FOI panel clears contested meeting on Brumback replacement

Published on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 22:20
Written by BRIAN M. JOHNSON

@brianjohnsonBP

SOUTHINGTON - Just before last year’s election, several Town Council members accused others of meeting in secret and excluding them - a claim that prompted a Freedom of Information request.

That request has since been dismissed, and the accused councilors say they feel vindicated.

The Freedom of Information request was submitted by Board of Finance member and former Chairman of the Democratic Town Committee John Moise. It accused Republican Councilors Mike Riccio, Tom Lombardi, Paul Champagne and Victoria Triano of meeting in caucus without councilors Ed Pocock III and Cheryl Lounsbury to get a consensus on the plan to replace retiring Town Manager Garry Brumback.

They then were accused of consulting Democratic Councilor Dawn Miceli to get a five-vote majority.

According to Pocock and Lounsbury, this was done to ensure they would back Mark Sciota’s immediate appointment, while those two had favored having an open search.

Pocock, Lounsbury and Democratic Councilors Chris Palmieri and John Barry had referred to this as a “backroom deal” even though a public vote was later had to appoint Sciota as Brumback’s successor at a council meeting.

Riccio, Lombardi, Champagne and Triano had long denied that any sort of backroom dealings occurred. The meeting, they had said, was the Republican ticket meeting to strategize the election. Pocock and Lounsbury were not invited because they both were not running for re-election. Any discussion about Sciota had only been a “straw poll.” Miceli was not present at this meeting and was only called after the fact.

The Freedom of Information Commission backed up the accused councilors, writing in its Jan. 19 dismissal letter.

“It is found that the Aug. 1 2017 gathering was ‘a caucus of members of a single political part’ and was not a ‘meeting.’ It is concluded therefore that the respondents did not violate the open meetings provisions of the FOI Act as alleged by the complainant.”

Lounsbury said that she felt that the other Republican council members “got off on a technicality” because Miceli was called and was not present.

“It is backroom politics at its worst when you don’t include members of your own party because they have a different opinion,” she said. “Between this and what recently occurred with the Republican Town Committee, we’re definitely seeing a pattern.”

Pocock said he was not too upset by the outcome because the laws are written as they are written. However, he also spoke to a “pattern of behavior” with the Republican Town Committee.

“It’s kind of ironic that this would be decided just after the other sneaky move they pulled where they removed a bunch of people from the committee,” he said.

Champagne said that he was happy that the Freedom of Information Commission saw the facts for what they were.

“John Moise was confused, Dawn was called after our discussion and she and the four of us all testified that she was not there,” said Champagne. “I feel like this was all a ploy the way it was done just before the election.”

Riccio said that those behind the accusations “got what they set out to do.” He blamed the accusations for the loss of the Republican majority on the council.

“They wanted to destroy the election for the Republicans and that’s what happened,” he said. “Cheryl Lounsbury and Ed Pocock undermined their own party - they’re simply not people you can trust and I’m glad they’re stepping away from the Republican Town Committee. The dismissal of this complaint didn’t come as a surprise to me - we knew all along that there was no illegal meeting. It was nice to see a third party agree that everything they were saying was false.”

Moise said that he was “disappointed” by the dismissal of his complaint.

“I don’t know how much investigation they do at the end of the day,” he said. “There were definite contradictions in things that were said. To me, they won on a technicality.”

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or bjohnson@bristolpress.com.



Posted in New Britain Herald, Southington Herald on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 22:20. Updated: Wednesday, 24 January 2018 22:23.