Mayor Eddie A. Perez has decided to step back from two key leadership positions, announcing Monday that he would no longer serve as chairman of the city's board of education or of its school building committee.
Perez said he will stay on both boards and announced his hand-picked successors. He said he's backing away from the leadership roles because he wants to focus on the city's struggling finances and made no reference to the bribery charges the state brought against him last month.
Several school board members said they don't foresee seismic changes for the panel.
"I think that while the mayor has contributed to our board, it wasn't just all him," board member Sharon Patterson-Stallings said. "It was all of our members being proactive and working for what we feel that our children in Hartford deserve."
Kenneth Kennedy, a city councilman and frequent Perez critic, said he also doesn't expect much to change.
"The mayor's influence I don't think on either board is diminished," Kennedy said, noting that Perez appoints the majority of the members on the school board and will still serve on both panels.
Perez made waves in 2005, when he named himself to the board and was then elected its chairman. At the time, Perez said the move was "not about being king," but about being accountable.
But critics have long said the move consolidated too much power in one man.
On Monday, board members said they always thought Perez would yield control when the time was right. That said, it was just last month that the school building committee reappointed him its chairman.
The moves come three weeks after Perez was arrested on bribery charges related to allegedly discounted work done at his home by a city contractor. Perez has since pleaded not guilty. The reconstruction of Hartford schools has also caught the attention of the state grand jury investigating allegations of corruption at city hall, though the scope of the interest remains unclear.
"[The arrest] does create some distractions," board member Israel Flores said. "It's there. We can't deny that it's there. But it was not the impetus or the reason we're moving in this direction."
Perez said he has sought replacements for the two roles.
Ada Miranda, the current vice chairwoman of the board of education, is expected to be elected chairwoman at the board's meeting tonight, Perez said. The mayor appoints the majority of the school board. John Motley, a former Hartford school official and former director of the St. Paul Travelers Connecticut Foundation, said Perez offered him the chairmanship of the school building committee last Thursday and he spent the weekend thinking about it. "I just wanted to be comfortable with myself that it didn't matter if some people might think that ... this was an ill-timed event," Motley said. "But my attitude is, it needs to be done, this is the only time there is, so let's go."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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