By JON LENDER And EDMUND H. MAHONY, Courant Staff Writers
January 26, 2008
Former Gov. John G. Rowland gained a key approval Friday toward becoming Waterbury's new economic development czar as the Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commerce voted to create the new post for him.
After Friday's vote, Mayor Michael Jarjura said he would draw up an agreement between the city and the chamber under which Rowland would run a new office at chamber headquarters — partially funded by tax dollars — to market the city and attract businesses, development and jobs.
"I still have to sit down with [chamber president] Steve Sasala and hammer out an ... agreement with him," Jarjura said.
The mayor said the money for Rowland's salary — estimated from $90,000 to $120,000 — will be split roughly between the chamber's private funds and the city's tax dollars. Rowland should be on the job within "a couple of weeks," Jarjura said, although one report said it could be as soon as next week.
Rowland, a Waterbury native now living in Middlebury, was governor for 9½ years until he resigned in July 2004 during an impeachment inquiry. He served 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to a corruption charge related to his receiving $107,000 in gifts and services from businessmen who got hundreds of millions in contracts and tax breaks from his administration.
Jarjura's job offer to Rowland on Tuesday brought controversy in Waterbury and across the state.
Supporters have said he paid his debt to society and deserves another chance because of his experience, talent and demonstrated public leadership abilities in helping to revive cities.
Critics have said Rowland's political allies and wealthy friends in Waterbury are merely "taking care of him" by creating the job — for which he was the only one interviewed — because his career as a motivational speaker has not taken off. They say he betrayed the public trust and any second chance for him should not involve businesses requesting public money and tax breaks — the same situations that got him in trouble before.
Jarjura said Rowland won't deal directly with government funds and tax breaks but will work in "outreach and communication with the private sector, and obviously working through officials in my administration."
The mayor admitted that the public's reaction in the city has been "very much half-and-half."
"It's very good support or very vociferous opposition," he said.
But, he added, "I'm not governing under popularity contests here. I make decisions based on what I think might bring value to the city."
Jarjura, a Democrat who won a close primary election in 2001 after receiving support from Rowland, said that because of his job offer to Rowland, "I probably lost some friends, political friends on the Democratic side of the aisle." On the personal front, he said, "one of my neighbors is extremely upset about it."
Jarjura said he can enter the agreement with the chamber without city aldermen's approval, but they could affect whether city money goes into the arrangement. However, he added: "I have not heard a tremendous backlash from my aldermen."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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