West Hartford Forums

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So, I’m Leaving West Hartford

Posted by whforums on January 27, 2009

I guess you never really know the direction of your life.

When I started this blog, I had recently returned to West Hartford after having been away for a long, long time.  After reading WH Dad’s blog, and seeing it suddenly disappear, I decided to try to continue the conversation he started.

But I’ve become increasingly unsettled with this project, in part because I’ve realized I have the wrong format for what I’m trying to accomplish.  My goal is to form a town green – not a place where I post and others respond, but a place where all post and all respond.  A blog format doesn’t efficiently do what I want it to do.

And this, really, was just a gnawing at the back of my brain.

At the front of my brain, my wife and I had begun sticking our toes in the housing market.  The result was that we found the house of our dreams and the interest rate of our dreams (and I think the right long term investment) in another greater Hartford community (Bolton).

I want to make it clear – I’m not leaving West Hartford because of taxes (I’ll be paying the same amount where I’m going), and I’m not leaving West Hartford because of the schools (test scores where I’m going are essentially the same).  I’m not leaving to protest town government or because I’ve been otherwise forced out financially.  I’m leaving because of opportunity.

I have to be honest. When we first decided we were going to move, my thoughts scattered re: this blog.  Even though I haven’t been able to shape it as I’d hoped, I’ve enjoyed writing it.  And in the back of my mind, there was a voice that said “You know, you could do this from afar.”  But at the same time, I knew this would be disingenuous (at best), especially when West Hartford is served by so many other blogs.  And when I combined that thought with the gnawing at the back of my brain, I knew it was best to let it go.

In about a month, I hope to launch a new site that allows me to pursue more regional interests while fostering both local and regional conversation.  I’ll still be writing about West Hartford (among other things, and if from the outside), and I’ll link you to the site once it’s up.   In the meantime, this site will remain, and you’re of course welcome to continue ongoing conversations.

Thanks to all of you who have made this site a vibrant and welcoming place.  I’ll miss the site, and I’ll miss West Hartford (though, to be honest, I think my wife and I will still be in and out once or twice a week).  As I rationalize, I’m considering this the rough draft.  I hope you’ll follow the next revision.

All best, and thanks.

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Posted in About | 13 Comments »

Mayor Slifka to Deliver “State of the Town” Address Tomorrow (1/20)

Posted by whforums on January 19, 2009

A “state of West Hartford” address.  I think we all know what we’d like to hear (keep my services, and don’t raise my taxes), and I think we all know what those in attendance likely will hear (cuts in services, higher taxes, difficult times, etc.).  I’m not seeing the speech on the WHCTV schedule (and a part of me wonders if, by its label, it may purport to be a more important speech than it is), though there may be some rehash on “The Mayor’s Report.”

The address happens during a West Hartford Chamber of Commerce lunch tomorrow (from 12-1:30, advance registration required).  I can’t go, but if any of you out in the great wide Internets are attending, I’d love if you could post what you heard to this thread.

Posted in Local Democracy, West Hartford | Tagged: | 16 Comments »

New Superintendent by February

Posted by whforums on January 14, 2009

Vanessa de la Torre (who does a great job covering West Hartford for The Courant) reports that we’re down to six candidates for superintendent and that that list of six will be cut to three in time for January 24th interviews with “selected parents, district employees and community and board members.” Karen List, who has spent years working for WHPS, remains in the running. Read the full story here.

If you’d like to give your input about the type of person who should be hired (you really should have said something by now, yes?), you can contact Bruce Putterman (he chairs the search committee) through the BOE website:

http://www.whps.org/whps/primary-offices/boe-page

_____

UPDATE:

Rick Green has a post on his blog urging the town to release the names of all 6 candidates.  You can read it here.

Posted in West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

It’s West Hartford Center Days …

Posted by whforums on January 10, 2009

So, until next Thursday, 1/15, West Hartford Center is having its “West Hartford Center Days” (actually started this past Thursday … they run a week). Now, justifiably, I’m sure many of you are asking the question “What’s a West Hartford Center Day?” Well, essentially it’s a giant sidewalk sale in the middle of the January cold and snow … think of it as West Hartford Center does Alaska, but without the glaciers.

More than 150 shops are participating (says the town website), and most of the sales are actually in the stores, so you can stay toasty while supporting local businesses that need your support. Restaurants in the Center/Square are getting in on the action, too — get a list of participating restaurants here (you’ll have to select today’s date from the calendar at the top of the page).

