City Council member Pedro Segarra is trying to drag his fellow council members into a leadership role
December 04, 2008
Pedro Segarra has been stirring things up on the Hartford City Council lately, challenging fellow council members to take more responsibility for dealing with a tide of red ink.
"There's some resistance to it because it involves taking both leadership and putting in the time to do the work we were elected to do," Segarra said.
At last week's council meeting, Segarra presented the 10 resolutions that would have rebalanced the current "strong mayor" form of government that vests day-to-day power in Mayor Eddie Perez.
The council leadership — Calixto Torres, rJo Winch and Jim Boucher — made it clear they don't want to upset that balance, and that they believe the strong mayor government precludes the council from getting involved in matters like the recent layoffs of 56 city employees.
One of Segarra's resolutions would have rescinded those layoffs. It didn't pass. In the debate over the resolution Boucher said the town charter clearly states the mayor "has ultimate operational control over the operation of city departments." Torres agreed. Winch expressed reservations about the layoffs being suspended.
"Leadership is content, they defer to the mayor to [handle the layoffs]," said Segarra. "At least five and possibly six people seem to think we need to take some more action."
The five council members Segarra is referring to include himself, Matt Ritter, Luis Cotto, Larry Deutsch and Ken Kennedy. The sixth is Veronica Airey-Wilson, whom Segarra describes as "independent."
While Airey-Wilson didn't exactly echo the sentiments of council leadership, she made it clear she had no stomach either for rescinding the layoffs.
"We shouldn't get too politically involved in the layoffs, that's why we went to a strong mayor," said Airey-Wilson at Monday night's meeting. "We can't politicize these layoffs."
But Segarra says that's missing the point. His resolution to rescind the layoffs was not about political gamesmanship, he says, but about the council living up to its fiscal responsibilities. It is the City Council, after all, that drafts the city budget.
"I think we have a right to establish policy regarding the workforce, we're the drafters of the budget," said Segarra.
While the council shouldn't "micromanage" the layoffs, Segarra said it should have a say-so in what is essentially a restructuring of departments to address the growing budget deficit.
"I was hoping to change the course of what I think is unfolding," said Segarra. "As the city work force becomes demoralized I think city residents will start to see the effect of service cuts."
Which brings Segarra to another point: The layoffs weren't fair.
"People making big bucks, $110,000 and $120,000 a year, upper-level management, didn't make any sort of sacrifices," he said. "Basically, the layoffs had a disproportionate impact on Hartford-based wage earners who provide the sum and substance of visible service [to city residents]."
Segarra agrees that layoffs are necessary but says the city needs to explain the rationale behind them. And it shouldn't be to target "the weak and the powerless."