Column: Peace, Safety and Transparency in Hartford
The editorial Tuesday (“Chief Consideration: Discussion Absent in Hartford”) causes me to believe that the editorial writer was only reading the newspaper, which is rarely the whole story. As I reminded your reporter when he interviewed me on the subject of the town moving to a public safety director model, he was at the Selectboard meeting when the town manager made a public presentation on the topic on Dec. 13. Why wasn’t it a story immediately? What happened between the public discussion your reporter covered and the Valley News headline on Jan. 6?
We know the answer to that — former Hartford Police Chief Glenn Cutting copied the Valley News on emails he exchanged with members of the Selectboard in which he lobbied for his preferred approach and accused us of failing to act transparently.
Which was not the case. The search for a chief (also discussed at Selectboard meetings) concluded in mid-November, when the candidate chosen by the assessment process informed us that he would be keeping his primary residence, more than a three-hour drive away, and maintain only a pied-a-terre in Hartford. At the same time, the town manager was informed that our health insurance premiums would be increased by around 20 percent, almost $250,000. In the midst of piecing together a budget, he conceived of the idea of using our local talent to creatively resolve the situation in a way that would save a substantial amount of money. The process of talking to those who would have to buy in to the idea began.
He talked to the current employees, the unions and individual members of the Selectboard. Dec. 13 really was the first opportunity to publicly disclose his plans.
I don’t think the editorial writer fully grasped this timeline, but instead accepted the blustering in Cutting’s emails — and only as those emails were reported in the article, since my response to Cutting dismissed his allegation as unwarranted.
It should be noted that the town manager is completely within his authority to impose this change at his discretion. There is no written town policy directing him to keep the peace and safety of the town with any particular management structure. Obviously he is not going to proceed without the support of the stakeholders, which he secured. How should he have announced this to prevent a charge of acting in an opaque manner?
Called the Valley News? Blog?
There are many good reasons to go after the quality of transparency in Hartford governance, but this isn’t one of them. I wonder why Cutting didn’t post his email to the Selectboard on the Hartford discussion list and ask for members of the Selectboard to respond to him for all to see. I wonder why the town of Hartford does not have the same sort of engagement on its listserv that Norwich has.
One of the reasons I ran for the Selectboard was to try to change the culture of information-sharing and public discussion in the town. To that end, I remain committed to giving your reporters as much time as they need to put together the big picture before writing their articles. The local media, perhaps the Valley News most of all, is the Hartford public’s main partner in transparency.
F. X. Flinn is vice chairman of the Hartford Selectboard.