We asked Southington Town Council candidates the following questions:
A) Controversies and scandals were a central focus by candidates during the 2017 election, but they continued this last term. Why do these continue to take place in Southington, and how will you work to avoid them in the upcoming term?
B) What was the most important issue faced by the town council over the last term? How did you handle it? (incumbent) or How would you have handled it? (challenger)
C) What do you see as the most important issue for the town council over the next term? How will you handle it if you are elected?
Here are their answers (Candidates are grouped in the order they will appear on the ballot:
A) Southington has to overcome decades of sentiment that our government is not inclusive, that decisions are made outside of the public eye, and that elected officials primarily serve their own interests. This sentiment is not unfounded, and I believe the current town council majority has acknowledged this and made efforts to improve transparency and rebuild trust with the community. I commend these efforts, and I’m hopeful Democrats will be able to expand our majority to ensure we keep moving in the right direction and build upon the progress that has been made this term.
If elected, I am committed to a truly open and transparent government, and I will push for improved community engagement. I believe that community engagement is a two-way street, and that the town council and other boards must not only improve communication and demonstrate a willingness to consider diverse opinions, we must proactively seek out public input and—most importantly—show we are listening. I will apply my skills and experience as a business leader who specializes in governance and ethics to continue to improve how we make decisions and engage with the public.
B) Open space referendum. The town council did great work over the last term in planning and successfully passing an open space referendum authorizing the town to appropriate $2 million to acquire land for open space uses and subsequently approved a grant process to handle these purchases. Southington is being overdeveloped because of a Republican planning and zoning commission that has been unwilling to say “No” to developers, of which three members are now running for town council. While development can improve our bottom line, we need to be smart about it in order to maintain quality of life, not overburden our services, and preserve Southington’s history, character and natural beauty. This is important to me. I live on the north end of town and have to use (or try to avoid) Queen Street and West Street every day. Open space initiatives are a useful tool against overdevelopment, and I would have voted with majority on these issues. As a citizen, I did vote in favor of the referendum.
C) We will have a lot of work to do over the next couple of years. I expect the budget to be an ongoing challenge for the town as costs continue to rise, and we can no longer count on the state to close budget gaps. While we must to continue to drive efficiency and cut costs where we can, more can and has to be done to make Southington sustainable. I will pursue alternative sources of revenue and support smart economic development in existing commercial and industrial zones, as well as reasonable residential development that meets the needs of our town.
Valerie A. DePaolo
A) As a challenger for town council, it is difficult to speak to why (and whether) controversies and scandals continue to take place in Southington. I would like to speak to the issue of how controversies and scandals can be avoided in the upcoming term. I’ve been an attorney for more than 30 years, and I can say without hesitation that two of the most important values for me have been ethics and transparency. Lawyers are trained to follow a professional code of ethics, to avoid conflicts of interest, and to be accountable and fair to clients. I believe that the Southington Town Council has the responsibility to ensure that ethical standards are maintained without exception. This will enhance accountability, openness and communication, i.e. transparency. In turn, citizens may feel more comfortable to come forward and let their voices be heard. As a council member, I will welcome and encourage people to speak up on the issues and will respectfully consider their perspectives.
B) The Southington Town Council faced a number of important issues over the last two years, which makes it difficult to pick one. In my opinion, any issues that concern public safety would be at the top of the list, especially in a growing community such as Southington. During the last term, the council approved funding for two additional full-time firefighters and added medical services, specifically a non-transport first responder vehicle which can provide emergency medical treatment. Both will help to provide necessary resources to the community. Going forward, I would handle public safety issues with open and honest communication between town leaders, department leaders and the fire and police commissioners, discussing with them what their current needs and objectives are and what is their vision of continuing to keep our community safe.
C) An issue that the town council will most likely face in the upcoming term is the continued growth of residential housing and commercial development in Southington. Has there been too much development? Is it placing a drain on the services that are needed and on the infrastructure? Is it having a negative impact on the air and water quality in town? Is it reducing the amount of open space thereby wiping out wildlife habitats and changing the landscape and the scenic beauty of the town? These are questions that come to mind for me as I drive around town and hear questions from voters. Town leaders will need to look at possible strategies which can help Southington achieve goals for growth and development, while still maintaining the character of the community. We can look at where development should go or should not go and what type of development i.e. commercial, industrial or residential. We can discuss the pros and cons of purchasing development rights. Town leaders can all work together along with the citizens to determine what is the vision for our community in regards to this issue and how do we get there.
