Middletown Media Asleep at the Switch? Mayoral Candidate has a Slew of Conflicts

The good people of the great city of Middletown will again go to the polls and choose a mayor this fall. Between now and then, they will rely on local media to keep them informed on the candidates and the issues. It seems, at least up until now, outlets like the Middletown Press have had little interest in doing so. Case in point: The multitude of conflicts Republican candidate Sandra Russo-Driska would face if elected.

Mrs. Russo-Driska was a valued city employee for more than 30 years. Like other concerned citizens, she’s presumably interested in the future of Middletown. Unlike other concerned citizens, she took a $42,000 early retirement incentive two years ago. She also plans to collect her $80,000 a-year city pension. Add in more than $85,000 in salary as mayor and it would make for the mother-of-all “double dips.” In fact, it would be a “triple dip.” The press should be asking whether she intends to collect all that scratch and if her interest in the office isn’t financial.

Middletown mayoral candidate Sandra Russo-Driska
Middletown mayoral candidate Sandra Russo-Driska

If Mrs. Russo-Driska’s potential Middletown-municipal-money hat trick isn’t bad enough, there’s the reality that she would be her husband’s boss if she’s elected. Bruce Driska is the well-regarded Deputy Director of the Department of Planning for the city. How would this square with ethics laws? How would Mrs. Driska handle this? Would she recuse herself from all city planning decisions? That’s a whole lot of recusals. Again, these are questions the Mid-Press should be asking.

When Mrs. Driska left city employ in 2013 (with the $42,000 incentive in the bank), she started a local business. The Press ran a nice feature on her new boutique, reporting that “she is thrilled to ‘live a dream’ and to ‘take what I love doing and put it into a career that, hopefully, I can share with other people.’” Has she now changed her career “dream job” to be that of mayor? Will she keep her boutique? The city charter mandates the office of mayor be a fulltime position. Further, it would seem running a business while mayor would be an unacceptable conflict under the code of ethics.

The Hanging Shad usually concentrates on state issues in Connecticut and Massachusetts. But I also keep an eye on and report about municipal elections such as those in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury and Middletown. In addition, holding the media’s feet to the fire and keeping them accountable for covering the communities they claim to cover is an interest of mine (I am trained as a journalist and was a hard-news reporter for more than a decade).

The Middletown Press is so far not living up to its commitment to keep its readers informed. It (glowingly) reported on Mrs. Russo-Driska’s retirement, her intention to open a local business, even the relocating of the business to Main St. in addition to her announcement to seek the office of mayor. Yet it’s been silent (so far) on the questions of the conflicts she would have if elected.

The people of Middletown deserve better.