on Pratt Street, but I’m pretty sure you could. It’s wide.

But as you come down Pratt Street, the width kind of makes it appealing. And you quickly see the potential. Get rid of that parking lot on the left and put some nice housing or something there. Fix those places up on the right and there you go. Take down the Mills and you can see that new park nearly the entire way down Pratt Street. Put in a boulevard, a shared-use type lane, it could look quite nice.

And this entrance, or gateway, works if you’re heading east or west on 691. The increased traffic could really bring the street back to life, rather than people speeding at 50 mph down it.

What could go wrong?

Obviously money is a factor here and could be an issue. The other? Technology. Go ahead and Google Map/directions anywhere into a downtown Meriden location. It sends you off the State Street/Columbia Street exits. And if people are coming to Meriden who don’t know the area, they are going to Google it. At least, that’s what my generation does: they Google. They are less likely to look at signs in trying to navigate and instead will listen to Siri or whomever else explain where to go.

Right now anybody knows the easy way to go is off State or Columbia if you know how to get to downtown Meriden. It’s generally quicker and puts you down there already. But if you liven Pratt Street, it might send more people who know the area down Pratt Street because they will be more interested in the street. Maybe not. Maybe people will just go with the quicker alternative. Unless, of course, they close off Pratt Street at a certain area. Then does Google Maps make the same suggestion? Can Google Maps be told something else is the best route? There’s probably a process.

The point is, that stuff can be figured out. Technology can likely be beat, after all, we are smarter than computers, I think. But the real point is that improvements are being made little by little, including to this street where you can land a plane. But if you’re going to land a plan: A. let me know first and B. do it soon because changes are coming.

Apr 11

The $400,000 slip-up

Man, if I had a nickel for every $400,000 slip-up I had in my lifetime. Well, I wouldn’t have any nickels probably. But that’s beside the point because I’ve never been in the position to make such an error.

But to many, $400,000 is a lot of money. In the grand scheme of things, it represents less than .5% of the full Maloney High School renovation project.

Nonetheless, the architects with Fletcher Thompson came to the city’s School Building Committee last night to inform them of a $400,000 boo-boo they might have made.

That’s a pretty big boo-boo.

The long-and-short of it is that six different mistakes were made - SIX - that will result in an extra $400,000 needed to fix the mistake. There are forgotten columns, a retaining wall that needs to be moved, beams that are too short, columns that were too small to support the weight of a floor, another missing column, and a classification.

Why was the mistake made? One person at Fletcher Thompson drew them up. Nobody else at the company looked at them. A “third party” looked at them and who knows how carefully.

I won’t sit here and revisit past school building projects. OK, maybe I will. Lincoln MS, opened a little later than expected. Thomas Edison opened late - shorting me a year from the school (not that I still hold that grudge - and went over budget. John Barry and Ben Franklin have their own issues. Oh, and the bidding on both Maloney and Platt were over budget.

But hey, who’s keeping track?

Through covering these projects, I’ve heard countless times the term “on time and under budget.” As in the project will be completed on time and under budget, under budget after the project was scaled back through value engineering, of course. Don’t take my word for the scaling back, of course, I can source that to a dozen or so people. It’s essentially substituting some materials with different materials. Are they of lesser quality? You be the judge, but wouldn’t you use the less expensive materials to begin with?

OK, I’m not building expert. But omitting those items seems like a pretty big mistake. Maybe a bigger mistake was not reviewing pieces of the project more closely because now it is going to cost somebody.

Who is the somebody? Most would assume the one who made the mistake, but not necessarily. Angela Cahill, a project manager, said the company has insurance that only covers a portion. The rest of the cost will be paid from elsewhere. Don’t ask the city to pay for more though, Finance Committee Chairman Steve Iovanna already tweeted it wouldn’t be through his committee.

The School Building Committee is charged with having oversight on the project. But they aren’t all building officials that know the construction industry like the back of their hand. They look to staff and the hired consultants to help them out. There is a program manager hired to work on behalf of the city for the project. And let’s not forget, mistakes happen. This isn’t the first issue the Maloney project has had, however.

