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Mayor opts not to veto choice for city lawyer

MERIDEN — Mayor Manny Santos did not exercise his veto power over the City Council’s recent decision to reappoint Michael Quinn as corporation counsel, the city’s chief legal adviser.

Santos had until Monday to veto the resolution, which passed Dec. 2 by an 8-4 margin. Santos disagreed with the appointment and has said that, while the City Council has the power to appoint a corporation counsel, it can only act on a recommendation from the mayor.

Santos indicated during a phone interview Monday afternoon that he would not veto the resolution, but “only because I don’t have the votes.”

The veto would likely have been overidden by the 12-member council since the resolution passed by a two-thirds majority.

With his own position at stake, Quinn had ruled that the charter empowers the City Council to appoint a corporation counsel independent of the mayor. A city-hired attorney gave an opinion similar to Quinn’s, adding, however, that Santos does have veto power should he choose to use it.

Last month, Santos told Quinn that he would no longer be needed once Santos’ term began Dec. 2. Quinn informed Santos that he does not have that power, which set off a debate over the charter. Santos argued at last week’s City Council meeting that his power to recommend appointments extended to the position of corporation counsel. He ruled council Democrats out of order for making a motion to reappoint Quinn, but the decision was appealed and the reappointment eventually passed.

In addition to providing legal opinions to the city, the corporation counsel oversees the Law Department. The positions pays $30,000 a year.

Santos, a Republican, had considered using the veto power and some had assumed he would because of his stance. The City Charter gives the mayor the power to veto “any ordinance, legislative resolution, or appropriation adopted by the City Council by returning the same to the City Council within seven calendar days following the adoption ...” To override, the council would need a two-thirds majority at a special meeting or the next regularly scheduled meeting.

The seven-member Democratic majority, as well as Republican Kevin Scarpati, supported Quinn, a Democrat. The remaining two Republicans and two We the People members opposed the appointment.

“Councilor Scarpati voted with the majority so unless he changed his vote, they have the votes to override the veto, so it’s unlikely,” Santos said.

Though Scarpati had not spoken with Santos about the vote, he said Santos was correct in assuming his vote would not change.

“I’ve been on the council two years and not once ever questioned a decision Mike Quinn has made,” Scarpati said. “I never looked at an opinion he gave from a political stance and never felt he gave one from a political stance. Anyone I’ve talked to on the council has said Quinn is a stand-up guy and does what is right.”

Scarpati’s vote upset some members of the crowd last Monday, in addition to members of the minority parties, including Councilor Walter A. Shamock, of We the People.

“You have to back (Santos),” Shamock said. “It’s the first thing the mayor does and he votes against him. I don’t get him ... Don’t do something detrimental to him in his first act.”

Democratic Councilor Steven Iovanna said he didn’t expect a veto because of the way the vote was divided, but was surprised by the initial dissent.

I think if you had asked six months ago what people thought of Mike Quinn, they’d say that he was doing a great job,” Iovanna said. “I think some people changed their tune when the mayor got elected ... (Quinn) does a great job; he’s not a partisan guy.”

Santos said that he is “still investigating” possible legal action and remains confident that the mayor has broader authority under the Charter.

“I’m disappointed so many councilors read, or supposedly have read the Charter,” Santos said, “and concluded the mayor does not have appointment powers.” 203-317-2266 Twitter: @DanBrechlinRJ

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