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Guest Column
October 19, 2006

Keith Darden

Mrs. Smith, You Have a Fine Yard

In your Oct. 18 article, “Who Gets the Final Word?,” you close with a discussion of the dilemma faced by a Newhall homeowner, Carol Smith, who was informed by the DEP that she lives on “contaminated soil 10 to 12 feet deep” and does not know which cleanup plan will serve her best.

Yet when you cut through the misinformation, there is no dilemma. Carol Smith’s property is a perfect example of the widespread deception of residents about the dangers posed by their soils. Even according to Connecticut’s overly strict standards, the soil on Ms. Smith’s property at 14 St. Mary’s St. is not contaminated, but she has clearly been led to believe that she must strip her yard to a depth of more than 4 feet in order to be safe.

How do we know Ms. Smith’s yard is not contaminated, let alone hazardous? Extensive soil sampling was conducted at Ms. Smith’s home, and even according to Loureiro Engineering Associates -- the state contractor that did the work -- not a single one of the samples contained concentrations of any contaminant above the state cleanup standards. Ms. Smith had two lead samples in the surface soil samples that had concentrations of lead above the DEP’s artificial site criteria of 400 milligrams per kilogram, but they were both less than the state standard of 500 milligrams per kilogram and less than the average for a home as old as hers (built in 1900) in Northeastern United States. The risks from her soil are no different than the risks of your average home.

Here is what is written in her soil report:

“The laboratory analytical results for metals are summarized in Table 2 along with the XRF screening results. As shown in Table 2, lead was reported to be present in shallow soil (0-2 ft) at concentrations that exceed the criteria of 400 mg/kg. Lead was not detected above the criteria in deeper soils. Arsenic was reported to be present soil at concentrations below the RDEC (10 mg/kg). None of the other metals were reported at concentrations that exceed the applicable RDEC.”

So why was Ms. Smith told her yard needed to be cleaned up? Because the contractor, LEA, also reported that it found “fill” materials, in trace amounts, to a depth of 12 feet at Ms. Smith’s home. No manmade materials were found, nor was there any evidence of industrial material. They just found some dirt that did not appear to be native soil. But therein lies the rub: The DEP is treating any non-native soil as contaminated waste, even if it is just the residue of ordinary construction or normal residential life -- and even if lab tests confirm it isn’t contaminated.

That’s why Ms. Smith received a letter back in December stating that her home was on more than 4 feet of “waste” and would require remediation. By this standard, the DEP would have to remove half of the soil in the state of Connecticut for our yards to be considered “safe,” and all of that money would go to a few cleanup firms licensed to do that type of work.

The core difference between the Newhall remediation plan that I support and the other plans currently on the table is about what to do with harmless fill. The community plan I have proposed calls only for the removal of all contaminated soil. Both Abdul Hamid’s and the DEP’s plans call for the removal of all “fill” (non-native soil), even if it presents no threat whatsoever to public health. Personally, I see no point in removing harmless fill materials, but we’ll see what our neighbors think on Oct. 30 at the Keefe Center.

I wonder what Ms. Smith will choose. Under Hamid’s plan, her home would be demolished and her yard excavated to a depth of 12 feet. It would be over a decade before she and her neighbors would have a neighborhood to come back to, even if such an absurd proposal were to get state funding. Under the DEP’s plan, she would have the top 4 feet of soil removed, be evicted from her home for the duration of the remediation, and return to live in a home with an environmental land use restriction.

According to my plan, Ms. Smith would be able to keep her home, or sell it without stigma, and live a happy, healthy life without fear of contamination from her soil. She would also receive a $6,000 check from the contractor (at no cost to the taxpayer) for the considerable agitation that all of this has caused her. It isn’t much of a dilemma.

What matters is not whether the dirt in your yard was put there 10,000 years ago by a glacier or 100 years ago by a man preparing to build a house. What matters is whether the soil (or fill) is harmful. With a few notable exceptions, the soils in our neighborhood are harmless and require no action whatsoever. That is certainly the case for Ms. Smith’s yard, and it is a shame that she has been led otherwise by the state and its contractors.

Keith Darden is a member of the Newhall Advisory Committee and teaches political science at Yale University.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

October 16, 2006

Dale Kroop

The Truth About Home Depot

There have been some recent rumors concerning the Home Depot project and the rehabilitation of the Pathmark Plaza. The project involved the demolition and remediation of the former High Standard/Rickles building and the construction of a 122,000-square-foot building for Home Depot, as well as the rehabilitation of the new 77,000-square-foot shopping center next door.

The total investment in the Home Depot and Pathmark sites was well over $10 million, including over $3 million in remediation for both onsite and offsite work. Although some people may have mixed feelings about big boxes, in most cases only the boxes have the financial resources to take on such substantial remediation and site work.

Home Depot’s contractors completed over 1,000 linear feet of road improvements on Dixwell Avenue and 200 linear feet of road improvements to widen Benham Street for better traffic circulation. Prior to the Benham Street widening, Home Depot acquired three small portions of properties on Benham Street for $64,000, and the town acquired a small portion of a property for $21,300.

Home Depot’s contractors completed and paid for all of the roadwork. The town’s only contribution to date is the $21,300 for the purchase of land.

As for the roadwork that resulted in the Cherry Hill Package Store dilemma, the town’s former traffic engineer negotiated those improvements with the state Department of Transportation as a condition of the state traffic permit. The roadwork on Benham Street was not the idea of Home Depot. They would have been very happy to leave the road alone and would have saved over $250,000 that they spent in acquisitions and roadwork.