I won’t run down those here. No, really, I’ll save that.

It’s only been 24 hours since the meeting, but the feedback I’ve gotten on social media, calls, etc. is pretty clear - nobody from the city is very happy about this and they aren’t ready to pay up.

Apr 10

The steamed cheeseburger

I waited all day for this entry. I started this morning, looked at the potential pictures, got hungry and decided it was best to wait until right before I eat. So this is the last thing I’m doing today before I go home for dinner.

The Hartford Courant had a write-up about steamed cheeseburgers that you can read about here.

In Meriden, the steamed cheeseburger is a delicacy. You don’t go to the average restaurant and get a cheeseburger. If you can get it steamed, you get it steamed. That’s just the way it is.

I won’t go into the history. You can read about it here.

People outside of Meriden don’t know what a steamed cheeseburger is. If they have heard of it, they immediately question why it’s so good. The answer: The cheese is fantastic, the burgers are delicious. It’s just well-done and these are small businesses that try to do it right.

Anyway, the article is about some people who went around eating at three restaurants, including one I had no idea existed because it’s in Wallingford. Maybe I will have to try it.

I’ve had Teds. Teds is good. I’ve had K. Lamay’s. K. Lamay’s is good. Of course I’m underselling them, but you can’t go wrong with either. Those are the two major ones in Meriden that people like to talk about and debate which is better. In New Haven people argue Pepe’s and Sally’s and Modern. In Meriden they argue burgers.

Of course there are other options though. I saw somebody write on Facebook the other day that Alan’s Cup n’ Saucer was good, which peaked my interest. A lot of people like Lunch Box as an alternative. I’ve had it once, but it was pretty good. Then Quality Time is another option and a relatively quick one if you go to Ted’s and there isn’t enough seating. My personal choice of food at Quality Time, however, is the steamed cheeseburger nachos. There is a rumor, that I haven’t confirmed, they were the idea of DTC Chairwoman Millie Torres-Ferguson, but again, only rumors for now.

Why is Meriden so big on steamed cheeseburgers? I’m not sure. It’s just something that was created here and lasted here. In Meriden you can get a burgers and pizza. People ask for other restaurants, personally though, pizza and burgers is fine for me.

I’m not sure there’s a point to this post, hopefully you will find it or it will encourage you to go eat at one of the local places if you haven’t tried them already. They are worth your time. In the mean time, I’m going to go have dinner.

Apr 08

The “Fools” Strike Back

Another Monday. Another City Council meeting. The same group of “fools.”

That’s right, Meriden, you’ve got a bunch of fools running the city.

Or so Steve Iovanna says.

Recommendations Rejected

I’ll get to the point. Mayor Manny Santos made some recommended appointments for the second straight/third straight council meeting. And three that are being viewed as “political decisions” were rejected.

Why are they considered political? Because of the people involved. Bill Kroll, chairman of the Building Code Board of Appeals is being removed. Bruce Burchsted, a business owner at Prentis Printing is being removed. David White, of the Planning Commission, is being removed.

Kroll and Burchsted are Santos’ choices. White is the choice of the Democrats who are playing hardball right back and essentially saying “Oh, you’re not going to approve the people we want? Well, then we are taking off somebody who has been on his board for a long period of time as a way of getting back at you guys. Ha.”

Or something like that.

Making the Sausage

As Iovanna said, this is how the sausage is made and it’s being made in front of the public. Because it’s being done in the public, it’s making for an interesting battle and neither side wants to look like idiots so they have no desire to budge.

Again, Manny has a point. He makes recommendations. The council can let them go through or they can reject. The majority rejected. But, in the end, it’s his job to make appointments.

Then again, what have Burchsted and Kroll done wrong? Kroll is chairman, meaning the rest of the board thinks highly of him, democrat, republican or unaffiliated. Burchsted is somebody invested in the city’s downtown, you’d think you wouldn’t want to upset a guy who owns a business in downtown. But hey, what do I know?

