Editorial: Taking a toll on our democracy

We continue to be embarrassed by the Southington Town Council and their utter inability to act like adults. The town is caught in a cycle of bad leadership that seems to shift with each election but never really changes. Minority parties stir up voters before elections, pointing fingers at the bully tactics of the majority. Power shifts, and the new majority suddenly become bullies themselves. It’s tiring, and it hurts the town.

We’re talking, of course, about the toll “discussion” and the toll it’s taking on Southington’s democracy. Last March, the Republican minority proposed a resolution to oppose tolls, and Democrats used their majority to squash it without consideration. Now the GOP is in the majority, so they proposed the resolution again. This time, Republicans used their majority to squash the Democrats. The bullied has now become the bully. How do we get off this merry-go-round?

After the March debacle broke down along party lines, we charged in an editorial, “We have to think that there’s a non-political course somewhere between these two extremes that would best serve the town.” Last April, we asked our council to act like leaders. We asked the council, “So…what’s next?” (In our April 6, 2019 editorial, “So…what’s next?”)

This is an excerpt: “We were left with more questions than answers. Here are a few: What exactly are the legal issues for the town to decide? What exactly is the town council’s authority on this issue or any of the many sub-issues? What exactly are the expectations? Should there be talk at every meeting, no discussion, or something in between? What exactly is local opinion about tolls? Do we need a community survey, or should we blindly assume that all the panic stricken, squeaky wheels speak for everyone? Should there be a public forum? Should we follow up with our state reps? What questions do we have for them? How do we compile those questions? Should we ask state officials to make presentations to the council like they offered? If so, when and how often? Would this be best handled by a Toll Committee open to the public with clear goals and guidelines?”

Eight months have passed. We’re no closer to knowing the answer to any of these questions, yet a solution has been forced upon us. There was no legal research, no process for acting in the town’s best interests, and no discussion (except two seemingly staged public comments and a small protest outside the municipal building). In other words, there was no leadership at all, just a shifting group of squabbling children.

There was no public forum before the council decided what the public thinks (except Tom Lombardi’s hearsay discussions from the campaign trail). There wasn’t even clear understanding about whether this is a town issue or not. Democrat lawyer Val DePaolo said that this wasn’t a town issue. Republican lawyer William Dziedzic said he was opposed to using resolutions this way, but voted for it. If two lawyers can’t agree if this is a town issue, why didn’t the council delay a vote until a town attorney could draft a legal opinion which tries to address the charter and other legal issues?

Of course, if the public doesn’t petition this resolution (section 307 of the charter), this meaningless piece of garbage only tells the state that the town has no consensus on tolls. It really says that the the council can’t agree, so the town really has no unified voice. Wow. A weak resolution. Nice leadership.

If this council really cared about the public’s opinion— rather than their own party’s interests—they could easily draft a referendum for the 2020 ballot (after missing their chance in 2019). They could let the town speak for itself. After all, what’s the rush? There’s plenty of time before ground breaks since state leaders are just as split and incompetent as our council.

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

So…what’s next?

 

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