My wife and I recommend the sales at Crate and Barrel (I know, I know … not a local business. But the sales are great!). The sales on the top floor suck, but on the bottom floor, they’re out of this world. We got a rocking dish towel for 2 bucks, Christmas gear at 60% off, and spice jars at 60% off. Score.

If you see other good deals, feel free to spread the word to your fellow “consumers” below …

Posted in Blue Back Square, West Hartford, West Hartford Center, West Hartford Restaurants | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

They’re Talking about the ACLU Report in New York and Chicago …

Posted by whforums on January 9, 2009

As you probably know, a few weeks ago (way back in 2008 ) the ACLU released a report that cited alarming arrest rates in West Hartford, Hartford and East Hartford schools. The ACLU’s essential concern was that, in our schools, “the trend is toward criminalizing students, not educating them.” The “them” in that sentence, however, is the real problem — the ACLU found that there are significant racial and ethnic disparities in school-based arrests. You can read my “close-reading” of the ACLU report as it relates to West Hartford directly in the post West Hartford and the ACLU’s “Hard Lessons” Report. The report is linked for download in that post as well.

What’s surprised me, in a period that’s been fairly lively for this blog, has been the lack of local conversation about the ACLU report. I mean, maybe there’s nothing to say — maybe we implicitly (or explicitly) accept discrimination and this report fails to elicit dialog because it confirms an implicit belief. Yet when it comes to protecting and developing an equal quality of life (and, more basically, equal treatment for all people), there’s little more poisonous than complacency.

With out without us, the web is becoming less and less complacent about the report. Around the web …:

➫ Shortly after the release of the report, “a public defender” (a Connecitcut legal blog) wrote a post that echoed the ACLU’s sentiment about the “school to prison pipeline” and, in the comments section, connected the finding to the racial and ethnic disparity in the American prison population.

➫ On January 4th, the New York Times wrote an editorial citing the report, arguing that “Connecticut and other states also need to issue public reports of school-based arrests and take steps to ensure that they are not racially motivated.” While the NYT recognizes that the problems cited in West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford are not just local problems, we can’t ignore that the word “Connecticut” at the start of that sentence is at least in part a pronoun for “West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford.”

➫ On Monday, Small Talk, an education blog in Chicago, picked up the story, using the report (and the arrest disparities in West Hartford/East Hartford specifically) as a way to argue against what it perceives to be “barbaric school district policies.”

The short of it? Conversation about the report is happening, and Greater Hartford is the proxy (or worse, the example) for that conversation. While West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford may only be ways for many communities to beging to talk about a larger, national problem, that does nothing to change the fact that the report is screaming at our communities “the problem may be ours, but we can prove it’s yours.” Which leaves me with the question I started with one month ago — what steps do we take, both big and small, in light of the ACLU’s report?

Posted in Hartford, Institutionalized Discrimination, Local Democracy, Media, National News, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Someone Really Wants You to Know Your Taxes “Could Go Up 7 Percent”

Posted by whforums on January 7, 2009

The question of “why is this news” was probably lost when your eyes bulged out of your head.

From an article in The Courant today:

If no programs or personnel are cut and state aid doesn’t increase, residents will likely be facing a tax hike of about 7 percent in fiscal year 2009-10.

The town council and school board will host a community summit Jan. 28 to begin identifying which services to preserve and which to cut, and to spell out what local officials can and cannot do with respect to union contracts, property revaluation and other issues.

“We think that 7 percent is unacceptable, but it’s going to take significant program cuts to lower it,” Mayor Scott Slifka said Tuesday. “The changes could be dramatic, and the community needs to be part of that discussion.” …

Hoping for a large turnout, officials are seeking participation from business owners, parents, union members, the Exchange and Rotary clubs and other fraternal groups, the West Hartford Taxpayers Association, which has opposed the last several budgets, and West Hartford FIRST, which has supported those budgets, particularly in the area of education funding.

The whole thing catches me a little bit short — the announcement of such a startling “possible” tax increase could simply be an effort to increase turnout at the January 28th meeting (to really listen to the community and to seek help from the community — a “people, help your government with this problem” moment). In that case, it’s a beautiful example of democracy. In an election year, however, a 7% tax increase seems unlikely (and we already know where some budget cuts can be made — like leaf collection). This makes the cynical voice in my head say “How do you get people to swallow a 3.5% tax increase? You tell ’em you’re going to increase their taxes 7% first.” Or maybe, since no one likes cutting programs and personnel, this is a wake up call to that necessity, or, at best, a way to make that necessity more palatable (or politically safe). Or maybe it’s just a way to ratchet pressure on the state — one of the above “ifs” is “if state aid does not increase.” This seems equally likely considering there is likely going to be state aid coming from Washington soon (though I’m not sure it will be here soon enough for the start of the West Hartford budget making season).

