Southington officials want police at disabilities commission meetings

SOUTHINGTON — A police officer and a town attorney will attend the disabilities commission meeting next month following a heated meeting two weeks ago.

Town leaders want to ensure order and safety after a meeting earlier this month where a member of the public and the commission chairwoman shouted at each other, ending the meeting early.

The Commission for Persons with Disabilities holds meetings at the Police Station on Lazy Lane.

“I am very concerned about the safety of that commission,” said Victoria Triano, a Republican and council chairwoman. “We’re going to continue with a police presence at the meetings until we have an orderly meeting.”

Jack Perry, a Democratic councilor, said the disabilities commission meeting was ended without a formal vote. He and other Democrats on the council requested the town attorney or assistant town attorney attend the meetings to ensure the rules are followed.

“Not indefinitely, just for the next few meetings to get that commission back on track,” said Chris Palmieri, a council Democrat.

Yelling match

Town residents have been looking for the disabilities commission to take more action on bringing public transportation options to town. Several residents spoke about the topic during the commission’s Sept. 13 meeting, including Thomas Catricala.

Democrats had nominated him to be on the disabilities commission earlier this year but his appointment was rejected by Republicans, citing his online criticism of commission members. Triano said she believed it’d be difficult for him to work with existing commission members.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, Catricala and commission chairwoman Melissa Lapila, a Republican, were yelling back and forth, according to commission secretary and Democrat Gail Lessard. Lapila ended the meeting “abruptly,” Lessard said.

It was Lessard’s third meeting and she hoped things would improve.

“I’ve been in numerous meetings that have gotten heated. But I’ve learned you can’t keep firing back,” she said.

Lapila didn’t see a need for attorneys at the commission meetings.

“The meeting was run very well up until the member of the public was inappropriate,” she said. “He was the offender.”

Catricala couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. He spoke at Monday’s council meeting on the need for transportation and said commission members interrupt or contradict speakers from the public during meetings.

“Every resident who wanted to speak, they were cut off, argued with or shut down,” Catricala said.

His concerns were echoed by another speaker at the council meeting, Regina Coviello, who also attended the commission meeting. She cited side conversations, gossip and inappropriate and false statements by commission members.

“Every speaker that spoke, every one of us who got up there, someone had to interrupt,” Coviello said.

Deputy Police Chief William Palmieri said no charges were filed but that an officer would attend future commission meetings based on Triano’s request.

Transportation a recurring issue

Creating public transportation, and the accompanying para transit that would benefit disabled residents, has been a goal of some residents for years. While she supports the effort, Lapila said it’s a matter for state officials and other groups much more than the disabilities commission. She said the commission’s work is being “overshadowed” by the transportation debate.

“We are a commission for persons with disabilities. We are not a transportation commission. While we absolutely support a bus system coming to town, it’s out of our purview until the state comes in and allows us access to a city bus for para transit,” Lapila said. “My meetings have turned into transportation meetings … Everything is very transportation focused.”

Lessard is also part of a group that’s trying to bring public transportation to Southington. She believes the disabilities commission support would be “nice” but hardly vital.

“It’s not going to be the beginning and the end,” Lessard said.

She did see members of the public getting frustrated with opposition from commission members on the topic, however.

Resignations and vacancies

In February, the council appointed four people to fill vacancies on the disabilities commission.

Two Democrats, one unaffiliated and one Republican had resigned. Democrats resigning from the board cited conflict with Republican leadership.

The commission is tasked with advocacy and support for the local disabled community. A Democrat who resigned said some members weren’t abiding by the group’s mission.

The council appointed two Republicans and then moved on to the Democratic appointment. Republicans voted against the first Democratic candidate, Catricala. Republicans supported the second candidate Democrats put forward, Lessard.

There remains a vacancy on the nine-member commission. Council Republicans, who hold a majority, outvoted Democrats Monday night in tabling an appointment for the commission vacancy. No further discussion on filing the vacancy took place.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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