Meriden’s Republican Mayor Manny Santos claimed he was going to leave politics out of the appointment process. But as with many of his actions since being elected in an upset over Democrat Mike Rohde this past November, it’s not really clear what Santos is doing or where his loyalties reside, although I think I have an idea.
He surprised city councilors at the Feb. 20 meeting by distributing his list of recommendations for board and committee appointments even though it wasn’t on the agenda. The list included 23 people Santos recommended for reappointment, though he admits not having met some of them.
I guess that’s leaving politics out of the process.
But the names he does know include political supporters like Thomas Fitzgibbons, a Republican Town Committee nominee, and Justino Sampaio, who worked on his campaign. It just so happens Sampaio is replacing Bruce Burchsted, a Democrat on the Zoning Board of Appeals, while Fitzgibbons replaces Bill Kroll, a Democrat on the Building Code Board of Appeals.
So that would be the exact opposite of leaving politics out of the process.
Santos has the right to recommend anyone he wants – these are political appointments after all – but he loses credibility and insults voters’ intelligence by claiming there are no politics involved. At least under the normal system there’s some collaboration and compromise since local party leaders submit lists of interested candidates for the mayor’s consideration.
What system is Santos using?
Considering its title “Our idea is better,” an op-ed piece the mayor wrote in late January was surprisingly devoid of any real ideas for improving the city. (I wonder who the apolitical mayor meant by “our.”) He talked about having an open door to anyone, not just people with political connections.
“I have made my office accessible to anyone who wants to talk with me, even those that disagree with my viewpoints. I continue to consult with everyone, not just a select few,” he wrote.
But the mayor’s actions suggest his door is really open to the Carabetta Companies and the likes of former city planner Bijan Bahramian, who often touts his connections to the Carabettas. Although the City Charter gives him no official say in matters of local zoning, Santos wrote a memo in January asking city councilors to reconsider a zoning amendment that would allow the Meriden Housing Authority to build a community center as part of improvements to its Yale Acres housing complex. He said he had been approached by Bahramian with concerns that the change discriminated against for-profit housing developers like the Carabettas since it only allowed community centers in complexes owned by non-profit entities. Santos said he was worried the Carabettas might sue. Councilors were right to ignore Santos’ request and Joseph F. Carabetta issued a statement saying his firm wouldn’t contest the amendment. But late last month, the Carabetta Companies did get a judge’s approval to intervene in support of two lawsuits challenging the process used for appointing members of council committees and boards and commissions. The suits, filed by members of the Republican and We The People town committees, mirror Santos’ own stated concerns that previous appointments were not handled in compliance with the charter, although Santos claims he had no involvement in the costly, counterproductive litigation.
Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly referred to Thomas Fitzgibbons as a Republican Town Committee member.