Mayor showed leadership in TVC crisis

If there is any positive aspect to the disaster that befell Thames Valley Communications and saddled the City of Groton with $27.5 million in debt, it is the reinvigoration of politics in the city. Two years ago the Republican Party, demoralized by years of Democratic dominance, fielded but one council candidate.

When city voters go to the polls May 6 they will get to choose from a full slate of Republican and Democratic candidates. Both tickets offer quality choices. If that results in a politically diverse council, and our expectation is that it will, that will be a healthy development. One-party dominance can lead to lax governing and not enough questions asked before policy passes.

But in the City of Groton, which has an especially strong mayoral system, the top race is the most important. Here too the choices are good ones. After one tumultuous two-year term in office Mayor Marian Galbraith, a Democrat, faces a challenge from Republican James Streeter, currently a member of the Groton Town Council and a man with a long and varied history of government service.

Mayor Galbraith, a retired teacher, spent nine years on the council before succeeding Mayor Dennis Popp when he decided to retire in 2011 after six terms.

A former retired city police officer and U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, Mr. Streeter is retired from his job as a forensic evidence examiner at the State Police Forensic Laboratory. He has served on both town and city councils, the RTM and numerous boards and commissions.

Both have the experience to do the job.

On many issues, the mayoral candidates sound similar themes. They see revitalization of Thames Street and development of small businesses there as a means of driving the local economy and generating tax revenue. They are open to consolidation of some services with the town, though Mr. Streeter appears more aggressive in his approach. Both decry proposed cuts in highway and police funding the town has traditionally provided the city.

They trumpet the quality of life in the City of Groton, and neither entertains the thought of dissolving the city as an unnecessary layer of government and taxation (which we consider it).

The dominant issue in the campaign, however, is the council's approval this year to unload the failing Groton Utilities-owned TVC cable company. With wide support, TVC was launched in 2004 as a way of building upon the municipal utilities' success in providing electric and water service. But it failed spectacularly. Unable to compete in a rapidly changing market, the debts piled up as revenues fell far short of covering the investment in infrastructure.

Mayor Galbraith, while still a council member, said she learned just a few months before her election as mayor about the seriousness of TVC's problems and the fact it was placing the fiscal health of the city, which had backed the development bonds, at risk. Once in office, she set about with GU leadership to find an escape for the city. It came in the form of a deal which is rotten, but perhaps the best the city could do given the situation.

A private investment group bought TVC for a trifle $550,000, while GU inherits the $27.5 million debt, which it plans to pay off over the next 14 years. It will inhibit GU from investing in necessary improvements to existing utility infrastructure, Mayor Galbraith admits.

We consider it unfair, however, to blame the incumbent mayor for coming up with an ugly solution for the ugly problem her administration inherited. She showed leadership in tackling the crisis and the city is the better for it.

Mr. Streeter and other Republican candidates do, however, make a good case that there was far too much secrecy. Most city residents had no inkling of how serious things were until a tentative deal to sell TVC had been reached, and therefore they had little chance to offer their input.

Mayor Galbraith said if her administration had gone public about the company's dire position "(customers) would have just walked away from the company. And we would have had nothing and we would have spent millions liquidating it."

While there is some truth to that concern, the mayor could have sought a middle ground between panic and near total secrecy. But there is no denying this unique situation placed the mayor in a difficult position.

On balance Mayor Galbraith deserves more credit for leadership than criticism for surreptitiousness. The Day endorses Mayor Marian Galbraith for a second term.

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