Finally, Home Depot did not receive any tax abatements from the town. The Legislative Council must approve all tax abatements.

We try to support good projects that increase the grand list and create employment while removing contaminated soil. The current assessed value of the Home Depot site alone is $7,378,805. Prior to the project, the assessed value was $1,221,339. The net increase will result in over $172,000 alone in new real property taxes from the Home Depot project.

Additionally, Home Depot created many new jobs and with the renovations of the Pathmark Plaza, there is considerable traffic now where there was a “ghostland” before. The Pathmark Plaza owners have now leased all of the space there. Expect to see many new stores opening over the next few months.

As for the Cherry Hill Package Store, we did our best to convince the Pathmark shopping center developer (Centro-Watt) that it was in the best interest of everyone to offer a lease to Cherry Hill -- and they did. Our contribution is part of our everyday business incentive program and we are happy that we could help.

Because of the tax base growth, jobs created and infrastructure improvements that came out of this project it has to be considered successful. As for rumors and hearsay, I invite the public to contact our office to find out what is happening on any project. My number is 287.7033; my e-mail is twn.hmdn.edc@snet.net.

Dale Kroop is Hamden’s director of Economic and Community Development.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

October 9, 2006

Joseph McDonagh

Foley’s Hidden ‘Frolics’ Speak Volumes About D.C. Leadership

The sad saga of U.S. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Florida), the congressman forced to resign when it came to light he had been sending suggestive and perverse e-mails to underage congressional pages, thankfully should be old news soon. By next Sunday’s news programs, commentators and political observers are likely to mention Foley only in passing, the questioners moving on, we can only hope, to more meaningful issues.

But there is a deeper meaning to the Foley scandal, and it has nothing to do with his sexual orientation or with his newly discovered alcoholism. It is a message of hypocrisy and the arrogance of power -- something politicians apparently need to be reminded of every 10 or so years.

Arrogance knows no party. It was 12 years ago that another Foley -- Thomas Foley, Democratic speaker of the House -- led the Democratic Party to defeat, and helped to install Republican Newt Gingrich as the new speaker. Tom Foley had succeeded Jim Wright as speaker after Wright had been forced to resign because of an ethics scandal that, by today’s standards, seems pale and insignificant. In 1994, Tom Foley earned the distinction of being the first sitting House speaker defeated for re-election in 134 years.

The campaign issue? Term limits. Foley’s Republican opponent, George Nethercutt, promised the voters he would only serve three terms. Oh, by the way, Nethercutt went on to serve five terms (so much for campaign promises).

Sound familiar? Current House Speaker Dennis Hastert succeeded Newt Gingrich in 1999 when Gingrich quit both that post and his House seat, after years of controversy (including ethics charges) and issues of marital infidelity. Gingrich’s second marriage ended in divorce in 1999, after it was revealed he had been carrying on a long-term affair with a congressional aide while pursuing impeachment against President Bill Clinton for, ultimately, infidelity.

Lord knows Republicans have no monopoly on hypocrisy or on arrogance. But the current Republican stranglehold on Washington, D.C., has resulted in government utterly lacking in visibility and in fairness to a level not seen in modern history.

Example: We are in a war that has seen no hearings on conduct. From the War of 1812 to the first Iraq War, congressional oversight of the conduct of war had been constant. But not today. Why? The Bush II Administration won’t permit it, and Republican Congressional leaders cooperate. Literally, with no questions asked.

Pork: Congress lives on pork, but so-called earmarks -- congressional spending that cleverly avoids the light of day -- have become an obsession. According to Brian Friel of the National Journal, the 1991 transportation bill (a traditional place to put earmarks) contained 538 projects; by 1998, the bill had 1,800 earmarks; and in 2004, 2,881 earmarks worth nearly $10 billion.

In 2005 under the Transportation Equity Act, there were 6,371 projects, including the notorious “bridge to nowhere,” an expanse nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting Alaska’s Gravina Island (population 50) to “the bustling Alaskan metropolis of Ketchikan, pop. 8,000.” -- Rebecca Clarren, salon.com

If he committed any crimes, Congressman Mark Foley will re-enter the national consciousness well after this year’s elections. But his impact on the 2006 midterm elections has less to do with what he did than what the Republican leadership did not do.

There is ample evidence that Speaker Hastert and other Republican leaders knew more than a year ago of “overly friendly” (talk about euphemisms!) e-mails that Foley had sent to pages, yet they did next to nothing. The fact that Republican Congressman John Shimkus, chair of the House Page Board, failed to notify the Democrats serving on the Board regarding the allegations, demonstrates that, unfortunately, House Republicans viewed this matter as a political problem rather than what it really was: a threat to a minor.

On Nov. 7, I can only hope that American voters will have accomplished what the Republican Party doesn’t have the guts to do. By changing control of the House of Representatives, we can oust Dennis Hastert from the speaker’s chair. We can remove John Shimkus from the chairmanship of the House Page Board. We can eliminate the cult of secrecy, of incumbency protection, of the backroom deals that pervade Washington politics today.

Joseph P. McDonagh chairs the Hamden Democratic Town Committee.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

Erin Elfeldt

Connecticut, a Land of Party Smudging

Although predominately blue on the election map, take one look closer at Connecticut and the political lines quickly blur.

In a state that possesses a predominately white middle-aged population (85 percent) and a lingering conservative attitude in the air, where is there room for such immense Democratic representation to develop?

