SOUTHINGTON — Democrats and some Republicans took leadership of committees following appointments by the Town Council chairman last week.
Democrats hold five of the nine council seats after gains in November’s elections, and committee appointments are the purview of Town Council Chairman Chris Palmieri. Democrats took most of the top spots, but Palmieri said he also appointed five former Republican councilors to committees, three of whom are chairs or vice chairs.
“I did hear consistently (during the election) people wanting both parties to work together, the boards to work together,” he said.
He also restarted a committee compiled of the chairs of the other boards and commissions, and ended the Economic Development Strike Committee. The strike committee’s work will go to town staff who are able to work quickly with developers or businesses, and councilors will instead receive quarterly updates from Lou Perillo, the town’s economic development coordinator.
“The piece of that, that was working really well is kept intact,” Palmieri said.
Former council chairman Michael Riccio, a Republican, criticized the decision, saying the strike committee had helped bring Turning Earth and Quantum Biopower to town, established breakfast and lunch seminars with the Greater Southington Chamber of Commerce for local business owners, and formulated a plan to market land for a sports complex.
“I don’t think economic development is their focus at all,” Riccio said of Democrats. “That’s not their focus.”
The strike committee met during the afternoon, which Palmieri said wasn’t convenient for residents. He also said there wasn’t always enough work for the group.
Lou Perillo, the town’s economic development coordinator, said the strike committee started as a fast-acting group that would give guidance to businesses looking to establish in Southington. It then morphed into regular meetings, some of which had been cancelled he said.
Town staff, such as Perillo and planning department leaders, still meet with interested businesses and accomplish the goals of the strike committee.
Perillo said the strike committee was important in working with Quantum Biopower, a food waste-to-energy plant, and gathering town leaders helped answer a host of questions about the company, which started operations last year.
Palmieri appointed himself as chairman of the Apple Harvest Festival Committee, a position he held for a decade until he was removed by Riccio two years ago and replaced with a Republican.
In 2015, Riccio said it was time to give others a turn leading the committee and that the town’s signature festival could use new ideas. Palmieri, at the time co-chair with Republican Tom Lombardi, was angered by the decision.
The committee of the chairs started under former council chair Ed Pocock III, a Republican. Palmieri, who appointed Pocock as co-chair of the farm heritage committee, said he intends to increase communication between the leaders of the town’s key boards and commissions.
The council appointed Democratic Councilor Dawn Miceli to lead the open space acquisition committee. Council Democrat John Barry is vice chairman. Riccio was also named to the committee.
Miceli said she’s wanted to lead the committee for years and plans to “be more aggressive and motivated” about acquiring open space.
Cheryl Lounsbury, a former council Republican who like Pocock didn’t run for reelection this November, was appointed to chair the ordinance review committee. She’d held the position in the previous term and had battled other Republicans, including Riccio, over proposed changes to the town’s ethics code.
Paul Champagne, a Republican who lost his council reelection bid this November, remained chairman of the Calendar House building committee.