The WHTA is encouraging the Council to reject the new teacher contract (which ensures raises, above and beyond step increases, of 1 and 1.25 percent — which, as I figured in some post somewhere else, is about the cost of a year of leaf collection). The Council seems unlikely to do so. Asking the union to accept a pay freeze or a step freeze for academic year 09-10 doesn’t seem unacceptable to me, but there would have to be a a significant payoff (in pay or step increase) down the road. And it would be unfair to ask teachers to take a pay freeze if other town employees don’t take the same pay freeze (granted, with union contracts, such equal “treatment” of all employees is likely impossible).

So. Yeah. Your taxes “could” go up 7 percent. What’s the strategy behind news like that?

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Crap Economy, Local Democracy, Sorry I'm So Cynical, Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

West Hartford FIRST Proposal for a Better Budget Process

Posted by whforums on January 3, 2009

A few weeks ago, iBlog West Hartford had a post about the WHTA’s attempt to work more closely with town leaders (and to soften an image that may generally be perceived as partisan). As the WHTA attempts to gain access to the political process, West Hartford FIRST also remains active in making proposals for significant change in the way that West Hartford composes its budget (though WH FIRST has received less publicity – I mean, as far as I can tell, their proposals – and, more simply, their attempt to gain access to the political process – didn’t get any coverage in The Courant).

Even though you probably haven’t heard about it (at least I hadn’t heard about it until the document below showed up in my inbox), WH FIRST has written a detailed, nine point proposal that calls for a more clear – and a more democratic – budget process for West Hartford. WH FIRST would like to see a budget process that’s not only more transparent, but that also encourages and engages resident participation in each of its drafting stages. While the proposal mostly delineates specific ways that the budget process could be improved, WH FIRST’s more general point seems to be the following: the current problem with the West Hartford budget is that its residents only intersect the budget as a product (as a completed document with which one can largely agree or disagree) – not as a process. The document suggests that WH FIRST would prefer that West Hartford residents have formative access to budget development. In order to accomplish this end, the document argues not only for a more transparent process, but for more clearly organized and complete budget information. Highlights of the WH FIRST proposal (you should read the whole two page proposal, linked below, to get a real sense of what WH FIRST is after):

  • Improved presentation of information on all town websites, and better distribution of that information (via websites, listservs, etc.). This includes subcommittee minutes, agenda, etc.
  • More convenient times for subcommittee meetings /workshops (enabling more public participation) and television access for those meetings/workshops.
  • More proactive efforts to make sure that any inaccurate budget information is corrected during the budgeting process.
  • More question and answer sessions before public budget hearings.
  • Improved – and more consistent – disclosure of all personnel costs.
  • Evaluation of all town expenditures toward the goal of efficiency and sustainability.

Take a gander at the whole thing here (it’s a .pdf, and it’s two pages, so just download the doc already) and let your other web denizens know what you think. To me, it seems both reasonable and moderate. I guess the next step is to transform it into a checklist and to see what improvements we see in this year’s budget process.

Here’s to the dialog, etc.

Posted in Budget, Local Democracy, West Hartford | 17 Comments »

Trains and “Greater Hartford”

Posted by whforums on December 29, 2008

So, I’ve been thinking about trains lately.  And I’m not the only one – although this particular post has been kicking around in my head for a while, a lot of other local blogs have written about the topic already.  In fact, trains are the transportation trend of the moment.

For example, Heather B. over at Urban Compass has written extensively about the proposed Springfield to Hartford line (that’s where, in the comments section, I first worked out a draft of what I’m trying to think through here).  West Hartford’s own Representative Chris McCluskey has seconded the notion, arguing that a line that connects Springfield-Hartford-New Haven makes more sense than the proposed New Britain-Hartford Busway, not in small part because it would provide Hartford (and the residents of the West Hartford he represents) easier access to New York.  Over at Real Hartford, a similar argument has been made for investing in train infrastructure.

What I find particularly alluring about the proposal I’ve read about the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line is the way it regionalizes not only the service, but our cities.  One of the great strengths of New England (and one of its great weaknesses, too) is its provincialism – because we are a band of “small cities” (we are Hartford, Providence, Springfield, Worcester, New Haven, etc.) with definite senses of identity, we too often limit ourselves within those cities and identities.  What rail has the potential to do – especially if the trains move fast enough – is to unite our small cities while still protecting (if not further defining) their provincial identities.  Because such rail would lead to an inherent reconsideration of the geographical relationships between these places (a shrinking region), we would also likely see a significant reconsideration of the social and economic relationships between these places (in other words, it would be a “naturally imposed” regionalization).  Let’s face it – does Hartford’s economy stand a better chance of rebounding on its own, or does it stand a better chance of rebounding through an alliance with Springfield, New Haven and beyond?  The answer to the question seems self evident, and the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line promises a greater inflow of people (and cash) into each city.

