We will be watching..
As her second term ends amid scandal, and her third term began Sunday, Mayor Nancy Rossi sees the return of public trust to government as a major goal in the next two years. While it is admirable, and certainly necessary, Mrs. Rossi is fond of platitudes and catch phrases, what we want to see in the next two years is a move toward accountability and action.
The late Rush Limbaugh used to say he never listened to what politicians said, he watched what they did. We, like many residents are beyond the words, the speeches, the pithy answers, and the catch phrases. The next two years should be about action.
At the outset, Mrs. Rossi understands the damage the CARES Act scandal has done to West Haven residents. It has demoralized many, and had others just throw up their hands believing accountability is a myth. But what prompted the scandal in the first place is not the action of just two people, but the culture that pervades City Hall and its environs and has for decades.
A perfect example of this is the recent dust up between the Municipal Accountability Review Board and the administration. How often have we read or heard questions from the panel members answered with something akin to “that’s the way it’s always been done.”
To their credit, the mayor and Finance Director Frank Cieplinski know the decades-old systemic culture of City Hall, and see the need for change; however, we are four years into direction by MARB, and alterations the panel has demanded in city practices seem to be slow walked. It cannot be denied part of the reason the CARES Act money was so easily pushed through was the system that favored some payments over others.
It is no secret that city vendors must wait upwards of 120 days for payments, and some have waited longer. The situation is such city accounts are terminated, credit is revoked, and a “cash on the barrelhead” demand is made for purchases. We understand some payments are easier to process than others, but no vendor should be hung out to dry for that long.
We note in a recent story in the local daily concerning the mayor’s recent Town Hall, a request was made concerning an update on the Haven Project. The mayor was unprepared for the question, saying she leaves that to Corporation Counsel Lee Tiernan. The publication asked the city attorney for an update several times, getting an acknowledgement with no answer, and nothing thereafter. No answer IS an answer. As we turned the seventh year since this project was announced in October, we know little about its updated plans, lease agreements, or updated timetables.
On Sunday, Nancy Rossi took her third oath of office as mayor of the city. In our experience, the third term is the “make or break” point of a mayor’s tenure. Even if the administration goes well beyond the third term, it is this two-year period that sets in stone its practices and policies, and, many times, its legacy.
We heard more of the same concerning restoring trust and expecting accountability in her address. That restoration and accountability must start in the third-floor office of the mayor. No longer should questions be answered with vague phrases or ham-handed push offs to some other official. No longer should “that’s the way it’s been done” be an acceptable answer from a worker or department head, let alone an elected official. No longer should requests go unanswered.
We expect much from Mayor Rossi in the coming two years, and so does the taxpaying public. Transparency and accountability, once a hallmark of her campaign promises, have faltered.
We will watch what she does in the next two years.