Christopher J. Palmieri
A) I believe controversies and scandals are determined by one’s perceptions, however we must hold our elected officials to the highest ethical standards. During my last term on the council, I proudly worked to strengthen our ethics ordinance. I believe that open communication, transparency, and bi-partisan cooperation are essential. This term, as chairman of the council, I made many changes to this end that I am very proud of. One example is how I established the committee of the chairs, so the leadership of the council, board of education, board of finance, and planning and zoning commission regularly discuss what is going on in our respective boards. To avoid partisan politics, I appointed several Republicans to various boards and commissions, some of whom are in leadership roles, rather than simply appointing Democrats. Another example is how I established monthly presentations by town departments, so that the public is kept aware of happenings. Finally, in most cases, I delayed votes on topics until the meeting after public hearings, so that the public had ample opportunity to share their opinions. I will continue to conduct myself with integrity, dignity, respect, and mindfulness to meeting residents’ needs.
B) Especially with the uncertainty of the state budget, it was critical for Southington to plan accordingly related to our municipal budget. I am extremely proud of the collaboration that occurred between the BOE, BOF, and the council related to the last two budgets we passed. We were able to deliver a zero mill rate increase the first year and a 0.18 mill rate increase this past year. Despite this, we were able to add two new firefighters, invest in enhanced security at Southington High School, and invest in higher quality roads for our residents (to name a few). I believe our investment in open space ultimately led to a reduced need within our municipal budget. I am also proud of the efforts we made to invest in economic development specifically in downtown Plantsville and downtown Southington. Finally, related to the budget, as chairman of the council, I formed a property tax relief committee in order to assess the needs of our veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities.
C) Financial challenges. We have repeatedly heard that taxes and spending have continued to put burdens on residents. I am constantly looking for ways to maintain quality town services that benefit our residents while making them affordable. Next year is a revaluation year, so this may have an impact on people’s taxes. We must actively plan for the best way to sustain or improve our infrastructure, so it does not cost us more in the future. Some specific examples for next year will be a continued investment in our roads, funding our parks plan, and revitalizing our library. I will continue to focus on economic development and explore additional sources of revenue in order to lessen the impact on taxpayers. In addition, this council approved preliminary steps related to adding public transportation. We will need to continue these conversations.
Christopher J. Poulos
A) I ran for town council in 2017 because I wanted to volunteer my time, experience, and skill set to effectively advocate on behalf of Southington’s families, seniors, and local businesses. I got involved because I care deeply about our town and wanted to work to improve our community. Since being elected, I have not taken part in controversies and scandals, nor have I engaged in partisan rancor, both of which I believe are counterproductive. Rather, I have worked to collaborate openly and transparently with other elected officials, town organizations, and residents, to do what’s best for Southington. I believe that through this positive approach I have established a record of leadership and vision of progress for our town, which you can learn about at www.PoulosForSouthington.com. In the upcoming term, as a town councilor, I intend to continue to operate with integrity, avoiding controversy, and dedicating my time and energy to working productively, building consensus, and serving in the best interest of our community.
B) I believe the most important issue facing the council over the last term was our role in ensuring we passed fiscally responsible town budgets that maintained the services our residents deserve, during a time of financial uncertainty at the state level. In my role as councilor, I voted for budgets with virtually no tax increases, while finding ways to fund education, public safety, road maintenance, and more. For example, I worked directly with teachers to help them earn grants totaling nearly $30,000 to fund their professional development. Rather than raising taxes or cutting programs, I offered my experience as an accomplished educator to help these teachers find a third way to fund important training. I have since met with the assistant superintendent to explore ways to scale this approach and create venues for grant recipients to train their peers. In an effort to strengthen our fire department and reduce overtime costs, I voted to fund the addition of two career firefighters. To the same end, I have proudly served as a member of the volunteer firefighter recruitment committee, and worked to find ways to recruit and retain more volunteers.
C) Many residents have shared their concern with me about overdevelopment in Southington. During the next term, I believe that a “smart approach” to both economic and residential development will be essential to ensure our town generates healthy revenues that keep taxes reasonable. To this end, with the goal of spurring economic development without compromising our hometown aesthetic, I intend to engage with town staff in exploring the prospect of a new industrial park that is in keeping with Southington’s character. I also believe we should prioritize the development of the Ideal Forging property as a mixed-use commercial and residential project, in hopes of generating economic growth and curbing housing development. A vibrant downtown, that architecturally honors Southington’s industrial heritage, will attract more people to our local business area while also offering sensible housing options to residents that would complement our existing traditional neighborhoods and homes.
