Saturday, November 03, 2007

Letter from Linda Yau

Linda asked that I publish this letter as the newspapers thought it was too long. Thank you Linda.

To the Editor:
When Town Politics Gets Ugly by Linda Yau
I have lived in Willington for the last sixteen years. And up until the last four years, I was as guilty as anyone else in town. It's easy to get caught up in our fair town's bucolic surroundings. Wonderful people. Great schools. Low taxes. And what used to be responsible town government. It was all too easy to sit, feet up in your back yard, and ignore what was going on around you.

"Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo." - H. G. Wells (1866-1946)

But, just prior to Willington's 2003 municipal elections, I began to be repeatedly bombarded by some familiar faces in town spouting all kinds of venom about our then First Selectman, John Patton. The information was a little sketchy, in my opinion, having more to do with his wife, Diane Becker, than John's work in Willington. I heard a lot about "the Beckers own this, and the Beckers own that" and "just because they have money doesn't mean they get to run the town..." Everyone was so sure that the Patton/Becker team was behind some evil conspiracy to hog land and power in a town of 6,000 people. It all sounded to me like the upcoming election was personal. On the other hand, I saw a lot of heads nodding to this rhetoric, although I had not a clue that things were really about to change. The whisper campaign had begun. There was no stopping it now.

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Things did change. The upcoming elections saw John Patton and Jack Lewis give up their Town seats to Michael Eldredge and John Blessington. The town government had officially changed hands. Had people actually believed what they were hearing out on the streets? What did the townspeople think was wrong with John and Jack, if anything? Change for the sake of change.

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." - Galileo Galilei

During the next two years, some big projects begun by the A Sentinel Party were finally coming to fruition, albeit, under the Eldredge watch. The Town library was being built and the plans were put into motion for the construction of Senior housing, after being fought over and for, for literally decades.

"There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life." - Frank Zappa

OK, fast forward two years to the 2005 elections. Someone in the Eldredge brain trust had come up with the idea of effectively eliminating the A Sentinel Party from ever being a "threat" to them or their politics again. In 2003, they had done an experiment where the Republicans were cross-endorsed for the Board of Selectmen and the Democrats were cross-endorsed for Region 19. It worked so well then that they did almost the whole slate in 2005. If you're not familiar with the concept of cross-endorsement, this means that each candidate would receive a vote each as a Republican and as a Democrat. This would make it virtually impossible for anyone, Sentinel or otherwise, to get enough votes to defeat any cross-endorsed candidate. You do the math. Cross-endorsement, by the way, is perfectly legal, but it does allow the unscrupulous to manipulate the voting system.

Manipulation of our voting system was not the original reason behind the concept of cross-endorsement. The intention was that it was a way to keep good government in place, as a kind of reward system. Because of collusion and misuse of this process, 41 states have since outlawed its practice.

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." - Auric Goldfinger, in "Goldfinger" by Ian L. Fleming (1908-1964)

As so we come to the 2007 elections, and it should not come as a shock to anyone that the people of Willington, those of us paying attention, that is,have had enough of the manipulation of the Republicans and Democrats in this town and that we realize that it's time to take action. Thus, Dave Charette,candidate for First Selectman, John Patton and Robert Lisiewski have filed suit in Federal Court to take down the practice of cross-endorsement in Willington.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Of course, you don't file suit in Federal Court naming all cross-endorsed candidates, our Town Clerk, the Registrar of Voters, and Secretary of State Susan Bysewicz, without drawing a little fire. For Dave Charette, it has meant the sacrifice of some long-held relationships. He is, literally, suing his neighbor. Those being sued have also passionately screamed at him in public for his actions. Personally, I do not encourage litigation unless it is absolutely warranted, but this is one of those cases.

"People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they avoid." - Soren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Interestingly enough, the same people that cried "it's not fair!" in 2003 are still crying that now, this time complaining about the lawsuit. But what's fair? Is it fair to undermine the voting process of an entire town for the benefit of a few? And who exactly made the decision to go along with this scam? The fact is, every cross-endorsed candidate on Willington's ballot this year, each, at some point, made a conscious decision to blindly follow an ill-conceived, ill-informed lead. Although I will say that I understand there are some candidates who have valiantly refused not to be cross-endorsed, as a matter of principle. As it should be.

