Only hours after Republican Mayor Erin Stewart and Council Democrats had spoken in collaborative terms about the process of considering her proposal to borrow $115 million to push city debt into the future, the bipartisan spirit was broken when Stewart and other prominent Republicans openly ridiculed a Democratic Council member for a question he had asked about the city’s finances.
On the night of the City Council meeting on January 10, 2018, at which Stewart’s controversial debt plan was discussed, Democratic Ald. Emmanuel Sanchez (D-AL) commented on Twitter that, “The debt restructuring plan before us at tonight’s New Britain City Council meeting did not pass. That being said, I was happy to see both parties/sides agree to revisit this vital matter and consider different structural plans at a later meeting.”
Both Democrats and Republicans at the meeting voted together to return the $115 million borrowing plan back to a Council committee to examine various options, and Stewart had spoken favorably about the further consideration of options.
But then Sanchez posted two images from Facebook commentary, apparently made by former Republican Ald. Tremell Collins, Republican Board of Education President Nick Mercier and Stewart, herself, ridiculing a question Sanchez had posed concerning a city surplus. “Apparently ‘surplus’ is a tricky word for some people people to grasp,” said Mercier.
“I guess I spoke too soon,” Sanchez commented on Twitter, “…so much for bipartisanship. #ITried.”
Responding to the ridicule, Sanchez, said, “During the City Council meeting I asked several questions about the debt, yes, I did ask the representative from the finance team to define what a ‘surplus’ is. I did so for better clarification regarding what it meant for our city, given that the word ‘surplus’ as an accounting term, can be manipulated to create illusions of fiscal responsibility by the Mayor and her administration.”
“We as elected officials and the community have questions about the future of our city’s finances,” said Sanchez. “It’s unfortunate that it becomes social media humor amongst some of our city leaders — when questions are asked.”
The Republicans’ ridicule has been been derided on commentary online as, “childish,” “unprofessional and immature,” and “juvenile.”
“New Britain residents know that we do not have a ‘structural surplus’,” Sanchez said, “because we have debt to pay and we are using borrowed money to assist us in those payments. Any mention of a ‘surplus’ would be deceitful and intentionally twisted. Simply put: this is why I asked the question on the record.”
“Well said alderman,” commented Democratic Ald. Richard Reyes (D-AL). “Apparently, by the comments posted, the Mayor, Finance Director, and Board of Ed member took it to the gutter. Not surprised.”
“You know what is more funny than her minions laughing?,” asked Ald. Iris Sanchez (D-3), “The mess she is into and now they want the DEMS to pay for it.”
“The Council approves the City budget and debt restructuring,” said the Council President Pro-Tempore, Ald. Eva Magnuszewski (D-AL). “The current financial situation the City is in is not a laughing matter. It is not cool that the Mayor, Finance Director and a Board of Education member chose to make fun of an Alderman asking about important fiscal matters.”
Democratic Ald. Katie Breslin (D-5) added, on Twitter, that, “We get it. It’s easy to make fun of bits & pieces of a meeting. But the big picture – the context – is that we are trying to learn and identify and fix the structural issues in our budget. That when debt payments are deferred, they aren’t labeled surplus.”
“I’m trying to help solve the financial issues we are facing in this city,” said Sanchez. “Lets come together, roll up our sleeves and find real solutions. We should never feel discouraged to ask the hard questions, or any questions at all.”
“The Dems on New Britain City Council will continue to be as professional as possible and remain laser focused on the issues,” Reyes added on Twitter.
Under Stewart’s debt plan, city taxpayers would be making smaller payments on existing city debt in the current year and next eight years, with the largest saving being in the three years following the current year. After the year 2026, however, taxpayer payments on existing city debt would increase, becoming dramatically higher over the course of twenty-one years. The plan would add an additional ten years to the taxpayer’s payments on existing city debt, and, according to City Council members, would add over $69 million to city debt service.
Editor’s note (1/22/2018): The article was corrected to reflect that Council members had cited $69 million, rather than $63 million, as the increase to city debt service from the proposal.