A) The 2017 election had an unresolved accusation of scandal, alleging illegal meetings by council members; I was not a part of the council at that time, however it was ruled that no such meeting occurred. Since that time, over these past two years, which I have sat on the council, there have been topics that when openly discussed are not scandals they are simply impactful to the community. Seen by some as positive and others as negative. Those include conversations surrounding Bradley Hospital, council chats and the fire department. I am not afraid of these open discussions. It is healthy. I am okay with not being liked by everyone all the time. I will ask hard questions, not to demean or undercut but to understand and assess. I will not do something just because we have always done it that way. I will require efficiencies to be more effective spending tax dollars wiser. I only ask for respect, and in return I will offer an open mind, no preconceived notions or agendas. I will continue to be open and honest and do what I feel is best for the community.
B) I believe the most important issue faced by the council over this last term is the budget. I believe the budget will always be the most important issue. It affects everyone. Over the past two years, Southington has seen the lowest tax increase in decades, zero and 0.18 mill rate increases, respectively. When evaluating the budget presented to the council, I felt there were areas of opportunity to reduce. I voted to support those reductions. I wish I had reduced even more, as 2019 resulted in an estimated $1.4 million surplus. If re-elected I will continue to look for reductions, and I will task those who spend to do so efficiently and with scrutiny. We cannot default to increasing taxes. We cannot keep building developments that cost more to support in town services than bring in on the tax roll. We must preserve what open space we have left and economic development should focus on leveraging existing business locations in predesignated business and industry zones.
C) Besides the budget, which I feel is always the most important issue for the council, I view planning for our community to be as important. We must ensure balanced growth that increases our tax rolls while being cognizant of our community’s overall aesthetic. The concern I hear most from residents, is overdevelopment. Overdevelopment could destroy our open space if not controlled. Overdevelop-ment also brings increased infrastructure needs that may overburden town services and our water pollution control facility. For these reasons, economic development and planning need to be given great thought to preserve the future. If re-elected, I will ensure that decisions are thought out, pros and cons are weighed, and that the Southington my children are growing up in will be as pleasant tomorrow as it is today, if not better.
John N. Barry
A) I am an independent voice on the town council. I have advocated for reductions in government spending, and I supported a no-tax-increase budget. My priority has always been to put taxpayers first, working on fiscal matters rather than political battles. I stand up to party bosses and will not be influenced by political distractions. My position of advocating for more transparency, allowing access to boards and commissions might be controversial by the political insiders, but I will not stop asking questions at town council meetings, I will not stop fighting and advocating for more participation by residents in local government. I support a town dialogue of “by the people, for the people.”
B) Road maintenance and infrastructure. Maintaining roads and investing in the town infrastructure was the most important issue.
Southington continues its renewed commitment to earmark money to upgrade our aging infrastructure. This past year several road construction projects were completed on time and under budget, and over the next year we will continue to replace and rehabilitate aging transportation infrastructures. The cheap and ineffective road process, chip seal, was immediately stopped once I became chairman of the public works committee. The replacement of paver walks and crosswalks in downtown Southington are being completed. Southington is investing in major improvements in the village of Plantsville to help transform it into a safe and pedestrian-friendly area.
C) I am concerned that our town is becoming overdeveloped. I do not believe enough has been done to protect West Street from becoming another Queen Street. How we want our town development to look is important, and with the building of fast food chain developments on West Street, it is forever changing the appearance of that area. Also, the approval of many high-density apartment buildings in town could spell trouble in creating added traffic congestions. I would support a moratorium on high-density complexes until we better understand the short and long term consequences that these developments could bring to our community. There is added value in acquiring more open space. I support the establishment of wildlife corridors to help protect wildlife. We must all come together and do more to ensure out town stays a desirable town that protects natural resources, acquires more open space and invest in smart zoning practices.
A) I have a great amount of respect for all the volunteers amongst the elected and appointed officials of the town. I do believe that there were broken campaign promises. Hiring a town attorney with no communication and as a political thank you on day one in office certainly went against the open and transparent dialogue that was promised. Serving on the town council naturally means that there will be difficult, divisive, and possibly controversial issues that require research, input, and thought. I believe that honest, transparent dialogue and collaboration is essential to a successful council. I have worked and will continue to show respect and dignity to the council position and fellow councilors, even though we may have disagreements and vote differently on certain issues.
