Members of the New London City Council and Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio have a chance to put the recent vitriol behind them and restart administration-council relations. It should begin with the council sustaining the mayor's veto of the $42.5 million general government budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The debate over this budget, the first since the conversion from a city manager-council form of government to the mayor-council system, has been beyond difficult. It has been confusing, marked by serious disagreements over the numbers and what they mean, and needlessly nasty. So nasty that the fallout could well extend beyond the budget and hinder the ability of the council and manager to work together on other important matters.
The largest share of the blame ultimately has to rest with the mayor. He needed to do a better job of communicating with the council and making his case that he inherited a serious budget crisis that had exhausted the fund balance; a gap that he said would need to be closed either through a large tax increase or major spending cuts.
While Mayor Finizio was never able to get the council to fully agree on the seriousness of the fiscal situation, in large part because the numbers kept shifting, the council ultimately adopted a reasonably balanced approach of both a substantial tax increase, around 8 percent, and cost cutting. It appeared the council-mayoral budget debate was over, with Mayor Finizio offering a positive assessment of the council's work.
It was then, however, that the mayor's actions invited the wrath of the council and its president, Michael Passero. He announced at a news conference that to achieve necessary savings he would have to lay off 25 firefighters and 10 police officers or obtain equivalent concessions. The council retaliated by slashing salaries and positions within the administration.
As we've written before, the mayor made a political blunder by not seeking support on the council before launching his effort to wring savings out of the public safety departments. It is not easy for a Democratic mayor to so alienate a council on which his party controls six of seven seats.
But the mayor announced Wednesday he has obtained the necessary savings he needs through negotiations with the firefighters union and he expects to reach a deal with police as well. While details have not yet been made public, the administration should be ready to share them with the council in executive session.
The council's administration cuts were ostensibly made to avoid layoffs. If the mayor has obtained necessary savings through negotiations, taking layoffs off the table, there seems to be no reason to persist in those cuts, except perhaps spite.
The better course of action is to sustain the veto, restore those administrative personnel cuts that appeared largely retaliatory, and work toward a budget the council and mayor can collectively defend. There is also the matter of the mayor's claim that revenues in the budget were inflated by $265,000 - Mr. Passero says the revenues the council used came from the finance office - but that number should not block agreement on an $83 million budget (including education).
For the betterment of New London, the council and mayor need to move beyond the bitterness of the recent budget fight.