Mayor Pedro Segarra, the nine city council members who will take office next year and several other city officials went on a retreat last weekend.
To a conference center and inn in Chester.
The retreat was designed to build relationships among the group and educate new council members about their roles. The trip cost about $10,000, said Jared Kupiec, Segarra's chief of staff, and was paid for with money from the mayor's budget.
The retreat included meals, a bus ride, alcoholic beverages and an overnight stay at the Guest House Retreat and Conference Center.
All nine council members who will be sworn in Jan. 3 attended: incumbents Kenneth Kennedy, Larry Deutsch, Luis Cotto and Alexander Aponte, and newcomers Shawn Wooden, Raul DeJesus Jr., David MacDonald, Kyle Anderson and Cynthia Jennings.
In addition to the mayor and Kupiec, Chief Operating Officer David Panagore; Corporation Counsel Saundra Kee Borges; Jose Colon Rivas, director of the department of children, families and recreation; Town and City Clerk John Bazzano; and Ted Carroll and Melina Rudman from Leadership Greater Hartford also went.
The retreat began about 4 p.m. Friday with drinks at The Hartford Club. The officials rode a bus to the retreat center, where they ate dinner and discussed the various roles they play in city government and their visions for the city, according to those who went on the trip.
On Saturday, they ate breakfast and lunch, listened to presentations on the city charter and the city's plan of development and had further discussions, participants said.
Segarra said they chose to leave the city to avoid day-to-day distractions.
"It always make sense when you do retreats to go to a place where you remove yourself from things that are familiar and concentrate on the agenda," he said.
The retreat was "50 percent instructional and 50 percent getting to know each other," Segarra said.
"We wanted to find out what our goals and aspirations are in a broad sense," he said. "I feel very confident that it was time well-spent."
Kupiec said it was the first time in years the council-elect has gone on a retreat. He also noted that it's been years since five new members were elected to the council. During the last election cycle, only three new members joined the council; six were incumbents.
"These are people I don't necessarily break bread with, so to come together and break bread with them -- it was pretty cool," Cotto said Monday. "There's something to be said about totally removing yourself from a situation. I think the social aspects were just as important as the workshops."
J. Stan McCauley, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Segarra for the mayor's seat in November, said while a council retreat is justified, the mayor shouldn't have participated.
"It's totally inappropriate for the legislative branch to be on a retreat with the executive branch," he said. "The city council should be holding the mayor accountable. Leadership requires bold initiatives. You don't need a consensus."
Segarra said the retreat was meant for participants to understand one another better, not necessarily agree on everything.
"The legislative body has its job to do and the executive body has its job to do, but that doesn't mean our roles exist in a vacuum," he said Monday. "I don't think the purpose was for us to agree on everything. The branches were created to create a balance and not just to throw things into disequilibrium."
Michael McGarry, chairman of the city's Republican Town Committee and a former city councilman, said there are benefits to retreats, including smoothing over differences among council members.
He said getting out of town helps participants avoid distractions, but that the group "probably could have done it in the city."
"It's a way of bringing the council together," said McGarry, who himself has been on council retreats. "Let's hope something good comes out of it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at