“There has been this block of independence that has always existed in this state, and no one claims one party or the other,” said Hamden’s Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson, a former Lieberman campaign officer.

The current vast amount of Republican support for a Democratic senator and large numbers of Democrats pushing for a Republican governor epitomize the states politics. It’s not a state divided by political party. It’s a state divided by personal character preference.

“It’s a long-term, multigenerational state,” said Jackson. “Everybody knows everybody, post-World War II has brought a personality intuitive that takes away from the veracity of media campaigns.”

Perhaps the race between Sen. Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont will be personality determined. According to Quinnipiac University’s most recent Connecticut public opinion poll, it was Lieberman who received higher favorability among likely voters.

“Lamont should be nervous,” Jackson said. “Lieberman is a well-known senator here.”

Mayor Craig Henrici feels the crossing of political party lines occurs in many states, fluctuating on a personal level, dependent on the political candidate representing the party.

“There is a lot of Democratic support for Gov. Jodi Rell because she reminds the public of a grandmother-like figure,” said Henrici. “After the Rowland scandal, everyone would like to see a grandmother in that position.”

In a state where most congressmen represent the district they were also born in, the only faithful political trend to be found is votes for those the population thinks they know best on a personal level.

“It forces the politicians to govern for everyone, not just their party,” said Jackson.

Erin Elfedt, a senior at Quinnipiac University, wrote this piece for a journalism class.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

September 5, 2006

Joseph P. McDonagh

Dying For What?

I read the news today. According to The New York Times, six American soldiers were confirmed dead last Friday in Iraq. One of them, Pvt. Colin J. Wolfe, 18, came from Manassas, Va. According to The Potomac News, he “played baseball and danced for the family-owned Manassas Dance Company.”

One hundred and forty-five years ago, Manassas was the site of one of the first battles of the American Civil War. Also called Bull Run, the Union lost the battle and also lost the second battle of Manassas about a year later. The First Manassas prepared Americans to understand that their Civil War would not be over quickly.

One hundred and forty-five years later and 7,000 miles away, Pvt. Wolfe died in a very different civil war. This one has little or nothing to do with the security of Pvt. Wolfe’s home and family. The reasons for our going to war in Iraq have changed so many times, it is hard to keep track. Weapons of mass destruction? None were found, none exist --except for 20-year-old chemical weapons that were given to Saddam Hussein by the United States in the 1980s, when we supported him in his fight against his enemy, Iran.

Today, the rationale has changed. Now, we are told that we are fighting terrorism in Iraq, in order not to fight the terrorists here. But why do we think any Iraqi combatant -- many who are fighting their own civil war -- would travel 7,000 miles to attack us? President Bush has tried to tie all Middle Eastern conflicts together, as though Hezbollah is Iraq is Al Qaeda is Iran is Hamas is Shiite is Sunni is Ba’athist is Syrian is Muslim Brotherhood, and so on.

But bizarrely and unfortunately, Bush’s war in Iraq has succeeded in unifying these branches and sects and organizations far more than ever thought possible, at least in one regard: Today, they agree about one thing: They hate the United States.

The Times report where I found Pvt. Wolfe’s name, “Names of the Dead,” was directly below an article, “14 Pakistani Shiite Pilgrims Shot to Death in Iraqi Desert.” According to the article, the Kurdish regional government has told “government offices in Kurdistan not to fly the Iraqi flag … Even before the order, the Iraqi national flag was a rare sight in Kurdistan. Most Kurdish offices fly the regional flag, a green, white and red banner with a yellow sunburst in the center … A powerful bloc in the Kurdish parliament has also proposed adopting a national anthem for Kurdistan, according to the official Web site of the Kurdish regional government.” That Web site includes a link to www.theotheriraq.com where one can watch ads about Kurdistan, a country that doesn’t exist. Or should not, if we are, after all, fighting for the “nation of Iraq.” When the president tells us we must stay the course, finish the job, we must ask him, “What is that job? A united Iraq? Not according to the Iraqis.”

Next to that article, another caught my eye: “Opium Harvest at Record Level in Afghanistan.”

“It is indeed very bad, you can say it is out of control,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The Taliban -- the government we overthrew, because they were indeed involved in the 9/11 attacks -- has regained control of southern Afghanistan. So the war we fought (and failed to complete) in Afghanistan has resulted in that country’s dominance in the world opium market. According to Mr. Costa, Afghanistan now produces 92 percent of the world’s opium supply. A 50 percent increase from just one year ago.

Pvt. Wolfe’s death brings the Iraqi American death toll to 2,643. The five others listed with Pvt. Wolfe:

  • Specialist Tristan Smith, 23, from Bryn Athyn, Penn. (not far from Gettysburg)
  • Pvt. Shaun Novak, 21, from Two Rivers, Wisc.
  • Pvt. Qixing Lee, 20, from Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Sgt. Moises Jazmin, 25, from Providence, R.I.
  • Sgt. Joshua Hanson, 27, from St. Paul, Minn.

In his local newspaper, a neighbor of Shaun Novak said, “We all hope these boys haven't died in vain.”

That is a hope we all have, but one that seems to fade with every new day.

The first battle of Manassas came at the beginning of our Civil War; we are more than three years into this Iraq civil war, and we might be even further from its end. President Bush has said that our departure from Iraq “will be decided by future presidents.” Three years from now, I am afraid that I will read of another Pvt. Wolfe, and another neighbor’s hope that “boys haven’t died in vain.”