The truth is, it’s all a political game. Both sides have their points and they have dug themselves in on these. In the end, Santos will just make a third round of recommendations. They will be rejected because they won’t include who the Democrats want and then they have to pick from one of the three. Manny will probably say “I told you so” and that will be that.

What’s next?

Well, that will be that until Ray Gradwell’s name comes through. The chairman of Public Utilities is also not recommended to be reappointed. So that will be an issue. And there will be others further down the line, I’m sure. That’s the way it works these days.

Now if Manny gives on this situation, what happens? He looks weak because he gave in to the Democrats that have controlled the city for 30 years.

What if the majority gives in? Well, now they are giving in to somebody many of them feel is doing a horrible job in his role as mayor and who some think is just acting as an obstructionist.

Again, you don’t always want to watch the sausage be made because it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s pretty petty stuff in this situation. I’ve had Meriden residents say they’re embarrassed by it. I’ve had people say the mayor is stupid. I’ve had people say the council is stupid. I’ve had people ask “What the hell is the big deal?”

What’s the big deal?

Well, because you asked, the big deal is both sides think they’re right and both sides will go down swinging if they have to no matter what it means to how they are being perceived.

Brian Daniels gets heavily involved in some issues and others he lets the others do the fighting. But he made an interesting point Monday night, essentially saying: If somebody is interested in volunteering in their community and they see this, why would they want to still get involved?

Just think, you could have your name dragged through the mud when it comes up for reappointment because, despite being a help to a board or commission or whatever else, somebody thinks it’s time to get rid of you. In this case, both the mayor and the majority vote are saying the same thing.

It’s pretty impressive, really. Meriden will get a new park, train station, the Mills plan is moving forward, other things are going on, and then there’s this sideshow to keep you distracted until everything is in place.

It’s only $100,000, right?

I got out of my Jeep the other day, phone, keys and a large packet of papers in hand. I went to adjust how I was holding them and I lost my grip on my phone. Down it went, onto the pavement. And there went the screen.

Crack.

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Told you.

"Man, my day sucks," I thought.

Keep in mind nothing else terrible really happened. But when something like that happens to you, it’s generally your first thought.

When I sat down at my desk a few minutes later, I realized my day was looking pretty good. I had received an email from former RJ reporter Dan Ivers with a link about a person who filled out his NCAA Basketball Tournament Bracket. He was in 4th place and had UConn winning it all.

Or so he thought.

Corey Johnson’s pick hadn’t saved properly. So he was in fourth, but no chance of winning or finishing in the top 20. The top 20 is key because it paid out $100,000.

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Wow.

How is that even possible? I mean, somebody has to win and finish in the top 20. But you’ve got to be crazy to pick UConn in Kentucky in the finals, right? Wrong. Corey explained it, basically saying he picked UConn because he was a fan, despite them losing to a team like Houston earlier this year and being manhandled by Louisville.

Picking Kentucky? Well, that was just to get another unlikely team in there. Kentucky always has talent though. They were peaking later in the season. They are well coached. So it made some sense.

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In Ivers’ email, it mentioned he was a Meriden resident. We have some mutual friends and I found him on Facebook. I asked him if we could do a story and he was more than accommodating. I went right over to his brother’s house and talked with him.

It’s hard not to feel bad for him. He had already been made fun of on Deadspin.

His friend was listing off websites that had written stories about him, too.

Fox Sports.

USA Today.

Bleacher Report.

The list went on.

He’s hearing about it on Facebook. He’s getting texted. Called. Everything. It’s hard not to laugh imagining what might have been. He laughed himself. But you know it’s also on his mind.

Friends have already started a petition

I talked to him before the game. I can only imagine what has gone through his head since then. I mean, it’s great, his team won a championship. Now only if his last selection had gone through properly.

Paid off tuition. Paid off debt. A house down payment.

Instead, he told me he might just buy some rope and hang himself. He said it laughing, of course. From everybody who has texted me or messaged me since, they all said it couldn’t happen to a kid with a bigger heart and somebody who truly deserved it.

Every year I fill out a bracket. I’ve been doing it since 2001 when I was in 7th grade. I did it against my dad and for a couple years we would fill it out and make a wager.