"The difference between 'involvement' and 'commitment' is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: the chicken was 'involved' - the pig was 'committed'." - unknown

The townspeople of Willington now have an opportunity, as candidates and as voting citizens to do the right thing. This is an opportunity for cross-endorsed candidates to step-up and think for themselves, putting the needs of the Town first. This, after all, is the essence of public service. As voting citizens, the rest of us also have an obligation to our town to think for ourselves, no matter who our friends are. We are, after all,OBLIGED, not "privileged" to vote. It is our civic duty, and one we should take seriously for our own benefit and that of our children and their future.

"Always do right- this will gratify some and astonish the rest." - Mark Twain (1835-1910)

However stunned they were to be sued in Federal court, the cross-endorsed Republican and Democratic candidates in Willington still have an opportunity to extricate themselves from this situation. There is still a way out. They could have changed their candidate status to one party line only, thus eliminating themselves from the suit, as promised by John Patton, quoted in his August 30 press release. I'm hoping these candidates will come to recognize the true meaning of public service and decide to do the right thing not only for themselves, but for the voters of Willington as well.

Nobody ever said public service was easy.

Editors Note: The request for a premiminary injunction to the combined Republican/Democrat slate mentioned by Linda was denied at the at the trial court and appellate court.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Response to Letter to the Editor

As I promised, here is a point by point response to Ms. Semprebon's letter in the Courant and the Chronicle. Laurie Mazich Semprebon Willington Semprebon is a candidate for the board of education and chairman of the Willington Board of Education and a member of the Will­ington Democratic Town Committee.

"I would like to respond to some of the press that John Patton and the A Sentinel Party have been getting of late leading up to the November election in Willington, particularly over the water project for Hall Memorial School, their missing selectman signs and Patton’s lawsuit over cross-endorsement of candidates by the Democratic and Republican town committees. Patton complains that no one is listening to him about the alternative of a second well instead of bringing public water to Hall Memorial School. I am a member of the water committee and do not recall John Patton even once approaching the water committee direct­ly about his concerns."

When was I supposed to attend a water committee meeting? One had not been scheduled for months. Even the members don't know when they are. Their agendas are given to the Town Clerk but sporadically posted on the website. At a Selectmen’s meeting scheduled to discuss the water main project with the Chairman of project in attendance, the Engineer went through the work to be done and the cost estimate and then indicated the cost of the water main project construction was going to be around three hundred thousand dollars. At that time, I asked the Chairman (Mark Palmer) to look into the possibility of drilling a well as an alternative to this project. The well would have been drilled to establish yield and water quality of the well. School property is over the same underground aquifer that feeds the water main. I was told by the First Selectman and the Chairman that it could be done and that was the end of that. They got out of that meeting and nothing more was done.

"Where was Patton when the water commit­tee considered all the options, including a sec­ond well, about two years ago? The committee (and the first selectman) have answered his concerns about the second well option many times: 1) the water system in the school is archaic and held together by the constant monitoring and repairing by the school system’s head maintenance person; 2) testing of the water has to take place constant­ly and at great expense; 3) the water contains high levels of minerals and often looks brown (although potable, students do not want to drink it); 4) the school system would have to put in, not one, but two wells to meet the state requirements for well placement and water availability (and still have the above issues); 5) the state consent order (with a deadline of Dec. 31) requires public water be brought into the school; and 6) Patton did not even attend the recent town meeting (Oct. 3) where more than 60 townspeople attended and voted unan­imously to approve the additional funding of the water project, with none dissenting nor anyone abstaining."

