In an attempt to inform the public about the various candidates running for office this year, HatCityBLOG is kicking off a new feature entitled "CAMPAIGN SPOTLIGHT." Using a combination of text, audio and video, the HatCityBLOG crew are going give readers a different look at the candidates.
For my first interview, I sat down with the Brian Cotter, candidate for Treasurer and talked about his background, why he's running for office, his "Welcome Back Cotter" theme of bringing back fiscal integrity to Danbury, and why he feels he's the best qualified for the job.
Brian Cotter is the Democratic candidate for the office of City Treasurer. It is the second most important elected office in our city as evidenced by its position on the ballot, next to the office for mayor.
Brian Cotter has been a resident and taxpayer in Danbury since moving here from the south shore of Boston in 1971. From 1972 to 1996, he was a prosecutor for the State of Connecticut in Danbury and prosecuted many high profile criminal cases.
When he left government service, he was the Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney for the Judicial District in Danbury. He served as the Treasurer of the Connecticut State Prosecutors Association for many years. He is a past president and vice president of the Greater Danbury Bar Association. During the time he was a state’s attorney, Brian Cotter was also an adjunct professor of law at Western Connecticut State University.
The voters elected Brian Cotter to two terms on the Danbury Public Schools Board of Education. He has been a member of the Danbury Democratic Town Committee. He is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington DC and Boston University School of Law.
Welcome Attorney Cotter.
Cotter: Thank you.
HatCityBLOG: Or should I say, “Welcome back, Cotter!”
Cotter: Well, I thought I might as well finally get something positive out of it.
HatCityBLOG: Since you’re running for the office of City Treasurer, can you tell us your opinion regarding the role of the treasurer in city government?
Cotter: Sure. The treasurer is responsible for the taxpayers’ money. It is his or her sworn duty to conscientiously protect the value of the taxpayers’ dollars. There are two aspects to this responsibility - investment and spending. The treasurer is sworn to administer these responsibilities strictly from a financially sound point of view. Political considerations should be left up to the mayor and the voters themselves.
HatCityBLOG: Do you believe this has been done in the past?
Cotter: No. When funds set aside for future liabilities or to fund capital projects are diverted to cover present spending, this is a recipe for slow but sure financial disaster. A treasurer should not allow this to happen.
HatCityBLOG: Isn’t it illegal too?
Cotter: Well, a lot of politicians don’t seem to think it is.
HatCityBLOG: Can you give me an example?
Cotter: Of course. In 2001, the taxpayers of the city voted to bond a capital project, that is, the construction of a parking garage downtown on Library Place and planning funds for another facility if monies remained. The amount of money they authorized the city to spend to construct the parking garage was $5 million. This was when Gene Eriquez was mayor.
Cotter: However, instead of beginning construction of a parking garage that the taxpayers had authorized, the current mayor took $1.3 million from the parking garage bond allocation in 2002. He diverted this $1.3 million and gave it away to the highway department to repave roads. Now, repaving roads was not the purpose the taxpayers had in mind when they approved the $5 million for the parking facility. They thought they were getting a parking garage. Repaving roads is not a 20-year capital expenditure like a garage. Yet, now the taxpayers will be paying for the repaving of the roads for 20 years. The treasurer should not have allowed this.
HatCityBLOG: Why would the mayor do this?
Cotter: Well, it is politically expedient to repave roads. The voters see it. They like it. However, assuming the roads needed to be repaved, the mayor did not want to include this item in his budget.
HatCityBLOG: Why not?
Cotter: Well, for one thing, he would have had to raise taxes to pay for it. And he wanted the voters to think he had enough money for repaving roads when in fact, he had to rely on bond funds to address this.
HatCityBLOG: But isn’t this a good thing if it kept taxes down?
Cotter: No. It did not keep taxes down because it increased the city’s long term debt unnecessarily which eventually has to be paid by even higher taxes. It just looked like it kept taxes down. The taxpayers authorized $5 million of future debt to build a parking garage because they wanted a parking garage. That was their political objective.
HatCityBLOG: So repaving roads with that $1.3 million was not sound spending?
Cotter: Correct. It was foolish. Furthermore, when the voters approved the original bond issue, it became law – an ordinance of the City. The mayor, on his own initiative, took $1.3 million, which the taxpayers will be repaying for a long time after the mayor leaves office, to repave roads. This is an example of taxation without representation. It was a very foolish use of the taxpayers’ money at the least, and legally inappropriate at most.
HatCityBLOG: So, it’s like using the money from your home equity loan on your house to pay for, say, dry cleaning.
Cotter: Exactly. Except in that situation, at least you know what’s happening to your money and it’s your own decision to do that.
HatCityBLOG: I understand. If you want to do something financially foolish, at least you are in charge of making the decision to do so or not.
Cotter: Absolutely. The taxpayers did not authorize this foolish and imprudent use of their money for repaving roads. In fact, many taxpayers don’t even know it has happened. They think everything is fine because their road was repaved. But the mayor had to go back to the voters with a subsequent bond issue he proposed to replace the 1.3 million he took to repave roads and to cover the increased costs of the garage because of inflation. Therefore, the parking garage that we are now building on Library Place is costing the taxpayers much more than they think and much more than it should have cost if the mayor had begun the project as he took office in late 2001. After all, the garage construction started in 2007, six years after the funds were initially approved.
HatCityBLOG: So explain how does the role of the treasurer comes into play here?
Cotter: Of course. A treasurer is exactly what the word means. A treasurer is ethically, morally and legally responsible for safeguarding the money of the taxpayers. The role of the treasurer is not limited to just signing checks. If the treasurer’s role were limited to signing checks, then it would not be an elected office. The mayor’s secretary could do it. And if it isn’t the treasurer’s function to be the watchdog of the taxpayers’ money, well then whose job is it?
HatCityBLOG: And why do you say City Hall thinks the treasurer’s job is to just sign the checks?
Cotter: Ask them. And ask the Treasurer why he didn’t stop the diversion of $1.3 million from the bond issue for the parking garage from being used to repave roads?
HatCityBLOG: So the fox is watching the hens?
Cotter: Absolutely. The mayor has usurped control of the taxpayers’ money from the treasurer. And that’s why the reckless spending continues unabated. Nobody in city hall is paying attention to safeguarding the value, the integrity of our money. Nobody in city hall is focused on preserving fiscal integrity and financial security.
HatCityBLOG: How would you stop this?
Cotter: I will not sign any checks for any expenditure that is not already in the mayor’s budget.
I will not stand for a questionable transfer of funds within a bond issue for a purpose that wasn’t intended by the voters.
I will ensure all pension fund contributions are made in accordance with the City’s actuarial requirements.
I will work to hold the line on more long-term debt being added to the books so that our children and future generations won’t be burdened by having to pay higher taxes for decisions made years before they had a say.
I will restore proper risk management to the city’s financial reserves.
HatCityBLOG: Basically, is it fair to say that you’re running on a theme of bringing back fiscal control for the benefit and protection of taxpayers.
Cotter: Yes. I want put an end to reckless spending. It is time to REALLY put people over politics and not just say it.
HatCityBLOG: Well, thank you for this interview and taking the time to talk to the HatCityBLOG community. You presented an interesting case, which should make the race for treasurer rather interesting.
Cotter: It will. Thank you.
I have the prefect theme song for Cotter...
Recently, Cotter (along with Democratic third ward Common Council candidate Jim Kelly ) was a guest on the local access show Community Forum where he went into more detail about his campaign.
Make sure to visit HatCityBLOG throughout the campaign season to read more interviews from the candidates running for office in this year's municipal election.