OPINION: Meriden council picks a Finance Committee chairman

OPINION: Meriden council picks a Finance Committee chairman

What a difference a week makes, when one City Council goes one way and another City Council the other.

The City Council that just went away managed to get a lot of work done at the last minute. Journalists know all about deadlines, we’re up to our ears in them, but nothing can move as fast as an elected body when time is running out.

So, the council just at the end of last month — though before the turkey had been decimated — passed a number of items that could make a big difference. Brewpubs, breweries and brewpub restaurants will now find it easier to set up suds in Meriden thanks to a zoning text amendment. My guess is a good brewpub would help liven things downtown, where livening things has been identified as a major desire for some time now.

A new “adaptive reuse overlay zone” will help developers transform old and rundown buildings. Violi’s Restaurant, at the golf course site where we can’t seem to get a proper banquet facility going, got its lease extended.

And, my favorite, money will be spent to give East Cemetery the repairs, and respect, the place deserves.

The City Council that is just coming in has been spending the early days … haggling.

Haggling is as much a sport in politics as it is in selling automobiles, particularly when a new council is setting up shop, so to speak, so it did not exactly come as a surprise when the minority caucus “emphatically” objected to the Democrats’ selection of Michael S. Rohde as chairman of the council Finance Committee.

You may remember Rohde from these pages, where he has been until fairly recently a regular column contributor, appearing most often on the Sunday Perspective cover.

In these columns, Rohde has appeared to be a principal perpetrator of being positive — and being positive, particularly, when it comes to Meriden. Some have found this objectionable.

Perhaps that’s because Rohde has also committed the foul of being a Democrat, and being unashamed about it. So unashamed it can be viewed as a simple “Democrats good — Republicans bad” approach. If you’re not a Democrat, you can see how this might be unnerving.

Rohde’s run for an at-large council seat relieved him from being pro-Democrat and positive about Meriden on a regular basis in the pages of the newspaper. I hope this doesn’t sound too “inside baseball,” but once a column writer declares the intent to run for political office, we think it’s a good idea for that regular column to cease, because it’s an unfair advantage. The same guideline applied to Len Suzio, a Republican, whose regular column ended when he ran for the state Senate. Now that he’s no longer in the Senate, his regular opinion piece can continue. And it’s probably worth pointing out that occasional columns are always welcome from those in office.

In his columns, Rohde criticized “anyone who was not a Democrat,” said Bob Williams, as reported by Matthew Zabierek in the R-J. Though already a councilor, Williams, of the We the People Party, sought election to an at-large seat on the council in a bid to replace Walter Shamock, who was not seeking another term. That did not work out when it came to the necessary votes.

Council Minority Leader Dan Brunet questioned Rohde’s track record, his “spending habits and penchant for special interests.”

Rohde might be guilty of liking Democrats, but he also got the votes. He also has 23 years experience as a councilor and mayor, and four years as a Finance Committee member. It’s hardly unreasonable to think that he at least deserves a chance.

Democrats now have nine members on the council, up one from the previous configuration. The other committee appointments do not appear to have raised haggles.

Nonetheless, it will be an interesting council to keep an eye on. And voters, of course, are the ones who get to decide, ultimately, when it comes to performance reviews.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com.