B) Hartford HealthCare resolution and tolls. Aside from the budget challenges and uncertainty in state funding, a major issue that I believe was the most important and most damaging was the resolution put forth related to Hartford HealthCare on Aug. 27, 2018. Having world class health care in Southington has been and will continue to be a major goal of mine. A presentation was planned (subsequently never occurred) for just three weeks from when the resolution was put forward. The resolution and treatment towards the leadership of Hartford HealthCare was not only inappropriate, but it was also completely out of the scope of the council’s duties and responsibilities. This was a prime example of government overreach. Making demands and publishing resolutions is not the best way to collaborate with a private business. Since the resolution was presented, the town council has had zero discussions with Hartford HealthCare. This action was a clear example of what should not be done and was certainly not in the best interest of the town.
In addition, I think it was imperative that the town council speak out against tolls to our state legislature and our governor. I proposed a resolution stating the council’s opposition to tolls, but unfortunately, the majority party did not feel it was important enough to put forward.
C) The most important issue for the next council will obviously be budget since the State of Connecticut is in a financial crisis. Cuts to municipalities seem to be inevitable. Aside from the budget, I think the next council needs to focus efforts on open space acquisition and a library referendum. I will support strategic land acquisition or development right acquisition if the open space will provide significant benefit to the taxpayers in the form of reduced development and/or recreational purposes. I will also be supporting putting forward a referendum for a new library, so that the residents can have a direct vote on such an important asset within our community.
A) I think controversies continue to take place because some council members are participating in situations where, even though they are legally allowed to participate, there is a perceived conflict of interest. A lot of these controversies could be avoided if members did not vote on matters if it could reasonably be perceived that a competing interest, like a job, could influence their decision-making.
By way of example, if you look at the selection of the town attorney, the process was not open and transparent. Last term, I was not consulted or even aware of who the potential choice was until the evening of the meeting. I have interviewed and hired many attorneys in my career and believe that I would have been beneficial to the process and landing on the best selection for Southington.
B) The facts are the facts, the municipal budget the past two years resulted in a very small tax increase. However, this increase was more the result of a restoration of state aid and an increase in the grand list than cost reduction. We need to continue to foster smart economic development and grand list growth, so this growth trend can continue. Unfortunately, I don’t believe enough was done last term.
C) Education budget. While I am a strong supporter of education, I do not believe we have had an opportunity to have an open conversation about the education budget and things we can do to maximize our tax investment. These are your tax dollars, and we need to be sure we are spending them most effectively. We cannot do that if teacher layoffs and student services cuts are going to be threatened every year by the board of education if we don’t support their budget without any changes. I would like to discuss how we could restore funding for middle school sports, for instance. I struggled last year to support the education budget vote, but as I said on the record, I couldn’t risk having it adversely affect Southington students and teachers. But this is not a productive or sustainable path forward.
Mike Del Santo
A) Since 2017, complaints were shared by Democrats and Republicans alike for items like using the town seal on a newspaper insert, the accusation of “backdoor meetings” to discuss town manager selection, unilaterally selecting a town attorney without input from the other side, shutting down the town’s economic development coordinator from actively pursuing opportunities to increase our tax base, a councilor embarrassing the fire chief with “gotcha” questions without any advance warning, a councilor not realizing they may be “spreading themselves too thin” with many town job titles in addition to serving on the town council. Scandalous? Probably not. Controversial? Absolutely. All town boards need to work collaboratively to ensure Southington is protected, and we have a united front, regardless of political affiliation. If elected, I would ensure this happens.
B) State funding, tolls. The most important issue the council faced last term was when there was a possibility of a shortfall in funding our budget due to the way the state was funding its municipalities. While things worked out in the end, we need to ensure we are prepared if this happens again. We need to ensure our state delegation is concerned about what happens in Southington. I saw—firsthand—how State Rep. Joe Aresimowicz clearly did not have Southington’s interests in mind when tolls were discussed during a town meeting in March 2019. Rather than allowing residents to ask questions and receive clear answers from Aresimowicz regarding tolls, the Democratic-led council silenced residents and did not give them the opportunity to let their voices be heard. In my mind, this meant the Democratic town councilors supported tolls. Optics are everything, and this showed to me that local majority leadership was not strong enough to stand up to state leadership. Connecticut is financially drained, but tolls at this time is a bad idea. To not allow town residents to be heard was a disservice to every voter, and this needs to be remembered come Election Day.
