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Town Council delegates supervision of fire marshal

WALLINGFORD — Supervision of the fire marshal is no longer the responsibility of the Town Council.

The council voted 7-1 Tuesday to delegate supervision of the fire marshal to the Department of Fire Services and acting Fire Chief Richard Heidgerd.

“As I think about what is entailed in supervising an office like the fire marshals, it’s better supervised by someone that has related expertise,” Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni, a Republican, said during the meeting.

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, voted against the motion, citing concerns about the charter.

“I guess you could open the floodgates here,” Fishbein said.

Because the charter gives the council power to appoint or remove the fire marshal, it’s implied that the council is supposed to supervise the fire marshal, Fishbein said. By delegating the council’s supervision, the charter is being changed, he said.

“Philosophically I can’t support that,” Fishbein said.

By supporting the delegation of supervision, the council is “totally walking all over the document that created this government,” Fishbein said, regarding the charter. “I don’t know how this body can do that.”

If the charter is to be changed, a charter revision process needs to be initiated, Fishbein said, but the public has already spoken. A change in the charter that would have given the fire chief supervision and appointment power wasn’t approved as part of an eight-part charter revision question brought before residents in 2009.

But Town Attorney Gerald Farrell said that in his opinion, the delegation is valid and would not violate charter, as long as the council can revoke the supervision power at any time.

Town Councilor Vincent Testa, a Democrat, said the delegation doesn’t violate charter in his opinion. Testa voted to approve the delegation, but did express concerns.

“Perhaps a scenario occurs when investigation of a fire could involve investigation of how the fire is handled by the Fire Department ... That might then become difficult,” Testa said.

Town Councilor Bob Parisi, a Republican, called the delegation “very logical.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the charter isn’t being changed. The delegation is revocable, and the council still maintains appointment and removal power over the position.

“If there’s a change of mind, there can be a special meeting at the end of this week” to change the delegation, Dickinson said. “It’s not permanent.”

In other action, officials from the Center Street Cemetery Association presented plans for a proposed building. While the town owns the cemetery, an agreement stipulates that the association maintains it. The association receives about $70,000 from the town annually. Last year, the town purchased 58 and 60 Prince St. for future use by the cemetery. The association proposes to demolish two homes on the property and build a garage, which would also include an office, meeting room and bathroom.

“It’s literally a big box,” Steve Lazarus, a member of the association, said of the proposed building.

Styled after a Victorian barn, the building would be aesthetically pleasing, yet inexpensive because of its simplicity, he said.

“It’s our intention that the building be durable, as a municipal building should be,” Lazarus said.

Plans call for two garage doors, he said. The garage area will be 12 feet in height to accommodate equipment used to maintain the cemetery. There is a maintenance facility at one corner of the cemetery, but it is more than 100 years old and far too small, Center Street Cemetery Association President Peter Gouveia said.

To build the proposed barn, the association would need an appropriation from the council. Cost estimates were discussed in executive session so as to “not tip our hats” in the public bidding process, Gouveia said.

Fishbein was the only councilor to vote against the motion to enter the closed session. He said he felt the association isn’t eligible because it is not a town agency. Farrell disagreed, and stated that since the town is funding the building, discussions were eligible for exemption from the public record. Fishbein said this meant the association is being ruled as an official town agency, but Farrell disagreed. (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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