By Dave Moran
As published in the Record Journal Wednesday January 27, 2010
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WALLINGFORD — Despite being advised that the celebration could violate a state law, organizers of a dinner in honor of Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s 26 years of service say the event will go on as planned. A retired lawyer for the State Elections Enforcement Commission says the legality of the event should be investigated.
A handful of supporters of Dickinson, a Republican first elected in 1983, have organized a dinner in his honor to be held Feb. 6 at Villa Capri on North Colony Road. Tickets cost $40 and include a buffet dinner, music from the Johnny Bass Band, speeches and dancing. The organizers, all Republicans, have said that any profits would be donated to the Wallingford Center for the Arts.
Upon learning of the dinner, however, Vincent Avallone, the Democratic town chairman, sent a letter last week to Robert Prentice, the Republican town chairman, advising him that the event appeared to violate a state law that prohibits testimonials for elected officials while they hold office.
On Tuesday, Prentice said that after consulting several lawyers about the issue, the dinner would go on as planned and he was confident that it would not violate any laws.
“We’ve done some research and there’s no issue here,” he said. “Even though we don’t have it in writing from people on the state level, I’m 99 percent sure that we’ve done everything that we’re supposed to do. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve heard and I’m pretty confident that even if there is a complaint against us it’s not going to go anywhere.”
But Ronald Gregory, a Wallingford resident who was a lawyer for the SEEC for more than 20 years, said he was troubled about the dinner after reading a news story about it. He said it raises a number of potentially troubling questions. “I just think somebody’s going to have to file a complaint, because it deserves it. I think there’s too much confusion when there shouldn’t be,” he said. “The whole situation deserves some scrutiny ... when it gets so muddy, I think it’s best that somebody official look into it.”
Gregory said that he called the attorney general’s office after reading about the event, only to be told that the Wallingford Center for the Arts is not registered as a charity .
An organization “duly organized for charitable purposes” is exempt from the law and can hold testimonials for elected officials to raise money, but Gregory said that he doesn’t intend to file a complaint with the SEEC because of his past association with the agency.
“I’m not going to file a complaint,” he said. “I’d feel awkward because it would be before my own commission.”
Mary Ellen Kingsland-Eckels, director of the Wallingford Center for the Arts, said Tuesday that organizers of the event had contacted the organization about receiving profits from the dinner, but that the organization is still in the process of obtaining nonprofit status and would not be eligible to receive the funds. Nancy Nicolescu, a spokeswoman for the SEEC, said Tuesday that no complaint had been filed regarding the dinner.
If a complaint were to be filed, the potential fine would be $2,000 per offense for any person found to be in violation, or twice the amount of any improper payment or political contribution, whichever is greater.
The law being cited is Section 9-609(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes.
Dickinson, a lawyer, said Tuesday he still plans to attend the event and that he believes the organizers are trying to find a charitable organization to sponsor it.
“I appreciate that people would like to do something of recognition for my time in office,” he said. “But I’m not real anxious of being the center of attention.”