Joseph P. McDonagh chairs the Hamden Democratic Town Committee.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

August 18, 2006

Ricky Baltimore

Im-Morrill Word Lifting

My morning ritual has evolved to include the HamdenDailyNews.com as a companion to my more entrenched habit (thank you, dad) of reading The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.  I enjoy the local perspective that Sharon Bass has so ably captured in her cyber-newspaper.  Over the course of the past year, the cyberpaper has developed some features, including several columnists who, although I don’t always agree with, I look forward to hearing from regarding important town and national issues.

Sarah Morrill, the vice chair of the Hamden Republican Town Committee, is one such columnist. But on Aug. 15, I came away from reading Right on!” with a new take on Ms. Morrill’s opinion piece -- it wasn’t actually her opinion.

As I read through “Joe: Good for Republicans,” Ms. Morrill’s latest attempt to explain what she believes are the inner-workings of the Democratic Party, I nearly choked on my breakfast when I reached the second paragraph. In front of me was an opinion piece credited to Sarah Morrill, but which I had read earlier in the week in the Wall Street Journal under a different byline.  Being blessed with a photographic memory, it did not take long to search online and make absolutely sure that my eyes were not deceiving me.  One quick Google search is all it took reveal a truth so apparent that the Sleeping Giant himself couldn’t miss it: Sarah Morrill plagiarizes her opinion pieces.

I invite whoever may be reading this to click here and read the second paragraph.  Now, click here and read the sixth paragraph. You will see a verbatim cut-and-paste until the word “cycle” in both pieces. Ms. Morrill then picks up plagiarizing at the second sentence (which begins “The professional …”) of the eighth paragraph and continues a verbatim cut-and-paste until the end.  It is in this second section that I find the most contemptible part of Ms. Morrill’s entire charade.  If you notice, Ms. Morrill’s second to last sentence of that paragraph reads “… America cannot be threatened by callous enemies,” while the Wall Street Journal piece reads, “…America cannot be threatened by implacable enemies.” That one word is the sum total of Ms. Morrill’s contribution to her own article.

I checked the rest of the editorial for plagiarism, and came upon other disturbing examples. After appropriately quoting Dick Cheney in her third paragraph, she plagiarizes from a new source. Her fourth and fifth paragraphs are taken directly from an article in The Weekly Standard by Fred Barnes.

It appears that “Joe: Good for Republicans” by Sarah Morrill contains little or no original thought and certainly no unique opinions or insight that one should expect from an editorial piece.

It turns out that this was not a one-time occurrence.  As I read through her other “editorials,” I came across another example in her first piece, entitled “Unions: Hidden Truths and Agendas.”  The third paragraph is stolen from The Social Studies Help Center (middle of last paragraph):

“The third and possibly the most important reason for the decline in unions is that they are victims of their own success. Unions raised their wages substantially above the wages paid to nonunion workers. Therefore, many union-made products have become so expensive that sales were lost to less expensive foreign competitors and nonunion producers. This resulted in companies having to cut back on production, which caused some workers to lose their jobs, and hence, unions some of their members.”

Finally, in Ms. Morrill’s column entitled “Crack Down on Illegals,” she pilfers her third paragraph from the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s Web site (third paragraph).

Ms. Morrill’s plagiarism is a violation of the public trust.  She holds several important positions in Hamden and should be a trusted member of our community. I don’t think it is unfair to say that she is a prominent face in the Republican Party and enjoys a certain amount of personal and party publicity from the editorials she writes. That said, the fact that she seems to be guilty of a very serious violation of trust should be brought to light.  Ms. Morrill is the first person to point out what she believes to be the mistakes and inconsistencies in the actions of others, and now must be held accountable for her actions by the people who have put their trust in her.

Ricky Baltimore lives in Hamden.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

August 14, 2006

Vera Morrison

Do Your Dog Duty

If you are a dog owner in Connecticut, you must be aware that state law dictates that canines 6 months or older must be licensed, wear a legally purchased dog tag and have a valid rabies vaccination to protect both the pet and humans. These licenses are obtained in the Town Clerk’s offices for $8 for a spayed/neutered dog, and $19 for an unsprayed/un-neutered dog, and are good from June 1 until the following June. Fines of $1/month occur after June by state law.

Please remember that dog owners who have not licensed their dogs should do so immediately per state law. A dog without a dog tag and proper rabies vaccination is presumed to be unlicensed, and not protected by law. The fine to a dog owner for failure to license and the fee for impoundment are $60. Failure to vaccinate against rabies is $121.

Many Hamden residents have asked me to address the Dog Defecation Ordinance that has been on Hamden’s books since 1979. The ordinance reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person to allow or permit any dog to defecate upon any side walk, public street, median divider within public streets, grass or paved strips between streets and sidewalks, public parks, and other public property, unless such person shall remove all feces so deposited by such animal immediately before leaving the area of the area of the defecation.” There is a $25 fine for each violation.

Many residents are very upset about how discourteous certain pet owners are about not observing the “pooper-scooper” law. Not only is it a blatant disregard of another’s private property, but it also becomes a serious health issue. Ponder on it for a moment. When animal feces is not removed and properly cleaned up, it certainly is messy if you happen to walk into it. Think of mowing your lawn or street strip and blowing about all the germs, worms and other nasty health-related issues that come from it. There was recently a letter to the editor where an individual’s dog actually contracted fatal illness from feces left behind by another dog.

