Will someone please send Jodi Rell an alarm clock so she can wipe the sleep from her eyes? She needs a wake-up call.
Hopefully, one of the casualties of this economic free fall will not be Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, the state’s only zoo. Zoo Director Gregg Dancho is scrambling to gain public and legislative support to restore funds that Governor Rell has threatened to take away in her proposed budget. The zoo is managed by the Connecticut Zoological Society, but receives supplemental–and necessary–state funds from an agreement that was originally worked out by former Governor Lowell Weicker who aided the city’s feeble bottom line in the early 1990s by using state funds to purchase the zoo with an eventual ownership transfer to the zoo society, but with continued support from the state.
The money the state provides the zoo is not even a pebble in a pond, but as a tourist attraction it’s one of the best in the state and arguably the city’s finest.
The city is loaded with tourist and destination points that often go overlooked: the zoo, Barnum Museum, Captain’s Cove, Discovery Museum, ballpark, arena, Klein, Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Playhouse on the Green, festivals, parades, art galleries, and one of the finest public library systems in the state. Many of the them are not for profit that need assistance from the city and state, but not so much that they’re public-fund budget breakers. They have little marketing money.
That’s where the city and state can help. Mayor Bill Finch understands the need to highlight these cultural attractions; the question is how to get there. It’s been proven time and again: market your destination points and people will come. The Barnum, ballpark, arena, Captain’s Cove, Klein to name a few, are all city-owned.
There seems to be interest in the Finch administration and among some members of the City Council to invest city marketing money to promote city attractions with a buy-in from the business community. You kick in some, we’ll kick in some, create a media campaign that will drive traffic to destination points that will also stimulate additional customers for city restaurants.
Economic Development Director Donald Eversley worked in Providence when that city experienced a restaurant boom, so he has an appreciation of the connection between restaurants and destination points. Going to a concert at the arena or Klein? Beforehand check out dinner at city restaurant. The city has a bunch of a sweet places to dine. (Any time you have a favorite place feel free to post one on OIB.)
Joe Ganim invested city money in destination points, John Fabrizi failed to do so. Talk to Dancho, Kathy Maher at the Barnum, Kaye Williams at the Cove, past and current owners of the Bluefish and they’ll tell you attendance is higher when the city takes an active interest promoting its attractions.
A campaign doesn’t require millions. A concentrated marketing effort for a fraction of that will bolster attendance.
Speaking of Joe, he’s at it again, firing off letters to the Connecticut Post claiming he got screwed while witnesses against him received sweetheart deals. Bullshit.
Joe took the stand, fibbed and received a nine-year sentence. John Rowland entered a guilty plea and got one year. Had Joe ‘fessed up, he’d have finished his time years ago and be back with his family where he belongs. The good news for Joe, he should be out of the joint in a year or so.
News from City Lights
The Artists of “This and That ” will host a Rent Party Sunday at 4 p.m. to support City Lights. Food, wine, refreshments available. Suggested donation $10. RSVP by April17th.
or (203) 334-7748
Seats are limited (30). if you can, throw your picnic folding chair in the car!
Rent parties were popular during difficult economic times in the last century. Creative thinkers and doers turned the hardship of a slowing cash flow into an opportunity to have some fun and bring like minded folks together. The artists of the “This and That” exhibit will host a rent party, featuring discussion about their work, process and the found objects used. Join in the open forum, meet fellow creative thinkers, enjoy the art, the gallery, the ideas, wine and the light buffet.
Ken Cicerale to perform on alto sax while we gnosh!
Please show your appreciation for City Lights, we need your support to keep bringing you the art and events. Become a member, make donation. It’s easy, visit www.citylightsgallery.org or send a check payable to:
City Lights and Co. 37 Markle Ct. Bpt, Ct. 06604
Coming in July:
City Lights Annual
Exhibiting Members Show!
SWEETPORT IS COMING!
OIB friend Bob Halstead has some issues regarding the city’s Community Garden Program. See his open letter below:
I am writing this open email letter in an effort to resolve a problem resulting from a recent change in the City’s policy in funding the Community Gardens this year. The changes are impractical and will result in many community gardeners not being served by this funding. The gardens will go on, but the funding allocated for garden supplies that support the community gardeners’ efforts will not be implemented in that the conditions recently imposed are unnecessary changes from the way the gardens have been run successfully for 29 years, will prevent plant purchases, tool purchases and other garden supplies that are very beneficial to the program, and that gardeners have come to expect and rely upon. I have been selective with my mailing list and I am including anyone who can imagine the intricacies of running a program like this who would probably agree with me that this is the City trying to scuttle the program by presenting a series of petty and ridiculous hoops to jump through.
