Audit finds Lax Oversight of Public Campaign Financing

For the last nine years, the State Election Enforcement Commission has failed to report the use of grant money financing candidates running for the Connecticut General Assembly, according to a recent audit report.  The commission is responsible for the Citizen’s Election Program, which gives grant money to campaigns for state senate or state representative through the Citizen’s Election Fund, a pool of money that comes from the sale of abandoned property.  By law, the commission must report annually on the amount of money in the fund and the number of people who have contributed to it. The commission is also

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Artist Playing Cards to Raise Money for the Hygienic

NEW LONDON — Hygienic Art Galleries has elevated games of pandemic-induced solitaire into an art form with their latest fundraiser, a deck of playing cards featuring paintings and sketches by local artists.  “It’s nice for people to have an entire art show in their pocket,” said Troy Zaushny, an artist in residence at the Hygienic who contributed artwork to the project. Executive Director Bess Gaby said she got the idea from a similar project she’d worked on with another nonprofit, but the idea took on a new significance with the pandemic — pieces of art that could also be used

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Robust Fundraising, Limited Matching Grants for Arts Organizations

Demand for the $9 million in CARES funding allocated to theaters, orchestras, ballets and other arts groups across Connecticut far outstripped supply, as many organizations found themselves receiving substantially less in matching grants than expected under the grant’s original framework.  According to the initial terms of the grant, all eligible applicants would receive a $5,000 base amount. The Office of the Arts at the Department of Economic and Community Development would then use the CARES funding to match 50 cents for every dollar that the organizations could raise from private donors, up to a cap of $750,000.  However, the matching

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By Building Community, Natusch Guides New London Preservation

NEW LONDON — For Laura Natusch, historic preservation and building community go hand-in-hand.  “It’s very important to me that the history that we are preserving reflects our community – that people who grew up here feel like their lives mattered,” said Natusch. Natusch is the executive director of New London Landmarks, a non-profit in New London that teaches people about the area’s history through walking tours, narrative projects and the renovation of historic buildings.  Natusch said that preservation creates a kind of “community genealogy.”  Her goal is to highlight a history that reflects the entire community, not just a single

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Steep Fines Met with Mixed Response Before the Holidays in Connecticut

Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order yesterday increasing fines from $500 to $10,000 for COVID-related violations which include exceeding capacity limits, failing to wear masks and operating after the 10 p.m curfew. The steeper fines — which go into effect at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow — were met with a mixed response from local leaders contacted by CT Examiner. “We want to do everything we can to mitigate the further spread of this virus while avoiding the implementation of more restrictions or lockdowns on our already hard-hit economy and small businesses,” the Governor explained in a press release. According to

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Region 4 Walks Back Request for King to Resign

A joint statement released on Monday by Valley Regional High football coach Tim King and Superintendent Brian White announced that the school district was withdrawing its request for King to resign. “We both understand and accept that as educators and professionals we have a special responsibility to our students, staff and community during a pandemic and that we must place safety above all else. It is in this spirit that the request for Coach King to resign from the position of head football coach has been rescinded,” read the statement. Community members have been in an uproar since White requested

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Program Sends College Students to Public Schools to Relieve COVID Absences

Central Connecticut State University has agreed to send education majors to work in Connecticut’s K-12 public schools as a means of relieving pressure on districts experiencing COVID-related staffing shortages.  The partnership between the state’s public university and its public schools has been facilitated by the Office of the Governor through a project called Next Generation Ed.  The program is open to sophomores and juniors enrolled in the university’s early education program. Designed as a clinical placement, students will be assigned to their schools for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. They will be able to lead small group discussions,

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Isolation, Pepper Spray, Restraints Raise Concerns for Youth at York Correctional

A report released Tuesday revealed the use of chemical agents, restraints and extended periods of isolation on young women with significant mental health needs housed in York Correctional Institute in Niantic. The report, which came from the Office of the Child Advocate, said that the agency was “deeply concerned” about these methods of control and recommended “immediate cessation” of the practices and a review by independent mental health experts.  Officers at the facility used chemical agents five times on young women between the ages of 18 and 21; three of those incidents occurred in the mental health unit. In one

