Resignation? Not the time!
Let us be the voice of moderation as the calls for the resignation of Mayor Nancy Rossi get louder, and, frankly, shrill. We understand and agree with the angst many taxpayers are expressing in their comments, most recently at the City Council meeting, last week; however, we believe that it is much too early for a resignation, and such an act, while cathartic for some and vengeful for others, will not accomplish what is necessary.
The calls for Mayor Rossi’s resignation were loud and constant during the public session last week, and they follow calls for the same by the Republican Town Committee and her political foes in the Democratic Party. All these calls center around the finding by the auditing firm CohnReznick the city misused $900,000 of $1.4 million in federal CARES money.
Amidst the calls for resignation is the revelation the city’s auditing firm abruptly severed relations with the municipality, and the city is now searching for a new firm to complete the annual audit required by law. Add to that the Municipal Accountability Review Board has voted to put West Haven under a Tier IV watch that effectively gives the panel overall control of the city’s financial future, including expenditures, revenues, and contracts. In two weeks, the city finds out whether Gov. Ned Lamont will follow the recommendation of the MARB. We expect he will.
So, the calls for resignation, while seemingly justified, do not, in our humble opinion, get to the systemic problems that are and have been problematic for decades. For those who have paid attention to the way the city does business for more than a fleeting period, the problems in the city’s procedures were apparent. It took alleged fraud by a former state representative and city workers on other federal outlays to shine the light on problems people have observed for generations.
Mrs. Rossi, it is true, created some of those problems herself, insisting use of the CARES money to purchase the services of a marching band, and paying her salaried department heads extra money for COVID-era overtime were justifiable expenses. Still, the major problems do not lie there, but in the way the city does business. A complete overhaul is necessary. In fairness, she has done things for which she could take credit: finishing the high school under budget, as well as other school budgets and facilities improvements that have totaled $200 million. All on time, all under budget, all without delays, redesigns, or other things that could gum up the works.
The resignation of Mrs. Rossi might be necessary as developments unfold and more information comes available. Right now, however, such a move would be more detrimental to the operation of the city and serve no purpose other than to give the political mob a head for a trophy. Should it be found the mayor had material knowledge of what transpired, and gave the nod, then we have a reason for her dismissal.
Her resignation will cause a vacuum in leadership the city can ill-afford. With the Tier IV designation, the new budget ready to be passed, and the ongoing investigation into both the CARES expenditures and the alleged fraud, we believe her leaving would be more of a problem than a cure.
This is not to be construed as a ringing endorsement of the mayor’s handling of this or any other situation. As we stated, there may come a time when we believe her removal is in the best interests of the city. That time is not now. It will only serve the interests of the mayor’s political opponents, who have their own axes to grind, and are part of the problems now shown to be of longstanding.
The Italian expression a “fish always smells from the head” might be an apt aphorism, but this fish has been left out in the hot sun for a long time and cutting off the head will only make things worse.