New Canaan first selectman candidates battle it out in round two
Updated 9:44 am, Monday, June 27, 2011
Two days before the first early voting date for the Republican Caucus, first selectman candidates Paul Giusti and Rob Mallozzi participated in a second debate sponsored by the Republican Town Committee. Unlike the last debate, which dealt with hot button issues like arbitration and long range planning, Thursday night's event focused on more detailed topics including the town's debt, budget and unions.
Regarding debt and the budget process, the two candidates discussed the past and future. Giusti focused on changes brought about over the past few years which he believes has improved the process.
"[In terms of changes] we established liaisons between the different town departments and certainly between the Board of Finance and the Board of Education," Giusti said. "That process and establishing those liaisons allowed us to have the kind of communication that we need, the sharing of ideas and making sure that we're working collaboratively."
Additionally, Giusti discussed how those changes transformed the budget discussions into ongoing project rather than a once-a-year endeavor after learning from the example of the Board of Education.
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While Mallozzi agreed with many of these adjustments, he still believes more partnership during the actual approval process, among other things, would be helpful.
"Paul hit on most of them and most of us participated in discussions about changing the budget process. I've been complimentary on those changes. The issue with the changes that have been put in place is even though we look down the road a little farther and take some more time on the budget, it still is an imperfect science," Mallozzi said. "I think it would be nice to get the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance in the same room and here some of the budget presentations at the same time so we can ask and feed off of other people's ideas when we ask questions of the department managers."
When it came to the sensitive issue of collective bargaining agreements and unions, Mallozzi called it an issue "near and dear to [his] heart." He discussed how New Canaan is in the middle of arbitration with two public safety unions for the first time in the town's history.
"We need to rebuild relations with those folks. We've never been in that situation before. I think it's unfortunate. We'll have to jump start the whole process. But we must understand there is a new world out there," Mallozzi said. "And that new world says we cannot afford defined benefits anymore. Defined benefits where we are making contributions to these folks [when] it's just not sustainable. So we need to have a respectful dialogue with our unions and believe it or not, I'm very close to some of these folks, they recognize it also. This is a new world."
Furthermore, he stressed the need to take a new, less uniform approach toward negotiations with unions since dealing with the different groups may require new methods. Giusti agreed that the "environment has changed" in regard to union benefits and the affordability factor. He then described his role in negotiating a new contract with the Public Works Union.
"We worked very closely, very diligently with the employees from Public Works to come up with a very fair, very balanced contract," Giusti said. "And it was a contract that not only talked about it, but has, a 401k-type plan in it. So it has the defined contribution plan in it. And you say why is that important to the taxpayer? Well it's important to the taxpayer because it's the one of the first times it's been done, at least that I'm aware of, in Connecticut. So it's a new thing, but what it enables us to do is to make sure we don't pile up this unfunded pension liabilities."
During the cross questioning portion of the debate, Giusti asked Mallozzi about his role as a current selectman and the responsibility he has regarding the state of the town.
"I'll tell you what, I can't take a lot of responsibility for it because, I think everyone knows, I lose most votes 2-1. I'm not the poster boy for this administration. I never have been," Mallozzi responded. "The thing is that I have to speak my mind. I am close to the situation. But I wouldn't stand for the spending on the Long Range Plan. I wouldn't stand for certain things. How the town hall repair is under my responsibility, I don't know, but I certainly have lobbied for doing something for the town hall; making it ADA compliant, improving the sound system in here, fixing the air conditioning and heating systems. But I think for the most part, if you ask the public they'd say I probably [am not] as responsible for some of the things that have gone on because I have kind of been the voice of reason and the common sense element behind town hall."
In his rebuttal to this statement, Giusti claimed that Mallozzi only lost 2-1 on three occasions while he's been Selectman.
"You are absolutely correct. I shouldn't have said most. I will say the contentious issues, the ones where there was something at stake, the ones that demanded some sort of contrarian point of view were the ones I lost 2-1," Mallozzi clarified.
In Mallozzi's cross question to Giusti, he asked why his priorities from eight years ago still stand for this election when the issues in town today might require "more substantive" goals. The priorities Giusti lists are excellence in education, preserving the character of the community, and prudent fiscal management. In his response, he did not back off those priorities and insisted that they were still applicable today.
"If I'm being criticized because I've been consistent, well if that's the criticism then so be it. I have been consistent," Giusti said. "But I have been consistent about excellence in education. I've been consistent about preserving the character of our community and I've been consistent about the importance of sound fiscal management for our town and keeping money in the pockets of the New Canaan families and not having it go to our government."
Mallozzi responded by saying he couldn't imagine any politician disagreeing with him on those points, but expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of specificity in terms of addressing the issues in town.
In their closing remarks, Mallozzi and Giusti thanked the RTC and all the residents present at the discussion while also praising the process itself. With two debates under their belt, both candidates will now have to rely on the registered Republican voters to make a decision July 19 at the caucus.