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Friday, February 22, 2013

Economopoulos opposes quick vote on consent calendar

As published in the Record Journal on Friday February 22, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Town Councilor Nick Economopoulos is unhappy with how the consent agenda is used during Town Council meetings.

During the council’s last meeting, on Feb. 13, Economopoulos questioned an item on the consent agenda, which is technically against procedure.

“There is no discussion or debate either by members of the council or by the general public on consent items,” according to Town Council procedures, which were last amended in 2010.

Thirteen items were on the consent agenda last week, one of which was an appropriation of $500,000 to the Wallingford Housing Authority to cover building repairs. Economopoulos questioned Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi about the item and asked why the council was voting on a costly appropriation he knew nothing about.

“I don’t like voting yes for something when I don’t know what it is,” Economopoulos said on Thursday.

Parisi then explained that the item was brought up in past discussion, and Economopoulos reluctantly accepted the agenda along with his fellow councilors.

The consent agenda was established for council meetings between 10 and 15 years ago, Parisi said. Town Council procedures state that “the consent agenda is a separate listing from the regular agenda of a variety of items to be approved by one vote of the Town Council, rather than by specific votes on each item.”

It’s used to speed up meetings by accepting items that don’t require discussion in bulk.

“You put the ho-hum items on it, the ones that aren’t normally going to involve a lot of discussion,” Parisi said.

During last week’s meeting, Economopoulos suggested placing a monetary limit on items that can be placed on the consent agenda. On Thursday, he said “I’m against the consent agenda as it is,” explaining that cost doesn’t matter. The item could be a $6,000 tax credit, he said. If he doesn’t know what it’s about, he doesn’t like approving it.

Parisi said councilors have a chance to take items off the consent calendar, but there is a deadline. That’s why he said it is important for councilors to check the agenda immediately when they receive it on the Wednesday before the meeting.

“Some councilors haven’t made themselves aware of what the rules are,” Parisi said.

Procedures direct councilors to bring any questions on the consent agenda “up with the department head submitting the request, or the Mayor, if a satisfactory answer is not obtained.”

If more information is needed, councilors must notify the secretary of the Town Council, or the Town Clerk, by 4:30 p.m. on the Friday before the meeting.

“I have other things I have to do that are much more important” than calling town department heads to have consent items explained, Economopoulos said. Town employees have other business to take care of as well, he said, adding that if he called about all the items he isn’t sure about on the consent agenda he would be accused of micromanaging.

“A department head doesn’t want to take our calls,” he said.

Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau disagreed, and said town employees are usually very helpful.

“You really don’t get people stonewalling you,” Le-Tourneau said, adding that he has no issue with the consent agenda. “A councilor must read their backup material and understand what’s happening during the meeting.”

Economopoulos said there are too many items on a consent agenda to understand them all in detail.

“Be an adult,” Parisi said of Economopoulos. “Don’t play games with the agenda.”

Parisi said that the consent agenda’s purpose is to expedite business, not slow it down.

“These are items we should all agree on,” he said.

But Economopoulos said he often does not, and believes the consent calendar implies items are clear cut when they may not be.

“I’m against the consent calendar,” Economopoulos repeated. “There’s nobody watching out for the taxpayer.”

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