Contrary to Ms. Semprebon’s assertion, an engineering report done three years ago by Lenard Engineering indicated that installing a new well and water system was quite feasible and was estimated to cost around $210,000 which included replacement of the “archaic” system. The $210,000 was eligible for an approximate 70% cost sharing by the State leaving the Town share to be around $65,000. We already have one well on-site (which is where we get water from today) and we would have to drill another one. The existing well would have to be throttled back to produce a yield of less than 10 gallons per minute – not a big deal. The new well was the preferred method until a new cost came in for the water main extension bringing the cost of the project to $300,000 of which the Town was eligible for a $300,000 STEAP grant. Given my experience with the First Selectman, I should have been a little more jaded and asked what came first – the amount of the grant available or the cost estimate. As far as the Town meeting, Semprebon mistakes voting to approve the funding, which I indicated when I voted to call the Town meeting, to approval of the management of the project.

I will repeat what I had said often in public meetings. Given the information we had at the time when we voted to install the water main, it was the right decision. We now have better information, should you not reevaluate your decision at that time to see if it makes sense? You may come to the same conclusion but you owe it to the Townspeople to reevaluate decisions made when the assumptions change significantly. If we had evaluated the option of drilling the well, we could have found out that it was feasible, not feasible, costly, or that the water main still provides the best investment. We will never know now because you and your cohorts did not have the intellectual curiosity to find out.

"Patton also complains about the project not being estimated very accurately — does any­one want to remind him of who was first selectman when the senior housing project was started and went into huge overruns (the water system was estimated at $250,000 and cost over $800,000 — this for under 100 peo­ple, while the Hall School water serves more than 350 staff and students) — Patton him­self?"

I did not realize that Semprebon’s memory is that poor. The project went into huge overruns when Eldredge was First Selectman and for many of the same reasons we see today in the water main extension. He does no planning, no parallel investigation of alternatives to solve a problem and does not follow through and creates an impossibly short schedule to complete a project when finally forced to do something. The Senior Housing water system is an interesting example. I will quote from an entry I made into the Willington issues blog in January 2006:
“The town agreed to construct a water system to help with Phase II and III of this project. After the HUD 202 contract was awarded in November 2004, an aggressive schedule was developed for construction of the water system. That was the last anyone saw of the schedule. After emergency Board of Finance meetings in January of 2005 to call a town meeting for funds to develop the necessary wells, contract award and drilling did not begin until 5 months later. During the last year, multiple and vocal requests for schedules, finances and project
meetings were denied. We were assured by the First Selectman that everything was okay. In summer of 2005, a meeting was finally called to discuss the status of the projects. It was there that multiple questions were raised about time lines, responsibilities and funding. In January of 2006, after threats of refusing to apply for grants, the First Selectman called another meeting to discuss the project status. It was at this meeting that the Selectmen and the project engineers first saw that there was no measurable progress by the Town since the summer and the project deadline was February 1, 2007. At the point we are at, it
will take us fourteen months to complete the project - if everything goes right. We will also need to identify and commit anywhere from $300,00 to $600,000 in additional town funding between now and March 31, 2006. Despite the continued assurances of the First Selectman, this project and the $4 million dollar funding are in jeopardy.”
Back in January 2006, Jack Lewis and I were ridiculed and publicly denounced by Sembrebon’s cohort, Palmer, and others for “blocking” the Senior Housing. After seeing the problems, we took the project out of the First Selectman’s hands and we formed a Senior Housing Project committee to ensure that Town commitments were actually completed whatever the cost. The water system project came in over budget and despite the housing schedule slipping by six months we received our approval to operate the water system only one week before opening of the Senior Housing Apartments. If Jack and I did not force the issue then, we would not be opening today. Due to the short timeline, we were unable to respond using any sort of alternative construction method to reduce costs and have any sort of confidence that we could finish the project. The project cost was raised significantly because we forced the contractor to perform the construction during the winter and gave him a short time frame to completion. Despite the schedule, we made time to change the project guidelines and rebid the construction project when our first request for proposals received only two bids and they were about $100,000 higher than the ultimate bid selected.

We did have more time to deal with the other Town commitments such as a drainage area and the septic system where they were dealt with in a professional, competent manner and came in well below budget. You would think that Jack and I would be thanked for standing our ground when we knew it was the right thing to do but I am not going to hold my breath.