CGS 22-364(a) prohibits an “owner or keeper of any dog (from allowing) such dog to roam at large upon the land of another and not under control of the owner.” The fine for allowing dogs to roam freely is $77. Dog owners are liable for prosecution from any damage done by their dog, including that to shrubs, flowers and trees.

Another issue residents have brought up is the use of extended, retractable leashes, which allow dogs to go into other yards and watch dogs defecate. This is considered a breach of private property, especially where there are small children involved.

There is more dog information on the town Web site. www.hamden.com. Go under “General Government,” “Departments M-Z,” “Town Clerk: Dogs.” There is a generalized listing of other statutes under “Other Dog Information,” “Dog Licensing” and the Hamden Dog Park.

Be a responsible dog owner. License and vaccinate your dog, and be considerate of your “doody” to clean up after your pet.

Vera Morrison is Hamden’s town clerk.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

July 31, 2006

George Alexander

'Get Your Head Out of the Sand'

In the last 50 years we have seen the emergence of Islamic terrorists that the world either ignored or accepted as "freedom fighters," or tried to understand as fellow human beings with a valid agenda.

The most common response has been to talk the issue to death and to condemn anyone, and in particular Israel, for exposing the underbelly of this beast. No matter how many innocent people are murdered and beheaded, many parts of the world recognize these "martyrs" and fail to acknowledge the danger posed to all of them and us.

It does not matter what type of infidel you are, your existence is in danger from these Islamic terrorists. It does not matter whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Wicca, Jewish, Sunni, Shiite or a member of the other thousands of faiths, their purpose is to destroy those who are different. Their indiscriminate terror in New York, London, India, Spain, France, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Indonesia is accepted as one side of a balanced equation.

What bothers me the most is that these actions are not universally denounced as the manifestation of pure evil, with or without the trappings of theology. It is time for the apologists to stop trying to explain that ball-bearing loaded Hezbollah missiles -- designed to create civilian carnage -- exploding in Haifa are OK, and that Israel should not defend itself. They should remember the oft-misquoted words of the Christian Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who was eventually prosecuted by the Nazis and was in a concentration camp until the end of World War II:

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Philosopher George Santayana observed that:

"… when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stages of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience."

Get your head out of the sand. Whether you are on the left, middle or the right, speak out against Islamic terrorism. Become more informed by watching the online movie, "Obsession: What the War on Terror is Really About."

It is time to grow up!

George Alexander is retired and resides in Hamden.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

July 25, 2006

Joseph P. McDonagh

Bill Clinton Did Not Disappoint

Waterbury has not often been the setting for important political addresses. The most famous, of course, occurred on Election Eve, 1960, when John F. Kennedy stopped there to give the final address of his presidential campaign.

Last night, former President Bill Clinton spoke in Waterbury, but not on his own behalf. Rather, he spoke in support of Connecticut's embattled Sen. Joe Lieberman. Clinton's address -- folksy humor, pragmatic politics and idealism in equal doses -- made clear, in case anyone had forgotten, what made him the premier politician of the late 20th/early 21st centuries.

Clinton's speech was the high point of a rally of the Democratic faithful. Over 2,000 invited guests met in the Waterbury Palace Theater, newly and beautifully restored, to listen to speeches praising Connecticut's most iconoclastic senator since, well, since the man Joe Lieberman defeated in 1988, Lowell Weicker. The difference: Lowell Weicker was too liberal for his Republican Party, whereas Lieberman is too conservative for his Democratic Party. Maybe too conservative isn't quite correct; too pro-Iraq war is more accurate.

By his own admission, Joe Lieberman is in the fight of his political life. Many Connecticut residents, and not just Democrats, oppose the war in Iraq. Without other means of expressing their opposition, Joe Lieberman -- a consistent supporter of the war, despite the obvious blunders of the administration -- has become a convenient and easy target for their anger.

Speakers did their best to talk around the issue, choosing instead to address Joe Lieberman's strong Democratic foundation. Connecticut Speaker of the House James Amman, Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura, Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Congressional hopefuls Diane Farrell (4th District) and Chris Murphy (5th District) told stories about Joe Lieberman's support of progressive issues.

The final speakers came out after the stage was filled with representatives of Joe Lieberman's illustrious past (including, oddly, the man Joe Lieberman beat in his first contest in 1970 -- a primary for state Senate from New Haven -- former State Party Chair Ed Marcus). Current state party Chair Nancy DiNardo introduced Connecticut AFL-CIO head John Olsen, who introduced Sen. Chris Dodd, who introduced Joe Lieberman and Bill Clinton.

Chris Dodd once again demonstrated that he can give a tub-thumping speech. Perhaps inspired by Sen. Dodd's introduction (and Clinton's presence), Sen. Lieberman delivered one of the better speeches he has given in the past few years, giving the audience reason to cheer him as a true Democrat. It was good enough to make one wonder: If he had been more outspoken, as he was last night, about Republican failures, about the Bush Administration's failures, he might not be in as much trouble.

The stage was set, finally, for the man everyone was waiting for. Bill Clinton would not disappoint. He began with some self-deprecation: "I should warn you, before I begin my speech, that I am a bit out of practice." When the audience laughed, he answered, "That was what we call hillbilly poor mouth."

From there, he proceeded to address every issue of the past 14 years, foreign and domestic. The economy? "In eight years, we created 22 million new jobs. In six years, they have created less than 6 million." Foreign policy? "We worked to find solutions to problems in Lebanon, Bosnia and Northern Ireland." The environment? "We cleaned the air and water for millions of Americans, and helped establish a global treaty on the environment. They have worked to undo everything we worked to accomplish."

