WALLINGFORD — The Town Council has reappointed the vice chairperson of the Zoning Board of Appeals, overruling Democrats’ objections to social media posts and a perceived double standard.
Republican Raymond Rys was appointed to the ZBA by a 6 to 3 party line vote during Tuesday night’s council meeting, with Democrats linking their concerns over memes Rys reposted on Facebook to the rejection of Democrat Ed Storck’s appointment to the ZBA two weeks earlier.
Democratic Councilor Samuel Carmody said he served alongside Rys when he was on the ZBA and enjoyed working with him, but felt a precedent had been set with Storck’s rejection on the grounds of social media activity.
“I know Ray to be very dedicated to our community, having served up here on the Town Council, serving at his church, serving a number of our local veteran organizations as a veteran himself,” said Carmody, who voted against the reappointment of Rys. “So that makes tonight somewhat difficult for me. We seem to be setting a standard up here for appointees of boards and commissions being vetted at a new level, including through a review of their social media, as well as weighing their temperament and past actions. With that, we have been presented with copies of some online postings and unfortunately I would deem them to have crossed the line. And since we are setting a standard where we are going to hold out appointees to a higher degree, I cannot in good conscience vote for tonight's appointment.”
Councilor Joseph Marrone III, who was the only Republican to vote for Storck’s appointment, said he felt that the political speech of nominees shouldn’t be held against them and worried that the council is falling into an “eye-for-an-eye” mindset.
"This is someone that wants to volunteer his time for the town. I don't really understand what happened to Mr. Storck, I really don't understand what's happening to Mr. Rys and I hope that we can as a community come to the understanding that free speech is free speech,” Marrone said. “So if you don't like what someone has to say, you can tell them, but I don't know that you have to go and get them in front of a public meeting.”
Posts shared by Rys on his Facebook page contain discredited claims that Biden is a pedophile and that Vice President Kamala Harris is a prostitute. Several shared posts express transphobic views, while another contains images of swastikas superimposed over Democratic Party iconography, calling it the party’s new logo.
Resident Nancy Fabrizi pointed to a post shared by Rys in which a Black Lives Matter logo appears above the words “Biden Loves Minors” and questioned if it could make applicants before the ZBA feel that they may not receive equal treatment.
“Would a Black family who needs the Zoning Board of Appeals to make a decision for them feel they have a fair chance? Would they even feel comfortable coming forward?" she said.
Riley O'Connell, who ran for mayor on the Democratic ticket in the most recent municipal election, said there should be zero tolerance for hypocrisy and that it’s ironic that in both cases regarding Storck and Rys they were discussing nominations for the same board and concerns about online behavior.
"None of us are questioning Mr. Rys' character. I think we can condemn his statements online without bringing that into question — I think we're all in agreement there. In some ways, I think he's just caught in the crossfire of a bigger issue that we have as a Town Council right now,” he said.
ZBA Chairperson Joe Rusczek said he’s served with Rys for eight years on the board and asked the council to support him for another term.
“He's been very dedicated, comes to the meetings, he's always been courteous, respectful of anybody that's come in front and to everybody on the board. So I'm asking the Town Council tonight to reappoint Ray Rys to the Zoning Board of Appeals," Rusczek said.
Two Facebook posts by Rusczek were also cited by Storck in raising concerns of a double standard at the March 8 meeting. One post contained silhouetted figures of protesters holding up clenched fists in front of a burning building and states "Thank you for providing us the best argument for gun ownership in 245 years." The other post contained profanity directed at Hillary Clinton supporters.
Numerous Republicans in town defended Rys, saying that he has a record of public service in town. Town Council Chairperson Vincent Cervoni noted that the ZBA unanimously elected Rys as its vice chairperson during its Monday meeting.
Former Republican Town Council Chair Bob Parisi spoke to defend Rys’ character
"Ray is the guy I would want in the foxhole with me and he served the town with that same attitude,” Parisi said. “And I think this would be embarrassing if I had to say ... that a man of his quality and character can't get an appointment.”ARPA funding
Councilors are seeking further information before determining how to spend $13.1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. A memo sent to councilors on Monday stated that the town has until April 30 to decide whether it will take the standard allowance or follow a revenue loss formula which would allow greater flexibility.
At the most recent ARPA subcommittee meeting, the five sitting councilors voted 3 to 2 to recommend that 40 percent of the funds go to businesses, 30 percent to nonprofits and individuals and that the remaining 30 percent remain unallocated to allow for flexibility in the future. The memo suggests that the general categories for how the funds will be spent must be determined by the end of next month, however.
“A more difficult question is whether the decision to elect the ‘standard allowance’ of up to $10,000,000 is to be made by one or both branches and, if one, which branch. Again, there is no guidance in the ARPA or other sources. The deadline to take the allowance is April 30, 2022 and the election and the amount of the allowance are not reversible. If the allowance is taken, the funds must be used for government services,” stated the memo, which was signed by Town Attorney Gerald E. Farrell Sr. and Corporation Counsel Janis Small.
Farrell told the council it’s unclear what would qualify for funding under the two options and that the law department would continue exploring the issue over the coming days. Councilors asked Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. to invite the consultant UHY Advisors, hired by the town to assist in determining how the money can be spent, to the next council meeting to provide further guidance.
Councilor Vincent Testa said the memo was a “wrench in the gear” of the work the council.
"To be put in a position to have to make that decision within three weeks when we haven't even talked about municipal projects is unacceptable to me,” Testa said. “I'm infuriated that now I find myself in this position. Everybody in this room who has an interest in this, whose been working with us, who’s expressed their opinions to us brilliantly and furiously and honestly is at risk of a great disservice because we can't commit or we're going to have to commit something that may or may not impact what we can do for everyone else.”