When I had first started thinking about rail – before reading the stuff that others have written – I have to admit my thought process was a lot more short sighted.  I was thinking of light rail that could serve to connect the center of Hartford to it sprawl in a rapid “off-road” kind of way.  I was imagining a train that ran with consistent and fairly constant service to New Hartford in the west and Bolton or even Mansfield (to connect UCONN to Hartford) in the east.  My thought was that this would provide a convenient way to cut down on traffic congestion in greater Hartford while also making it easier for everyone to get to Hartford – to make Hartford not just an economic hub, but a thriving downtown destination not seen since our Hartford Whalers salad days (ha!).  Such rail could also lead to significant new development along the line itself while fostering regional solutions to local and regional problems (it would be a way to link municipalities through transportation, just as Mayor Slifka, along with the mayors of East Hartford and Middletown, are trying to link the needs of their “small cities” politically). While the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line certainly offers more significant economic opportunity and advantage, the success of such a line (and, once the economy turns around, newly rising gas prices) may make such a “local line” seem more and more palatable.

Rail, of course, comes with its own expenses.  I don’t know how much it costs to lay or lease rail (I’m sure it’s not cheap), I don’t know how much a train would cost, and I certainly don’t know how much money it would suck from the state budget in terms of annual and long term maintenance.  Stations and parking would need to be built. And despite the narrow-minded idealism of what I’ve just written, I certainly would agree with anyone who argues that any local or macro-local transportation solutions must be intermodal (and, since I think we all agree on the importance of intermodal transportation, why on earth would trains not be one of our significant “modes”)?  Fact is, nouveau-rail is an idea that’s of its moment both locally and nationally.  As Obama promises funding for national infrastructure improvements, it seems to me that if we don’t get on the train “train” now, the next scheduled stop will be long in the making.

Posted in Federal Government, Hartford, Regionalism, Transportation, West Hartford | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Cocoa Kitchen and Bar — Who’s Got the Scuttlebutt?

Posted by whforums on December 24, 2008

Have patiently watched the transformation of the old Puerto Vallarta into the new (and, from the outside, awfully sexy looking) “Cocoa Kitchen and Bar.” As I drove past today, I saw an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper taped to the window that said:

OPEN.

Not the grand opening I’d imagined, but my curiosity is piqued. Add to that the fact that Google searches bring me only to expired Craig’s List hiring ads, and I really want to know what’s going on behind those walls.

Surely, one of you out there knows something about Cocoa — or perhaps has even set foot inside? Any scuttlebutt? I’m not going to make it there until the new year at earliest, but inquiring minds, etc….

EDIT

The site “Pursuing Domestic Goddess-ness” gives a review to both Cocoa and Front Street Bistro.  Check it out here.

Posted in West Hartford, West Hartford Center, West Hartford Restaurants | Tagged: , , | 40 Comments »

To Take You into The Weekend …

Posted by whforums on December 19, 2008

Two quick West Hartford Centery tidbits:

1. The town has signed a contract with Parcxmart for a debit/credit card on-street parking system. The card could also be used as a debit/credit card with participating local merchants. Sounds like, at least initially, you’ll run into a $500 limit, so if you find yourself spending a lot of money in the Center, you may have to recharge the card quite a bit. Expect to see the “West Hartford Center Credit/Debit Card” to launch in “first quarter 2009.” Get the full press release here.

2. Let me point you to the work of Andy Perez. Perez was tasked with the job of creating a web ad (dunno if it’s destined for life beyond the web?) for West Hartford Center. If you’re a process oriented person, you can see the process he followed, as well as his own blog post about the ad, on his blog. If you’re one of those “product-only” people, you can watch the ad on the “center and square” website (I had no clue until recently that that site existed).

Andy, I think the ad is great (especially the dancing Noah statue — if Noah could dance, well, I think you stone-cold got his moves)  — if you hadn’t said so, I’d never have guessed it was your first ad. But for the next draft, I need some of those credit/debit cards to float by, too.

Enjoy the snow.

Posted in Blue Back Square, Media, Parking, West Hartford, West Hartford Center, West Hartford Restaurants | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »