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Secret Investigation After Adam Lanza Shooting in Newtown Prompts News Series in Hartford


HARTFORD — In December 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The killings reverberated across the country—and most definitely here in Hartford.

Under the supervision of Lt. Paul Vance, the message one year later to journalists was clear. There was no definitive or singular reason for the Newtown massacre, according to reports by the Connecticut State Police. State police detectives investigating the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 36 Yogananda St. in Newtown talked to several practitioners as they pieced together Lanza’s history of mental health treatments.

In Greater Hartford, several locals, including undercover policemen, state police, secret service and the office of the chief state attorney, claimed they were concerned about whether the mental health facilities failed Lanza; and they contacted The Hartford Guardian in January 2014. After identifying themselves as authorized officials doing an investigation in secret, they also claimed they wanted to investigate medicaid fraud and hospitals.

Additionally, they wanted to observe the state of mental health facilities in Connecticut, namely in Hartford, Farmington, Middletown and New Haven. In each case a reporter was followed by undercover agents to decipher the make up of the staff, the quality of care and details that contributed to mental health disparities in the state. This wasalso undertaken by the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) in the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney.

The Hartford Guardian, an award-winning, hyper-local publication based in Hartford, was asked to participate while other journalists, gadflies, federal, state and local officials secretly watched with special microscopic devices. The Hartford Guardian was among the few journalism organizations that got to see the inside of these  facilities and can give a cogent report. There were multiple stories that came out of this five-year investigation and many firings and retirements. (Several firings or retirements in the state and federal government reportedly came out of this secret investigation: Aug. 4, 2014 with three simultaneous departures; Feb. 4, 2015 with Dan Pfeiffer, April 22, 2019 with Dan S. Cohen; Feb. 15, 2018 with Hartford Police Chief James Rovella; the March 20 announcement of David Rosado’s retirement; the August announcement of Kevin Kane’s retirement).

Adams and other reporters are eager to tell thier stories that came out of visits to these hospitals involved in this investigation: John Dempsey Hospital, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Yale University Hospital and Connecticut Valley Hospital.

See other related reports:

Hartford Courant: Citing Safety Concerns, Feds Move to End Medicare Funding at Connecticut Valley Hospital

CT Mirror: Prospect of Detox, psychiatric bed cuts worries hospital officials

NBC Connecticut, Len Besthoff

WFSB, Investigative Team

The Hartford Guardian would like to follow up on its 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 coverage of this secret investigation that allegedly came out of President Barack Obama, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Mayor Pedro Segarra’s administrations.

So far, we are mulling over several concerns presented to us and would like our readers input: 

The methodology proposed? Use a seasoned journalist to go inside these hospitals to see how the staff treat her as a patient—not a young white man such as Lanza.

By using a journalist that has worked in the state for more than 30 years, these secret investigators theorized, it would be established that she was not hiding the fact that she was a trained journalist. Other measures were taken to ensure her safety from threats by health employees and lobbyists.

 Here are some of the findings in these hospitals that are worth tackling:

  1. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists in hospitals and outpatient care are overwhelmingly white females. In some cases, they are culturally incompetent and erroneous in documenting cases. In some cases, workers falsify records.
  2. Psychiatrists and social workers are sometimes forced to  give a diagnoses quickly because they must produce a diagnosis for billing.
  3. If you are a Christian, the mental health facilities can allegedly be used to seemingly persecute believers. This is one of the most astonishing findings in our research. This was an allegorical case, which involved targeting Christians and claiming he or she is akin to Icarus. According to Greek mythology, Icarus is the man who escaped imprisonment by flying too close to the sun.
  4. Mental health facilities can also be used by corrupt politicians to imprison and undermine a political opponent.
  5. Forced medications can be used to silence or kill someone over time—based on their deadly side effects, especially because of wrong dosages and frequency.

If you or anyone have experienced any of the above or have been forced into a mental health hospitals on a Physician Emergency Certificate, especially using black magic or Santeria, contact us. The PEC can sometimes be used like the draconian vagrancy laws popular in the 1700s. You can reach us at editor@thehartfordguardian.com to be a part of our investigative series about your experience in mental health facilities. To help sponsor this important series, donate today. See link here.

The Hartford Guardian would like to thank the International Center for Journalists for hosting the Community Health Reporting workshop for helping to fund the beginning of this investigation in June 2014. This project was inspired by an October 7, 2008 death at Sands Apartment in Hartford, CT.

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New Movie Going Experience in West Hartford with Cinépolis


WEST HARTFORD — Greater Hartford residents have another option for how to enjoy the movies.

Cinépolis USA, a leading world-class cinema exhibitor
known for its enhanced movie-going concepts, announced this week the grand opening date of August 16 for Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas West Hartford.

This announcement comes after a complete transformation of its previous theater that closed for renovations in March. 

Guests will enjoy a free small-sized popcorn for ticket holders during
opening weekend. Additionally, the first 100 ticketed guests on Friday
will receive a complimentary ticket to return, while supplies last. The
revitalized six-screen, 21,462-square-foot Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas West
Hartford marks the exhibitor’s first dine-in theater in the Northeast.
It highlights the brand’s signature guest experiences and specialty
film-viewing programs, while serving as the cinema anchor of Blue Back
Square shopping, living, dining, and entertainment district.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve the guest experience, and
this upgraded Luxury Cinema with enhanced dining and programming
exemplifies our commitment to offering an elevated and affordable
approach to entertainment,” said Luis Olloqui, CEO of Cinépolis USA. 

Following its multi-million dollar completion, Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas
West Hartford offers guests a movie-going experience with 359
fully-reclining leather seats in six auditoriums, each complete with
cutting-edge sound and high-definition projection technology. An upscale
lounge-style lobby space anchors the entry space complete with gourmet
concessions stand and seating options for guests to relax before or
after a movie.

Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas West Hartford offers a full menu and in-theater
waiter service for guests to order dine-in food direct to their seat at
the push of a button. Delivered by stealthy, ninja-like servers to
ensure for minimal movie disruption, the menu features fresh
ingredients, gluten-friendly and vegan friendly options and dishes
created with a chef inspired approach — from hummus plates, edamame and quesadillas to truffle flatbreads, salads and burgers — that are
satisfying but also easy to eat inside a dim auditorium. Pending
approval of a liquor license, Cinepolis will offer a full bar menu that
includes craft beer, specialty cocktails and hand-selected wine program.

On Tuesdays, the theater will participate in the brand’s signature
Cinépolis Handpicked weekly movie-viewing program and offer discounted
$7 tickets to all participants. Cinépolis Handpicked is a carefully
curated alternative programming series that features a wide variety of
digitally remastered specialty content, including favorite cult classic
films, nostalgic oldies, special concert events, documentaries, seasonal
favorites, and more. 

Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas West Hartford, located at 42 South Main Street,
West Hartford, will screen movies seven days a week with ticket prices
ranging from $7-12 for adults and $7-9 for children, with special $7
tickets on Tuesdays. Taxes and special format charges may apply. Guests
will be able to reserve seating via www.cinepolisusa.com [1] or the
Cinépolis USA APP upon the theater’s opening. For employment inquiries,
contact jobs@cinepolis.com

Posted in A & E, Business, FeaturedComments Off on New Movie Going Experience in West Hartford with Cinépolis

Hartford’s Exorbitant Commercial Property Tax Curbs Economic Growth


By Greg Bordonaro and Matt Pilon

When D&D Market closed its Franklin Avenue storefront in Sept. 2016, Hartford lost more than a landmark small business.

The third-generation family grocer, caterer and purveyor of fresh foods traces its Capital City roots back to 1932, when present-day owner Daniel D’Aprile’s grandfather opened a bustling market that became a mainstay on one of Hartford’s most vibrant small-business corridors.

However, things changed dramatically over the decades. Shifting demographics, a shrinking customer base and higher rents all made doing business in Hartford more difficult, Daniel D’Aprile said in a recent interview.

But the biggest pain point was property taxes. Though D’Aprile didn’t own D&D’s old Hartford quarters at 276 Franklin Ave. — his father actually does — he was still responsible for paying real estate and personal property taxes. At its peak, he owed $54,000 a year to the city — a sum that became too much to bear and led him to buy a smaller property less than four miles away in Wethersfield, where he’d eventually relocate his entire business and 38 employees.

Since opening the Wethersfield location on Wolcott Hill Road in 2014, sales are up 35 percent, D’Aprile said. Just as important, he’s paying less than a quarter of the property taxes — $12,000 annually — than he did in Hartford.

“I never wanted to move my business out of Hartford, but the rent was skyrocketing, the property taxes were skyrocketing, and sales weren’t going up,” D’Aprile said. “We were working very hard for nothing. There was no money left over after paying property taxes.”

“If we stayed in Hartford we would have been out of business,” he added.

D&D Market’s story isn’t wholly unique. For years, Hartford’s small and large businesses have complained they’re paying an exorbitant and disproportionate share of property taxes, hurting their ability to prosper.

At 74.29 mills, Hartford’s property-tax rate is by far the state’s highest and among the nation’s highest. In fact, the effective property-tax rate for a commercial landlord in Hartford (over 5 percent) is higher than what New York City, Boston and Chicago landlords face.

That’s stifled economic growth in the city — Hartford’s $4 billion grand list is valued 30 percent below what it was near the turn of the 21st century, and 38 percent below its 1990 peak of $6.5 billion.

By comparison, neighboring West Hartford — one of the region’s wealthier communities with half the population of Hartford — has a 41 mill rate and $6.3 billion grand list.

New Haven, a city with a comparable population to Hartford but lower mill rate (42.98 mills) has a $6.6 billion grand list.

HBJ: John Gale, Hartford City Council

“[Hartford’s mill rate] has brought development to an absolute screeching halt,” said Hartford City Councilor and lawyer John Gale. “It’s a huge drag. This has been the biggest single financial issue the city has faced in the last 15 years.”

With limited exceptions, private development has eschewed Hartford over the last decade or longer, unless it’s been supported by state government subsidies or city tax breaks.

The city’s small businesses in particular have felt enormous pressure from the high property-tax rate, part of the reason key commercial avenues — Franklin, Maple, Main, Albany, etc.  — in various neighborhoods have lost their luster.

And for anyone who thinks commercial taxpayers will soon get relief after the state last year helped the city avert bankruptcy by agreeing to pay off Hartford’s $550 million in general obligation debt over the coming decades, think again.

Despite its bailout, Hartford’s finances remain in a precarious position, and commercial taxpayers aren’t likely to see a tax-rate reduction anytime soon, according to Mayor Luke Bronin.

Kyle Constable: CT Mirror.org file photo:
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin

“For a small business or any property owner paying the full freight 74 mills, it’s an unsustainable and unfair burden,” Bronin said. “I think it’s a huge issue and one that our state has to confront if we want to be competitive.”

For Hartford’s mill rate to be competitive over the long run, Bronin said it needs to be cut in half. That, however, would likely require major reforms at the state level, or a miraculous surge in new commercial development.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) said he agrees Hartford still has a long road to recovery, but he also thinks the bailout he helped broker provided the city with much-needed financial stability. He said it could take 10 to 15 years to put any sizable dent in the mill rate, and that’s only if Hartford is able to grow its grand list and secure additional state funding, among other efforts.

He also said the bailout deal was the best the city could have hoped for, given the political environment.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas: CTMirror.org

Rep. Matt Ritter, the new House majority leader, addresses the chamber.

“For anyone who thinks the deal could have been better, they are sorely mistaken,” Ritter said. “There was not an appetite to reduce the mill rate.”

The Hartford Business Journal has spent months interviewing property-tax experts, commercial property owners, landlord-developers, policymakers, homeowners, city officials and others about the effects of Hartford’s property-tax system, which is complicated and broken in myriad ways.

Occupying just 18 square miles, Hartford is a tiny city that also houses many tax-exempt properties, significantly limiting the city’s ability to grow its grand list.

In fact, 59 percent of the assessed real estate in the city is exempt from taxation because it’s owned by governments, nonprofits, churches or other tax-exempt organizations, an HBJ analysis of city property records shows. Meantime, Hartford is also home to one of the poorest populations in the country, increasing the need for social, health care and other services.

Adding insult to injury, Hartford has the state’s only bifurcated property-tax system, in which commercial property owners pay a higher tax rate than residential homeowners.

Hartford’s challenges are a statewide concern because the city’s fortunes are directly tied to the state’s, especially as more employers and skilled workers want to be in or near vibrant cities.

Despite its challenges, some business leaders are still bullish about Hartford’s future, especially given downtown’s new vibrancy in recent years, helped by the additions of Dunkin’ Donuts Park, UConn’s West Hartford campus, a fledgling tech scene and about 1,500 new apartment units.

HBJ: Jon Putnam, Executive Director, Cushman & Wakefield

“I’m more optimistic about Hartford’s increasing attractiveness as a location for companies due to the urbanization trend,” said Jon Putnam, executive director of commercial realty broker Cushman & Wakefield.

How did we get here?

Hartford didn’t land in its current financial and property-tax predicament overnight. Numerous factors over many decades stacked up to create an unstable and untenable situation with no clear or easy solutions.

The start of the decline of Hartford’s property-tax base and system can be traced to the mid-20th century when the city — like many others in Connecticut and across the U.S. — was going through major economic and demographic shifts as more people moved to the suburbs. That squeezed out a large portion of Hartford’s middle class, and the affluence that went along with it. The city’s manufacturing and industrial base also began to shrink, while its impoverished populace grew, leading to higher city-government costs.

As taxes rose to compensate, more properties also shifted to nonprofit ownership. That came on top of the enormous share of city property already owned by tax-exempt institutions like colleges, hospitals, sewage plants and even the state itself.

Over the past half-century, the portion of Hartford’s tax-exempt grand list has more than doubled.


State government reimburses the city for some of its tax-exempt property, but it doesn’t come close to filling the gap.

City government, too, has exacerbated the problem over the decades by overborrowing, making pension promises whose costs have outpaced grand-list growth, and then kicking the can down the road either through short-term and costly debt restructurings or by raising taxes.

However, Bronin, who is running for reelection this year, said much larger structural issues have been the leading cause of Hartford’s fiscal stress.

“At the root of the problem is the fundamental flaw of having an 18-square mile city with an enormous concentration of non-taxable property and intense concentration of poverty and asking that city to run itself on only one local source of revenue,” he said, referring to the fact that municipalities in Connecticut are only allowed to raise revenue through the property tax (in addition to permit and other fees). “The biggest problem is that you have a city built on the tax base of a suburb. That, from the start, is a structural flaw that has all kinds of consequences.”

“The biggest problem is that you have a city built on the tax base of a suburb. That, from the start, is a structural flaw that has all kinds of consequences.”

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin

Bronin said his administration is running a “very lean government” and has made deep cuts over the last few years. The city council just passed the mayor’s $573.2 million budget for fiscal 2020, which does raise spending by $3.2 million, but doesn’t rely on borrowing and keeps the city’s workforce — excluding public-safety personnel — 11 percent below 2015 levels. Notably, since taking office in 2016, Bronin has also managed to not increase the city’s sky-high mill rate.

Even still, Hartford is unable to lower its property-tax rate. That shows excess borrowing isn’t the root cause of Hartford’s problems, Bronin said, since the state essentially eliminated most of the city’s long-term debt.

“If the city had never borrowed a single dollar, you would still have a mill rate of 74.29 to make the city function,” he said, noting that city finances are now reviewed by a state oversight panel.

Without the state bailout or bankruptcy, Hartford would have had to quickly raise its mill rate an additional 10 to 15 mills, Bronin said, which wouldn’t have been sustainable.

He argues much more drastic reforms are still needed at the state level, including giving the city additional ways to raise revenue. The bailout has provided enough relief to prevent a financial Armageddon, but the city still has limited financial flexibility, Bronin said. At the end of the day, he said there is a cost to delivering basic core services in Hartford and the value of taxable property does not come anywhere near funding that.

Claude Albert: Ctmirror.org
State Rep. Jason Rojas, D-Hartford

State Rep. Jason Rojas, a Democrat from East Hartford who co-chairs the powerful Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said the city will likely continue to lean on the state.

“Absent pretty significant economic growth in the grand list, which I think is difficult to do, … I think there’s still a lot more work to do for the long-term future of the city,” Rojas said.

Marc Fitch, an investigative reporter for the Yankee Institute, a free-market think tank, said there’s plenty of blame to spread for Hartford’s fiscal situation.  

On the one hand, the city awarded “really generous” labor contracts in the past, so Fitch views the bailout, at least partially, as rewarding fiscal mismanagement. On the other hand, the state has not fully reimbursed Hartford for its tax-exempt property, shortchanging it of vital operating funds.

Hartford has avoided bankruptcy for now, but Fitch, who credits Bronin for his budgeting discipline, said the city appears stuck in limbo for the foreseeable future.

“Even with the bailout and everything, their finances are razor thin and they’re relying on potential grand list growth to hopefully fill those gaps in the next few years, and that is a gamble,” Fitch said.

Out-of-whack property taxes

Hartford’s financial and economic instability over the years have birthed arguably the most dysfunctional commercial property-tax structure this state has seen in the last half-century.

Besides the exorbitant mill rate, Hartford is the only Connecticut municipality allowed to assess commercial property at a higher tax rate.

To calculate any property-tax bill in Connecticut, owners must multiply their property’s assessed value by a city’s or town’s mill rate and then divide by 1,000.

In the 1970s, Connecticut passed a law requiring municipalities to adopt a 70-percent assessment ratio. That means to determine the assessed value of a property — whether it’s a single-family home, commercial property or apartment — assessors multiply its market value by 70 percent.

By the late 1970s Hartford faced a crisis. The city was in the middle of its first revaluation in 17 years and many residential properties experienced a significant spike in value. If all properties were assessed at the same level, some homeowners faced average tax increases of well over 80 percent, which was deemed practically and politically untenable.

So, city officials hatched an agreement with state policymakers that, among other things, allowed Hartford to lower its residential assessment ratio to 45.8 percent. That shielded homeowners from a major tax hike, while leaving commercial property owners with a higher tax rate.

That initial bifurcated tax structure was actually phased out by 1986, but adopted again in 2006 and remains in place today. Commercial and apartment properties are assessed at 70 percent of value, while single-family homes are assessed at 35 percent.

There is a formula in place that gradually raises the residential assessment ratio to 70 percent, but it will take decades before that happens, said City Assessor John S. Philip.

HBJ Bruce Becker, Developer,
Becker & Becker

Hartford and New Haven developer Bruce Becker says the uneven property-tax setup matched with the high mill rate dissuades commercial investment and fosters an environment in which the city must cut tax deals to spur development, especially for larger, costly projects.

He knows that firsthand. He redeveloped the 777 Main St., 26-story office tower into 285 apartments in 2015, an $85-million project that relied heavily on public financing and tax credits.

He also got a tax break from the city. Without that support, he said the project wouldn’t have happened.

“Relying on the property tax exclusively to fund municipalities,’’ is inefficient, Becker said.

Delayed revals

One source of Hartford’s problems over the years is that it often waited long periods between revaluations. When that coincided with wild swings in the real estate market it led to dramatic changes in assessed property values.

For example, Hartford waited 10 years before conducting its 1998-1999 reval, which shrank the city’s grand list 38 percent, to $3.6 billion, while the mill rate jumped from 29.50 to 47.

The grand list nosedived because assessed property values hadn’t fully taken into account the effects of the late 1980s and early 1990s savings-and-loan crisis, which put Connecticut and the nation into recession.

Over a 40-year period starting in 1962, Hartford only conducted three revals. Today, state law requires municipalities to do revaluations at least every five years.

“Waiting 10 years to do a revaluation is not a great idea,” Philip said.

Some have pitched the idea of conducting revaluations more frequently to better capture real estate value changes in a more timely manner, but it’s seen by many as too costly.

Hartford has also experimented with a commercial property-tax surcharge that reached as high as 15 percent and stayed at that level for nine years, starting in 1997. The surcharge drew the ire of the business community, led by the MetroHartford Alliance, which eventually lobbied to phase out the additional tax in 2010.

Hartford’s mill rate has stabilized since 2011. There have been no tax increases under the Bronin administration, but the mill rate went on a consistent and steady climb at the turn of the 21st century going from 29.50 in 1998 to its current 74.29 mills today.

Bottom-line impact

The effect of Hartford’s bifurcated tax system is that commercial landlords and their tenants are shouldering a much higher tax burden than homeowners.

In fact, city homeowners have an effective tax rate of about 2.2 percent, on par with the statewide average, while commercial properties have an effective tax rate of more than 5 percent.

That means for every $1,000 of assessed value, a Hartford commercial taxpayer pays more than $50 in taxes vs. $22 for residential. By comparison, the effective property-tax rates on commercial properties in Boston and New York City are 1.8 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively, according to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. (Businesses in those cities, however, face other unique costs. Property values are also much higher in those cities.)

Hartford’s high tax rate has a negative effect on commercial property values, said John McDermott, a former Hartford city assessor during the 1970s, who is now a consultant to Connecticut businesses.

Commercial properties are valued based on how much net operating income they generate from rents. Property taxes are typically the second-highest expense behind a mortgage. When taxes rise, they eat into a building’s profitability, thus eroding their market value.

That, in turn, negatively impacts the city’s grand list. In 1996, when Hartford’s effective commercial mill rate was 33.4, the grand list totaled $5.8 billion. Today, Hartford’s grand list sits at only $4 billion.

Making things more challenging for commercial landlords, particularly those who own downtown’s Class A office towers, is that rents have been stagnant for nearly three decades, settling in at about $22 to $26 per square foot, while property taxes and operating expenses increased, squeezing their bottom lines.

Combined, operating expenses and taxes cost downtown landlords around $10 to $11 per square foot in the late 1980s, but reached as high as $15 to $17 in the early 2000s. Those costs have retreated a bit more recently as landlords found ways to reduce operating expenses and the city kept a lid on real estate tax increases, said Putnam, the Cushman & Wakefield commercial realty broker.

And it’s not just landlords stuck paying higher property taxes. Many commercial tenants have a “triple net lease,” meaning they must pay a share of a building’s property taxes.

Businesses must also pay taxes on personal property like machinery and equipment and motor vehicles. That’s how tax bills begin to add up for small and midsize merchants — like D’Aprile’s D&D Market — that rent space in the city.

McDermott said Hartford’s mill rate is a major impediment to renaissance efforts taking place downtown.

“It’s a competitive environment,” he said. “In today’s world, clearly entrepreneurs have an opportunity to go anywhere they want to go. There are clearly advantages to being in the city, but also from an economic perspective, the suburbs have a tax impact that is dramatically less. You can very easily go to Glastonbury or Rocky Hill where the tax burden is half or two-thirds of the city’s.”

HBJ FILE PHOTO

Andy Bessette, Travelers Cos.’ executive vice president and chief administrative officer, said he is bullish on Hartford, despite the city’s challenges.

Urban draw

Despite Hartford’s tax burden, the city, particularly downtown, has seen noticeable development and investment in recent years. Most of it, however, has been subsidized by the state, or is the beneficiary of city tax breaks.

Still, many employers find it necessary to have a Hartford presence, especially as Millennials and others desire urban settings where they can live, work and play. In fact, Hartford has seen some employers move from the suburbs to downtown in recent years to be closer to a wider talent pool and the various amenities the city offers.

The vacancy rate for Class A office space downtown is currently 17.7 percent, down from 25.5 percent in the first quarter of 2011, according to commercial realty firm CBRE. The city’s overall office vacancy rate fell from 26.1 percent to 16.5 percent over that same time period.

The state’s purchase of two major office towers and the conversion of vacant office buildings into apartments have helped lower the vacancy rate.

Meantime, the grand list, despite being well below historical highs, is up 23 percent since 2006.

