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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Generator plan divides town council

As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday January 23, 2013

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD - A discussion about purchasing generators to power the town’s high schools for use as shelters during widespread power outages broke down into a partisan debate at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.

Democrat Jason Zandri proposed forming an “Emergency and Alternative Power Review Committee” to investigate options to power the two schools, or other town-owned facilities, for use as shelters. The town has just one shelter with generator power: the old Cook Hill Volunteer Fire Station, which can hold 40 people.

“Our emergency operations plan is not set up to accommodate a large number of residents,” said Democratic Councilor John Sullivan.

But Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the chances of the town experiencing massive outages were slim. He said the town would likely be able to restore power to a school quickly for use as a shelter.

“The chance we would not be able to energize one of the schools is virtually impossible,” Dickinson said. “The chance of us being completely out is remote.”

After about 45 minutes of discussion between councilors, Dickinson and Emergency Management Director Ernest Frattini, Republican Councilor Thomas Laffin made a motion to call the question to a vote. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, any member of a body that operates under the rules can make such a motion, effectively ceasing debate and putting the issue to a vote if two-thirds of the body agrees.

Laffin said town staff were already undertaking many of the duties that the committee Zandri proposed would be tasked with. “I don’t want to waste another hour talking about something that’s already been done,” Laffin said.

The motion to call Zandri’s proposal to a vote passed 6-3 along party lines, with Democrats, including Zandri, saying they hadn’t been given an opportunity to fully speak on the matter. Democrat Nicholas Economopoulos said the Republican majority was stifling debate, pointing to a member of the public who had approached the microphone, wishing to weigh in.

“We’re not stifling anyone,” said Republican Chairman Robert Parisi. “We live by rules.”

Zandri said he was upset because he had cut his initial comments short to let other councilors weigh in and believed he would have another chance to speak.

“I’m never going to give up my right to speak at this table again,” he said.

In other business, the council approved a two-year contract for management employees across all town departments, with a 1.75 percent pay increase in the first year and a renegotiation on wages in the second year. The total cost of the raises, which cover about 75 employees, will be $35,000 this year, said Personnel Director Terence Sullivan.

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