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Friday, April 13, 2012

It seems it’s always something in Wallingford

As published in the Record Journal Friday April 13, 2012

Jeffery Kurz
(203) 317-2213

They get into some interesting squabbles in Wallingford.

There’s been squabbling about fireworks. There’s been squabbling about trees. There’s been squabbling about squabbling.

In 2010, the town dropped $30,000 from its budget for the July 4 celebration.

Wallingford was hardly alone in making such concessions to the pressures of a struggling economy. But Independence Day is Independence Day, and having set up on the slope that leads to Sheehan High School, and having watched the fireworks celebration, I can understand why it was hard to give up.

Craig Fishbein and Jason Zandri came to the rescue, starting the Wallingford Fireworks Fund, a nonprofit organization that has raised enough money the keep the celebration going for each of the last two years.

Nice story, right?

But this year there’s a catch. The town’s Parks and Recreation Department has been tasked with handling negotiations with vendors and purchases, something that in the past two years was handled by the nonprofit fund. The fund wants to continue to play a role, and that’s where the squabbling is coming from.

Republican Fishbein and Democrat Zandri are town councilors, Zandri having been elected in November, and it seems kind of silly not to let them continue to play a part. They’ve earned it. The question is, how much of a part? And there’s been some squabbling about that.

The situation reflects the tension between the municipal responsibility and liability concerns of Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. versus the grass-roots initiative of the fireworks fund. As Robert Parisi, the Republican Town Council chairman, and Democratic councilor John Sullivan have suggested, the interested parties should get together in the mayor’s office and figure this out.

In other Wallingford squabbling news, the specter of “Wallingford’s chainsaw massacre” was resurrected recently when tree-removal notices were posted near the train station, alerting passersby of the town’s intent to remove six pear trees damaged by storms last year and replace them with cherry trees.

The “chainsaw massacre” was part of a Record-Journal headline for an opinion column in February 1998, not too long after 21 thornless honey locust trees were eradicated from the Town Green by the Public Works Department. The trees had been planted in the mid-1980s on the green and in sections of the sidewalk.

“The last time they did this there was a riot,” Democratic Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos said earlier this week, referring both to the plan to cut down the pear trees and the “chainsaw massacre” of the late 1990s.

Fourteen years ago it was Jason Zandri’s father, Geno Zandri Jr., a Democratic town councilor at the time, who was described as “barking mad” over the tree removal in a Record-Journal article (do I need to point out the pun in that description?). Geno Zandri said recently of the current situation that the trees should be removed, the sidewalk fixed and the new trees planted in the grass. “If that’s not the case, they’ll be hearing from me,” he said.

In the late-1990’s flap, Henry McCully was the target of criticism, and today it appears that McCully, who is the public works director and tree warden, can’t look at a tree without catching some flak. I don’t know much about trees, other than that I like them and am inclined to leave them alone, but isn’t that why you have an expert on hire?

There’s the airing of grievances and there’s squabbling, a distinction that is often hard to make in Wallingford.

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