In the first year, I picked Arizona to win it all. He picked Duke. In a twist of fate, we were tied going into the finals and those two teams played. Duke won. I lost.

The next year I picked Maryland to win it all. They did.

I always do pretty well in the tournament. But I’ll never pick UConn, Syracuse or Duke to win. Too many people in the area pick UConn and it hurts my odds. And Syracuse and Duke haven’t fared too great in recent years, often losing pretty early on.

I picked Kentucky correctly a few years ago. I picked Memphis the year they lost to Kansas in the finals. I always like John Calipari teams, but they can never ht free throws and it really hurts them. We saw that last night.

I picked Michigan State to win the year they lost to North Carolina in the finals.

But 2007 was my closest to Corey’s, which made me think how crazy it was for him to be in 4th place when he was. My bracket wasn’t too far from perfect. I picked the championship, finals and Final 4 correctly. I had 7/8 in the Elite 8. I had 14/16 in the Sweet 16. It was unheard of.

I had entered my bracket into the Facebook competition that year. It was among the few years Facebook hosted it on their page. I finished the best at my school and somewhere in the top 10 on all of Facebook that year.

For the record, it was Florida that won it all. Ohio State had faced them with Greg Oden. It feels like a million years ago at this point.

To say I studied was an understatement. I worked at ESPN at the time and entered play-by-play stats into the computer so people could follow in real-time. I would watch about a dozen college basketball games a week. I have no idea how many I watched during the year, but all of the major conferences and top teams. I knew the strengths and weaknesses of each and what teams had the formula to win it all.

That year, it was almost easy to pick the winner and teams to do well when you compare it to this year. To pick a 7 and 8 seed in the finals is ridiculous. For it to happen, insane.

So putting Corey’s bracket into perspective, it’s just crazy he finished where did. Of course, that doesn’t pay anything, unfortunately.

Well, at least he can celebrate a fourth national championship for UConn.

Apr 04

Because they’re happy

This was a nice little video that the faculty at Casimir Pulaski School did recently. The staff danced to Pharrell’s song “Happy,” which is just something fairly simple, yet enjoyable. It shows some camaraderie, enjoyment of what they’re doing and just overall teamwork at the school.

You can read more about what went into the video here and view it below.

The song is featured in Despicable Me 2, so I had known about the song before it really blew up and my son likes to watch the video and people dancing. So, I’m sure the kids will love watching this even more and seeing their favorite teachers.

Good stuff.

Apr 03

Two for the price of…

I said I’d do it yesterday. I was a day off.

And this won’t be a long one, but it’s more of a tip, really.

I went to pick up my son at school today. He is at Mount Carmel on Lewis Avenue. I was on the east side. So, like anybody with knowledge of Meriden’s road system, I hopped on I-691, headed west and got off at the Lewis Avenue exit and went to take a right.

I had the right idea and wrong plan, apparently.

This is going on.

The bridge(s) that run over Lewis Avenue from I-691 are being replaced by the state DOT. It’s a project that will be going on into October. Apparently that section of Lewis Avenue could periodically be closed, as well.

Today, keep in mind there are three lanes heading south (toward West Main) and then one headed north. Of the three southbound lanes, two to the right were closed. So all traffic headed onto I691 East or headed south on Lewis were forced to combine to one. Nonetheless just getting off I691 and heading south was an issue in it of itself and that’s only a stop sign. Then I had to wait while everybody figured it out the situation.

Shortly after pieces of material from the bottom of a bridge over I-91 fell onto the road below, we did a story about bridges with structural deficiencies. In Meriden there are three: Cooper Street bridge, Center Street bridge and, you guessed it, the I691 bridge over Lewis Avenue.

Now it should be noted just because it’s “structurally deficient” it doesn’t mean the bridge is suddenly collapse. I mean, I hope not. At least I was hoping that was the case as I sat in my vehicle underneath the bridge.

So, whatever I just said, it’s just a recommendation to avoid the area when possible and to know there’s some work that’ll be ongoing for a few months. But hey, at least that bridge won’t fall on you.

