Editorial: Backdoor deals on the council?

Southington is already capturing headlines in various newspapers, and residents are being bombarded by conflicting stories and finger pointing. You guessed it. The town is officially embroiled in a controversy. It began when reports about Town Manager Garry Brumback’s retirement were leaked to the local media, and rumors began to circulate that certain elected officials were trying to operate outside the law to push their personal agendas.

What caught our attention was that politicians and residents on both sides of the aisle were joining together to protest the actions of Town Council chair Mike Riccio. They talked about backroom deals, partisan politics, and—the biggest complaint—that he staged an “illegal” meeting aimed at replacing Southington’s top public servant with Deputy Manager Mark Sciota, also the Town Attorney.

Nobody seems to be questioning that Sciota is a good candidate for the job, so why Riccio and his crew are so hell-bent on shrouding a job search in scandal is anyone’s guess. The complaints describe a broken council led by a maverick bully that’s forcing an agenda and conducting town business in the dark. This doesn’t surprise us. We’ve been talking about this trend as we’ve seen it develop over recent years.

First, Riccio and the Republicans pushed the Democrats off the bipartisan Apple Harvest Festival committee. Then, he flew into a tirade at a council meeting when someone questioned the first profit loss reported by the festival since the town took over. Now, it looks like the Republican-led AHF committee might be trying to exclude an independent candidate from having a voice at the festival. The local GOP looks like a band of bullies.

We protested before when Riccio’s council voted to suspend charter procedures when renaming a municipal building for no apparent reason except to push forward an agenda and keep out other voices. Why?  That was our question.

Government servants must be strictly accountable and procedures ensure this. Riccio seems to despise this. Rules, it seems, don’t apply when he’s got an agenda. This time, the man on the bully pulpit might have finally gone too far.

Democratic finance board member John Moise charges that a recent closed door meeting violated Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act. In an FOI complaint sent to Hartford this week, Moise makes some real allegations against Riccio and some others. If true, it’s serious.

For a copy of the FOI complaint, click here: John Moise FOI Complaint 080817

According to the complaint, Riccio called a meeting, attended by fellow Republicans Tom Lombardi, Vicky Triano, and Paul Champagne. He excluded fellow GOP councilors Cheryl Lounsbury and Ed Pocock. According to the report, Riccio said he called the meeting to discuss campaign strategy. The two excluded councilors aren’t running for re-election, and the two Republican challengers weren’t invited. People may not like that, but this sort of thing happens all the time. Republicans and Democrats can caucus. It’s not illegal.

The problem arises with the charge that Democrat councilor Dawn Miceli was telephoned into the meeting. If this turns out to be true, it is a big deal. Now, the meeting wouldn’t be a caucus. It would be a closed door meeting that excluded elected board members, the press, and the public. There’s no agenda, no minutes, no accountability, and no way it was a campaign caucus. If the complaint is true, it is another example of King Riccio’s kangaroo court. Of course, any one of the others involved could have stopped it at any time.

There are probably going to be more FOI complaints coming as people try to find the truth. Once verified, we’ll report it. Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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