Approximately two weeks before the traditional start of the community garden season, the City Office of Community Development verbally issued a new requirement that gardeners no longer will be able to go to nurseries to pick up plants and garden supplies without first submitting hard estimates from vendors through the BCLT. The CDO also expects the Bridgeport Community Land Trust to know exactly every single garden spade, hand tool, hose nozzle, pack of seeds, and every other single little detail for 20 gardens, itemized by garden participants on hard estimates they obtain from as many as four separate vendors.
The BCLT is run by volunteers. Saving the City on staff time and other expenses. They are running the community garden program for the second year. The City ran the gardens with its own staff for approximately 20 years. BCLT’s stewardship saves the City administrative expenses. At the same time, BCLT volunteers are already over-extended and this latest requirement is the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back”. I personally have worked an average of 30 to 40 hours per week for years as a volunteer for this program but have never complained because I receive a lot of satisfaction doing it. I have never complained until now.
On April 2nd, 2009, I met with members of the Community Development Staff, including its director, Alanna Kabel; its Deputy Director, Diane Toolan; its program coordinator, Aisha Davis; and a person from the Central Grants Office, Gisela Moura, along with Eric Seagren of the BCLT and Councilwoman from the East Side, Maria Valle. I requested that Councilwoman Valle call this meeting to try to change the system back to the way it had been. I was forced to bring her in when the Community Development Office did not return three phone calls to arrange a meeting over three days the previous week.
Because it was extremely difficult to get my points across as staff present took turns giving extensive monologues to which I was not able to respond, I am documenting below the seven notions or misconceptions that the City staff kept repeating over and over and I am providing the answers that I believe I did not have a chance to provide at the meeting.
The following points need to be addressed in a follow-up to our meeting from last week that we had with Alanna Kabel and her staff, as follows:
1) “We were lucky not to have to go through the normal route that usually requires community recipients to have $ released only after they have spent it and submitted ‘paid’ invoices”
– answer: We are happy to go the reimbursement route, especially if we can stay with the normal requirements for establishing accounts. We had started out this way and were going along last spring until we got a call from Community Development saying that BCLT could not be reimbursed per their conversation with the Comptrollers Office who required that checks be written from the City directly to the vendors.
2) “BCLT exceeded upset amounts on purchase orders that were issued last season and that is the reason we have to change the system to ‘get hard estimates from vendors for every item to be purchased for every garden before a purchase order is issued’”
-answer: BCLT did not go over our allotted amounts for each vendor. We stayed within each of the allotments per vendor. The Community Development Agency’s staff was not diligent, never duly registering the budget I sent for each purchase order on June 5th 2008 at their behest. Instead, Community Development used an out-dated spreadsheet they had in their archives and falsely concluded BCLT went over on purchase orders by $100 to $200.
3) “It is easy to gather hard estimates from hardware suppliers, garden nurseries, Home Depot, and lumber yards for all the gardens and to put it all on the vendor’s stationary and submit it to the Community Development Agency. It’s what everybody else does.”
-answer: it is impossible to know what a vendor is going to have in stock on the day that we need an item or items. It is impossible to know what tools will break, how many gardeners there will be, who will want to start new community gardens or what Mother Nature will do. It is not practical to go to each garden captain and take them to the all the vendors, for any of the gardens. The vendors, especially the nurseries are too busy to spend that kind of time with so many people this time of year. Some of the garden captains do not understand accounting systems. Some of the garden captains are elderly with health problems. It is not practical to have them run around to all the vendors to see what they have in stock and then have them get hard estimates on vendor’s stationary. Most of the garden captains do not have computer skills. Some of the garden captains reside in special-needs supportive housing who participate in the gardens. Some of the garden captains do not have phone numbers. Many of the garden captains work two jobs or work odd hours and are difficult to reach or do not have time during normal weekday business hours. Some of the garden captains are from countries such as India and Mexico and do not understand bureaucracy.
4) “Bob Halstead used to run the garden program when he worked for the City and he no longer works with the City and volunteers for a non-profit corporation that now runs the garden program and does not understand the rules are different now that he is not working for the City”.
-answer: The rules were the same by the City’s own insistence. Since I have been with the garden program for twenty nine years now, it has been the practice to give each garden captain a letter of credit for the vendor, such as Ganim’s Nurseries that has an “upset amount” assigned to it based on the garden CDBG allocation for that year, the volume of gardening in that particular garden, the size of the garden, the records of expenditures from previous years, extensive community gardening experience, and planning sessions that take place at our workshops with gardeners. The amount of allotment ranges from $100 to $400 depending on the factors. The captains and other BCLT officers are each given a letter on BCLT stationary (or previously on City stationary) stating the vendor and the amount approved. A cc of the letter is sent to the vendor. When the captains determine the day they are going to buy after consulting with gardeners in their community garden, they borrow or rent a truck or van and ride to the nursery and shop around from what is available on that particular day. They keep tabs on what they are accumulating in their carts and they stay under their allotted amounts. The vendor does not allow them to run over their allotted amounts. They have stayed within their individual budgets every year and have not betrayed the trust and empowerment that has been given to them. This has proven a very efficient way to run the program given that there are so many purchases and so many participants.