The city lately has also attracted out-of-state realty investment, including from New York landlord Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC. Shelbourne has invested more than $200 million since 2014 buying up some of downtown Hartford’s most prized office towers, cementing it as one of the center-city’s most prominent landlords.

Most recently, it teamed up with Hartford parking giant Laz Parking to buy the city’s iconic “Gold Building” skyscraper for $70.5 million.

Shelbourne managing member Ben Schlossberg said his group finds the city attractive because it’s walkable, uniquely located between New York and Boston, and has a strong corporate and higher-education presence.

However, he is also cognizant of Hartford’s high tax rate. Shelbourne sued the city a few years ago after its appeal for lower property taxes on several of its recently revalued buildings was denied. It eventually brokered a tax-break deal with the city to resolve the issue. Without that helping hand, some of Shelbourne’s properties would have gone into foreclosure, Schlossberg said, an issue familiar to downtown, especially in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

“We are very excited about what is going on in Hartford,” Schlossberg said. However, he added “the state needs to find a way to lower the mill rate, which is oppressive.”

Travelers Cos. is one employer that has made significant investment in Hartford. In recent years the property-and-casualty insurer spent about $55 million giving its famous Travelers Tower office high-rise and campus a facelift. It’s currently spending millions more to spruce up its interior offices.

The company was also one of three insurers — in addition to The Hartford and Aetna — to promise a combined $50 million donation to the city over five years to help Hartford deal with its budget crisis.

Travelers, which is the second-highest taxpayer in the city with $143.2 million in assessed real estate and property, is aware of the high property-tax rate but is also bullish about Hartford’s future, said Andy Bessette, the company’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

He said companies look at more than just taxes when deciding where to locate and he’s attracted to Hartford because of the insurance talent here and the quality of life and amenities the region offers.

Bessette also sits on the board of the Capital Region Development Authority, which has helped finance development of 1,500 apartment units downtown in recent years. That, along with a growing innovation ecosystem, has added to the center-city’s vibrancy.

“Do we care about property taxes? Absolutely,” Bessette said, adding he recognizes that the high tax rate might impact small and midsize companies more than a large corporation. “Would you like to have them lower? Absolutely. But you know what, we believe in the city and want to be sure it’s successful.”

“You need a thriving urban environment,” he said.

The Cities Project, a collaboration between CT MirrorConnecticut Public RadioHearst Connecticut MediaHartford CourantRepublican-American of Waterbury, Hartford Business Journal, and Purple States, will publish periodic articles exploring challenges and solutions related to revitalizing Connecticut’s cities. Send comments or suggestions to ehamilton@ctmirror.org.

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Hartford Boasts Unprecedented Number of Black Candidates for Mayor


By Kindred Gaynor, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — There is an unprecedented number of black candidates running for mayor of Hartford. Of the six candidates, five of them are men and one is a woman.

The men include State Rep. Brandon McGee, TV entrepreneur J. Stan McCauley, former board of education chairman Craig Stallings, former security guard Andre Thomas, and writer Aaron Lewis. The only female is Giselle Jacobs, a local business woman. All are Democrats.

They are running to replace the current incumbent mayor, Luke Bronin. Bronin current serves as the 67th mayor of a city WalletHub recently called one of the worst-rub cities in America.

The Hartford mayoral candidates have been making their pitches as to why they are the best fit for mayor to fix the unique challenges that beset the capital city.

The forum title was the State of Black Hartford Mayoral Forum and Conversation and went for three hours. The first segment consisted of the audience listening to the candidates, who were interested in getting the audience’s vote of approval to become the next mayor of Hartford. The second and third hours of the forum were designated for question and answers.

Four of the six black candidates for mayor are in the picture. The other two were absent from this forum in the west end of Hartford.

Bronin, 37, previously served as general counsel for the Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy before he was elected in 2015. Before that, he served in two senior posts at the United States Department of the Treasury during President Barack Obama’s first term. He also served as Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and then as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes.

 “The next mayor needs to govern the whole city — not just certain neighborhoods. The state has made significant investments in downtown,” Bronin said. “But we need to make sure we’re improving the quality of life in every neighborhood because when neighborhoods thrive, the entire city will thrive.”

Bronin also has a plan to improve employment opportunities for Hartford residents.

“As mayor, I will be out there every day talking, working with businesses big and small — to keep and attract jobs. I’ve also called for the creation of a Youth Service Corps.  This partnership between City Hall and the private sector would put hundreds of young people to work in Hartford and provide a real pipeline to employment in the city.”

The first black mayor of Hartford was Thirman Milner, who served two terms from 1981 to 1987. Carrie Saxon Perry was the second black person to serve as mayor from 1987 and 1993. Both served as a largely ceremonial mayor, paid a stipend of $17,500.

Eddie Perez, the first Hispanic mayor from 2001 to 2010, served as the 65th mayor of Hartford. Perez was the first mayor to be the CEO of the city, a strong form of mayor. In 2017, he pleaded guilty to receiving bribes and criminal attempt to commit larceny in the first degree by extortion; both are felonies.

Rep. Brandon L. McGee Jr., a self-described community activist and architect of social solutions for the people of Connecticut, is serving his fourth term representing areas of Windsor and Hartford.

Craig Stallings is a board member and the former chair of the Board of Education. Stallings has been a PTO president at two Hartford schools and was coordinator of the original governance council at Thirman Milner School.

J. Stan McCauley is a television entrepreneur. McCauley ran for Mayor in 2007.

During the forum McCauley said, “Hartford is one of 150 economically distressed cities in the United States. In an E-commerce society the playing field has been leveled for start-up companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs. What we don’t have is intentional focus to help those individuals succeed. I believe that we need to give the same type of incentives to entrepeneurs as we give to multi-million dollar national corporations to move into the city.”

Giselle Jacobs is also an entrepreneur who owns a cleaning company. She ran for mayor in 2015.

Andre Thomas is a relatively new candidate and this forum was his first.

Michael Downes, who is white, is a union organizer with the American Teachers Union.

The election is Nov. 5, and the new council is expected to assume office on Jan. 1. 2020.

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Give Cities Better Tools to Address Blight


By Luke Bronin and Neil O’Leary

In every Connecticut city and many Connecticut towns, you can find neighborhoods weighed down by blight – collapsed roofs, boarded windows, graffiti, overgrown vegetation.  Sometimes it’s just a single blighted property, standing out among well-cared-for homes and businesses.  Sometimes it’s property after property, whole blocks that have fallen victim to the contagion of unaddressed blight. Wherever it exists, blight is a major quality of life issue in Connecticut communities.

In Hartford and in Waterbury, we’ve made concerted efforts to combat blight, and we’re making progress.  But with additional legal tools, we could do much more.  In the next few days, the General Assembly has a chance to pass two bills that would make a big difference, without costing the state any money:  SB1070, An Act Concerning Abandoned and Blighted Property Stewardship, and HB7277, An Act Concerning the Creation of Land Bank Authorities.  We urge the General Assembly to pass both bills.

The Blighted Property Stewardship bill, also known as “receivership,” introduces an important new tool to Connecticut.  Receivership allows stakeholders to petition the court directly to address blight in the community. Under the bill that’s already passed the Senate, the owner of the blighted property will always have the opportunity to address the blight first.  But if the owner fails to act – which is all too common, especially with out-of-town landlords – the court can appoint a local non-profit or community entity to step in and stabilize the property.

Without receivership, communities often have to wait for lengthy and unnecessary foreclosure process and a change in ownership before the work of rehabilitating a severely blighted vacant property can even begin. Receivership enables residents, community-based non-profits, and local governments to get access to a vacant, blighted property faster, and get to work stabilizing and rehabilitating the property – while resolving ownership issues later.

The Land Bank bill, House Bill 7277, goes hand in hand with the stewardship bill.  Land banks have been used effectively in many cities around the country to help communities take control of vacant, deteriorated, and foreclosed properties that are truly abandoned.  A land bank with adequate funding, flexible and nimble acquisition and disposition powers, and a strong tie with the community can be an effective and efficient tool to acquire the property, eliminate the blight, and put the property back into productive use consistent with community goals and priorities.

