Southington council clashes on charter, appointments, new laws

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SOUTHINGTON — Debate arose this week on a host of issues facing the Town Council, including plans to revise the town charter, enact ordinances on flags and cannabis use and fill vacancies on local boards.

Republicans, who hold a majority on the council, and Democrats clashed over the issues at a heated meeting Monday night. Here’s an overview of the decisions facing council members.

Charter revisions

Town Council Chairwoman Victoria Triano, a Republican, plans to form a charter revision committee and had the town attorney outline the procedure for doing so at Monday’s meeting. She referred to charter issues she’d like to address but didn’t specify them at the meeting.

Democrats questioned why Republicans weren’t talking about the charter changes they had in mind.

“I think we’re a council of nine. The conversation should be held among nine of us,” said Chris Palmieri, a Democratic councilor. He suggested the town reconsider minority representation rules, which determine the maximum number of members one party can have on a board.

Triano said the council will discuss charter issues at the upcoming meeting and that she didn’t want to add more items to an already full agenda. On Thursday, Triano said she didn’t want to reveal the “one or two” charter issues until the next meeting so council members could hear the issues together.

The charter question angered Jack Perry, a Democratic councilor.

“You obviously know what the intent is… This gets back to a dictatorship. This is not a democracy. Southington needs to wake up,” he said. “This is like our constitution that we’re opening up. This should not be a secret.”

Tom Lombardi, a Republican councilor, said the council doesn’t make the final decision on changing the charter.

“We don’t make the decision on anything. We put forth an issue and the voters vote at a referendum,” he said. “To call this a dictatorship is completely unacceptable.”

Alex Ricciardone, the town attorney, said the charter revision group could have at most a simple majority of members from one party. Using the example of a group comprised of 15 members, no more than eight could be Republicans.

Flag, cannabis ordinances

Republicans had two proposed ordinances on Monday’s agenda to schedule for public hearings. One limits the flags that can be flown at municipal buildings and was prompted by a court case against the City of Boston over its refusal to fly a Christian flag.

The proposed ordinance would only allow the U.S., state, town and POW/MIA flags to be flown in front of town buildings.

Paul Chaplinsky, council vice chairman and a Republican, said there’s been requests to fly a second amendment flag at town buildings. Outlining the flags that can be flown removes controversy over which flags the council would and wouldn’t allow.

Triano said the ordinance was “very simple, very clear” and could be handled by the council rather than sending it to the ordinance review committee.

The second ordinance prohibits cannabis, tobacco use and vaping on town property. Triano said this mirrors state statutes for state property.

Val DePaolo, a Democratic councilor and an attorney, said neither ordinance presented at the council meeting had the name of the councilor who proposed them. That’s a requirement under the council’s policies and procedures. She also had a host of questions about the flag ordinance, saying it needed to be more specific in its definitions.

Unlike Boston, she said Southington has only flown a handful of flags at the request of residents over the years. Those include flags for nurses, organ donors and Southington Pride which prompted objections from some residents.

“To me there’s no urgency to this,” DePaolo said.

Triano said she believed both issues could be handled by the council rather than the longer process of sending them to the ordinance review committee.

“It seems like there’s a roadblock at every turn,” she said following Monday’s meeting. “I’m comfortable that these are practical and very good ordinances. They’re certainly not political.”

Triano didn’t object to sending them to the ordinance committee.

Chaplinsky agreed to work with DePaolo on rewriting the flag ordinance. Both ordinances were tabled Monday for further review.

Council appointments

Republicans and Democrats have clashed over appointments. Republicans, who hold the majority on the council, are able to appoint a Republican majority to boards and commissions. Minority representation laws limit the number of Republicans that can be appointed. In some cases, Republicans appointed unaffiliated residents in addition to the maximum number of Republicans.

Democrats have complained they’ve been shut out of government. Republicans said voters supported their policies and objectives by giving the party a majority on every elected body in town.

During Monday’s meeting, the council appointed four people to fill recent vacancies on the Commission for Persons with Disabilities.

Two Democrats, one unaffiliated and one Republican resigned. Republicans filled the vacant positions with two Republicans, an unaffiliated resident and a Democrat. That leaves one Democrat on the board, two unaffiliated member and six Republicans, keeping the number of majority party members in compliance with town rules.

The council appointed two Republicans and then moved on to the Democratic appointment. Republicans voted against the first Democratic candidate, Thomas Catricala. Triano said he’s been vocal on social media criticizing disabilities commission leadership.

“Would I put on somebody like that? Of course not, he’s already shown that he can’t flow with us,” Triano said.

Democrats resigning from the board cited conflict with Republican leadership.

Republicans supported the second candidate Democrats put forward, Gail Lessard. When they announced that the fourth appointment wouldn’t be a second Democrat but an unaffiliated person, Democratic councilors sighed audibly.

Perry questioned whether the council must appoint people of the same political affiliation as those who’ve resigned. He read a portion of a state statute on minority representation at Monday’s council meeting.

Ricciardone, the town attorney, said his interpretation was that the statute applies only to elected officials and the council wasn’t bound to follow the previous political affiliation breakdown.

Democrats complained about the move and other appointments.

“You take every possible spot you can take,” DePaolo said Monday.

Michael DelSanto, a Republican councilor, said his party had been elected to do a job.

“It’s a small window of time,” he said. “We only have two years to do everything we can do for the best for the town.”

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

"You obviously know what the intent is… This gets back to a dictatorship. This is not a democracy. Southington needs to wake up."

-Jack Perry
"We don’t make the decision on anything. We put forth an issue and the voters vote at a referendum. To call this a dictatorship is completely unacceptable."

-Tom Lombardi

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