"It’s also interesting that Patton created such effective news coverage of a few missing selectmen signs for the upcoming election. Since both Democratic and Republican signs have also gone missing, why are the A Sentinel Party signs of more importance and getting more coverage?"

I think part of the reason is that we actually make the signs ourselves and in this particular case, they were a little different than usual. We don’t call up the sign shop and send a check and wait for the signs to arrive. We have volunteers spend their time making them. The vinyl Daves were a significant time investment (my wife and I spent a Saturday and Sunday pasting him together) and they were also different and fun. The other difference is that over the years, we have been the victim of substantial thefts or vandalism of signs while the Democrat and Republican signs usually fall apart in the weather and blow away.

"I’m sure part of the reason Patton is getting more coverage is that Patton is a politician who knows that he can get publicity by calling up the newspapers with controversial issues; the rest of us are regular townspeople busy serving on the boards to which we have been elected, working cooperatively with all other boards and committee members (regardless of political affiliation) to get projects completed and the work of those committees and boards done, defending ourselves against trivial law­suits, and not creating controversy where none exists."

I am sorry that newspaper coverage upsets some people. I also did not realize that I am an irregular townsperson. The newspaper reporters normally call me because a.) I will answer my phone or call them back; b.) I am typically well informed on the issues and if I am not I will tell them so; c.) I respect them for the job they do and part of that is they have deadlines to meet; and d.) I am usually able to speak in complete sentences.

I always believed that newspapers help inform the public of what happens in Town government for good and bad. One of the bigger complaints I hear is the lack of news coverage in Town. It was one of the reasons I worked to create the Town website so people could be aware of what is happening. Many people do read the minutes. I look nostalgically upon the days when we had assigned reporters from the Chronicle, Courant and the Tolland County Times.

I have been the recipient of one her “cooperative” letters and Hugo Chavez would be so proud. I would also be happy to put my record of past and present community service up against Ms. Semprebon anytime.

"Don’t forget that Patton (along with his pro­tégé Dave Charette) sued 11 members of both major town parties, the parties themselves, our town clerk, the secretary of state, and the head of the state Elections Commission over actions by those persons that are legal in the state of Connecticut, namely cross-endorse­ment of candidates in the upcoming election. The very volunteers who are willing to serve their town with countless hours of unpaid work are having to defend themselves in court because they are being supported by another political party in the upcoming election and Patton doesn’t like it."

The Democrats and Republican leadership are working together to eliminate the only people who provide a choice to the voters of Willington. They do not wish to do this through an active campaign of informing voters of their platform and vision of the future and asking for their vote but through their ability to exploit a loophole meant as a reward that is used sparingly. If they succeed in eliminating the Sentinel Party (which Republican Chairman John Blessington calls “the greater evil”) there will be no reason to hold an election in Willington. The elected officials will be hand picked by the major party leadership and the voters be damned - there will be “cooperation”

"Patton does not appear to appreciate cooper­ation and effective functioning of the boards in Willington — just read the minutes from many selectmen meetings to see his lack of cooperation and lack of interest in what’s best for the town. The board of selectmen is the only board in town controlled by the A Sentinel Party and the only board that is dys­functional."

I like cooperation; it is silent acquiescence to incompetence that I dislike. I also do not mind disagreement on issues. I am happy to argue points of view and then wait for a vote. As far as the Board of Selectmen being dysfunctional, I am not sure what the Board has failed to accomplish. When it gets to the point of making a decision on an issue, Jacka and I will force a vote. If I assume that Semprebon is correct, then maybe the reason is that they do not give us the same courtesy of cooperation as we give them.