It’s important to note that the Land Bank bill does not include any municipal mandates, and does not expand eminent domain authority in any way.  Rather, it would allow municipalities to create an entity dedicated to holding and financing the improvement of blighted property, often hand in hand with residents or other private parties willing to make investments in the community.  While a pilot program has already been authorized for the City of Hartford, there is no general enabling legislation allowing Connecticut municipalities or groups of municipalities to establish land banks.  This bill would change that.

Hartford has made real progress in the fight against blight over the last three years, with hundreds fewer vacant, abandoned, blighted properties.  The city passed an Anti-Blight & Property-Maintenance Ordinance, and created a Blight Remediation Team to focus exclusively on combating blight. The model is simple: Fix It Up, Pay It Up, or Give It Up.  Under that model, the team works with responsible, good-faith owners to help repair their properties.  But with bad-faith owners who have no interest or stake in the community, we use our enforcement tools aggressively – imposing fines and liens. This summer, Hartford’s non-profit land bank, established as a pilot program, will get to work.  The city is already preparing to transfer dozens of vacant, blighted properties to the Land Bank in the coming months.

The City of Waterbury has also been aggressive in tackling blight, and created a Blight Task Force in 2012 to coordinate property remediation and redevelopment efforts among various city agencies.  Stiffer penalties including automatic court appearances for blight code violators are in place, absentee landlords are required to register the properties they own and provide viable contact information, foreclosing entities are required to have a local property management company maintain any properties in foreclosure, and an aggressive tax auction process is paying dividends.

But even with all these proactive processes in place, the problems surrounding property abandonment persist.  Fighting blight is about improving quality of life, protecting homeowners and other property-owners who invest in and care for their properties, maintaining and growing the tax base, and beautifying our neighborhoods.  When we talk with our residents, blight is a common concern, and that’s why we’ve prioritized this work – both in our cities, and in our conversations with legislators.

We urge the General Assembly to support HB7277 and SB1070, so that our cities and communities across Connecticut can do more to fight blight and keep neighorhoods strong.

Luke Bronin is the Mayor of Hartford and Neil O’Leary is the Mayor of Waterbury.

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We Need a New Approach to Educating Connecticut Children


By Matthew Borrelli
M

To Beth Bye, Connecticut Commissioner of Early Childhood:

My goal is to present data that supports the conclusion that there is a cadre of families and children that for decades has not been able to benefit from a regular education. The evidence will support the position that the present Pre-K-12 structure of our schools has exhausted its ability to meet the needs of these children. That their needs are as well defined, and unique as those which were the bases for the enactment CGS 10-76, the special education law. That a response equal in intensity, is required to remedy their plight.

I put together these talking points to hopefully show you that the present Pre-K-12 system is working well for those children that we commonly describe as middle-class (School Synchronized). Conversely the same system has for 40 years failed a cohort of children throughout the state in both suburbs and cities that have been labeled lower-socio-economic (School Separated).

I wish to present a review of the many interventions that the state and local towns have implemented to change this outcome, which sadly have all been to no avail for this cohort

I then wish then to speak about the role of special education, which came about in the late 60s and at the same time, the beginning of Choice programs and what effect they have had on outcomes.

I wish to recalibrate the definitions that we use, and to correct the notion of dealing with Correlation as Causation

Although much of this is apropos to general education; I hope to drill down through the facts to the basis of how children learn in their earliest years and show the correlation between home and school as the link and the linchpin for successful learning.

(School Synchronization vs School Separation)

I would also like to review the actualities in two towns, one in West Hartford and one in Bloomfield which I think will prove some of my contentions. Last, I wish to talk about a concept I have deemed PAINES and how school learning relates to children being ready, and willing so we can make them able.

Historical outcomes of school achievement:

  • All national and state testing shows achievement is laddered along economic lines.
  • All towns in Connecticut have shown achievement that fluctuates in a narrow channel, not one town has ever shown consistent growth over a period of many years that would take it out of its District Reference Group.
  • When skills are tested at the high school through either the SAT or the CAPT in alliance districts; only 30 percent of the students achieve at grade level expectation yet 90 percent of the students graduate.
  • Two thirds of the students entering community college require remedial courses prior to taking community college level courses.
  • The ratio of on goal to non-goal students has been approximately 70/30 passing on goal in the suburbs and 30/70 in the urban near urban centers. This has not changed in 40 years.

Interventions

Over the years the state has intervened trying to create a rationale for this bifurcation of scores looking at the possible reasons why this disparity exists:

  • Horton versus Meskill more equal spending would create more equal results
  • Brown versus Topeka, Sheff in Connecticut, racial balance could be the answer
  • Hundreds of changes in curriculum
  • Changes in instructional methodology and the addition of technology
  • Variations of class size
  • More minority representation
  • The creation and additional funding in a group of towns called Alliance Districts
  • Nutrition programs
  • Extended day, school year
  • Rigorous teacher evaluations
  • The introduction of resource rooms

All of the above related to some correlation, but none have created any change in the outcomes because none of them apparently have been causal.

Town exemplars

I would like to show two towns as examples:

The first is Bloomfield; this is a town whose population is majority white but whose school population is almost totally minority. Its board of education is totally minority. Its superintendent who is an excellent superintendent is minority as are many if not most of the administrators. Minorities represent a large number of the teaching staff as well as minorities representing most of the ancillary staff, so we apparently have a situation where race is not a factor and racial bias should not seem to be applicable.

When we look at Bloomfield’s scores we have the same scoring as  towns like Manchester or Vernon with approximately 40 percent of the children on goal and 60 percent not.  The ratios of on goal to other is the same as in  Manchester and Vernon with these towns being a much more racially mixed as a town, school system and faculty. I believe we can argue successfully that the striations in test scores in a town like Bloomfield, which parallels the other alliance districts and is not based on race, it is not based on the lack of minority representation, although they do face racial problems in the sense that some of the highest scoring children are demeaned with terms like “what are you doing are, you trying to be white?”

The next town is West Hartford and truly a tale of two cities. Crossing Farmington Avenue is a little bit like the Mason-Dixon Line. The north end has always been a highly professional, highly educated, highly scoring element of town. In the 70s and 80s this area was a strong blue-collar middle-class community and then in the 80s as the real estate market changed a lower socioeconomic group emerged and the disparity between North and South scores exacerbated.

West Hartford is a town where all things, all resources, all processes were completely evenly divided. West Hartford did not hire a South end Principal or North end Principal or teacher or aide or custodian. There was a single West Hartford standard. There was a single evaluation process of teachers. Everything was the same systemically North and South, and yet the scores always showed a difference. There is a cohort of children that we could not educate, and all of the interventions listed above did nothing to change the ratios because they were not causal.

Change that had effect

The only significant systemic change came in the late 60s through the federal government and we should be proud to be one of the first states that passed a Special Education law CGS 10-76. It was the first time that we recognized that the school system at its best had limits and that there were children based on genetic organic and neurological reasons that were outside of the norm.

The term of art used at that time was these children were “significantly different from the norm.” We saw the causes through medical eyes and recognized that these children were well beyond the scope of our ability to deal with. A whole new system was developed and it has produced a very different kind of result over the last 40 years than in the prior time.

Questionable change

At the same time, the idea of “choice” raised its specter. It was an action taken by successful students’ families to put them in a different context than their neighborhood school would provide. As neighborhoods changed and more needy learners moved in, the children who were more able wanted to exit. It was the beginning of the class flight.

This movement has grown by leaps and bounds, choice has been expanded, charter schools have been developed, magnet schools and been offered and the results are very interesting. Applicants’ families have better scores than their non-applicant families left at the public schools.

This success has been attributed to the fact that privately run businesses, beautifully architected schools, and themes make a difference. The success though has not been in any way proven to be a product of curriculum or architecture or themes since all of those interventions have been tried for the last 40 years in the public schools and they have not worked.

Why do they appear to be working in this situation? The population quality? We have taken middle class families (school synchronized) out of poor neighborhoods and created a middle class school for them.

Cause

This brings us to what is causing learning and failure; and to the conclusion that the pre-K-12 system can only educate well those children who come to us ready and willing to learn (school synchronized).

