It's really hard to stand out as incompetent while running the city of Hartford, because almost everybody who tried to do it for the past 40 years has been either a knave, a genial idiot, an ill-tempered goose or some chimera-like combination of all three.
You can stand out linguistically, like Dominick DeLucco, mayor in the mid-1950s and briefly in the 1960s who used to say things like, "I'm going through this with a fine tooth and a comb," but when it comes to pointing the city at the nearest ditch and stepping on the gas, you're going to face stiff competition.
Even so, one era exudes a special sickly glow. By the end of it, the city was facing a $47.4 million budget deficit. The always-defective police department was in such a tailspin that a federal judge appointed a special master to oversee it.
And when I say tailspin … the city paid $570,000 to get rid of a defective police chief who had gone on eternal sick leave and replaced him with an acting police chief who had to be pushed out after a property room scandal and replaced her with an acting chief who was suspended for falsifying an accident report.
Finally, a fourth police chief showed up and his car was egged on his first day. By police officers! (This all happened in a single year.) The throwers were not punished, possibly because, compared to their usual activities, egging seemed like midnight basketball. During roughly the same year, seven different officers were convicted of on-duty sex crimes.
The public works director declared a snow emergency, ordered his workers to stay on duty and went to a women's basketball game with a ticket provided by CL&P. The fire chief falsified his time card.
I'm just hitting a few low points. The cumulative effect was to make city leaders want to go out and get drunk, which they attempted to do at Carbone's, running up a $300 tab on the taxpayer's cuff for flagons of wine, booze, beer and something called a Slippery Nipple.
The city manager who presided over all this was Saundra Kee Borges, who then retired at the age of 42 with a $72,000 pension and a $41,600 performance bonus. Kee Borges accomplished this feat partly through an insane city rule that allowed her to add a mythical year of service for every 20 unused sick days. A robust person, she added four years. The previous year, she received a mildly controversial raise and was stoutly defended by councilwoman Elizabeth Horton Sheff, who said, "She didn't do a horrible job."
This is the person whom the current Mayor Pedro Segarra saw fit to bring back for essentially the same job. While back in a provisional role, she attended a second Feast of Trimalchio, this time hosted by Segarra on New Year's Eve at a downtown restaurant. Seven hundred dollars' worth of oysters, caviar and rack of lamb wound up on a city credit card. The drinks were paid for privately. If nothing else, this shows that in 12 years' time, city officials have learned to get a little food in their stomachs before tying on a snootful.
Kee Borges will be sent packing, although we now know that is no guarantee of her permanent disappearance. She may be a kind of managerial cicada, periodically wakened from her burrow by the aroma of imbalanced budgets and warm, free food.
Maybe I'm being monstrously unfair, but I can't fathom why Segarra, beholding her, did not picture a pageant sash reading "Ms. Everything You Want to Avoid."
Taking over the Kee Borges job is Albert Ilg, for 32 years the Windsor town manger and, weirdly enough, the guy who took over in Hartford the last time Kee Borges departed. In a lot of places, he might be just a guy. In Hartford, he is basically Obi Wan Kenobi and Doug Flutie crammed into a rumpled suit.
This whole debacle — and several associated sub-debacles — has re-energized the chronic knock against Segarra: that he is essentially George Athanson II, a likable goodwill ambassador who prefers the trappings of office to — as we used to say here — going through things with a fine tooth and a comb.