WALLINGFORD — "Citizen Mike" lost a lot of potential future content for his public access show by the same name last week when he was elected chairman of the town's newly formed ARPA Application Review Committee.
The committee held its organizational meeting last week and chose retired attorney Michael Brodinsky as its chairman and Cheshire Town Planner and Wallingford resident Mike Glidden as vice chairman. Brodinsky hosts the popular “Citizen Mike” show on WPAA-TV where he discusses town politics and issues with his guests.
"I will not be talking about ARPA, this committee or the business of this committee on that show," he said. "That is now off base and any communication would be through the committee.
"ARPA is not going to be discussed, which robs me of content," he joked.
The Republican-controlled, nine-member Town Council and Mayor William Dickinson Jr., a Republican, chose the 10-member application committee, with each councilor choosing one committee member and Dickinson choosing the 10th member. The committee will spend the next several months reviewing applications for a portion of the town's $13.1 million ARPA pot and deciding who will get the funds.
Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, opened the meeting last week as acting chair until Brodinsky was elected. Brodinsky, Chris Regan and Rich Fitz each were nominated as prospective chairmen, and after three rounds of voting, Brodinsky, a former Democratic town councilor, got the required seven votes to take the seat.
"When the council created this group, it decided that all votes had to be by a seven-vote margin," Fishbein said. "Normally a vote like this would be a majority. It's a little unusual to have the seven votes, but because it is a body of 10 and the intent of the seven votes was to not have ties and have as much unanimous decisions among the group as possible."
Brodinsky said his experience on the Town Council and as chairman of a school building committee that replaced 11 school building roofs taught him "a working knowledge of meetings, procedures, how the town functions and the Freedom of Information Act.
"I think the town is impatient to get a result, to have this money distributed to the right people at the right time," he said. "I appreciate that impatience but that has to be balanced with doing a thorough job. I want to position this committee to make the best possible decision that it can."
Brodinsky said he has followed the ARPA issue since the spring 2021 when the federal program was approved. "I have done a lot of reading on it so I'm familiar with it," he said. "I was interested in it right from the start."
He said he knows there is a lot of public interest in the work the committee will be doing.
"We have a duty of transparency to the public. The town of Wallingford and the residents are very curious as to what is happening and why and I think we are all mindful of that," he said.
It will be a lot of hard work and could be tedious at times, he warned committee members. "My vision for this is when we get rolling and organized, there may be a batch of applications and I would hope that everyone reads those applications in advance of the meeting. That helps speed the meeting and get the money out the door."
Glidden said he is already well-versed in the ARPA program as Cheshire's town planner, and from his previous position in Simsbury.
"I have been part of ARPA trainings and ARPA meetings with various communities. I was part of all ARPA meetings in Simsbury and have been to several trainings," he said. He also brings his experience serving six years on the Wallingford Zoning Board of Appeals as chairman and as the vice president of the Connecticut Association of Zoning Officials.
The committee still needs to get its formal charge from the Town Council, Brodinsky said. He warned committee members about using personal email to discuss any committee business because it then becomes subject to the state Freedom of Information Act, suggesting creating a separate email used just for committee business may be wise.
He also said he'd like to see the committee take a strong ethics stance — possibly stronger than that outlined in the town Code of Ethics.
"Not a lot of people understand it," he said. "What standard do we want to live by? The Code of Ethics, which is kind of loose and lax in my view, or something different? The last thing we want is an article in the paper that a member of the committee has some entanglement with an applicant that may or may not violate the Code of Ethics. At the start of each application review committee meeting, I will ask if there are any conflicts for this batch.
“I think we can do better than the Code of Ethics,” he said.
The town's ARPA consultant, UHY Advisors, was scheduled to make a presentation at Tuesday's Town Council meeting, but committee members said they preferred to meet directly with them so they could ask questions and interact better with them. That meeting will happen in the coming weeks.
Applications for the grant funds will soon be available on the town website, and are due later next month. In November the committee will begin considering awards and expects to wrap up its work in January.