Mended fences and needless lawsuits
All in all, it was a good day for the New London mayor.
On Thursday the Coast Guard and Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio jointly announced they will be working together to find a location in the city for construction of a National Coast Guard Museum and a future Coast Guard Academy expansion.
Fences, it appears, have been mended.
Mayor Finizio, inaugurated in December as the first strong mayor elected since voters approved charter changes back in 2010, did not get off to the best of starts with the city's prestigious military academy. While campaigning for mayor he had also campaigned against the proposed sale of a portion of Riverside Park to allow for academy expansion.
When it appeared the sale had passed by a narrow margin, the mayor-elect announced the sale could not go through because of a problem with the sales agreement. That legal issue became moot when a recount showed voters had actually rejected the sale.
Those first impressions led Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. to comment in an interview that perhaps the Coast Guard would have to build facilities that it would prefer to locate at the academy, elsewhere. He also hinted that maybe the decision to build the museum in New London might require reconsideration.
Given that beginning, it is certainly good news to learn that the Coast Guard and city administration are back on the same page.
To his credit, Mayor Finizio was quick to recognize the warning signs and reach out to Adm. Papp and Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, the academy superintendent. We also credit the City Center District for its February "NL loves (heart symbol) USCG" campaign. While not tied to the issues under discussion, the good-will effort could only help.
The Day's preference is to see the museum located in Union Station downtown, where the pedestrian traffic generated could be a boon to redevelopment efforts. But a site in the Fort Trumbull section would be of great benefit as well, particularly if a pedestrian bridge is built linking the peninsula with the downtown district.
The National Coast Guard Museum Association is awaiting a site selection to revive its fundraising efforts. "Determining a location will help get this project back under way," said Adm. Papp.
As for any academy expansion, that is quite likely at least several years away. The push for federal defense cuts will block any new building for now. As for whether the city could once again eye Riverside to accommodate a future academy expansion, the mayor deftly refused to rule anything in or out.
Also Thursday Mayor Finizio joined with Hygienic Art Inc. in announcing the city will receive a $126,000 state grant for the painting of four additional murals around the downtown. This effort should help beautify the district and further enhance its reputation as a destination for artisans and art lovers alike.
But no day in New London, it seems, would be complete without some controversy. And so came news Thursday that former Capt. William Dittman, who retired from the police department in January after a 35-year career, had filed suit against the city. Soon after taking office Mayor Finizio, apparently accommodating Chief Margaret Ackley's desire to clean house, negotiated severance deals with Capt. Dittman, Capt. Michael Lacey and Deputy Chief Marshall Segar.
The City Council, however, has refused to approve funding for the severance packages, leading to Capt. Dittman's lawsuit and, likely, more to follow. While the wisdom of striking these deals and the commitments the mayor made are open to disagreement, it would be foolish for the council to continue to block the contracts and invite more litigation, which ultimately would be much more costly.
According to the administration, the collective payout is about $255,000 above the normal retirement amounts the officers would receive. Authorize the payments and move on.
The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.
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