Hines Sight / Brickbats and bouquets in the mail
I have been writing this column for more than six months now. I returned to the fray a little more than a year after I left my former job as editor of this newspaper. Writing the column has been fun -- and I have struck a few chords, made a few people angry and received praise and criticism. I have talked about a lot of topics -- decisions made by the school system and the town administration, the proposed 2011-12 municipal budget, the naming of the third train station, the need for a K-9 unit in the Police Department, among others.
At first, people were glad I was back and told me just that. But once I was settled in -- and the readers were settled in -- to the weekly commentary, the mail started coming. Most people write when they object to what a columnist's says, but a few have given me kudos for speaking out. A couple of people have called, too. The feedback is great, and I look forward to more.
I thought I'd give you a little sampling of what I have received via e-mail.
Education garners a lot of feedback, and most times the mail contains criticism for a particular stand I have made. I welcome the criticism. If everyone agreed with me, then what fun is that? For instance, let's take school redistricting. Two writers felt I was out of touch with the plan adopted by the Board of Education and thought I should have attended the subcommittee's meeting long before I decided to object to how it was devised and to the ultimate decision that was made. I was called "uniformed." The interesting part my apparent ignorance was that the majority of the parents and other residents who spoke at a Board of Education meeting the night the plan was aired and discussed felt as I did. So who was off-base?
And then there was my recent comment about the librarians in the schools. I am not against the librarians; they probably do good work. But I was pointing out the disparity in salaries, in light of the fact that the Board of Finance had decided not to give the first selectman, selectmen and town clerk positions an increase in salary for the first two years of their four-year terms, and then 3 percent over the final two years. The first selectman (the chief elected official) is paid $127,620 a year -- less than many other positions in the town and school administrations. And the town clerk (responsible for the vital records of the entire town) is paid $89,905 a year. Conversely, as an example, the Burr Elementary School librarian/media specialist, a full-time equivalent position as described in educational jargon, is slated to make more than $96,000 in the next fiscal year. It is not about who deserves what; it is about setting priorities and being fair.
I received an e-mail, filled with incredulity, about last week's column in which I wrote that John Ficke, the school system transportation director, saved the day and the Tomlinson Middle School students' trip to Washington, D.C., when he discovered the buses they were riding in were unregistered and uninsured. He arranged for other, legal buses to cart the kids around the capital and bring them home. The person who e-mailed me felt I was overzealous in my praise and that it is the director's responsibility to ensure the students' safety long before they board the buses. Maybe so, but I would like to ask -- where is the Board of Education in all of this? The following is from the Board of Education's website, and it is the sole mention of any kind of guideline: "School trips may be arranged with the incumbent home-to-school bus contractor or other commercially available public transit vehicles." That was approved in 2004. Perhaps a better policy and greater safeguards should have been in place long before this latest incident.
Nothing I have written about over these months has generated more comment than the blight on Kings Highway East. The former furniture store and the adult video building next to it and the old car dealership across the street are eyesores -- plain and simple. Despite my attempt to get these sites cleaned up (or the buildings razed) by submitting a formal blight complaint, the properties continue to be ugly and are getting worse.
The Condemnation/Blight Board has done what it can to force the property owners to make any kind of effort to take responsibility, but the sites continue to deteriorate. The most recent recorded minutes of the board from January only mention that there is no change in the status and the item will remain on the agenda under "old business."
The people who e-mailed, with the exception of one, agreed that the properties are a disgrace and cannot believe the town has not taken stronger steps to have them cleaned up. Since I first brought this subject to light last fall, graffiti now has been adorning the sides of the former furniture store and the windows at the car dealership have been boarded up. I still don't understand how some of the other business owners, who are trying to make a living and attract people to their stores and restaurants, can tolerate this. Maybe they need to get into an uproar. The one dissenter of the letter writers felt that instead of my criticizing the property owners, who had redevelopment plans for the sites rejected by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, I should investigate the zoning process, which I was told works against them.
While we are on the subject of blight, how about the old diner on Kings Highway Cutoff that closed a few years ago? The façade is crumbling to the ground. What is being done about this?
The most recent minutes of the Condemnation/Blight Board report no change in the status and "a letter was sent and no response was received. A Blight Citation Letter will now be sent to the owner of the property."
What is equally as distressing is the number of blighted commercial and residential properties under consideration for action by the board. What does this say about our community? Take a look and you will be amazed.
In the meantime, keep the mail coming. I appreciate the time readers take in contacting me to offer brickbats or bouquets.
Patricia A. Hines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also can be followed at http://blog.ctnews.com/hines. Hines Sight appears each Friday.