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As COVID Cases Surge, Connecticut Resists Rollback

The state reported today that 145 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities have been classified as “high alert” zones, turning Connecticut’s latest COVID map nearly solid red. Gov. Ned Lamont referred to the numbers as “disturbing.” He said that Connecticut had conducted 36,000 tests this week and added 60 additional testing sites.  The state reported a 6.5 percent positivity rate, with a seven-day rolling average of 5.8 percent. Hospitalizations and deaths have also increased. Twenty-four more hospitalizations and 21 deaths were reported today. “A lot of people think, this time around, it’s safer,” said Lamont. “No. Twenty-one fatalities in the last day

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Committee Votes to Adopt New Governance Model for Lyme

LYME — The Town of Lyme Succession Planning Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the Board of Selectmen that the town adopt a governance model that would retain the Board of Selectmen but include additional paid staffing positions. In previous meetings, the committee had narrowed down their choices to two models: a Board of Selectmen with additional paid staff and a shift to a town council with a town manager. Steve Mattsen, the first selectman, said at the meeting that the town was in no position to form a town council, since that would require a change in the town

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All Winter Sports Postponed Until January 19

The Connecticut Interstate Athletic Conference today decided to postpone the start dates of all winter sports until January 19, 2021.  This decision was very different from the conference’s initial proposal, which would have prohibited all high-risk sports but allowed some medium-risk sports, such as girls and boys basketball and boys swimming, to begin practices as early as December 5 and competitions as early as December 17.  Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the CIAC, which has 186 member schools, said that the board made this decision in light of the fact that more and more schools are moving to distance learning

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Data Suggests Few Absentee Ballots Late or Rejected in 2020

Despite the unusually large number of absentee ballots sent through the mail for the 2020 election, data shows that the percentage of rejected ballots across Connecticut was consistent with the prior 2016 elections.  The Connecticut Examiner analyzed absentee ballot data from seven cities in Connecticut — New Haven, New London, Bridgeport, Hartford, Middletown, Danbury and Waterbury — in part to make this comparison. In one example, out of the 8,659 absentee ballots that Middletown received, 99 were rejected. This represents 1.1 percent of the total number of absentee ballots received. Ashley Flynn-Natale, the town clerk, said that 20 of those

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Public Access Television Shines With Pandemic Shutdowns

As virtual town halls and public hearings via Zoom become commonplace during the pandemic, public access television may be taking on a heightened role within local communities.   Chris Morgan, the Public Access Coordinator at Valley Shore Community Television, which serves nine towns in lower Middlesex County, said that the pandemic has created an increase in demand for programs. “We have never been busier in seven years,” he said. Morgan estimates that the station which reaches from Durham and Haddam in the north down to Old Saybrook and Westbrook, has produced 30 percent more content this year in comparison to 2019.

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John-Michael Parker Talks Housing, Education and Regionalization

For John-Michael Parker, the newly elected state representative for the towns of Madison and Durham, art and music have always offered a critical means of connecting with others.   It was true when he was growing up in Madison, and it is true again since he moved back to the area in 2018 after a decade of living and working in New York City. “The arts had been the place where — and right here in this community — I got to grow and develop and learn a lot,” said Parker. So perhaps it is no surprise that music found a

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Shoreline Food Pantry Opens Food Drive For Thanksgiving

Gatherings this year may be smaller and travel limited, but there’s one Thanksgiving tradition that communities are keeping alive.   Amy Hollis, executive director of Shoreline Soup Kitchens and Pantries, said that she’s been getting requests almost daily from people who want to host Thanksgiving food drives for the nonprofit.  “Every day, it seems like there’s another phone call, another email, another effort,” she said. Hollis said that since the start of the pandemic, Shoreline has been consistently serving 50 percent more people than last year. By the end of October, the nonprofit’s locations in Clinton, Westbrook, Chester, Deep River, Old

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Schools Voice Reluctance to Repurposing Snow Days for Remote Learning

