As published in the Record Journal Tuesday April 11, 2012
By Mary Ellen Godin
WALLINGFORD — They might be from different political parties, but the town councilors who founded the Wallingford Fireworks Fund joined Tuesday in the hopes of getting more say in choosing vendors for the annual Fourth of July display.
Democrat Jason Zandri and Republican Craig Fishbein wouldn’t accept the explanation by Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. that only the Parks and Recreation Department could handle vendor negotiation and the purchasing process.
“Without a formal process it could unravel as quickly as it came together,” Dickinson said. “You can’t have multiple people representing the town.”
Dickinson added that he knew of no other organization that allows event planners to negotiate contracts on behalf of the town. Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi, a Republican, said he understood the liability and logistical reasons behind Dickinson’s stand, but he said he could see Zandri’s and Fishbein’s point. Parisi even agreed with Democrat John Sullivan that the interested parties need to meet in the mayor’s office and settle the matter.
“The fund would like to have some input,” Parisi said. “They want to hear the final negotiation and bless it. When you’re into it, you’re taking ownership. You want to have a little bit of yourself in it. I share their passion.”
Zandri and Fishbein started the Wallingford Fireworks Fund in 2010, the year the town dropped funding for the $30,000 celebration from its budget. The nonprofit organization has raised enough money to pay for the show in each of the last two years.
Until this year, Zandri has negotiated quotes with vendors. He said the arrangement allowed certain flexibility on costs, through discounts from the vendor, and room to accommodate last-minute donations that could improve the show.
This year, the town has been seeking quotes without Zandri, who said the price and the quality of the show could suffer if he can’t be at the negotiating table.
“I’m looking for that flexibility,” Zandri said. “I want to try to figure out how to do that.”
Fishbein disagreed with Dickinson that other groups don’t hire vendors, and he pointed to Celebrate Wallingford. He also asked when the town would ever contribute to a fireworks display that draws 10,000 people versus a symphony concert and other events that bring in fewer people.
Zandri also said he wanted to extend the fundraising deadline to allow more contributions to make a better show, but was told by Dickinson that a range on costs could be written into the contract, and that the need for police and fire service demanded a deadline.
Other councilors, including Republican Thomas Laffin and Sullivan, said the Town Council isn’t the proper place for airing the grievances. They said the parties should meet in the mayor’s office to reach a partnership agreement with the Parks and Recreation Department.
In other business, the Town Council approved several appointments to boards and commissions and set a public hearing for April 24 on a 2012 Small Cities Community Block Grant, an ordinance concerning food service establishments, changes to sewer and drain ordinances, and a restriction on employees contracting with the town.
Photos courtesy of the Record Journal