Political Science Professor Talks West Haven’s Financial Troubles – NBC Connecticut


Should the state be responsible for West Haven’s finances after investigations find the city wrongly spent $900,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds?

More than a few residents are demanding change, but getting that change might not be as hard as it seems.

NBC Connecticut’s Mike Hydeck spoke with Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University, about the issue. He is also a longtime Republican organizer.

mike hydeck: “So the race for mayor, the last one was very close. And this week we had former mayor Ed O’Brien calling on the current mayor, Nancy Rossi, to resign because of this financial scandal. But this n It’s not the first time West Haven has been overseen by the state, is it?”

Jonathan Wharton: “Correct. They’ve had a number of issues before this whole COVID issue even arose. Part of that has definitely been financial issues, and there’s definitely some concerns about property rights and rates per thousand over the years, but they also lost a lot economically, you know, they wanted to find ways to cope with economic development to bring more revenue into their coffers, so that was long overdue and a lot of these projects have actually been delayed, unfortunately.”

mike hydeck: “And you said both in opinions and in an editorial, that this is a place that is ripe for development. It is so close to the highway, it can be a place that can be booming with construction and new projects. But because of this political tussle, it seems to continue. One of the easiest ways for West Haven to achieve real change, you also said in an editorial, is actually running for office or voting. Do you think apathy is one of the root causes of this alleged corruption?”

Jonathan Wharton“Yeah. I’m a big believer in that. If you notice, Mike, last time there were only 8,000 people who ran for office last year, and the city has, you know, over 54,000 people. And so people have to go and vote. And, you know, just as a reminder, it’s every two years, so it’s time to think about in the next few months who’s going to show up next year , because that is going to be the key, then for the mayor and for the councils at all levels.

mike hydeck“So 54,000 people and only eight and one change shows up. How do you change that narrative? You’ve been involved in campaigns and tried to put your candidate front and center. How do they change that?”

Jonathan Wharton: “Well, it doesn’t matter who shows up, does it. We see in a place like West Haven where there are several applicants trying to show up for party tickets. And so even last year , we saw multiple camps trying to run for both the Republican and Democratic ticket, but the Democratic ticket was very divided and very split, so there must be avenues for the candidates to work together, and at least to resolve the issues, you know, that need to be presented to voters and themselves.”

mike hydeck: “So in addition to this $900,000 wrongly spent on COVID relief, as the federal investigation indicates, State Representative and City employee Michael DiMassa resigned due to a scheme where he’s accused of embezzling $600,000 in federal funds. Who watched over that money? Was it the current Mayor Rossi? Did this, you know, start under the previous administration? For example, who should have watched the money here?”

Jonathan Wharton“Well, it’s a difficulty to find all that, isn’t it. That’s why the OPM, Office of Policy and Management, was actually involved in the first place, because they are the ones investigating at the state level with regards to the concerns surrounding it.Also, we can’t forget the federal investigators in the first place who uncovered the mismanagement of funds, so there must be kind of oversight. I don’t want to ignore also MARB, which is the Municipal Accountability Review Board, which is looking at what’s going on right now. Because they’re in this financial situation where they need to “some oversight. Of course, recently they just decided to go with a Level IV, to even have some additional oversight to consider, which the governor has to ultimately approve in the next 30 days or so.”

mike hydeck: “So for a lot of people watching this show, they may have never heard of Tier IV before. It’s a political term where oversight is given. Explain what a Tier IV situation is and why is West Haven in this situation right now?”

Jonathan Wharton“Well, that’s critical in terms of oversight and ability to make decisions, especially tax decisions. If that were to happen, and the governor went ahead and approved it, it would have to be the state is directly involved in financial matters, and more specifically in terms of deciding the budget. And so it relates to that, you know, those decisions will not be made locally and as said, the final approval will come through this specialized council decided by the state, so there are concerns there in terms of autonomy or at least local authority decision-making, or whether there should be more state involvement in that regard. Another area of ​​concern related to Tier IV is that, would this then require mill rates to increase or property taxes to increase due to the mismanagement issues associated with West Haven’s financial issues?”

mike hydeck“So when you say your for, let’s give an example, we’re talking about if we need a new roof on a school that has to come before the state, the city can’t decide, things like that? “

Jonathan Wharton“Well, that would be the overall budget. Because every year, you know, a budget has to be decided, it has to be approved. So they’ll be the ones who will have the final say on a lot of these issues. it’s a time of year right now, where the board is defining it because it needs to be done in time before the exercise, so it needs to be in place at least in June.”

mike hydeck: “So it would be the Board of Directors who would decide for West Haven. And then should the Governor actually approve Level IV as well as year after year?”

Jonathan Wharton: “No, it would be the board of directors, at least.”

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