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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wallingford Dems question GOP tactic

As published in the Record Journal, Thursday January 24, 2013

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

WALLINGFORD - The Democratic town chairman Wednesday called Republican town councilors “disrespectful” for halting debate during this week’s Town Council meeting without letting a Democratic colleague finish his thoughts.

Republicans invoked an infrequently used rule known as “calling the question.” If two thirds of the council supports the motion — the Republicans hold a 6-3 majority — debate is immediately ended and the pending matter is put to a vote.

Republican Thomas Laffin made the motion Tuesday night after about 45 minutes of debate on a proposal by Democrat Jason Zandri to create a committee to investigate powering town-owned buildings for use as shelters during storms with widespread power outages. Zandri shared his thoughts but deferred to other councilors and expected to speak on the subject a second time. However, Laffin moved to call the question before Zandri’s turn came around again.

“What I find reprehensible and disrespectful is not to have allowed Jason to continue asking questions,” said Democratic Town Chairman Vincent Avallone. “It was clear he was going to ask further questions.”

Laffin said Wednesday that he made the motion after giving other councilors a chance to speak because the debate had strayed from Zandri’s motion to a general discussion about emergency preparedness.

“Nobody was talking about the actual motion,” Laffin said. “They were talking in circles.”

Zandri said he was unhappy he hadn’t received a chance to continue his comments, but he was more upset that the public didn’t have a chance to speak on the issue.

“The Republicans don’t care about what the people have to say,” he said. “Just because it’s proper procedurally doesn’t make it the right thing to do.”

Republican John Le-Tourneau said Laffin’s motion hadn’t suppressed debate. He said the town-owned Electric Division is well known for keeping power running during storms and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said that if the town were to experience a total blackout, crews would be able to restore power to a school for use as a shelter quickly.

“The chances of something catastrophic like that happening in Wallingford is so remote,” LeTourneau said. “We could have sat there all night and talked about hypothetical (situations). It was time to end it.”

But Democratic Councilor John Sullivan said debate was cut short.

“Debate is a part of government we cannot suppress,” he said. “It (calling the question) should be a last resort. It seems the right side of the aisle is using it as a tool to squash debate.”

Avallone, who has been observing the council for about 20 years, said he’s seen more instances of calling the question this term than he has in the past two decades.

“It’s a political move to cut off discussion on issues that are important to the public,” he said.

Laffin said that if Zandri wanted information about emergency preparedness he could have requested it from Dickinson or department heads over the telephone or by setting up a meeting. Zandri said he had talked with Emergency Management Director Ernest Frattini before the meeting and placed the item on the agenda because he believes the town’s emergency preparedness plans are lacking.

Laffin also accused the Democrat, who is planning to run for mayor this fall, of using his seat on the Town Council and the forum the meeting provided for political posturing.

Zandri said he’s a councilor first and a mayoral candidate second.

“I have a job to do on behalf of the people who voted me in and I’m going to continue to do it,” he said.