As published in the Record Journal, Friday May 25, 2012
By Laurie Rich Salerno
WALLINGFORD — Some local veterans and town councilors are irked with Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. over his decision to not allow them to use the town’s mobile bandstand stage for Monday’s annual Memorial Day parade.
The town’s Veterans Memorial Committee sent a letter to Dickinson and town councilors this week asking the mayor to reconsider a prior decision to deny them the use of a canopied “showmobile” that the town owns and uses to hold bands and orchestras for municipal events, such as the town fireworks display, instead of an aluminum “reviewing stand,” a smaller platform that the vets have traditionally used.
At the Memorial Day event, the stage is used by local veterans at Doolittle Park during a post-parade military ceremony. The committee said the showmobile stage would be able to hold more people and its shade would keep older veterans out of the sun. The committee had used the showmobile once, in 2010, for this purpose.
File photo / Record-Journal
The portable stage is used for a concert in front of Wallingford Town Hall on July 21, 2010.
“We just thought it was safer for the older people,” said Elise Gallup, secretary of the committee, who sent the letter. “(The mayor) has done a lot for the veterans in town and we felt that to re-appeal to him was the proper thing to do.”
The letter was taken up by the Town Council at the end of Tuesday’s meeting and caused some heated debate between the mayor and councilors, along with veterans in the audience. Republican councilors Craig Fishbein and John Le-Tourneau respectively made and seconded a motion to vote to approve the use as a ceremonial nod of support to the veterans (the council can’t compel the mayor to allow use of the stage) but it never came to a vote.
“These veterans have given everything — I can’t think of a better thing to do, not that they asked for anything in a major way,” said Democratic Councilor Jason Zandri on Thursday. Zandri added the item to Tuesday night’s agenda.
Dickinson said Thursday that he means no disrespect to veterans, but declined the request for two reasons. He said he doesn’t believe using the showmobile as a reviewing stand is the proper use for the stage, and that using it would add significant cost to the event. The reviewing stand can be set up by town workers on Friday and taken down on Tuesday, while the showmobile needs to be set up and removed on Monday, which means double overtime pay for town workers. The town already gives about $3,300 for the event through its public celebrations committee, and that figure doesn’t include labor.
“We’ve always used a reviewing stand,” Dickinson said. “It’s been safe for many years. I just don’t see a need to change what our protocols and procedures are.”
Zandri said he figured it was a cost issue, and came prepared with pledges he’d received from people willing to fund the stage. But he said Dickinson’s statements that the use would be improper stopped him from bringing it up.
“There was nothing I could offer that would let them use it. There’s no solution because the mayor didn’t want a solution,”Zandri said. Vietnam veteran Jerry J. Kennedy has been on the committee since 1973, and said the mayor helped him secure the showmobile in 2010.
“Two years ago, we thought about it — ‘You know, it would be a much better venue to be in,’ ” Kennedy said. “That worked out real nice. It was a hot day. Kids on the field were dropping, but the ones on the stand were cooler.”
Kennedy said the need for a place for older vets to sit has increased — they’re not just talking about World War II veterans.
“You have to realize, your Vietnam vets are in their 60s and 70s now,” Kennedy said.
Pat Lizotte, president of VFW Post 591, was at the Tuesday meeting to see the outcome.
“I’m happy either way,” Lizotte said. “I think everything will go along smoothly.”
Kennedy said he hoped the mayor would reconsider the request someday.
“How much is the overtime compared to the cost of our freedom is what we’re asking. Everybody thinks you can put a price tag on everything,” Kennedy said. “We’re disappointed but not upset. All we can do is keep asking and maybe one day he’ll change his mind.”