The audience wanted more, and Bill Clinton was willing to deliver. But his message, skillfully, was always addressing, overtly or not, the reason he was here: Sen. Joe Lieberman.

"We Democrats have a problem," he said. "We think. And when we think, we sometimes disagree." He said he had only one veto overturned in his eight years, "and Chris Dodd voted to override my veto! I bet today, he believes that he was right, and I still believe that I was right. But that's all right because we are still friends, even if we disagree."

With that, Clinton addressed what he called "the big pink elephant in the middle of the room -- Iraq." Admitting that he disagrees with Joe Lieberman about the war, Clinton said he wanted to make something clear: "Whatever you think about why we got into Iraq, we are there now. First, no Democrat is responsible for the mess that was created after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. And whatever you think about the reasons for being there, we have to work together to find a solution to the problem we have."

For Clinton, the problem with the Republican administration is that it doesn't represent the public, and doesn't even represent Republicans. "These Republicans in Washington believe in corporations and power, nothing else." That is why, he said, that when Democrats proposed to address homeland security, with a $650 million proposal to inspect all containers entering the United States, the Republicans said no.

"But instead, they wanted to repeal the estate tax, which affects fewer than 1 percent of Americans, and would cost us $25 billion a year, more than 25 times the cost of that proposal to make us safer," the former president said. Joe Lieberman? "When I fought for my tax plan, we won by one vote, and Joe Lieberman was there."

The relationship between Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman hasn't always been smooth. During that first Lieberman campaign in 1970, Bill Clinton was a volunteer for Joe Lieberman. And in 1992, when Clinton first ran for president, Lieberman proudly noted that, "I was the first U.S. senator outside of Arkansas to support Bill Clinton for President." But in 1998, Lieberman was the only Democratic senator to criticize Clinton's behavior in the Lewinsky affair, going so far as to call Clinton's actions "immoral."

But Bill Clinton is a pragmatist. His remarkable achievements are rooted in both personal ambition and an unshakeable faith in the future. Typically, he never attacked Ned Lamont; in fact, he never referred to Lamont by name. Instead, Clinton stressed that, based on all that Joe Lieberman has accomplished, Connecticut and the nation need Joe Lieberman for another six years.

Who was convinced? Certainly those in the audience were already convinced, and Clinton understood that. "You wouldn't be here if you didn't agree," he said, "but you need to go out and talk to everyone you know. It's 14 days until the primary; that's enough time. We need to send Joe Lieberman back to the Senate, we need to elect Joe Courtney and Diane Farrell and Chris Murphy (Democratic candidates in the 2nd, 4th and 5th congressional districts), so that we can get control of the House."

With that, he finished. The audience roared its approval. Fans -- there is really no other word quite as appropriate -- waited for a chance to shake his hand, to hold again the promise that the Clinton years represented. Democrat or Republican, no other politician in recent memory has had the ability to inspire and to excite. Lieberman's hope is that Clinton's excitement, and endorsement, will help him to victory on Aug. 8. It certainly can't hurt.

Joseph P. McDonagh is chair of the Hamden Democratic Town Committee.

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July 14, 2006

Howard Eckels

Memories of the Tornado

(Author's note: This column was inspired by the Sept. 4, 2005, HDN column by John Carusone entitled "No Plan for Katrina," which was written just after the anniversary of the 1989 tornado.)

I was brought up in the Fairview Avenue area and consequently spent my teen years hanging out in either the Highwood area or the Hamden Bank Section. I attended Margaret L. Keefe for kindergarten, and the only other Hamden school I attended was Hamden High. In between, I went to St. John the Baptist School.

I was one of the state troopers, I am now retired, who was assigned to Hamden after the storm of 1989 struck. (By then I had moved to North Haven.) The State Police units were staged at the old Stop & Shop parking lot and at the Miller Library.

We were dispatched to assist the Hamden Police and Fire departments. This level of assistance became really routine because Hamden police and fire were right on top of the tragedy. It was readily apparent that the town services were well prepared for a disaster, and this was a disaster. Town Emergency Support Services and Public Works also performed very well.

Having lived through the hurricanes of the '50s and the floods of Fairview Avenue, I thought I had seen it all. This was many, many times worse. Buildings in Highwood that I was familiar with had collapsed or were gone. The pole line on Dixwell Avenue was down. And a crane at the Kramer Iron Works building had rotated 180 degrees with the boom sticking in the ground and the wheels up in the air. Quite a few buildings were literally flattened.

One post I had was the corner of Auger and Newhall, where I had spent time with friends years earlier. The damage was so severe that I didn't recognize the area because all the landmarks were gone. The only thing that looked vaguely familiar was the apartment building at the corner, which was missing its second floor. Tree damage in Highwood all the way up to Albertus was tremendous.

One vivid memory was standing at Auger and Newhall and watching traffic move on Dixwell Avenue. What was once a "forest" of trees was no longer there, and allowed a clear view from Auger through the old airport area to Dixwell. I remember seeing a man sitting in his pickup next to a brick house on Morse Street that was bisected by a huge fallen oak tree.

It should be noted that the residents of Highwood are also to be praised. In the wake of the tremendous damage, they held together. Aside from our presence, we had very little criminal activity to worry about. Our major job became traffic and assistance when requested.

What I saw from the tornado of '89 was amazing and I hope I never see it again. We only stayed there two days because the emergency services of the town were in control. They performed extremely well. It was evident that they indeed were prepared.

