Acting Middletown ECD leader calls for public search for permanent director amid criticism over mayor’s support

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MIDDLETOWN — Mayor Ben Florsheim, who has come under fire for appointing the acting chief of economic and community development to a permanent position without a national search, said he agrees with her wanting to “end the political circus which delayed her appointment.

Bobbye Knoll Peterson asked Florsheim in a letter on Friday to advertise the position she is applying for externally and internally in accordance with the UPSEU collective agreement.

Common Council Majority Leader Gene Nocera said earlier this month that councilors had responded to the matter. “It wasn’t a problem with Bobbye or his skills, it was the process that some Democrats wanted to see handled differently,” he told The Press.

Members also wanted a more open interview process, Nocera said.

Peterson’s nomination was to be discussed at the Nov. 7 council meeting, but Minority Leader Phil Pessina, who sits on the Economic Development Commission, said Tuesday the item was not on the agenda. day.

The mayor is following the same process as with “uncontested and unanimously approved” appointments of other administrators, such as the land use, health and public works departments, Peterson said in his letter.

“It has become apparent that when it comes to the application of the nominate and waiver rules, there are continually moving goalposts about who and how the rules are applied,” she added.

Prior to her current role, Peterson was Florsheim’s campaign manager in the 2019 election and was elected to City Council in November. She resigned a few days later after being named his chief of staff.

Peterson said she expected a discussion of her merits, including her career, time in the mayor’s office and six months in the temporary role, but “it was reduced to a conversation about ‘optics’. “of this appointment”.

Florsheim spoke Tuesday about the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities convention, which he attended with Peterson. “We are working with colleagues across the state in hopes of keeping our many projects on track and keeping Middletown ahead of the curve.”

He added that it is “unfortunate that the biases of some common councilors have put the city and department in this position, especially as cities and towns in Connecticut struggle to hire and retain staff.” .

Middletown, Florsheim added, has made significant progress in economic and community development under Peterson’s leadership, “but, I can’t say I blame Bobbye for wanting to end the political circus that some seem to desire, because this is not how we continue our progress, and I am convinced that his decision will lead to a positive result.

The Council’s Deputy Minority Leader, Anthony Gennaro, said earlier this month that following procedure was key to finding the right person for the job.

“I can’t wait to see how it will go, and how the process will unfold, and at the end, what the final decision will be, and who will make it. I can’t wait for it,” Gennaro said on Tuesday.

“It’s the most appropriate path to take now in these circumstances,” Pessina said. “A lot of former directors who were put in their roles by former mayors, they didn’t have a decimated office like Bobbye did.

“You have to measure her ability to run the office, to be totally involved, as she has been,” said Pessina, who has known Peterson since she was executive director of the North End action team, “ changing the paradigm” in the urban environment. Region.

Peterson said in her letter that she recognizes that Florsheim does not want to “divert resources to research where you believe it is not needed”, and that such a process would be time consuming and expensive. “I also weighed the stress of my already overstretched department having to continue to operate in limbo.

“I, too, would like to avoid all of these additional stressors for already stressed systems, but I also want to make sure that the integrity of this department and its people remains intact,” Peterson said.

Peterson said “incredible” economic development projects are underway in Middletown, including more on the horizon that support strong local economic growth.

“I want Middletown to continue to be a place of desirable development – ​​not one tainted by ongoing, public and politically motivated discourse on ‘optics’ and the merits of experience versus degree. It does not serve our city and does not serve this department,” Peterson explained.

She wants to make sure that potential developers trust the city, just like current developers. “I also want to make sure that the false flag agenda of ‘political favour’ does not enter the public consciousness and spoil the good work your administration has been doing,” Peterson wrote.

Peterson said his time in the role had been “incredibly difficult” and listed a number of accomplishments, including securing and managing more than $19 million in grants, including a Community Investment Fund award. 2030 of $12 million.

She also helped select and negotiate with the developer for the parking arcade site, “an important part of the ongoing economic plan for Main Street”, as well as facilitate the restaurant construction project at the old canoe club at 80 Harbor Drive, Peterson said. .

The ECD office lost two “integral” full-time team members, Peterson said, referring to former director Joseph Samolis and retired economic development specialist Thomas Marano, who made day-to-day operations a challenge.

“I’m just asking you to weigh in and consider research to remove any weight carried by detractors…and my record in this work will stack up to any other candidate,” Peterson told Florsheim.

“She’s going to face some real competition,” Pessina said. “I think (because of) her dedication to the city, she should be well looked after.”

Pessina said he and Peterson love the Middletown community.

“For any politician to misunderstand, we are flying under the flag of Middletown. We will have our conversations, our disagreements and our agreements on the political spectrum, but you have someone who loves Middletown, who proves that she is a hard worker.

The mayor quoted an old political adage: “’When you don’t like the substance, complain about the process.’

“I hope the process we are now embarking on will bring the attention of my colleagues back to where it belongs: on the substance of the work for which this administration and this council were elected,” Florsheim added.

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