OPINION: How dysfunctional is Wallingford’s government?

How dysfunctional is Wallingford town government? It’s an open question, and one town residents have a continuing right to ask.

Billboard advertising highlights how great a place the town is when it comes to electricity rates, but an advertisement of another sort is on North Main Street Extension. Residents for generations have enjoyed the municipal amenity that is Community Pool. Now the shuttered place awaits mosquitoes. Why?  Please explain.

In the middle of the night during a Town Council meeting last year it came up that the kennels at the town animal shelter lacked air conditioning, of particular concern because of a heat wave that was bringing temperatures to 100 degrees. You might think at this point someone could have been sent to a local home improvement center to pick up an air conditioner, particularly since plenty of money was available for the purchase, and that it could have been brought back to the shelter and plugged in. Yet I still don’t know if the place has air conditioning. The last I heard Christina Tatta, a councilor who in August introduced a resolution authorizing such purchases, was waiting for an update from Public Works.

It's tempting to blame Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., as in the recently re-elected for the umpteenth time Mayor Dickinson, but as far as I’m aware the mayor was not the one people were yelling at recently when the council was appointing Jason Zandri, and not Alexa Tomassi, to replace Democrat Gina Morgenstein, who had resigned her council position. While both Zandri and Tomassi deserved being appointed, what the town did not deserve was the display of power politics, with council Republicans exercising their majority bullying rights. People are used to this in Washington, now they’re getting used to it in council chambers.

The most recent example concerns spending of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. This is money designed to help municipalities recover from the debilitating impact of the coronavirus pandemic. As Maria Campos Harlow, executive director of the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, put it recently, the money “is an opportunity to do something meaningfully to help our community.”

But at the moment Wallingford appears incapable of doing that. The town has not moved forward when it comes to allocating its $13.1 million share of the funding. Members of the council felt left out of the process at a recent meeting when a consultant hired by the town gave a presentation.

“We’re not even being asked to approve this,” offered Councilor Vincent Testa, as reported by the Record-Journal. “This has been presented to us. I want us to be involved in development of the criteria, the priorities. And I was told, ‘you will be, you will be, you will be.’ We weren’t.”

In the meantime, Meriden approved spending $618,000 in ARPA funding to bolster Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis, the agency that serves victims of domestic violence and has seen demand for its services skyrocket during the pandemic. I bring this up to illustrate that deserving causes await while Wallingford dithers.

The town is gearing up for its 350th Jubilee, which is 350 plus two because of the pandemic. While there’s a lot to celebrate, it’s not unfair to suggest that a municipality with so rich a history should expect better performance from its government.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.



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