Howard Eckels is a retired state trooper living in North Haven.

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July 10, 2006

Mark Sanders

No Excuse for No Relief

The lines of the tax phase-in debate are now clear.

On June 29, Scott Jackson, the mayor's chief administrative officer, presented the Legislative Council with the administration's "response" to the Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief's phase-in proposal. Although Mr. Jackson's presentation appeared to leave many heads spinning, a close analysis of what he said -- and did not say -- clarifies a great deal.

First, it is important to understand that the administration never contradicted any of the specifics of our (members of the Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief's) phase-in analysis under C.G.S. Sec.12-62a -- a Connecticut statute that authorizes a so-called "simple phase-in." Instead, the administration did an "end run" around our data by performing an alternative analysis under a different phase-in statute, C.G.S. Sec. 12-62c, which provides the option of a so-called "ratio phase-in."

The administration illustrated its analysis of a ratio phase-in with a series of examples of how that type of phase-in would affect the tax bills of specific commercial and residential taxpayers. These examples seemed to produce odd and counterproductive results, and might indeed lend support to the administration's position that a phase-in would benefit the wealthy at the expense of those in greater need of tax relief.

However, nearly all of Jackson's presentation was unnecessary and completely beside the point, since we agree with the administration that the unique methodology of a ratio phase-in will not provide the type of tax relief so direly needed by the bulk of ordinary Hamden homeowners. That's why we didn't suggest a ratio phase-in in the first place.

Nonetheless, it remains undisputed that a simple phase-in will produce optimal tax relief -- where ordinary homeowners achieve a significant savings ($5.5 million in the first year alone), "funded" primarily by limiting the tax cuts expected by commercial and high-end homeowners. This relief would provide real-estate tax savings for any property owner whose assessment rose by 60 percent or more in the recent revaluation.

So, if he doesn't dispute our figures, why is the mayor ignoring our proposal for a simple phase-in? Amazingly, after nearly two months of internal and public debate, the administration now claims -- for the first time -- that Hamden's computer-information systems cannot handle the simple, four-function calculations necessary for implementation of a simple phase-in; and therefore our only options are a ratio phase-in or none at all. And, we are told, the necessary upgrade to our systems won't be done until some time next January.

Are we skeptical? You bet.

First of all, this is the same excuse we heard when the Council was considering a split mil rate (between vehicles and real estate). Honestly, the mantra "our systems can't handle it" is quickly becoming a serious challenger to "the dog ate my homework" in the annals of convenient justification.

Second, why does "our systems can't handle it" mean that it can't be done at all? There is certainly "more than one way to skin a cat." A simple phase-in has only two variables, and requires only four steps of calculation. The required program could be written by any first-year computer science student on a PC or even a handheld calculator. Why can't we do it that way, or alternatively, contract out the job to a vendor? I think most would agree that $10 million in homeowner tax savings would justify that effort and expenditure.

Finally, and most disturbing, is that we've done this before. In 1980, Hamden successfully performed a simple phase-in of the 1979 revaluation (ratio phase-in did not exist until 1987). So the obvious question becomes, how is it possible that our systems and/or personnel are now unable to perform a task they were able to accomplish over 25 years ago?

Only time will tell if the "systems" excuse is a deliberate falsehood, or simply an innocent misunderstanding of our capabilities. In either instance, however, it is clear that this administration does not have the will to do what is right for Hamden homeowners. One gets the impression that no one is even trying to think creatively and constructively about these issues. Instead, the agenda seems to be driven by political concerns that are antithetical to good public policy.

We hope and pray that the members of the Legislative Council have the good sense to look beyond the excuses and distractions, and soon deliver the Hamden homeowners what they deserve -- a simple phase-in of assessments, made effective with the second installment payment of the current year's taxes.

Mark Sanders is a member of Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief. He can be reached
at sanders-mark@sbcglobal.net.

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June 27, 2006

By Joanne Iacobellis and Les Faiman

Staying Vigilant

Concerned Citizens for Hamden Neighborhoods is taking additional steps in its ongoing efforts to resolve the community problems resulting from the Quinnipiac University on-campus student-housing shortfall. This has led to a growing number of undergraduate students living in privately owned off-campus homes throughout the town.

This incompatible use of our residential neighborhoods has had a life-altering impact for some families, transforming once quiet, family-oriented homes into unsightly and disruptive dormitories that pose many hazards to the safety, health and well-being of its surrounding neighbors.

We have been working with the town to address compliance with zoning regulations and other matters of law enforcement related to this issue. But while the town Planning Department has been eager to work with us on identifying these homes and ensuring compliance, the increasing volume and the growing level of noncompliance has sometimes overwhelmed these efforts. In order to alleviate this issue, CCFHN has begun partnering with Planning to identify and document these homes and ensure that the issues are addressed on a timely basis.

We are also working to establish a dialogue with QU officials to address the community issues that have resulted from the sometimes un-neighborly behavior of off-campus students. And also to ensure that they comply with the QU student code of conduct, even while living off campus.

Finally, we are striving to make sure there are conditions of approval on QU's Phase III proposal, to construct a 1,900-plus-bed dormitory on the Rocky Top campus by fall 2008. While QU firmly believes its students will prefer to live on campus once the dorms are built, conditions in similar communities do not indicate that this will necessarily occur. Therefore, we need QU to implement a policy that requires undergraduate students to live on campus and/or implement an enrollment cap to ensure that these students return to campus once the dorms are available, in order to realize this assumption.

