It’s a seasonal phenomenon; political drama drops off this time of year. The big stories have come and gone. Remember the year-end audit, which disclosed another big surplus? It was released months ago. The budget process, an agonizingly slow and largely meaningless dance, has run its course. The questions about all-day kindergarten have been put to rest, at least for the foreseeable future. And, there are no hotel development deals to be discussed like before. Watch for big news of a possible new contract with Covanta, which runs the trash burning plant, resulting perhaps in a loss of revenue for the town. But otherwise, we are in the slow season.
You can still find little-noticed gems, however, if you turn over enough rocks. Here are some low-profile developments that have recently pinged my radar screen.
1. The town council’s new Technology Committee wants to methodically survey who’s got what and why, technologically speaking, at town hall. It wants to understand the big picture of what technology is in place so it might make some realistic recommendations later. It knows that developing areas of inquiry and specific questions to ask take thought and research. That’s the stage the committee is at now. This is a long-term project, worthy of patience.
2. As the town’s auditing firm has been on the job since 2003, the council in February, decided to “test the waters” and seek new proposals from qualified accounting firms. Four responded, including the town’s current auditor, Blum, Shapiro. On Tuesday, the council voted to re-appoint Blum, Shapiro for another 3 years. This was a good choice. It is one of the top firms in Connecticut for municipal auditing services. Because of new pricing, the town’s costs for auditing will go down very slightly. The process was flawed, however, and an unfortunate precedent was established.
The town charter requires the town council — and only the town council, to appoint the auditor. This is part of the charter’s checks and balances intended to keep the auditor independent of the executive branch of government. The comptroller, therefore, shouldn’t have a direct hand in selecting the firm that will audit his department’s financial statements.
Yet, in a break from past practice, the comptroller was on the committee of councilors, which “scored” the competing auditing firms, thereby determining the outcome. Although his vote by itself didn’t change the result this time, it might be next time, if this practice is followed again. Hopefully, in the future, councilors will stick closely to the charter’s dictates, and restore to themselves their exclusive duty to choose the town’s auditor.
3. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is disputing millions of dollars of costs that the Connecticut Municipal Electrical Energy Cooperative (CMEEC) has charged and will charge Wallingford’s electric division for services, as more CMEEC-purchased power is delivered to Wallingford. Each side believes it has the better argument. The two are now trying to resolve this very expensive dispute informally themselves, by exchanging information and explaining to each other their respective positions.
I wanted to understand the nature of these arguments so I filed a Freedom of Information request directed to the PUC. I asked it to share with me documents it sent to CMEEC regarding this matter, and the paperwork CMEEC sent to the PUC. As all I was asking for in this request was information that CMEEC already had, I was not asking for any secret stuff.
Surprisingly, the PUC’s position was that although CMEEC has the PUC’s written claims, and the PUC has CMEEC’s written claims, people in Wallingford should not be able to see any of them. It denied my request for these documents. It’s unclear to me why the PUC is going to such lengths to evade transparency and avoid scrutiny. It’s not hiding anything from CMEEC, just Wallingford.
I filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission. Stay tuned.
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”