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Friday, September 16, 2011

Parking-deal foes rap Nov. 14 vote

As published in the Record Journal, Friday September 16, 2011

By Robert Cyr
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224 

WALLINGFORD — Supporters of the Simpson Court referendum say the Town Council decision to hold the vote after municipal elections is an effort to draw voters away from the cause.

After long debate late Tuesday night, and questions for Republican Registrar of Voters Chester Miller, the council decided to hold the referendum from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, at three polling places. The municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The referendum asks voters to consider reversing a council vote to appropriate up to $500,000 for parking lot improvements behind four buildings along Simpson Court in return for 30 years of free parking.

The petition for the town wide referendum
was started by Robert Gross, who was also instrumental in organizing a referendum in 2006 that overturned a council deal to sell the Wooding-Caplan property to a private developer.

Opponents of the Simpson
Court arrangement say the town should not be investing public money in private property.
“They don’t want the vote on Nov. 8 because the pulse of the people is against the parking lot,” Gross said Thursday. “They’re concerned the numbers will be even greater on that day.”

Council Chairman Robert Parisi said the council’s decision Tuesday was made after questions to Miller as to how legal or realistic it would be to hold the referendum on the same day as local elections. Miller told the council the town faced a
large number of state mandates requiring a minimum number of counting machines that would strain the town’s supply and the space needed for the equipment.

Miller said Thursday that it would require lengthy, error- prone counting of paper ballots.

“I just think it’s inefficient,” Parisi said. “We were told towns with small voter registration and low voter counts might do that, but with the number of people we have registered, it’s inefficient and very difficult to do. If all the machines broke down, we might have to do that, but it isn’t the recommended procedure.”

The Town Charter requires 20 percent of registered voters — 4,982 — to partici
pate in a referendum to make it valid.

Gross, who’s confident support will be strong on Nov. 14, said he and a group of volunteers would be registering a political action committee in Town Hall today and begin asking for donations to send out fliers and make signs advertising the referendum. He said the spending would be “nowhere near” the thousands of dollars spent on the Wooding- Caplan referendum campaign.

On Thursday, Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos said Miller misled the council with vague information that made more traditional voting methods using paper ballots seem too difficult, and dissuaded the council from considering a local election and referendum on the same night. Along with requiring the paper ballot method, holding the referendum on the same day as local elections would strain the available election staff on an already busy voting day, Miller said Thursday. The referendum is expected to cost more than $30,000.

“Why go back to the stone age?” Miller said. “Hand counting ballots is not an accurate process, as we’ve proven time and time again. It is a legal way to do that, but it’s archaic and it’s just impossible to monitor and guarantee the integrity of it.” Along with Councilor Craig Fishbein, Economopoulos was one of two votes against the 7-2 council vote to enter the agreement.

Economopoulos said he argued to have three polling places instead of the two proposed and didn’t think the council would budge on the date.

“Seven of the members on the council want the lot to go through, so, in my opinion, for those members it doesn’t matter what day you can vote on it,” he said. “I voted for it (Nov. 14), because it was all I knew I would get in the end.”

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