WALLINGFORD — Democratic Town Councilor Gina Morgenstein plans to step down before the new council term starts next week.
Morgenstein, who was re-elected in November for a third term, said Tuesday that she needs to resign to prioritize responsibilities in her personal life, including elder care.
“In order to best do everything, I had to choose what could give (way),” she said. “During this pandemic, family comes first. The pandemic has become untenable, really untenable.”
She did not say when she plans to resign, but that she doesn’t want to be sworn in with the rest of the council Monday.
“I would not want to take the oath of office and make a promise that can't be fulfilled,” she said.
According to the Wallingford Town Charter, the Town Council appoints a person of the same party or affiliation to fill a vacancy in an elected town office.
There was some question about the interpretation of the charter’s section on filling vacancies and if the timing of Morgenstein’s resignation — after the election but before the new term begins — would have any effect on whether the council could appoint a new councilor or if a special election would need to be held.
Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small said Tuesday that regardless of when Morgenstein files a resignation letter, it becomes an appointment that's made by the council.
“We don't think the timing of it will make a difference,” Small said. “I think we feel pretty confident with that.”
The Wallingford Democratic Town Committee has called an emergency meeting for Wednesday to discuss selecting a person to nominate for council approval.
Alida Cella, Democratic Town Committee chairperson, said Monday that she reached out to the Secretary of the State’s office for guidance on the procedure for filling the vacancy.
The nominee to fill Morgenstein’s seat likely will be the next top Democratic vote-getter from November’s municipal election, Alexa Tomassi, who came in ninth.
Morgenstein tied with Republican newcomer Autumn Allinson for eighth place in the November election vote totals.
Cella said she believes this is “the fairest way” to fill the seat.
“Hopefully we can do this amicably and do the best that we can to reflect the will of the voters,” she said.Outspoken
Morgenstein, 61, is a physician’s assistant and works in Meriden. She has been outspoken about her experience as a medical professional and brought issues before the council regarding the town’s response to COVID-19.
She ran for council in 2015 and lost by a small margin before running again in 2017.
Her previous local government experience includes time spent on the Planning and Zoning Commission and Charter Revision Commission. Gina Morgenstein and her husband, Larry, were regular attendees of Town Council meetings over the years.
Wallingford has a nine-member Town Council, elected at-large, currently made up of six Republicans and three Democrats.
The November election did not change the council make-up — one Republican and one Democrat did not seek re-election, and their seats were filled by a Republican and a Democrat.
Because the Republicans are the majority party, they are restricted to six seats on the council per state law. This does not mean that the Democrats are guaranteed the other three seats — minority party representation just limits the number of seats the majority party may hold at once.