MERIDEN — Mayor Manny Santos’ last round of recommendations for appointments to boards and commissions sparked a heated City Council debate. In the end, three of the names put forth by Santos were rejected in a party line vote.
Santos will propose three new names for seats on three boards and commissions at Monday’s council meeting. He has also recommended seven additional people for new appointments or for reappointments to other boards and commissions.
Because some of the members have served for long periods of time and are in prominent roles, Santos has faced scrutiny. Still, Santos said it is his prerogative to make the recommendations and will continue to do so based on his goals.
“One of the areas I have of great influence...are appointments to boards and commissions,” Santos said. “If any individual who I believe is not in line with my objectives, they will not be reappointed.”
The recommendations include Richard Fuqua, a Republican, to be added to the Building Code Board of Appeals in place of Chairman William Kroll. Kroll, a Democrat, is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Republican Town Committee members that challenges his appointment to the Municipal Pension Board last December. The Democratic majority of the council rejected Santos’ first nomination, Republican Thomas Fitzgibbons.
Republican David White, who has served on the Planning Commission in recent years, was also rejected by the Democratic majority at the last meeting. Santos recommended Republican John Biafore take his place. Biafore is a plaintiff in a separate lawsuit against Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn, which challenges Quinn’s appointment to the position and argues that, under the City Charter, corporation counsel should be a mayoral, not City Council, appointment. Biafore is also the brother-in-law of City Councilor Lenny Rich and a Republican Town Committee member.
Santos originally recommended replacing Bruce Burchsted, a Democrat on the Zoning Board of Appeals, with Justino Sampaio, a volunteer on Santos’ campaign last year. After the City Council rejected Sampaio, Santos nominated Jack Lugli, a Republican, to take Burchsted’s place.
Deputy Majority Leader Cathy Battista said she is “hoping to work these things out,” but had concerns.
“It’s important for us to know why people aren’t being reappointed,” she said. “You can’t just change things for the sake of change. If the person is doing a good job I think it makes sense to keep them.”
If any of the three new names are rejected, Santos will have an opportunity to put a new round of names forward. If rejected again, the council will get a chance to choose from the three names put forward for each board and commission. Whether or not the new names will be rejected, Santos said he is unsure.
“Some of (the councilors), I don’t believe they’ll have any issues with,” he said. “I don’t know though, it’s hard to say. I will just do what I have to do and put the names forward.”
Minority Leader Dan Brunet, a Republican, said he has reviewed the names, but is “still digesting it.”
“It’s a little complicated being the second round of recommendations for those three (boards and commissions),” Brunet said. “I expect the Democrats to reject this round. ... I’m not sure how they feel about those individuals, but I know there is still a desire to have the original people who were reappointed.”
At the last meeting, Dwight Needels, a Democrat, was left wondering about his status on two boards: the Flood Control Implementation Agency and the Conservation Commission. But Santos has now recommended Needels, who chairs the city’s flood control efforts, be reappointed. Another Democrat, Joseph Shiels, will fill Needels’ seat on the Conservation Commission, which Needels said he had no issue with.
Santos has recommended replacing Public Utilities Commission Chairman Raymond Gradwell with Scott Poryanda. Poryanda, an unaffiliated voter, is an engineer with Connecticut Consulting Engineers. Gradwell is among a handful of board or commission members who continued to serve after their terms expired because no action was taken to fill their roles or reappoint them.
Santos said each of his choices was recommended to him or approached him about vacancies and he was encouraged by interest.