Leader of Meriden Finance, ARPA panels steps down due to medical leave

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MERIDEN — The City Council’s Finance Committee and American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee both received new appointments while the now former chairperson of both those committees is out on medical leave. 

According to a memo to the council dated Feb. 3, Mayor Kevin Scarpati recommended Democratic City Councilor Krystle Blake be appointed to fill council colleague Yvette Cortez’s seat on the American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee.

In a separate memo also dated Feb. 3, Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks named councilor Nicole Tomassetti as the new chairperson of the Finance Committee. Jelks named fellow Democrat Bruce A. Fontanella as the committee’s new vice chairperson. 

Until the recent appointments, Cortez held the finance chairperson seat. Tomassetti served as the committee’s vice chairperson.

Fontanella was not a sitting member of finance during the current council term until being named as vice chairperson. 

The ARPA Committee was scheduled to elect a new chairperson during its meeting on Monday.

However, that meeting was canceled due to weather conditions. 

Cortez is currently on leave under the Family Medical Leave Act due to an unspecified medical condition, and expected to return to her elected role by early April, Cortez and local Democrats confirmed. 

That leave began last fall. Minutes from council and committee meetings showed that the most recent meeting attended by Cortez was the council’s Sept. 19 meeting. 

Cortez’s tenure on the council began in July 2020, when she was appointed to the Area 1 seat that became vacant upon the resignation of former Democratic City Councilor Miguel Castro.

Cortez was elected to her first full term in November 2021. 

Cortez, in addition to her role on the council, is a state employee. 

In a letter Cortez drafted to Area 1 constituents, the councilor wrote, “As I’ve shared in previous letters, I have a chronic health condition that rendered me temporarily unable to perform my Council duties. I am excited to share that I will resume my duties full time, effective 4.1.23. 

“Through my Council colleagues I have continued to stay abreast of most Council actions. I will continue to review Council and Committee meetings to ensure a seamless return,” the letter continued. 

“This experience has strengthened my resolve toward ending injustice in our community. I recognize the privileges I have, such as access to quality healthcare and affordable medication, as well as legal protections against retaliation from my employer when my disability limits my ability to perform professional duties. I know that I, and my children, would likely be in a very different situation without those privileges. I will continue to use my position as City Councilor to advocate for universal justice for all the residents of our city. I trust that in solidarity we can achieve that,” Cortez wrote. “Thank you to all who have supported me during this challenging time. I am grateful to have healed and am eager to continue to work.”

During the public comment portion of the Feb. 21 City Council meeting, Meriden Republican Town Chairwoman Elain Cariati called on Cortez to resign, due to what she described as “re-occurring absence.”

“With consecutive absence[s] of five months, how is an elected representative supposed to appropriately serve, represent, and most importantly support the needs of their voters? If she is not attending a council meeting, as chair of both finance and ARPA, it calls into question how she is able to efficiently run those boards,” Cariati continued, stating that Area 1 is only being partially represented. 

Cariati cited the role of the council as outlined on the city of Meriden’s website.

Cariati noted the council holds “exclusive legislative power” for the city.

That includes the authority to enact, amend and repeal local ordinances.

“Not serving or attending meetings is a failure to meet these commitments,” Cariati stated. 

Mildred Torres-Ferguson, Meriden Democratic town chair, in a recent email to the Record-Journal, responded to Cariati’s statement, saying, “I think it’s totally inappropriate that Mrs Cariati made Yvette’s medical leave the focus of her comments at a City Council meeting. We should respect Councilor Cortez’s privacy during this time.”

Torres-Ferguson prefaced her response by stating, “Councilor Cortez has been unable to attend council meetings due to a medical condition which she’s had to make her priority. We expect her to resume her normal schedule soon.”

Jelks, the majority leader, told the Record-Journal in a separate message, her colleague’s voice on the council has been missed during her absence.

“Though I do speak with my council colleague regularly, I do want to publicly say that I am excitedly awaiting Councilor Cortez’s return to City Council as soon as she can join us!” Jelks wrote.

“Her passionate service has been greatly missed during her medical leave, but I certainly appreciate that we live in a state that prioritizes health and wellness for individuals and families to care for themselves when needed — without stigma and potential loss of employment,” the majority leader continued.  



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