C) Economic development. The most important issue facing the council over the next term is the making sure there is a balance of tax-generating economic development versus wise spending. Wise spending could be an arduous task as we all know Connecticut’s financial situation. Receiving state financial assistance above the bare minimum may not occur. Our economic development coordinator has a “finger on the pulse” of ideas and what Southington should focus on for tax-generating development. This office should be utilized more, not just heard at a couple of council meetings each year. There should, again, be a bipartisan economic development strike committee that meets often, outside of council meetings, to effectively vet the ideas and potential businesses/ developments. The chairperson, needs to delegate and trust the members of his board to make sound, wise decisions that benefit Southington. Connecticut ranks 48th in personal income growth, but Southington continues to bring in hotels, restaurants, banks, recreation destinations and manufacturing. We need to get back to the idea that the promotion of Southington is most significant for all council members.
A) There is no place on the town council for rude, belligerent or bullying behavior. We have a code of conduct that clearly states that our conduct should be respectful and polite to everyone. Egocentric, intimidating behaviors, partisan politics and statements impugning a person’s character or reputation have absolutely no place at our meetings. I would recommend that each year, as we review and sign our statement of ethics, we review and sign our pledge to our code of conduct. It will remind us of our personal promise to maintain ourselves during meetings. However, this in no way should prohibit the passion and commitment of the council members to listen and help with issues that affect our citizens or our town. We should conduct ourselves with the decorum that is associated with the seat that we hold.
B) Town infrastructure. The most important thing we faced this past term was an eroding and compromise of our town’s infrastructure. Our infrastructure is like a big umbrella that keeps the individual departments and areas functioning together to make a focused and reliable government. It is when a government keeps the continuity and synergy between all departments working together for the greater good that it works best. Over the past two years, we have seen very little done in the areas of road maintenance, open space, economic development, conservation and public safety, as well as our seniors. Being in the minority, very few of our ideas and suggestions were received. However, without immediate intervention to restore a dedicated effort in these and other areas, we will see a decline in the quality of our life in Southington. We must keep the delicate balance between our present needs and those of our future.
C) Vision for the future. The most important issue for Southington is vision. Politics aside, we must be clear in our resolve to preserve and protect the resources, values, and focus that will continue to make Southington the wonderful town it is for future generations. We are really at a crossroads this election. The past two years we have fallen behind in many areas as previously stated. All of these areas have a direct correlation to the future of Southington. Without a vision for the future, and not just the next election, our children and grandchildren will suffer. We have seen it at the state level and we must never let that happen here.
Paul Chaplinsky Jr.
A) Strong collaboration and communication between town boards and transparent processes at all levels will improve controversial issues. Our elected volunteers are representatives of the people of Southington and need focus to understand what issues need better vetting and communication before decision taking, to avoid controversy. On the planning and zoning commission, for which I am currently vice chair, we have a strong and collaborative team approach on both sides of the aisle that works together in the best interest of the town, and most often, leaves politics aside. Each member brings a different perspective and different experience, and I believe my past experience and leadership on the PZC has demonstrated that I can bring strong, open communication and collaboration to help minimize these politically-motivated issues we often struggle with today at the council level.
B) Economic development. We generally benefit from our grand list growth funding up to 50% of our town’s cost-of-living increase requirements. The last two years, under current Democrat council leadership, we have seen a de-emphasis in strategic economic development, which will lead to slower grand list revenue growth of approximately $110,000 year over year in 2020, primarily from a slowdown in growth of commercial, industrial and personal property with only a small reduction in residential grand list growth. With no strategic plan from our current leadership, this will add pressure to holding taxes and mill rates steady for our residents over the next few years. This is a direct result of this current Democrat-led council’s decision two years ago to discontinue the economic development strike committee—designed to ensure smart economic development that is essential to paying our bills. I will work to develop a stronger relationship with the town’s economic development coordinator, re-establish a committee and create a more balanced approach to development that is within the frame of our plan of conservation and development. In addition, I will work diligently to use all tools at our disposal to identify and preserve land that creates a balanced approach to open space and land preservation that is in the best interest of our community. Our current Democrat council leadership has failed to deliver any land preservation of substance.
C) Vision for the future. Our current council has not created a vision for the future that includes clarity on our direction and the certain risks we will face from a slowdown in grand list revenues with growing volatility and uncertainty in state-level funding. With a risk to a slowdown in commercial, industrial and personal property revenues, all elected boards will have to work diligently to protect our town service offerings for education, seniors, police and fire while taking a balanced approach to funding the same. We should quickly work to revitalize job growth and grand list revenue growth through sustainable economic development, according to our plan of conservation and development (POCD), especially in our business and industrial zones. This is the only reliable way we will be able to fund the many things that make Southington as great as it is.
Jim Morelli did not return his questionnaire for review. He is a Southington Republican seeking a seat on the Southington Town Council.