The judge has spoken: Meriden’s City Charter is “clear and unambiguous” about how certain appointments are to be made; but the City Council didn’t follow those rules last December; therefore, several of those appointments are invalid.
Judge Jack W. Fischer ruled that appointments to four city boards and committees were not handled correctly because those named were recommended by the former mayor, Democrat Michael Rohde, not by the mayor, Republican Manny Santos — who, in a move that turned out to be shrewd, if untraditional, had taken the oath in the morning, before the Council made its recommendations later that day.
Council Democrats argued that they were simply doing things the way things had long been done — that is, the way things had been done whenever one Democratic mayor was handing off to another Democratic mayor. Santos, the surprise winner from a minority party, called it a “power grab.”
Thus, the appointments of John Benigni to the School Building Committee, David Salafia to the Building Code Board of Appeals, Philip Mangiaracina to the Human Rights Advisory Board and William Kroll to the Municipal Pension Board are considered invalid. Fischer also ruled that Michael Quinn is not the city’s corporation counsel, because the Council reappointed him without Santos’ recommendation.
While Santos presumably is pleased with this outcome, the suits were filed by Republican Town Committee members Anna Neumon and Martin Horsky, and by We the People Chairwoman Lois DeMayo and Jack Biafore, who now is a member of the Republican Town Committee. Santos also received a pro bono outside opinion from prominent Republican Martha Dean.
Attorney Craig Fishbein, who represented the plaintiffs in the two lawsuits, called the defendants’ arguments “wrong, just plain wrong,” and spoke of “the illegal usurpation” of power.
Santos, speaking outside City Hall Thursday, did use the words “power grab” but also said he didn’t want any gloating.
The Democrats have a point if they disagree with the mayor on principle, or fear that some of Santos’ nominees may lack expertise, but the argument we’ve been hearing since Dec. 2 — that the Council’s Democratic majority was just doing things the way they’ve always been done — is certainly very weak. Although it’s not clear whether any appeals will be filed, on Thursday Quinn said he was keeping that option open.
“I hope they won’t waste any more time and money filing an appeal,” Santos said. But the same argument was made against the initial lawsuits, so that issue may come out as a draw.
Now it’s time for all three parties to put antagonisms aside — at least until the next election — and concentrate on doing the people’s business.