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Good Ideas? Don't Bother Hartford's Mayor With Them

Helen Ubiñas

October 30, 2008

Note to Hartford city hall employees who find themselves laid off: Wait a few hours. You just might get rehired.

Hey, it happened to at least two women who coincidentally share the same last name. Turns out Vanessa and Josephine Williams had the same experience. Called into their supervisor's office Friday afternoon and let go. Called at home later that night. Oops, our bad. Come on back.

If you're shaking your head at this one, join the club.

I called city hall when I heard Josephine Williams, who works in the finance department, was back at her desk Monday. John Byrne, over in personnel, said there were several vacancies in that department and it was decided that she should be brought back.

Huh? Shouldn't they have known that before they let her go? Byrne suggested I ask someone else.

"It is a fluent (sic) situation," city spokeswoman Sarah Barr later wrote me. "Hopefully, we'll be able to hire back more employees as more people retire."

Um, again, shouldn't that have been determined before they sent the poor woman packing with 26 years of service shoved into four plastic bags?

Seems like everyone's running in a million different directions at city hall these days: You're laid off. No, you're not laid off. Who are you, again?

The city said Wednesday it still had a couple dozen people to let go, with more likely to follow later this year.

Clearly, the mayor could have used help figuring this mess out. But, apparently, he didn't want any.

You wouldn't have known it, but there were actually some ideas out there other than Mayor Eddie Perez's decision to cut staffing by 20 percent across the board.

At least one union official I spoke to about this was trying to get creative. How about collecting outstanding fees?

Council members had some thoughts, too. Democrat Matt Ritter had a whole list. A four-day workweek, a voluntary pay cut in exchange for pension credit. And this one, which I think has the most promise: merging city and board of education departments with similar functions.

Would any of these proposals have saved jobs? Who knows, but the point is that there were other ideas that Perez wasn't all that interested in hearing.

Instead, the question of how to close the budget gap turned into a city hall power play. After slamming Perez for not consulting them about the cuts, the council held a meeting, but the mayor didn't send his budget folks. Classic Perez — make it about power, not people.

Nothing new there. The mayor's management style has always been about surrounding himself with a posse of panderers whose sole goal is to promote the Gospel of Eddie.

And the sad fact is, he's gotten away with that up to now. Things have been relatively good in Hartford. The state's been dumping money into new buildings, developers have been tripping over each other to throw up new apartments. There's been plenty of money to go around.

News flash: It's over. The budget deficit could grow past $40 million next year.

It's bad, and it's just going to get worse.

Look, I get that the city's in trouble. We're all in trouble. But now is the time for the kind of leadership that is open to good ideas, even if they come from someplace else. The kind that's sure enough about itself to hear from folks who might disagree, who might — GASP — say you're making a mistake.

In short, not the kind of leader we have in this city.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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