If we look at who is learning, and, who would be learners in any school district, we would readily identify those typified as middle-class(S-Sync) like the children in your home and my home. This cadre of ready and willing children with middle-class values and upbringing would score on goal in any school system under any teacher in the state of Connecticut without a question. It doesn’t matter what the curriculum is, it doesn’t matter the age and beauty of the school. These kids are coming to a place called school, which is an extension of their lifestyle.

If you would look at your expectations about being a good daughter or son what you need to do to be good, to learn, we’d find clearly that there is a close relationship and commonality between their home and school. The closer the synchronization between the two, the closer to we come to having a 24/7 educational environment.  So much of what we do at home parallels what happens in school.

Now let’s take a look at the Latino child on Park Street. Most of the homes are probably parented by adults who are near literate to illiterate, many whom may be Spanish-speaking with some English. The neighborhood is Spanish-speaking. The ability to live in the community is easy. Now we bring that child to school and that child gets five hours a day, 180 days of English-speaking — a different lifestyle, a different class of education.

Many of the traits that are acceptable in the community are not acceptable at school. We even modify the immersion by speaking Spanish during the day. If you look at the separation between the home and community mores and the schools’, it is that difference that causes the educational domain to stop and start. It is not continuous as in a typical synchronized home. So in effect, the child is educated three hours a day in this school environment with almost no echoing after that and so when we look at why there is not a product that goes beyond language. It goes into lifestyle.

School separation

As I promised, let’s talk about young children.

I want to present the concept I call PAINES. Yes I claim that children are PAINES when we look at the learning process. We have to look at a total child: P physical, A for academics, I for intellect, N for neurological, E for emotional (how you see yourself) and S social (plays well with others). The paradigm is simple, if everything is normal, if you come to school meeting all of your developmental needs on target A = I.

Therefore if you are a typical child in the third grade you will be scoring on a third grade level. If you’re brighter than normal, you will score on a higher level.  If A doesn’t equal I we must ask why. What would cause an educational deficiency? And that’s where we get into (P) physical reasons (N) neurological reasons (learning disability) or it could be E) emotional poor self-concept or (S) social, the inability to get along with others –and this is how we think in special education.

So what we’re dealing with at the youngest age are two factors: home and school. Home provides the readiness through its lifestyle and its culture and language, its mobility and safety, medical and physical care, and in a safe environment what we presently call a middle-class environment(school synchronized), it creates a readiness to learn.

The family helps the child as its first educator. In many cases the mother is the primary teacher  and converts readiness to willingness, and in the best situation, eagerness to learn when that child enters school and school parallels and extends the home. We are extremely capable of making that child able, and in West Hartford and other suburban towns 70 percent of the kids come from those kinds of homes and they are successful; in Bloomfield only 40 percent, in  Manchester only 40 percent,  in Hartford 30-40 percent.

Yet all our efforts have been focused on the able (school) part. We now offer preschool universally, but the kids who are ready and willing would probably be no different in a half-day program than in a full-day program, but for the children from the other homes the need is vital. We developed resource rooms, but they are rooms for families who come to school. They are drop-in centers. They are not evangelical. They do not seek the missing families, (school separated).

I suggest to you your first step is to develop a program to seek out and evaluate these impoverished homes using the Special Ed model.

We need to service the causal element, which is the separated home life style.

I would ask you to look at programs like Gen-2 and prepare the way for a massive intervention which would probably need legal changes to intervene in these homes at the earliest age possible, given that the mother is the primary teacher. Illiterate mothers, who are under tremendous stress, families living in poverty, living in abusive settings cannot provide readiness, cannot make a child willing, and we have proven we cannot make that child able.

Even in a Greenwich there is that group of kids that the highest scoring system in Connecticut fails.

If you do not get into these homes there is no reason to believe anything will be different, because children who are coming to us unready become unwilling and stay unable. There is so much proof that curriculum instructional changes, architecture, STEM, all of those make learning for the willing learners more interesting, but children from school separated homes are unable to gain any benefit from these interventions.

The vision you must have is that we need to get into the homes more than we ever have in the past. We must educate, counsel and support the parents. We must also enact laws that protect these children.

We must train these primary teachers, (mothers) emotionally and educationally to be more able to play their parenting role; that plus a change in how we educate these children Pre-K =12 is what is required to fulfill our State’s obligation to offer every child an appropriate, free, public education.

Matthew Borrelli of Manchester is a longtime Connecticut educator who has served as an interim superintendent of schools in Bloomfield, Waterbury and Hartford school systems and has served in administrative capacities in a number of districts including South Windsor, West Hartford, New Haven and Hartford.

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TSA Agents Say They’re Not Discriminating Against Black Women, But Their Body Scanners Might Be


The full-body scanners at airports across the country frequently give false alarms for Afros, braids, twists and other hairstyles popular among black women.

By Brenda Medina and Thomas Frank, ProPublica

Dorian Wanzer travels frequently for work. And almost every time she steps out of an airport body scanner, security screeners pull her aside and run their fingers through her hair. It’s called a hair pat-down.

“It happens with my natural Afro, when I have braids or two-strand twists. Regardless,” said Wanzer, who lives in Washington, D.C. “At this point in my life I have come to expect it, but that doesn’t make it any less invasive and frustrating.”

Wanzer, who had her hair patted down by Transportation Security Administration officers two weeks ago while she flew home from Raleigh, North Carolina, said she feels singled out when she is asked to step aside.

“When you find yourself in that kind of situation, it makes you wonder,” Wanzer said. “Is this for security, or am I being profiled for my race?”

Black women have been raising alarms for years about being forced to undergo intrusive, degrading searches of their hair at airport security checkpoints. After a complaint five years ago, the TSA pledged to improve oversight and training for its workers on hair pat-downs.

But it turns out there’s an issue beyond the screeners: the machines themselves.

The futuristic full-body scanners that have become standard at airports across the United States are prone to false alarms for hairstyles popular among women of color.

In a request to vendors last summer, the TSA asked for ideas “to improve screening of headwear and hair in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.” That law bars federally funded agencies and programs from discriminating — even unintentionally — on the basis of race, color or national origin.

Two officers interviewed by ProPublica said the machines’ alarms are frequently triggered by certain hairstyles.

“With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks,” said a TSA officer who works at an airport in Texas and asked not to be named. “Maybe, down the line, they will be redesigning the technology, so it can tell apart what’s a real threat and what is not. But, for now, we officers have to do what the machine can’t.”

A government report in 2014 found that the machines also “had a higher false alarm rate when passengers wore turbans and wigs.”

Asked about the false alarms, the TSA said in a statement to ProPublica that the agency “is reviewing additional options for the screening of hair.” (Read the agency’s full statement.)

A senior TSA official said in an interview that hair pat-downs are not discriminatory and are done when a body scanner indicates that a passenger has an object in his or her hair. “I get a hair pat-down every time I travel. I’m a white woman,” said the official, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that she not be named.

“Procedures require that if there is an alarm on the technology, the pat-down [must] be conducted,” the official said. She added that the agency has found no evidence of discrimination in hair pat-downs or any pattern that pointed to a particular airport.

The TSA advises passengers to remove all items from their hair before going through airport security and warns on its website that “wearing a hairpiece, extensions or a wig as well as a ponytail, a hair bun or braids” may trigger an alarm.

The TSA would not say if it had ever found a weapon in a passenger’s hair. Its website says: “You’d be surprised what can be hidden in hair. The most notable things we’re looking for in hair are explosives and improvised explosives device components.”

The false alarms affect more than the passengers whose hair is searched. The government report from 2014 noted that patting down passengers slows security lines and may increase costs by requiring extra screeners.

Full-body scanners — millimeter wave machines — have become standard at airports over the past decade. The TSA accelerated their installation after failed “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a flight on Christmas Day 2009 from Amsterdam to Detroit with plastic explosives inside his pants.

The scanners are made by L3 Technologies. A governmentreport said they cost about $150,000 each, and that the TSA spent more than $100 million deploying the machines. An L3 spokesperson declined to comment on the machines, and pointed us to the company’s website.

