Friday, August 29 – Berlin Could Have Three-Way Race For Mayor

BERLIN – The Berlin mayoral race could become a three-way contest if Damian Preziosi decides to enter the fray.

Preziosi resigned from the Berlin Utilities Commission (BUC) this week, citing the lack of respect for the BUC by the town government.

“Does it make a lot of sense to be racking my brains over issues when the recommendations won’t get to the Mayor and Town Council or fall on deaf ears?” Preziosi said.

Instead of leaving public service entirely, Preziosi is having thoughts about running for office, hoping to correct what he calls systemic problems in the running of the town, particularly the electric utility.

“It’s something that has crossed my mind,” Preziosi said, adding that he is aware of the Sept. 8 deadline to file for the mayoral race.

Preziosi would otherwise have to wait for the 2010 election season to run for town office, since Council member Dean Burrell, who holds the district four council seat, is not up for re-election for two years. If Burrell were to step down for any reason, Preziosi said, he would definitely file to run for that seat.

The mayoral race already boasts two contenders, interim Mayor Gee Williams and former Mayor Rex Hailey, who lost his post to recently deceased Mayor Tom Cardinale in 2004. The 2004 Berlin mayoral election was the first contested Mayoral election in years.

Whether he runs for office or not, Preziosi believes changes need to be made to allow the BUC to do its job.

“The BUC has been like the wet noodle of citizens committees in Berlin, yet it has one of the greatest responsibilities, that is, managing the utiltities,” Preziosi said. “My resignation comes on the heels of the fact there have been a number of occasions when recommendations have been ignored by the Mayor and Town Council.”

The shining example of this negligence, Preziosi said, was the recommendation that the town of Berlin sign onto a power purchasing agreement two years ago, when power costs were low, which would have locked in a lower rate for years to come.

“We could have actually been one of the lowest in the state,” said Preziosi. Now the power cost charge to consumers is twice what it was then, with oil doubled in price, he said.

The town council chose to not pursue a purchasing agreement while it was in the midst of selling the electric system, since the prospective purchasers did not want to be tied to such a deal. The electric system sale fell through, however.

 “It gives you a sense of how impotent the BUC is,” Preziosi said. “We can talk until we’re blue in the face and they’re not required under town law to listen to us.”

Larger changes are necessary in town administration, Preziosi said. Berlin’s charter concentrates a lot of power in the hands of the mayor, which Preziosi called troublesome. That kind of concentrated power could have serious consequences for the town, if the mayor acted on his own biases or could be persuaded by a few people to act in their interests.

A town manager system that would reduce the mayor to a figurehead would be one option, Preziosi said, leaving the town to be run by professionals.

Long-term planning needs to be more of a priority, and key assets like town utilities need to be managed better, he said, and citizens need to be made more aware of the challenges facing the town. The electric utility needs to be run like a business, according to Preziosi, and like a business, must be reassessed constantly to determine if there is more value to keeping it, or selling it.