Last month, officials at the Connecticut Department of Education drafted regulations to allow school districts to convert snow days into remote learning days. But several school districts contacted by CT Examiner aren’t quite ready to let go of yet another staple of New England childhood. “A snow day is joyful and exciting,” said Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent Ian Neviaser at a recent board of education meeting. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take away one more thing from the students right now,” explained Neviaser. “Philosophically, I don’t agree.”  Neviaser said that having snow days was something he considered part

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As COVID Reduces School Demand, Farmers in Southeast Connecticut Learn to Adjust

In a normal year, Rick Whittle, owner of Whittle’s Willow Spring Farm in Mystic, would be transporting his apples, yellow squash, watermelon and string beans to school cafeterias around Groton.  Since March, however, distance learning has created a significant reduction in the number of children receiving breakfasts and lunches at school. This has impacted not only the school districts, which depend on the meal program to fund their cafeterias, but also the local farmers, like Whittle, who sell their produce to the schools.   Despite the shutdown in the spring, Whittle said he grew his crops assuming that things would be

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Car Thefts Again Hit Area

EAST LYME — Four cars were stolen in the Niantic area on the evening of November 9-10, the latest in a series of car thefts happening throughout Connecticut and the greater New England area this year. Mike Finkelstein, Chief of Police in East Lyme, said these thefts are something that affect the shoreline towns “in waves.”  The four cars stolen were a Highlander, an Escape, a Ford and a Passat. Two of the four were discovered in New Britain; the other two remain missing. No one has yet been identified in connection with the theft.  In addition to the four

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Connecticut Launches Contact Tracing Pilot at State Universities

State universities in Connecticut have joined the pilot program for a contact-tracing app that state officials hope all residents of the state can download beginning next week.  The app, which was developed through a collaboration between Apple and Google, uses Bluetooth technology to track and notify people when someone close to them has tested positive for the virus.  The universities began testing the app last Friday, according to Leigh Appleby, director of communications for Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. He said in an email that, while he didn’t know yet how many people had signed up, the colleges

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Chester, Deep River, Essex Schools Adopt Remote Learning until Nov. 30

Multiple exposures of students and staff to Covid-19 cases have led schools in Chester, Deep River and Essex to transition to remote learning until November 30.  There are currently 23 staff members and 123 students in the district who are in quarantine, according to a letter from Region 4 Superintendent Brian White. In addition, the letter said, the district is investigating a number of new cases in conjunction with the Connecticut River Area Health District. Both Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School dismissed early on Thursday after the schools learned about a positive case of a student

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Drop in School Lunch Participation Leaves Budget Shortfalls

Far fewer students in Connecticut schools are taking advantage of free and reduced meal programs this year, a trend that could place local districts in a difficult financial situation.  Ian Neviaser, superintendent of schools in Region 18, which includes Lyme and Old Lyme, said at a recent Board of Education meeting that the school district expects to see a decrease of around $80,000 in funding this year from a lack of participation in the program.  Because of the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus, free breakfast and lunch is available this year for all students regardless of household income. Neviaser said one

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Housing Advocates Press for Added Funding as Aid Program Relaunches

The Connecticut Department of Housing is once again accepting applications for a program that offers up to $4,000 in rental assistance to individuals who have suffered economically from the effects of the coronavirus. Yet advocates and housing counselors are concerned that the available funding will not be enough to match either the number of people in need of assistance or the amount of debt that individual tenants find themselves facing.  The program, known officially as the Temporary Rental and Housing Assistance Program, began in mid-July, but was shut down six weeks later after being overwhelmed with applications. The program reopened

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Taber Gable Debuts an Eclectic Jazz in Hidden Driveways

If you want to understand Taber Gable’s philosophy of jazz music, you don’t need to look further than the title of his debut album, Hidden Driveways. “Hidden Driveway– it’s a sign down here to warn drivers of places they may not see on the path that they’re on,” he said.  Gable, a 29-year-old musician from Knoxville, Tennessee, studied jazz at University of Hartford’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, before moving to perform in New York City. “In New York, I was typically known as a side man that would play, you know, straight ahead jazz at some of the jazz