Unlike metal detectors, the scanners can detect nonmetallic items. But they can’t tell what objects are — or, apparently, if it’s just thick hair. That requires humans.

Last month, ProPublica asked people to share their experience with hair searches at airports. We received 720 responses. More than 90% were from women. Of the respondents overall, 313 identified as white only, 311 as black only and 96 as other ethnicities such as Latino, Asian American, Middle Eastern, American Indian or Alaskan Native, or mixed.

Most black women and other women of color we heard from described the hair pat-downs as intrusive and disrespectful. They said they felt singled out during the process.

Wanzer, who lives in Washington, D.C. (André Chung, special to ProPublica)

“I get TSA workers have a job to do, which is to keep us safe,” said Wanzer, the Washington, D.C., resident who frequently has her hair searched. “But there needs to be a level of sensitivity about how different people perceive these kinds of searches.”

Black women have long been discriminated against for wearing their hair as it grows naturally or for sporting hairstyles mostly associated with black culture, like braids, two-strand twists, cornrows and locks. Natural black hair has been deemed unhygienic, unprofessional and radical, and it has beenpoliced for centuries.

Most white women we heard from said they didn’t mind the searches or considered them a minor annoyance.

Toni Moss, who is white, said she travels by plane about four times a month. Moss said she is occasionally flagged for a hair search. The searches happen only when she keeps her short, voluminous hair in its naturally curly state. When Moss straightens her hair before traveling, she doesn’t get a hair pat-down, she said.

“It isn’t really something that I mind. I just find it funny when it happens but, then, it doesn’t happen every time I travel,” said Moss, whose hair was searched most recently in January while going through security at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas.

“The last time it happened I was joking with TSA [officers],” Moss said. “I told them, ‘Sorry you didn’t find a pork chop in my head.’ And they laughed.”

The agency has said that even if the machines don’t sound an alarm, agents can still choose to do hair pat-downs if “an individual’s hair looks like it could contain a prohibited item or is styled in a way an officer cannot visually clear it.”

That discretion enables profiling, said Abre’ Conner, a lawyer with the ACLU of Northern California, which filed thecomplaint against the TSA in April 2014. “When that discretion comes into play, unless there is explicit- and implicit-bias training, that can play out in a way that harms people of color, black people,” Conner said.

When Jazzmen Knoderer traveled by plane for the second time in her life, in 2012, TSA officers at Dayton International Airport in Ohio asked her to step aside for a full-body pat-down. It happened again the next time she took an airplane and went through security, at an airport on the Hawaiian island of Maui in 2013. And again, for her fourth plane trip in 2014, at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The first time Knoderer’s hair was searched, it was short and styled in two-strand twists. The second time, she had an Afro. The third time, her Afro was no more than 3 inches long, she said.

Knoderer said she didn’t go through a body scanner or metal detector before she was searched.

“It doesn’t feel random when it happens three times in a row. It doesn’t feel random when you see that all the people around you, who don’t look like you, aren’t asked to step aside,” Knoderer said. “I don’t want to change the way my hair grows out of my head.”

The number of complaints filed with the TSA by passengers alleging racial discrimination in hair pat-downs rose from 73 in 2017 to 105 in 2018.

It’s not clear what has caused that increase. One reason may be growing scrutiny of the issue, in particular a powerful story in Cosmopolitan last year in which the writer recounted her own experiences and those of others. Most people we heard from said they had not known they could file a complaint.

The TSA is one of the most diverse agencies in the federal government. One-quarter of the nation’s 46,000 airport screeners are black and 23% are Hispanic, according to Office of Personnel Management data.

Conner, the ACLU lawyer, said black airport screeners seem just as likely to conduct hair pat-downs as white screeners. The only difference is that a black screener “doesn’t necessarily leave my hair as messed up,” she said.

Thomas Frank is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012.

Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

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Hartford Woman Facing Deportation Continues Fight to Stay in U.S., Court Grants Reprieve


Updated Wednesday, April 10, 2019 at 6:35 p.m.

By Christian Spencer, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Facing deportation, Wayzaro Walton is on a quest to stay with her family in Hartford.

Walton on Monday received a reprieve. A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered a stay of deportation for her while the federal Board of Immigration Appeals considers her case. However, federal officials said Walton will remain in a detention facility in Massachusetts.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Walton, 34, is a convicted felon. So on a routine visit to check in with a private agency that works with ICE, officials arrested her on March 26 and transported her to detention.

According to ICE, the British-born immigrant was convicted of third-degree larceny and had several misdemeanor charges for shoplifting. After a judge in 2012 deemed Walton deportable, ICE moved in.

Advocates for Walton said ICE officials made the wrong move. That’s because Walton was pardoned for her past crimes on January 15. And according to a pardon waiver clause, an immigration statue, if she had a full pardon, her past conviction should no longer be used against her as they were used in her 2012 immigration case.

And there are other factors at play, said Erin O’Neil Baker, Walton’s attorney.

“We’ve been trying to reopen that case about her deportation, arguing that her crimes are not deportable crimes,” Baker said.

Walton’s is one of hundreds of individuals in Connecticut who have been detained by ICE officials. Since 2017, 436 people in Connecticut have been detained, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nationally, the fiscal year of 2018 was considered a successful year that aligned with President Donald Trump’s agenda for stricter border control and deportation of undocumented or unlawful immigrants, according to  ICE and Enforcement and Removal Operations. There were 158,581 arrests in 2018, the greatest number of arrests over the last two fiscal years, according to an ERO report.

Since January 2017 when Trump issued his executive order to “enhance public safety,” detention facility bookings nationwide have increased more than 22 percent.

In 2017, there were 4,019 immigration cases pending in Hartford, according to the U.S. Department of Justice report.

Wayzaro Walton’s wife, Tamika Ferguson, wipes away tears after a press conference on Tuesday with Attorney General William Tong in Hartford. Photo: Ann-Marie Adams

Walton Detained

Walton is a legal resident, who is married to an American citizen, Tamika Ferguson. They both have a 15-year-old daughter.  Nevertheless, ICE arrested Walton the night before her state pardon for felony larceny and other misdemeanors became effective.

Since Walton’s arrest, her wife has been talking to her by phone every day.

“She’s just ready to come home. She misses her daughter,” Ferguson said after wiping away tears in the aftermath of a press conference on Tuesday. “She’s just ready to be home.”

Last month, supporters rallied before the federal building in Hartford to help reunite Walton with her family. Consequently, they started a MoveOn.org petition to help keep Walton in Hartford with her family.

Hartford Deportation Defense’s community organizer Constanza Segovia said Walton’s pardon should have prevented her from being detained.

“ICE refuses to accept [Walton’s pardon]. And it’s not recognizing the power of pardon in Connecticut because of the process,” Segovia said.

Legal Question

At issue is a legal question that involves the state’s sovereignty. That’s why Attorney General William Tong has intervened. He recently filed an amicus brief with the Second Circuit Court arguing that the parole board should be viewed as a part of the state’s executive branch. And ICE should have recognized the pardon.

“We needed to step in to make clear that when we pardon someone, they are cleared. It should be recognized. ” Tong said. “The federal government needs to respect the sovereignty of Connecticut.”

The pardon process in Connecticut is different than other states in which a governor grants pardon. In Connecticut, a Parole Board approves pardons. Last month, Gov. Ned Lamont wrote to the Department of Homeland Security asking for Walton’s pardon to be recognized.

“I’m grateful to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for recognizing the gravity of Wayzaro’s case and granting her a temporary stay of deportation. But this fight is far from over. We need to fight for permanent relief for Wayzaro,” Tong said. “This is another example of how the Trump Administration has separated children from their parents, and it doesn’t just happen at the border.”

Tong said he visited the border. And the country needs to have an honest discussion about immigration.

“The separation of children from their parents is not just happening at the border,” Tong said. “It’s happening here in Connecticut.”

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Eddie Perez Announces Bid for Mayor, Asks for A Second Chance


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD –– Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is asking for a second chance to lead the city.

