By Matt Zabierek
WALLINGFORD — The Town Council Tuesday approved changes to its rules of procedure, including a change that will shorten public comment periods for individual agenda items by 10 minutes.
The council voted to change the amount of time the public has to comment on a single agenda item from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. Despite the change, Republican Chairman Vincent Cervoni said the chair still has discretion to extend public comment if needed.
Cervoni said he would extend the limit in “the rare instance that a certain agenda item does attract an obviously large crowd.” Public comment periods for an agenda item rarely exceed 20 minutes, but other councilors agreed that Cervoni has been flexible in the past when an agenda item attracts a larger number of people who wish to speak.
Democrat Jason Zandri questioned whether the change could “take away from the public’s ability to discuss” items that are important to them.
Zandri said he’s “always very hesitant to support something that might even have the specter of limiting public input,” but he voted to approve the change because Cervoni and Tom Laffin, the council’s vice chairman, have given the public more time when needed in the past.
The council held a workshop earlier this month to discuss possible changes to its rules of procedure before voting to adopt the changes Tuesday. The council holds a workshop at the beginning of every two-year term to discuss possible changes to its procedural rules.
Some changes supported by the majority of councilors at the workshop were ultimately rejected Tuesday, including an amendment that would have required the council to discuss the town’s monthly financial report at the first meeting of each month.
The change would have created a standing agenda item for the council to discuss a 100-page financial report the administration provides to councilors each month. The report shows where the town stands so far in the fiscal year, including how much of each line item has been expended.
Republican Councilor Joe Marrone proposed the monthly discussion, arguing that the council does not discuss the town’s finances often enough.
“We need to start regularly talking about the budget,” Marrone said. “Outside of the budget hearings, we spend very little time talking about money.”
The council already receives a copy of the monthly financial report from the administration,each month.
Councilors who opposed having the monthly discussion argued that if a councilor has a question or concern about something in the monthly report, they can request it be added to a meeting agenda.
“I don’t think there’s a need for a once-a-month standalone item,” Cervoni said.
Republican John LeTourneau also pointed out that the monthly financial report is also available for residents to view in the town clerk’s office if they wish to review it and ask questions.
Marrone’s proposal for a monthly discussion of the financial report was supported by a vote of 6-1 at the workshop, however, the change didn’t get enough support to move to a vote Tuesday. Three of the councilors who supported the change at the workshop, Republicans Craig Fishbein, Chris Shortell and Marrone, were not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.