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As Small Towns Vote Absentee, City Turnout Remains a Question Mark

Cities across Connecticut have lagged behind smaller towns when it comes to the percentage of voters who have requested absentee ballots, raising questions about how many of these remaining residents will turn out for the final vote on Tuesday. In several small Connecticut towns, including Old Lyme, East Lyme, Essex, Lyme and Chester, between 41 and 46 percent of the voters have requested absentee ballots.  In cities the percentage of people requesting absentee ballots is significantly lower.  In New London, which has a total of 16,449 registered voters, 3,719 have requested absentee ballots so far, or 22.6 percent. Norwich’s numbers

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Lamont Announces Partial Rollback of Reopening

Gov. Ned Lamont announced a statewide rollback to phase 2 beginning on Friday, Nov. 6.  “Right now, what were defined as flare-ups on a municipal basis are becoming more like community spread,” said Lamont.  Connecticut’s positivity rate for the past seven days is 3.6 percent, with 340 current hospitalizations due to the virus. Lamont said he was concerned about making sure that hospitals would have the capacity to both treat COVID patients and take care of patients with other ailments. Lamont also referenced reaching with regional neighbors, such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Last Wednesday, Rhode Island’s Governor Gina Raimondo

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PURA Opts for Existing Programs Over Shutoff Moratorium

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority ruled in a virtual hearing on Friday morning that it would not renew the statewide moratorium on electricity and gas shutoffs which expired on October 1. Eversource had filed a motion to extend the moratorium on September 30. Under current regulations, an extension would have allowed Eversource to offset the cost of customers unable to pay their bills by increasing costs for paying customers. Without a moratorium, Eversource has no legal right to these funds.  Eversource representatives at the hearing said that they wanted to have the moratorium in place for the sake of “clarity

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Southeast Connecticut Towns Best Statewide Absentee Voting

With a week to go before the Nov. 3 election, a survey of town clerks and registrars in towns across southeast Connecticut shows that voters in the region have requested and returned ballots at a rate exceeding already high statewide totals. In many of the towns that number is 75 percent or higher. In Chester, for example, 83 percent of the people who requested absentee ballots have returned them; in Stonington, 79 percent of the absentee ballots issued have already been returned.  The Connecticut Mirror reports that statewide 70 percent of the more than 455,000 people who requested an absentee

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Palm Makes Her Case for a Second Term

Former Republican State Rep. Robert Siegrist is running to unseat one-term incumbent Democrat Christine Palm in a rematch of their 2018 race for state representative in the 36th district, which includes Chester, Essex, Deep River and Haddam. In their previous contest, Palm bested Siegrist by a margin of 212 votes, 50.8 to 49.2 percent. Palm has been endorsed by the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, the Sunrise Movement, and the Sierra Club of Connecticut. She has worked variously as a reporter, teacher, and a communications director for several nonprofits, and she provides sexual harassment trainings for corporations. She also previously

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An Upbeat Industry Summit in a Downbeat Climate

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association hosted a virtual summit on Friday offering an optimistic picture of the state’s industry’s ability to weather the COVID pandemic.  “Some industries are down 30, 40, even 50 percent when it comes to revenues … the fact that our workforce is only down 6 percent, that to me says manufacturers are doing everything they can to keep their skilled labor going,” Chris Di Pentima, president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, told the Connecticut Examiner.  “We could be in a lot worse situation,” he added.  But a recent report from the association reported

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Lamont Announces Funding for Walk Bridge and Connecticut River Projects

Gov. Ned Lamont and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation announced on Friday that the state has received a $144 million grant — part of the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grant Program — toward the replacement of the Walk Bridge and the Connecticut River Bridge. The Connecticut River Bridge, which opens and closes more than 3000 times a year, was constructed in 1907 and is the oldest movable bridge between Boston and New Haven. The project will replace the existing structure with a new bascule bridge 52 feet to the south. State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, contacted by

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