5) “The BCLT is being treated no differently than any of the other program recipients and should be able to handle the paperwork and supply hard estimates prior to having purchase orders issued like everybody else does”
-answer: I counted 80+ invoices from last season. Some had as many as 30 individual items on them. Each one required communication with gardeners, design of the gardens, coordination of volunteers, inspections of the site, research of the products, picking up the materials, delivering the materials, filing the invoices, bookkeeping for the invoices, submitting the invoices, reporting on the invoices and keeping meticulous records. Follow-up was required to make sure that the invoices were paid. Many times remained unpaid and I have to constantly prompt city staff. Many of the invoices (80 of them) had as much as thirty items on them. When the Community Development Office “found” millions of unspent CDBG dollars under the Fabrizi administration, millions of dollars flew out the door for items such as new fire engines and neighborhood bulk pickups. BCLT wrote the CD office in response to a legal notice seeking proposals for this “found” money but were never given a call back. There always have been double standards with this office.
6) “The City Community Development Agency staff has really tried to help the BCLT by being very flexible in how they allow us to draw funding.”
-answer: The Community Development Agency inconvenienced the BCLT when it first required BCLT open its own accounts to be reimbursed for “paid invoices” and subsequently changed its requirements in midstream at the behest of the Comptroller’s Office to have accounts deal directly between the City and the vendor as had been the case when the City ran the program. The first forced me to personally sign and use my very good credit to open accounts because vendors such as Home Depot would not approve an account for BCLT unless an individual personally signed. I had my personal social security number, otherwise purchases could not be made. Later when the City did not pay the vendors it negatively impacted my personal credit. Ironically, the City has cited these incidents to allege that BCLT has mismanaged the project and to justify its recent onerous requirements.
7) “The community garden program is a small program with a $10,000 grant compared to the millions of dollars the CDO is responsible for managing and it takes too much of its staff time to process excessive amounts of invoices and line item transfers. The City has cut back its staff due to the recent budget crisis and does not have the time to spend on this”
-answer: Although it only has a $10,000 budget, there are a lot of invoices. Sorry, but it impacts approximately 900 people, 250 family plots that save each family an estimated $1,000 per year and it serves 20 locations with multiple vendors and invoices. Because the BCLT has relieved the city of the burden of staffing the project, there should be reciprocity and there should not be false statements and exaggerations that there are excessive line item transfers that take up inordinate amounts of city staff time.
Conclusion: I am imploring the City to change its policy back to the old policy by allowing gardeners to be given their own allotments for going to the nurseries and that BCLT have open accounts with vendors to allow them to purchase unexpected purchases.
Just to illustrate some anecdotal information on who the losers will be in this scenario please imagine the Russian Jewish senior citizens at Sycamore Place not being able to expand their raised beds to accommodate others of their group who really want to garden, or the largely Hispanic community on Hough Avenue who garden next to the shrines of their deceased who now have to go into their own pockets to purchase plants, or the gardens on Clinton Avenue or Yale Street with their immigrant Mexican, Jamaican and Bangla Deshian participants, or the artists and the Marina Village children at the Gregory Street Seaside Garden who will not be able to build their tool shed this year, or the newly revitalized ethnic quilit of the Barnum Avenue Garden at Washington Park and their garden captain, Luis Sanchez, or the children and the artists who garden and cook their produce at the Burroughs Community Center. This is largely an impoverished population. Who is going to tell them: “Let Them Eat Cake”? –certainly not the group of people who have meetings in City Hall Annex’s offices who decide to impose these restrictive requirements.
Whatever any of you can do, be it newspaper articles, letters to the editor, calls to your council people, speaking at City Council Meetings, contacting Congressman Himes’ Office, writing to the HUD Boston and Hartford Offices, actions where we visit the Mayor at City Hall Annex, calls to City staff, calls to the Mayor, internal dialogue among City staff to come up with a solution, etc., would be appreciated because at this point there is nobody within BCLT who is able to operate this program in its changed state because of the extremely complicated path given and the lack of people to execute it. This being the case, many gardeners are going to be upset and will complain and this will hurt the program. It will hurt our relations with the gardeners and it will have a demoralizing acrimonious effect. It is not what “community development” is supposed to be about … and it is not necessary.
203 362 7757