Flanked by an energetic group of supporters at Arch Street Tavern on Thursday, Perez, 61, made his official announcement to run for mayor.

“It’s time for a change in city hall,” said Perez, a Democrat. “We need leadership that cares about the struggles in our neighborhoods. We need leadership to act and improve the lives of all our residents.”

Perez is hoping to follow Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who was convicted on corruption charges, served time, ran for office and won. Ganim was in prison for seven years for extorting city contractors. In 2015, he was reelected mayor.

Like Ganim, Perez was charged with corruption. The state tried Perez on five felonies for taking about $40,000 in kitchen and bathroom improvements from a Hartford developer, Carlos Costa. Costa was a city contractor on a Park Street development project.

But unlike Ganim, Perez did not serve prison time. His conviction was overturned by the Appellate Court in 2013 and upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2016. Perez pleaded guilty to taking a bribe and attempted first degree larceny by extortion in 2017 after the state moved to retry him. Since then, the state has revoked his pension.

Eddie Perez talks to reporters after he announced his bid for mayor of Hartford
Photo: Ann-Marie Adams

Perez will join a crowded field of candidates vying for the city’s top job. State Rep. Brandon McGee, Hartford Board of Education Chairman Craig Stallings, businessmen Stan McCauley and Aaron Lewis have all registered to run for mayor. And the incumbent mayor, Luke Bronin, launched his re-election campaign in January. All are Democrats.

In a 30-minute speech, Perez took his audience on a journey back to 1969 when he first arrived in North Hartford from Puerto Rico. He began as a Vista volunteer and founded ONE CHANE in North Hartford. He continued to work as a community organizer in the south end of Hartford before he became president of Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance.

He ran for mayor in 2001 and was elected the first Hispanic mayor in New England.

In 2010, he resigned when he was charged with corruption.

“I let many people down and for that I’m sorry,” Perez said. “The people of Hartford have every right to hold me accountable. I ask for your forgiveness. I ask the city to give me a second chance.”

Perez’s now works as a transportation coordinator for Capitol Region Education Council.

Former City Council member Cynthia Jennings was among the cheering crowd supporting Perez’s bid for a second chance. The crowd that packed the downtown tavern was ecstatic, shouting: “Yes, we can,” and “Si se puede.”

Jennings said she was there to support Perez because “Eddie works on the assumption that we’re all one family and that’s how the city is going to come together.”

Perez said money will be a factor. He already knows he will face Bronin, who is “probably getting money from outside the city.”

The primary election is Sept. 10 and the general election is Nov. 5.

There are 69,531 total registered voters in Hartford.

Posted in Featured, Hartford, Neighborhood, PoliticsComments (0)

Education Committee Approves Lamont’s Watered-down Regionalization Bill


By Kathleen Megan, CTMirror

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont’s two key education bills — including one intended to push school districts toward regionalization — were approved by a legislative committee Friday, but with a few notable changes.

Members of the Education Committee eliminated the governor’s proposal to have municipalities chip in on teacher pensions and scrapped a plan to require homeschoolers to register in their school districts.

The votes, which went largely along party lines, were on House Bill 7150 — an act implementing the governor’s budget — and Senate Bill 874, the controversial bill that includes what some view as punitive steps to push school districts toward regionalization. The latter bill also would have established a commission charged with creating a plan for redistricting.

Last week, the Lamont administration changed language in Bill No. 874 making it more palatable to many by removing every reference to “redistricting” and “consolidation” and by empowering the commission to make only recommendations.

Senate Bill 874 was one of three bills that prompted hundreds of opponents to turn out for a hearing last month out of fear their school district would be forced to merge with others and that local control would be lost.

Earlier this month, two of the bills died, and last week Lamont recast his proposal to emphasize that his effort to get school districts to share services and save resources would be voluntary.

The original bill called for the establishment of a Commission on Shared School Services, charged with developing “a plan for redistricting or consolidation of school services and school districts.”

The revised bill not only eliminates the words “redistricting,” and “consolidation,” but also replaces “plan” with “recommendations” as a way to emphasize the advisory nature of the commission’s report. It says that the commission “shall develop recommendations for the sharing of school services and additional collaborations within and among school districts.”

“He [the governor] heard the people loud and clear and he heard committee members loud and clear,” said Rep. Bobby Sanchez, D-New Britain, and co-chairman of the education committee.

The bill approved by the committee maintains the governor’s language, but also eliminates a provision that was considered punitive by many. That controversial section of Lamont’s bill required small districts– defined as districts with fewer than 10,000 residents, fewer than 2,000 students, or with fewer than three schools — to share a superintendent with another district or name a chief executive officer to oversee the schools.

Education Committee Ranking Member Kathleen McCarty voiced concerns about the governor's education bills and voted against them. Ranking Member Sen. Eric Berthel is to her right.

KATHLEEN MEGAN :: CT MIRROR

Education Committee Ranking Member Kathleen McCarty voiced concerns about the governor’s education bills and voted against them. Ranking Member Sen. Eric Berthel is to her right.

The bill said that if such a district chose instead to maintain its own superintendent without sharing, the commissioner of education could withhold funding in an amount equal to the superintendent’s salary.

However, Republicans said the steps taken by the administration to water down the bill did not alleviate their concerns.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said that despite the language changes, “which do show there was listening and acknowledgement,” she is concerned about the “original discourse and the original intent” of the bill with its references to re-districting and regionalization.

“Most disturbing,” Lavielle said, was that the original language was “all based on the premise that effective local school districts must be prodded somehow to act in their own best interests. So many school districts in Connecticut are effective and efficient already and I don’t believe the state has any business to spend time and energy interfering with them.”

In addition, Lavielle said there is nearly $1 million in the governor’s budget to create and run the commission.

“I don’t see a reason to spend that money, especially in our severe budget straits, because I don’t see a reason for the bill,” she said.

Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, a ranking member on the committee, said she opposed the bill because it leaves the structure for a commission to move forward.

“At some point this could turn to more forced regionalization,” she said.

She said the possibility of “forced regionalization” resulted in a “a lot of angst in the school communities through-out the state.”

Sanchez noted that the bill also is stripped of the provision that would require home-schoolers to register with their district.

“So you don’t have to send me thousands and thousands of emails,” Sanchez said to the knowing chuckles of a dozen or so home-school advocates in the attendance.

Twenty two Democrats voted in favor of Senate Bill 874, while 13 Republicans voted against it. Two legislators were absent.

After it was approved, about a dozen opponents, who were at the meeting were disappointed.

Wilton resident Jennie Wong said, “We made our voices clear. The intent is still there to regionalize. I just think they should have heard us.”

Republicans and Democrats alike spoke in favor of the committee’s decision to eliminate Lamont’s plan to have municipalities pay for 25 percent of teacher pension costs, and a greater share if teachers were paid above the statewide median.

Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), sent out an email after the vote saying, “This proposal would have overwhelmed property taxpayers in small towns and cities throughout Connecticut.”

She said the plan would have shifted $73 million “onto the backs of already burdened property taxpayers…COST is very pleased that lawmakers recognized that shifting a greater property tax burden on homeowners and businesses is bad public policy. This is a big win for municipalities and property taxpayers,” Gara added.

However, those voting against the bill said they were concerned about a provision that accelerated a plan to reduce education cost sharing funds to wealthier districts.

Under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, an agreement had been reached to phase in a shift in education funding over a 10-year period from wealthier districts to struggling, poorer districts. Lamont’s proposal would phase out the funds to wealthier districts over a shorter period of time.

“I am against this proposal,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, shortly before a vote was taken. “This really represents the undoing of a bipartisan budget that worked hard to re-establish a true [Education Cost Sharing] formula that took the appropriate educational needs into consideration as part of that formula.”

McCarty said the measure would “impact adversely over 74 towns, so for that reason I will be voting ‘no’ on the bill.”

Twenty Democrats voted in favor of House Bill 7150, while 15 Republicans and two House Democrats — Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire,  and Jill Barry, D-Glastonbury — voted against it. Two legislators were absent.

Posted in Featured, Hartford, YouthComments Off on Education Committee Approves Lamont’s Watered-down Regionalization Bill

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