Please contact CCFHN if you would like to inform us of homes in your neighborhood that you believe are operating as dorms without a student housing permit and/or are not in compliance with current zoning regulations, or to report student behavior problems in these homes. You can write to us at CCFHN, P.O. Box 185404, Hamden, CT 06518, or ccfhn@comcast.net. We will provide you with the appropriate forms, and continue to follow up on the status of these reported issues.

Joanne Iacobellis and Les Faiman are co-presidents of Concerned Citizens for Hamden Neighborhoods.

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June 9, 2006

By David Thompson

A Call to Henrici for Quinnipiac's Final Solution

In only a few days, Quinnipiac University will once again appear before Hamden's Planning & Zoning Commission hoping to expand its presence within the town. Quinnipiac wants to add thousands of new student parking spots as well as build dormitories to house an additional 2,348 students. This is the largest expansion Quinnipiac has ever requested.

In what appears to be a time-honored script, Quinnipiac is once again using the problems it has created as a justification for further expansion. The university is again touting that this expansion will quell mounting complaints from homeowners about traffic and will reduce the number of students living off campus. The opposite will almost certainly prove to be the case. Unless the Henrici Administration takes a very different approach from what has been done in the past, matters will only worsen. The Henrici Administration must require key changes to Quinnipiac's policies if it wants to provide meaningful relief to residents.

Quinnipiac's current policy allows any undergraduate the right to live off campus. At $11,000 a year for dormitory housing, the math is quite compelling for any parent to purchase a local home rather than pay for room and board. Allowing Quinnipiac to expand, without first addressing this policy, will never reduce the number of students living off campus. The town must mandate that Quinnipiac change this policy and require all full-time undergraduates to live on campus.

Another policy that the Henrici Administration must address is that Quinnipiac only provides dormitory space (for those students who choose to live on campus) for their first three years. The university actually bans seniors from living on campus. Seen in that light, dormitories are nothing more than a marketing tool designed to attract an ever-increasing number of students to Quinnipiac (and Hamden) who will eventually have to live off campus. The net effect of Hamden rubberstamping another dormitory, without first addressing this policy, will be to guarantee that more students will live off campus -- not fewer.

One also has to question why Hamden has rubberstamped so many Quinnipiac parking lots. Beyond enabling students who want to live off campus, what possible benefit do these parking lots provide to the community?

Teenage drivers have four times the accident rate of older drivers. Given the fact that Quinnipiac caters almost exclusively to an out-of-state cliental, why would any community want to house thousands of cars owned by students who pay no taxes to the community yet create significantly more accidents? What are the long-term effects on residents' insurance rates?

There are the well-documented cases of a Quinnipiac student killing a prominent Hamden business owner on the public roads, and another who severely crippled a Hamden police officer. At what point will Hamden finally decide that enough residents have been killed or maimed by Quinnipiac students to take action? The traffic in and around Quinnipiac is probably 10-fold what it would be if the university was not there. The real scope of the traffic that Quinnipiac generates should give any resident pause. Quinnipiac has more cars parked in its many parking lots than Hamden has shoppers parked along its "magic mile." Rubberstamping another parking lot makes absolutely no sense.

The Henrici Administration must ban all student parking at Quinnipiac except for legitimate, part-time students.

The Henrici Administration must also make clear that Hamden will no longer tolerate massive violations of its zoning regulations. For too many years, with impunity, Quinnipiac has consistently violated its zoning permits. For far too many years Quinnipiac has exceeded the number of students approved for its dormitories and exceeded, by a considerable margin, the number of cars allowed in its parking lots. Future violations are virtually certain unless this administration takes immediate action.

According to student newspapers, in the coming year, Quinnipiac plans to violate its permits once again and convert study lounges into bedrooms and add bunk beds to rooms to further increase the capacity of its dormitories. This is in complete violation of its special permits. Quinnipiac's parking lots have always been filled to overflowing and for many years have been in violation of their permits. Quinnipiac security guards, on an everyday basis, direct traffic to park in fire lanes and other "no parking" areas because there is no other available parking.

The university, with some regularity, parks 500 or more cars on its front lawn. The "fire road" approved on Hogan Road, in violation of its permit, has been used for regular student traffic rather than just for emergency fire apparatus. The Henrici Administration must enforce the law and put a stop to these violations.

What few residents realize is that the Planning & Zoning Commission has essentially unlimited powers to place "conditions" on any applicant applying for a new special permit. P&Z can literally set any condition it wants, including (but certainly not limited to) enrollment caps, requiring that all undergraduates live on campus and banning the use of parking lots, except for an approved use. Existing special permits, if found to be in violation of their conditions, can be revoked. Once revoked, any condition can be applied to what would then become a new application.

The Henrici Administration has easily within its grasp the power to resolve any and all complaints about Quinnipiac, not just for the present but well into the future.

But it remains an open-ended question whether this administration has the political will to do so. Quinnipiac quite successfully has long portrayed itself as a valued institution whose activities should go unregulated and unrestricted. Quinnipiac, if faced with any restrictions, will no doubt muster all its business partners, any civic group it has ever befriended and alumni in a concerted campaign to fight the regulations. The outcome of these hearings will be a matter of political will, and residents need to clearly signal to the Henrici Administration their support for the regulation of Quinnipiac, their support for the integrity of our neighborhoods, their support for safety on our roads and the need for a permanent solution.

David Thompson is a lifelong Hamden resident.

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