As the city gets into the last phase of the budget-making process –leading to a budget ordinance barely a month from now – some have been critical of the West Haven Voice’s coverage, calling it pro-Mayor Rossi. It is a criticism heard before with new administrations and one that can be easily addressed, but there is one very important difference between what the current administration has to contend with than those of previous administrations.
As far as our coverage being pro- or anti-Rossi, those making the allegations are those who are firmly encamped in one or the other faction of the city’s ruling Democratic Party. Over the last few weeks there have been comments made to this writer saying our usually hard-hitting coverage (their words) is lacking as we get closer to a budget ordinance.
It is not like we haven’t heard these comments before and with other administrations. Our philosophy with the Rossi administration is similar to that which we’ve had with other nascent administrations: until we see something we believe is egregiously wrong or improper, we’ll give the mayor and her team the benefit of the doubt. When and if we find something we find objectionable, we will say so.
Nancy Rossi and the Voice have had their differences going back some 20 years when she became somewhat of a gadfly in city politics. We’ve criticized her wavering back and forth between the three factions of the Democratic Party and her seeming lack of loyalty.
That having been said, Rossi is no more or less feckless than any other politicians in West Haven, and the political history of this community over the last 30 years is riddled with leaders who have “switched sides” during a debate. Politics does, in fact, make strange bedfellows and given the volatile nature of the city’s political history, sides are changed and changed often.
One thing has been consistent in her political life since she first came on the City Council, however: the belief the city had to get its fiscal house in order. Throughout her political career, she has maintained city leaders were not dealing with the reality of the situation the city and its taxpayers faced and were only looking for the next election.
In her pursuit of that objective, she has made some questionable decisions and made enemies because of those decisions. We’re sure given the chance to have a do-over or two Mrs. Rossi would make some different decisions.
The fact remains, she, like President Donald J. Trump, is faced with making the calls that those before her refused to make. The city faced bankruptcy in 1991 and was under the control of the State of Connecticut for three years.
The city was $17 million in arears and facing default on its payroll when then-Mayor H. Richard Borer, Jr. asked for state help. The culprit: a budget that everyone knew was out of balance, but did not have the political will to face. It was a Republican budget and a majority Democratic City Council.
Some 27 years later, we were, once again, in tough financial straits. This time the financial problem facing the city was one of aggregate debt. A $10.4 million deficit was discovered in 2006, and was whittled down before the financial collapse of 2008 added to the red ink.
Add to that three budgets in a row (with the current one probably out of balance) that were heavy on supposed revenues in order balance expenditures, and you have us back at around $17 million in the red.
Rossi – nor too many other people in city government – knew the state was going to come in and oversee our finances when we bonded to pay off the debt. At least, they didn’t let it be known.
She is making lemonade out of what she has been given, and attempting to put the city on the right path. It remains to be seen if she succeeds. She is saddled with the reputation of being rather unsympathetic and matter-of-fact when it comes to making difficult decisions. That may be true, we’re not sure.
What we do know is a real attempt at correcting city finances is taking place. That, like charity, covers a multitude of sins in our book.
We do have one or two criticisms, however, and it has to do with her managerial style thus far. She has yet to assemble a full complement of department heads, including corporation counsel and finance director. This decision is not wise in our estimation. Having people charged with certain tasks is always a good thing, especially when another set of eyes and a critical ear is needed.
Mrs. Rossi needs to fill out her administration, and maintain the “chairman of the board” role. In the long run it will be beneficial for the city as it attempts to navigate the next few months and years.