Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
'As mayor of Vernon, I take my duties seriously'

By Jason McCoy
Journal Inquirer
September 13, 2008

Former Vernon Mayor Ellen L. Marmer launched a number of allegations against me and my administration in "Town's future endangered by cronyism" (Sept. 6-7). I was also criticized in a Journal Inquirer editorial ("Vernon politics: A need for stability and maturity," Aug. 13).

Some of Marmer's charges are uninformed, some are misunderstood, and the majority are just plain untrue.

Marmer knows I am not permitted to speak about any government employees due to the town's ethical and personnel rules. Claims of patronage and cronyism are claims of illegal actions.

I am a person whose family lives in town, with a history in town. I run a business in town and I also go before judges and juries as an attorney in town.

That being said, a statement of cronyism and patronage are claims of unlawful conduct and are incorrect, untrue, and false. Those ridiculous, slanderous claims are a direct attack on my character and my family's reputation.

A claim of patronage and cronyism is also an attack on our personnel system and its requirements. It is also a direct attack on more than a dozen people that I have hired, promoted, and appointed (after ratification by the Town Council, both Democratic and Republican members). All of these people were selected only after they went through several levels of vetting, background checks, reference checks, and interviews. After all of that was done the top three candidates were finally presented to me as mayor to make a decision to hire, appoint, or promote.

Shame on you, Ellen Marmer. This is beyond all acceptable bounds of debate regarding policy and management. It is a personal attack with false statements claiming unlawful conduct.

As mayor of Vernon I have taken my duties seriously. I am required to hire and dismiss employees. I am required to balance the budget and deliver services that folks in Vernon need and, if possible, services that they want. I am required to make sure that all Vernon residents and property owners are responded to, assisted, and helped.

I do not spend as little time as possible managing the town — like former Mayor Marmer, who spent only Thursdays working for the town. I spend the time needed to manage the town. I expect all town employees at every level to do the same, because that is the job I was elected to do, and that they were hired for.

A look at several so-called allegations:

• Patronage and favoritism lead her list, particularly the appointment of the town attorney. In actuality, my legal team consists of the same attorneys that served during the past Marmer administration. Hal Cummings has become the town attorney and attorneys Susan Boyan and Martin Burke continue serving as assistant town attorneys. During her first term, Manner appointed our current sitting Democrat congressman as her town attorney.

• Marmer accuses the council of allocating $30,000 to hire one of the mayor's "lawyer friends" to lobby our interests in the legislature. They are not my friends. She questions the need for such services. The two organizations that represent us also represent all the other member towns in Connecticut. I feel that more individual emphasis on Vernon is needed to further our interests.

• Manner [sic] takes aim at the Republican initiative to discontinue charging condominiums for fire hydrants.

When our Planning and Zoning Commission requires streetlights and fire hydrants in a development, the cost becomes part of general taxation. Not only do condo dwellers pay for these services through their taxes, but they are also charged individually. It is a double tax and it is not fair. The utility companies also pay taxes on the hydrants and lights.

True, there are areas of Vernon that do not have fire hydrants, but for the protection of these areas the town has purchased and maintains fire apparatus to carry and pump water to the site. The cost of this equipment is, of course, part of general taxation.

• The assertion that we are not paying principal on "outstanding" bounding debt is incorrect. The town is paying both principal and interest on bonding debt of outstanding bonds. The town had outstanding bonds before I was mayor, and the budget indicates that both principal and interest is being paid this year and every year until those old bonds are retired.

As to the new debt that was incurred as a result of the 2004 and 2005 bonding projects, I did structure those debts or notes in February into bonds that require the town to pay interest only for this year and next year because the rates were low, but there are nearly no additional costs for the life of the 2004 and 2005 bond projects. Without that management decision the budget would have been $1.1 million higher or we would have had to cut $1.1 million in services. The bonding structure reduced the impact on the taxpayer. We will pay interest only on these bonds until the 2010, when 20-year-old bonds are retired.

• I have not "manipulated and revised any Town Council minutes prior to an agenda for council approval." This is blatantly and totally false. Shame on you; you should check your facts.

• I have appointed out-of-town residents to boards and commissions where it is allowed by the Town Charter, particularly the Economic Development Commission.

The group was inactive during the Manner administration because there were not enough members to hold a meeting, in violation of state law and the town charter. I have appointed people representing, banking, retail business, manufacturing, real estate, and property development to this commission, which is required to produce a report to inform the mayor and council of economic trends, employment trends, and ways of attracting business to increase commercial tax revenue and job opportunities for people in this town. Some live in Vernon, some do not. All do business in Vernon and have strong ties to the community.

• We have not "given away" a $6.3 million federal "earmark" grant. I am actively trying to get the Connecticut Transit Authority to submit to the federal authorities our proposal to use these monies for renovations of the Citizens' Block as a transportation center for Dial-A-Ride and senior transit, which would, in the process, rehabilitate this eyesore in the center of town and make it more feasible to attract the Music Hall of Fame and locate the Pitney Museum. By using part of this space for transportation-related purposes, we can, under the law use the grant for a purpose that is more in line with the needs of Rockville. Town Council members and most of the people in Vernon and Rockville have indicated that a seedy, large bus station was not a pressing need in town.

• The Town Web site developer redesigned our Web site. The staff developed the content. The site is now interactive and provides such services as online tax payment and online registration for recreational and educational programs. You can check your tax bills, find all departments, all employees, all elected officials, signup for news updates, and a number of other items.

I believe these changes have provided a huge convenience to our citizens and give us the capability of adding even more features as needed.

I did not check the political affiliation of the contractor at the time but now find that he is, and always has been, "unaffiliated" — not a Republican, as Marmer charges.

I would agree with one thing Marmer suggests. Please take some time to educate yourselves on the accomplishments of this administration; they are fully transparent, numerous, and positive.

They include: changing to a two-year budget; reducing the 2008-09 tax rate by 8 percent; public safety improvements, such as the reconstruction of bridges that were fully funded but the prior manager Marmer did not even start; successfully finishing several long-term projects; realizing major cost savings in employee-benefit packages; auditing the Board of Education budget, contracts, and invoices, and reducing $700,000 in spending; adopting a policy on fuel usage, electricity, and oil that equates to a 5- to 10-percent decrease in usage, as well purchasing hybrid vehicles to further save energy.

We have also implemented systems of digital governance to deal with the 21st-century challenges the government faces that a 20th-century bureaucracy cannot handle. Now, no matter who the mayor is, management systems will be nonpolitical.

I am happy to speak with you and clarify any rumors you may hear. Please feel free to call me.

The writer is the mayor of Vernon.