August 18, 2013 11:50AM
By Jesse Buchanan
SOUTHINGTON — Democrats are looking to take the majority on the Planning and Zoning Commission, but neither they nor the Republicans expect a bitter election.
Four seats are up for election in November, three of which are held by Republicans who control the board. Republicans cannot take any more seats due to minority party representation rules which give Democrats a minimum of two seats on the seven-member commission.
Party members and leaders say the commission is one of the least political in town despite comments by former Town Planner Mark DeVoe, who left his position last month after just eight days to return to his previous job in Plainville. DeVoe said in a July 18 email to the Plainville town manager obtained by the Record-Journal that he couldn’t work in Southington due to the political ambitions of PZC members, which he said were affecting good planning. He didn’t elaborate, and party leaders from both sides say that’s not what’s going on.
“It’s just not there,” said Brian Callahan, Southington Republican town chairman.
Republicans won a majority on the commission four years ago. Since then, Callahan said, the members have changed the perception that Southington isn’t a good place to do business.
“That’s the scuttlebutt we’ve heard over the past several years,” Callahan said. “That’s gone away.”
“It’s a more progressive board. They’re looking to work with people,” he said.
Generally, incumbents are able to win commission elections as long as voters aren’t upset about a particular issue or decision, according to Callahan. He said town residents are supportive of the current commission members.
Robert Berkmoes, Democratic Town Committee vice chairman, said his party was running candidates who were good listeners and good communicators.
“I think we have a very good slate,” Berkmoes said. “I think we can make a real difference on the composition of the board.”
Other than the party-line vote over the North Center School renovation to create the Municpal Center, he said there haven’t been too many issues that have caused division between Republicans and Democrats.
Berkmoes didn’t expect DeVoe’s comments to become a campaign issue for commissioners.
PZC Chairman Michael DelSanto, a Republican, said incumbents would have to earn their seats.
“I think my efforts over the past 12 years, especially over the past four years as chair – we’ve had a lot of accomplishments,” he said.
Republican PZC member Paul Champagne is running for Town Council. His commission seat isn’t up for election until 2015, and if elected to council the Republicans will appoint someone to fill his remaining two years.
Champagne was nominated for the council after the July commission meeting which DeVoe attended.
Champagne said he didn’t see problematic political ambitions “anywhere” on the commission.
“It’s a very stable commission,” he said.
Ryan Rogers, a Democratic commission alternate, is running for the board. While he didn’t dispute that the commission’s accomplishments over the past few years, he said some major projects in town could have been given more scrutiny. Rogers was concerned that the residential sector had grown so quickly in the past few years.
Despite some differences, Rogers said party affiliation mattered very little on the commission.
“I haven’t seen (political ambitions) get in the way,” he said.