YOUR VIEW: 'Disingenuous' to say term limits a legal issue

Published on Tuesday, 20 April 2021 11:08
Written by Jeff Caggiano

In 1957 the Connecticut legislature adopted a statutory home rule law which allows any town or city to write and adopt its own charter and which allows amendment of existing charters..."  Based on an opinion from the Secretary of State’s Office of Legislative Review in 2001, which stated that term limits are neither expressly permitted nor prohibited, the 2013 [Bristol] Charter Revision Committee suggested term limits, which was passed onto the [Bristol] City Council. It was then approved by a 4-3 vote. (Four Republicans voted for it, and one against it).  The Democrat Mayor and Councilwoman also voted against it. Finally, and very importantly, Bristol voters at the polls  in 2013 voted by a 78.3% majority FOR term limits in Bristol!

The Mayor and the City Attorney are claiming that they just became aware of the debate. However, it has been part of the debate in the Charter Revision Committee at least three times prior*. Both the Mayor and City Attorney were active members of the Charter Revision Committee in 2018.  So why the fuss in 2021? 

Well, in law, standing is “the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case”.  Republicans in Bristol have no standing and we believe in the validity of term limits and solidly in the will of the referendum vote, where nearly 80% of voters spoke. Standing is very different for the Democrats in town.

In 2013 the term limits were instituted for BOE [Board of Education] for two consecutive 4-year terms,  for four two-year terms for Mayor and Council. The intent was to have anyone elected to BOE in 2015 serve for ONLY two terms. However in 2016 Republicans offered staggered terms to depoliticize the BOE. Democrats agreed, the Charter Revision Committee passed it on to Council who sent it to the voters, and the voters approved.  Those changes added a one-time 2-year term to accomplish the goal of staggered terms ...but the BOE term limits were not specifically altered in our charter at that time. So Chris Wilson and Tom O’Brien may be granted the right to run this year, as they are completing their second terms post the 2013 term limit change but only one of those terms being four years.

Tom will complete five elected terms and 6 or more appointed terms and 32 years on the board. Chris has served 5 elected terms and 18 years and served as Board Chairman.  He also lost a bid in 2013 for Mayor**. Beyond Chris and Tom the following face term limits in 2023:

Dave Prelesky (D)- City Council

Mary Fortier (D)- City Council

Karen Vibert (D) - Board of Education

Jennifer Dube (R) - Board of Education

Chairman Dube has announced she is in favor of term limits. She was elected in 2015 after being appointed to fill a term in 2013. She became Chair in 2019 and will step down in 2023. Jen joined the board in service of children. She feels her service will be done in 2023 and would welcome new ideas on the volunteer board. 

In summary, the claim that this is a legal issue is very disingenuous. The City Attorney and his Mayor have been involved in Charter Revision longer than I have been part of the same DTC, worked on the same Democrat campaigns and have worked together with and for the loudest opponents of term limits. This is purely a political maneuver to maintain power against the will of the people and it is disappointing to see the leaders of our town change the narrative to fit their needs. 

Bristol Press References- 

*In 2018 Brian Johnson of the Bristol Press reported that Chris Wilson and Karen Vibert once again submitted testimony to the CRC that term limits were illegal.

**BP article from 2017- Wilson explained that O’Brien was on the board for 13 years back when the members were appointed by the City Council. Then after taking a break from the board, he has been serving for the past 14 years as an elected member. “So that’s 27 years,” Wilson said, noting that that’s longer than fellow board member Joseph Grabowski has been alive. Grabowski is 20 years old.

Jeff Caggiano is the Bristol Republican Town Committee Chair.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column, Letters on Tuesday, 20 April 2021 11:08. Updated: Tuesday, 20 April 2021 11:10.