SOUTHINGTON — Some town leaders this week addressed what they said was decreasing public support for measures intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and some officials said decisions on major town events needed to be more transparent.
Following a recommendation from Plainville-Southington Regional Health Director Shane Lockwood, the town recently decided not to reopen the Southington Drive-In. Southington High School graduation and the Apple Harvest Festival are still under consideration.
Discussion of how the decisions will be made took place at Tuesday night’s council meeting via video conference.
William Dziedzic, a Republican councilor and an attorney, said he’s been asked about a Town Council resolution similar to one that passed in Cromwell. Despite public perception that the resolution defied Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders shutting down businesses and gatherings, Dziedzic said Cromwell’s action didn’t have “teeth” to it.
“When you look through the political veneer of the language, it’s nothing more than a request that the governor reconsider his position on executive orders,” he said.
While he wasn’t in favor of a resolution, Dziedzic said he did want to find a way to “send a message” to the governor. Unlike the support given to School Superintendent Tim Connellan’s decision to close schools at the beginning of the pandemic, more recent closures “are not being met by our town with the same deference,” he said.
“The further you get from an initial disaster, the less willing a citizen is to accept unilateral action without transparency,” Dziedzic said.
Having open debate on pandemic measures was crucial to maintaining trust in the political process, he said.
Paul Chaplinsky, a Republican councilor, also urged that decisions about major town functions include public debate. He questioned an upcoming closed door meeting of the Apple Harvest Festival Committee that will precede a council vote on the event.
“We owe it to our citizens to have dialogue,” he said.
Victoria Triano, a Republican and council chairwoman, said the council would always listen to opinions but had to consider the health of the entire town.
“In theory I think it’s a great idea,” Triano said of more debate. “But we’re in the middle of a pandemic right now.”
Chris Palmieri, a Democratic councilor and Apple Harvest Festival Committee member, said the purpose of the upcoming executive session meeting was to discuss contracts. That discussion will help the council decide whether to hold the festival.
“We wanted to make that decision as a council, not as a festival committee,” he said.
Lockwood said town leaders can make the governor’s orders more strict but can’t relax them. He recommended the drive-in remain closed since it operated differently than other private outdoor theaters. Families traditionally gather before the movie and the theater is run by volunteers.
“It was a difficult decision. We’re hopeful that come mid July it’ll look good,” he said. “It wasn’t something we took lightly.”
Susan Zabohonski, owner of a dog grooming salon who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, supported more council debate over pandemic-related decisions. She said the town has moved beyond a health emergency and that restrictions were overreaching.
“Our health is the sole responsibly of ourselves as individuals in collaboration with our doctors,” she said.