Charter, counsel and clarity

Meriden Mayor Manny Santos says it’s personal. Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn says it’s a matter of principle. Santos says that Quinn simply wants to save his job. Quinn says that Santos wants to thwart the City Charter and a longstanding tradition.

A Superior Court judge ruled last month that Quinn is not entitled to hold his position, because the City Council reappointed him improperly, without a recommendation from the mayor. Quinn holds that the judge is wrong; that the City Charter, as revised, leaves that appointment to the council alone. The council voted to appeal the court’s ruling, but the mayor vetoed that decision.

Will the majority Democrats be able to marshal the eight votes needed to overturn the Republican mayor’s veto? If not, Quinn says he’s prepared to file his own appeal, if necessary at his own expense. Will the Appellate Court overturn the Superior Court’s ruling? Only time will tell.

A reasonable person might very well come down on either side of this question — because the charter doesn’t make it crystal clear. Therefore, an appeal should go through. The charter’s meaning needs to be clarified, because the judge didn’t do so. This is the city’s problem, though; Quinn didn’t create it and he shouldn’t have to pay for it.

Santos says that with his veto he was simply trying to save the taxpayers of Meriden from “reckless” spending on an appeal at a time when families are struggling and the city’s cupboard is pretty bare. Other council appointments, to various boards and commissions, have also been successfully challenged, in lawsuits that will cost the city a substantial amount, but the city is not appealing those decisions. Santos was not a party to the suits and he “may or may not” have known any of them were coming, but many people take that statement with at least a grain of salt, especially since he expressed a desire to replace Quinn even before taking office.

Quinn insists that the planned appeal of the corporation counsel ruling is not about “politics” but about carrying out “the will of the people” as expressed in the charter. And yet, on the evening of last Dec. 2, the former mayor, Michael Rohde — his fellow Democrat, instead of the new mayor, Santos, a Republican — was allowed to nominate people to boards and commissions. Was that “the will of the people”? A judge has ruled otherwise.

Taking the oath in the morning was a crafty move by Santos — some would say too crafty — but that doesn’t change one word of the charter. It’s simply a fact that Santos was the mayor of Meriden at the moment when another person, the by-then-former mayor, was allowed to exercise a power that belongs to the mayor.

A reasonable person might be honestly confused as to how a corporation counsel is supposed to be named, but the charter is clear that the power to recommend people for those other positions belongs to the mayor. So we have to wonder: With all the expertise in the room that night, and with Santos already sworn in, was there no one on hand — no one among those who should be most familiar with the City Charter — who could have stood up and asked whether the proceedings were in line with that charter?

Certainly tradition was at play here, and one time-honored tradition is that people tend to assume that the way they’ve always done things is the right way. We are, after all, creatures of habit, and in groups we often seem to operate on automatic pilot.

But we have to ask whether someone shouldn’t have taken the wheel that night and put the meeting back on a proper course.

Santos is a new figure on the political scene, who is only beginning to establish his name. Quinn is a familiar face, with a proven ability to work with people of other political parties. Since the storm and stress of the first weeks of his administration, Santos has offered an olive branch by nominating four Democrats.

It would be good to see that olive branch accepted.



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