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Liar, liar, mayor's pants on fire, and no one to put them out

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published June 01. 2012 4:00AM

I have seen some nasty local political skirmishes over the years, but I can't remember many insults quite as stinging as the ones that flew this week in New London.

Most memorable was the fact that two city councilors called Mayor Finizio a liar. And they didn't suggest he was simply practicing the routine truth stretching you find everywhere in politics.

Councilor John Maynard suggested during a council meeting that the mayor is a serial liar.

"Well, surprise, he lied again," Maynard said, in discussing the mayor's layoff notifications of 10 city police officers and 25 firefighters.

Council President Michael Passero was even more blunt.

"It is such a transparent, bogus lie. I don't know why anyone gives him any credence," Passero told a reporter. He also said that Finizio does not have "one shred of humanity."

And these are members of the mayor's own party.

Indeed, the city's budget fight has revealed a chasm in interpreting the $83 million budget that the City Council has passed. Most councilors say it would not require layoffs of firefighters or rank and file police.

They cite the mayor's own testimony before the budget was first approved. They noted he said he could live with the amount of money allocated, and he never mentioned a need for severe public safety layoffs.

Then, after the council first approved the budget, with the mayor's apparent blessing, he drew his big layoff ax, proposing a scorched earth decimation of public safety services in the city.

If he didn't know when the budget first passed that it would require such extensive layoffs, he certainly should have. It's his job.

I don't have a good head for numbers, and I am not sure I could determine whether the mayor or councilors are correct about the need for layoffs with the current budget, no matter how much time I spent with the budget documents.

But I would interpret the startling text message sent by the police chief Tuesday night, in the midst of council budget deliberations, as a smoking gun when it comes to deciding who is right about the layoffs.

Chief Margaret Ackley wrote in her text that she could, after all, find enough money in the proposed police budget to avoid the 10 layoffs.

As Councilor Maynard might say: Surprise, surprise.

And yet, the next day, at one of those press conferences in which the mayor continues to display the city's dysfunctional politics in front of invited television cameras, Finizio pressed on and said he will continue with the police layoffs, as if his own police chief had not just said they aren't necessary.

The mayor's plan to seek union concessions under the threat of layoffs is classic budget politics.

The trouble is he messed up the timing.

You're supposed to make those threats before a budget is approved, especially when it's a budget that most agree won't require layoffs.

His other big mistake was not building some political consensus before bluffing. At least a few winks and nudges to others in his own party would have helped.

Still, you can't threaten layoffs when the money seems to already be in the budget, no matter how much political cover you arrange.

And that leads to big mistake number three. He should have backed down and beat a safe retreat while that was still easy, instead of doubling down and soldiering on alone with the layoffs.

But the new mayor has proven time and time again he can't admit when he was wrong.

The next standoff with the council may be over the issue of whether the council has the authority to cut the mayor's staff by cutting funding for their positions.

And however the fight between the mayor and councilors ends up, voters will likely petition the budget to referendum.

I wonder how much credibility the mayor will have with voters then, given that some elected members of his own party apparently no longer trust him.

This is the opinion of David Collins

News by Town

Most Recent Poll
Do you support the City Hall staff cuts and budget passed Tuesday night by the New London City Council?
Yes, this seems better than losing numerous police and fire jobs.
38%
Yes, this type of budget balancing is long overdue.
18%
Yes, this seems to be the most responsible way to address the city's budget issues.
13%
No, I supported the layoffs of 25 firefighters and 10 police officers.
14%
No, the positions that were eliminated are vital to our city.
6%
No, there has to be another option for city officials to explore.
11%
Number of votes: 622

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