Anonymous asked: Hi Dan, I don't have a question but just wanted to comment on the blog. As a Meriden native now living in Boston, I like to keep up on the happenings in Meriden as most of my family still lives there. Your writing gives a bit more food for thought than a standard "breaking news" type article; the speculation/analysis is enjoyable. Also, the coverage of downtown changes is good. I'd be hyped if Meriden had more life at nights, along with more foot traffic. Keep up the good work. -Andy Esposito

Thanks for sending this my way. It means a lot that you and others from around the country have reached out. What you said is what I’m trying to do with the blog: make it a place for added news, for things to make you think, for additional coverage, and for coverage that only certain Meridenites would be interested in. So far, it seems to be going well. Thanks again.

Un-Tangering the outlet situation

My first thought was, “Wow, this looks nice.” My second thought was, “Oh boy, Meriden could be in some trouble.”

Specifically, the Meriden Westfield Mall.

There is a plan in Cheshire right now to build this outdoor outlet center in Cheshire. By my count, it would be two exits away from the Meriden Square Westfield Mall.

Now bare with me, because this is just me speculating off the top of my head. I’m not an expert in retail. Or malls. But I know a potential concern when I see it.

The Meriden mall (which is how I’m going to refer to it for now), I’ve never had much of a problem with. It’s the mall I grew up with and it always had the stores to suite my needs. That said, I need all of like 3-4 stores to suite my needs. Right now, I get clothes at American Eagle and Macy’s, I can find a store for sneakers and shoes, I like Best Buy, I use Dick’s for my sporting goods needs, and then there are stores for my kid’s clothes and whatnot.

So, for me, the mall is fine. But I don’t shop once a day or once a week. I find myself there, at most, once a month. Unless it’s Christmastime. Then I’m there like every other day.

So while I’m no expert, I know there are bigger concerns about the Meriden Mall. For one, JC Penney is closing. Nobody is sure what is going there, but boy do people have their opinions. On a national level, it’s no secret Sears is struggling and Macy’s isn’t doing great. Oh, btw, both are at the Meriden Mall.

I think just about any mall will have some turnover in it. Meriden’s certainly does. So some people complain that the stores always change, well, there is probably some demand to get places out of there or in there. A TJ Maxx is going in and opening very soon in place of Borders, which is part of a dying breed (in print, anyway). People want more restaurants, according to that Facebook link, but then you have to figure out where to put them in the mall and figure out if they are actually sustainable. Fun fact: For years, Meriden’s zoning prevented another restaurant that sells alcohol from opening in the mall. Some have tossed around the idea of a cinema, even an upscale cinema.

Now, the Meriden Mall accounts for something like a bajillion dollars in taxes in Meriden. OK, maybe not that much. But two LLCs (limited liability companies - thank you, real estate law classes at Southern CT State) fall into the top 10 taxpayers in the city. If the mall ever goes this way, the city is in trouble.

In steps the Tanger outlets. People freakin’ love outlets. Especially in nice weather. But they don’t always go there because of distance. The nearest are Clinton and Westbrook. It works similarly with Westfarms Mall. It’s nice, it’s just, is it worth the 20-30 minute drive if you’re just looking for a few things?

Same question holds true for the outlets. Now, if the outlets are built in Cheshire in late 2015, right where Cheshire and Southington meet and Meriden isn’t all that far off, and I-84 isn’t but an exit away…well, you get it. Like I said, my initial thought is that the Meriden mall is doomed. Then again, maybe not. Westfield doesn’t continue to get stores in the Meriden Mall without customers. And these Cheshire outlets don’t get built unless things are looking up. They weren’t built for years because of a down economy and they likely don’t get built unless they feel there is enough disposable income in the area.

Do the new outlets take some business from the Meriden Mall? I would assume so. Can the Meriden Mall afford to lose business? Probably not a lot. How do Meriden’s downtown plans fit in? Well, some argue the Mall was the reason downtown went downhill like it did (in addition to other things), well does a significantly improved downtown change that? Probably not.

Sorry, there are a lot of questions. There are very few real answers at this point. But to say that there aren’t some concerns for Meriden would be naive.