Three statewide advocacy groups with a history of disagreement on many issues have agreed to sit down for an economic summit with the goal of finding common ground, and maybe, just maybe, doing something about it.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the Connecticut AFL-CIO will host a first-of-its-kind, two-day brainstorming session as a way for business, government, labor, education and social service leaders to reach what CBIA President and CEO Joe Brennan called a “workable consensus” on how to improve the state’s economy. Organizers expect more than 100 attendees.
Brennan and the leaders of the two other groups agreed they have no preconceived notions about what form the discussion or its results will take.
“I can’t stand here and say it’s going to be a huge success,” Brennan said. “I just don’t know because it’s so new.”
Lori Pelletier, executive treasurer-secretary of the state AFL-CIO, said there may be legislation or policy ideas that come out of the summit — but if not, there’s still value in the conversation.
“We’re going into this, all of us, with open eyes and open ears, and I think that’s all you can ask from organizations that historically have started legislative sessions with opposing press conferences on many issues,” Pelletier said.
The event will be carried out by a steering committee of municipal officials through CCM. Rudy Marconi, Ridgefield’s five-term first selectman and one of the members of the committee, said the idea builds on a strategy he employed early on in his role as the town’s top official.
“I ended up pulling everyone together in a room on a Saturday, closed the door, and said, ‘we’re not leaving until we can reach consensus on what is best for our town,’” Marconi said.
CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong, who came to the position in March from the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, credited North Haven First Selectman Michael Frieda with promoting the same sense of cooperation. DeLong said Frieda was one of the first people to call with support and guidance after the new executive director found himself “stumbling” in his efforts to forge political relationships in the state.
DeLong criticized both Democratic and Republican leadership in the state Senate during his first major address to member municipalities at the organization’s annual meeting in June, which he concluded by saying “the state of Connecticut is starving for leadership.”
The comments were not well received by either party. State Senate President Martin Looney retaliated with a caustic remark about a relationship between the municipal organization and legislative leaders that had become “more toxic than the water DeLong failed to protect West Virginia inmates from drinking.”
According to ThinkProgress.org, a link provided by one of Looney’s staff members, 429 inmates in a Charleston, W.Va., jail were not provided with enough potable drinking water after a chemical spill in the area in January 2014.
One particularly divisive issue during this year’s failed legislative session involved extending workers compensation benefits to firefighters with any of a long list of cancers. While CCM and CBIA found common ground in opposing the measure, some labor groups rallied all session long for its passage.
At Monday’s press conference, Pelletier referenced the topic as one that might be well-served by discussion at the summit. Since ailing firefighters may be unable to work, she said the “quality of life” issue has direct implications on the economy.
But that argument may be a hard sell for municipal leaders, who cite the cost of past heart and hypertension claims.
Still, there are other topics the three groups said they might be more likely to agree upon. One of them is transportation.
“Nobody wants to sit on a highway in Fairfield County or anywhere else for an hour to get to work. That doesn’t help the community, that does not help business, and that certainly does not help the worker,” Pelletier said.
According to Brennan, opening lines of communication can only improve the state’s economic situation. “To me it’s more the beginning of a dialogue, and if things do come out of it, great, but if not, at least we’re planting the seeds to be able to find some common areas going forward,” he said.
The Project B.E.S.T. (Bringing Every Stakeholder Together) Summit will be held Nov. 12 and 13 at Water’s Edge Resort and Spa in Westbrook.