Please read the minutes of the Board of Selectmen. You will then realize how often the Selectmen have to bring up the same issue to get the First Selectman to do his job. You will see how often I have warned him of issues that he ignores. Just last September, we had a meeting where I informed Eldredge and Palmer that the water main extension project would fall under the prevailing wage statutes. I was told that it was not true and that I was “simplistic” for thinking that. I also told them that they would have to revise their cost estimate because it did not assume prevailing wage rates. You will then see at the next meeting that of course it was a prevailing wage job but that the cost estimate was still valid. Well, you know the rest of the story (another town meeting on October 30th). In 2006, you can read about how the First Selectman didn’t ask for more money for public works (even though he said he would two months earlier) so we didn’t have money to meet payroll until an emergency meeting of the Board of Finance was called. Even worse, he didn’t realize we were out of money and he didn’t consider it a big deal.

"Patton, are you really interested in what’s best for Willington, or are you more con­cerned about what you want and what’s best for you and the major A Sentinel Party con­tributors? The public is getting plenty of one­sided information that you disseminate — either through publicity stunts like the “miss­ing Daves,” creating controversy where none exists (the water project), or by calling the papers."

The question sounds almost sinister. She asks about the “major A Sentinel Party contributors” like there is some big money trails to be discovered if people would just look little farther. If anyone is interested, the records are on file at the Town Clerk’s office. She would be happy to show them to you. I can’t help it if the major parties or their elected officials can not explain their positions on issues. I am not sure why I should apologize for trying to inform voters. The bottom line is that the Semprebons of the world will find out that neither I nor other Sentinel Party members caused their deficiencies. Having to defend your ideas when you are in a position of authority is part of the democratic process. I know, I have had to do it for years, which is why we now have Senior Housing, a new Library, Recreation Fields, an award winning financial office, reserve money, a working Capital Plan and money to work on some of these road issues. Yea, I think I'm interested in what’s best for Willington. I don't just say it, I have results to show for it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Copy of Ballot

Here is a copy of the ballot.

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Voting Machines

I am sure that you have already heard about the new voting machines. The Secretary of the State has produced a video explaining how the system works. It can be viewed at . The video incorrectly states that the ballot is one-sided. Willington's ballot uses both sides so don't forget to flip the ballot to vote for all of the offices.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cross Endorsement versus Lawsuit

As you may or may not have heard, the Democrat and Republican parties cross-endorsed 12 of their candidates for the upcoming election. No big deal you say. Take a look at the election results over the last two elections. ( ) Do you find it interesting that the cross-endorsed candidate had their name on the ballot twice and they were able to total their votes on both lines and win the election. Does this seem like a fair election in any sense of the word. It is an effective ploy that the two parties have grown used to in their effort to guarantee their election and to force out the local political party called the A Sentinel Party.

It is also an effective way to destroy any sense of choice in an election. The elected officials will not need to "fear" the voter because the voter will be powerless. It is a good thing that every two years, elected officials need to sit back and reflect on what they have or have not accomplished. A competitive election also forces officials to address what they believe the issues are in the future that will need to be addressed. When asked about the reason for cross-endorsements, the democrat and republican leadership exclaim "we can't find enough people to run". I am confused how putting the same name on two lines gives you more people. If the object was to find people to run, wouldn't it be better that three groups of active citizens were looking to find people to help in the running of the town than just one? As it is, the three parties were able to find 30 people. The A Sentinel Party is running 8 good people with 5 of them being new to elected office. Some of them are facing democrat/republican cross-endorsement and face a virtually impossible task of winning. To their credit, they are putting their name in the ring anyway.

All of this brings me to the point of this posting. Robert Lisiewski, David Charette and I felt that the sanctity of a fair and open election was being abused and destroyed by the wholesale cross-endorsement of the other two major parties. The parties leadership are helping to choose each other's candidates in order to secure elections for their chosen few. To the credit of some candidates, they refused to be a part of the cross-endorsement and chose to run on one line. Bob, Dave and I faced a choice on whether to continue on and go along in this charade of an election or take a stand. We have constantly asked for only one thing - each candidate should run on only one line. This way the voters decide who gets elected in a fair way. Apparently this was too much to ask.

We hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit in Federal Court due to the ongoing collusion and conspiracy between the leadership of the parties in the election process. The complaint is relatively simple and stills asks that the candidates run on one line. This process guarantees no one an election but it does guarantee that the voters will have a fair election.