Shelton Board of Aldermen Ward 4 candidate: Michelle Laubin

Michelle Laubin

Michelle Laubin

Contributed photo

Party: Democrat

Are you an incumbent?: Four years on the Board of Apportionment & Taxation

Current job: Attorney, Berchem Moses, P.C.

Volunteering background, if any:

Regular speaker to the Connecticut Council of Administrators of Special Education (ConnCASE), Special Education Resource Center (SERC), Connecticut State Department of Education (Bureau of Special Education), Connecticut Bar Association, Connecticut Association of School Psychologists (CASP), Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS)

CASP President’s Award for Service to the Field of School Psychology 2018

Connecticut Bar Association, Education Law Section 1996-present

Connecticut School Attorneys Council, Past President, Member 1996-present

Opportunity House, Hamden CT, Past President, Board of Directors 1999-2008

Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard, 2003-2005

National School Boards Association, Council of School Attorneys, Member 1996-present

National Board for Certification of School Nurses (NBCSN), Public Member, 2019-2021

Valley NAACP, Education Committee, 2021-present

RACE Committee 2020-present

Shelton Democratic Town Committee, 2016-present

Envision Shelton 2021-present

Education: B.A. Wells College 1993, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa

J.D. Northeastern University School of Law 1996

Previous offices held: Board of Apportionment & Taxation 2018-2021

What prompted you to run for office? Serving 4 years on the Board of Apportionment and Taxation has taught me a great deal about the budget process in the City of Shelton, and about the need for a return to basic principles of good government: accountability, planning, transparency, broad participation by the community to envision a future for itself and to determine the role that government will play in shaping that future. Our City government as it is currently configured does not do an adequate job of planning for the future, saving for a rainy day, holding itself accountable for meeting basic objectives of municipal government, or inviting citizens to participate in shaping the future of Shelton in any meaningful way. We need people at the table who are willing to do the work and speak up on behalf of the people that they represent. I realize that not everyone has the time or educational background and experience that I have, and I believe I have a responsibility to offer my time to perform the responsibilities as a public servant to the City of Shelton.

What are the major issues/changes you are focused on if elected? I believe that we need an independent operational audit of the finances of the City of Shelton (by an outside firm chosen after a competitive bidding process) to see whether basic generally accepted principles of accounting are being followed, and if not, what needs to be done to remedy any such deficiencies. We need to establish a rainy day fund with conditions for spending the money from the fund. We need to settle our labor union contracts and stop wasting money on litigation over unfair labor practices and grievances, especially within the police department, as well as the meritless lawsuit against the board of education and its individual members regarding excess cost grant expenditures. Longer term, we need to establish term limits on the Mayor’s office and the Board of Aldermen, and we need to reconfigure the Board of Apportionment and Taxation as a true oversight Board of Finance. We need a more robust Ethics Board with the ability to conduct oversight of transactions and conflicts of interest to avoid corruption, conflicts of interest, and the appearance of impropriety in the dealings of the City. We need to create a robust plan for smart City development with input from the Economic Development Commission, Planning and Zoning, local business organizations, and private citizens, and then we need to make sure that the development undertaken is in keeping with that plan. We need to solve some of the basic problems that have been created, like the lack of egress from Canal Street and the lack of parking downtown. We need downtown revitalization with a plan to create a beautiful, walkable downtown that we can be proud of. I would love to see Shelton take advantage of its location on the historic Housatonic River waterway with opportunities for people to come and learn about the history and culture of the area, which would require public-private partnerships and taking advantage of available grant funding. We need better funding of our education system to promote the well-being of kids and families in our community, as well as maintaining our property values for the future. We need to reestablish the Capital Improvement Plan system to address our City’s crumbling infrastructure and make sure that our City services like library services, street sweeping, brush cutting, and property maintenance can continue without interruptions due to broken equipment.

How can you make any proposed improvements yet keep taxes at the stable level they are at present? The strange thing about our City budget is that we budget for all of the services we need, and we collect the taxes needed to fund that budget, and yet we don’t actually allow the City departments to spend the money that they have been allocated to provide the services that we need. After four years of participating in the City budget process and hundreds of questions asked to department heads, there are still no clear answers to these questions. If the information presented by City Hall is accurate, we should have all the money we need to run the City well and efficiently and adequately fund City services, and yet we are failing to do that on a very basic level. There should be no reason to raise taxes, we just need to do a better job managing the money we have.

Thoughts on BOE spending, city-run bus company? Do you agree with the spending levels set forth in the past for the BOE, and is running a bus company (and the costs associated) worth it to the city? The school system has been chronically under-funded, resulting in the loss of about 50 full time teaching positions over the last 4 years, and the institution of the “pay-to-participate” requirements, forcing parents to pay a special “tax” on their kids to participate in extra-curricular activities. Although there is some availability of scholarships for kids whose families cannot afford the fees, this is a terrible policy that discourages kids from playing sports or participating in other extracurricular activities, and it needs to be abolished. Our education system deserves fair funding from the City, and we need to end the “war on education” started by City Hall. Last spring, during the budget process, I proposed two different motions to the Board of Apportionment & Taxation that would have either maintained the same mill rate or dropped it to the level advocated by the Mayor, but still provided additional funding to the board of education, and the Republican members of the Board of A&T refused to even debate the merits of those proposals. They voted down both proposals along party lines with no debate, not even telling the public why they would not support them. That is just wrong.

The City-run bus company, which was forced on the board of education by a lawsuit, has failed in many respects, from its treatment of drivers and staff to on-time performance, to over-crowding of buses, to lack of compliance with State mandates for safety and credentials of drivers. And we have no idea whether the enterprise is actually producing the savings that the Mayor claims to have produced, because he refuses to create line-items in the budget to make clear what money is being spent for what expenses within the department. The “black box” budgeting for the transportation department needs to stop, we need to know what we are spending and for what expenses, and we need to take a clear-eyed look at whether it makes sense to continue with this approach to school transportation. I suspect that, even if there are savings over the past 2 years, it is only because schools have been closed to in-person learning and so there has not been a demand for transportation for several months in each of the last two years. One major concern is that the buses purchased by the City many years ago are approaching the end of their life expectancy, and it is likely going to cost the City a great deal to replace those buses, as opposed to entering into a contract with a professional bus company that will include fleet usage and maintenance expenses. I would want the board of education to put the contract out to bid and see a legitimate, fair, and transparent bidding process before making a decision as to whether to continue the contract with the City, and that should include an honest assessment of the condition of the City buses and whether we now need to pay to replace them.