Controversy was no stranger to Southington during an eventful 2017 that also saw Democrats seize control of the Town Council.
On Columbus Day, a statue of Christopher Columbus was unveiled outside the Municipal Center. It was the culmination of four years of designing and fundraising by several local Italian-American organizations.
It was intended to honor the 525th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.
The statue had received unanimous approval from the town council and was widely supported by residents, who packed the Municipal Center during the dedication. Several town leaders and local legislators spoke.
Dick Fortunato, who spearheaded the monument, said that it honored the town’s driving spirit and patriotic pride, while state Sen. Joe Markley argued that people today should not judge historical figures like Columbus by modern standards because they lived in an entirely different world. He said people should be inspired by Columbus because he challenged “the biggest barrier of his day.” Town Council Chairman Mike Riccio also argued that Columbus was a product of his time and said people should admire his tenacious spirit.
However, the ceremony came at a time when protesters across the country were defacing monuments to historical figures they found offensive.
Protesters, many from out of town, showed up in Southington. They wore red and carried signs accusing Columbus of genocide and other crimes. They remained silent during the dedication ceremony.
The statue stands today under constant surveillance.
Another controversy occurred as the Town Council debated how to select the successor to Town Manager Garry Brumback.
Brumback had announced his plans to retire by February 2018 and move to Florida.
Democratics Chris Palmieri and John Barry and Republicans Ed Pocock and Cheryl Lounsbury favored conducting a national search, while Democrats Councilor Dawn Miceli and Republicans Mike Riccio, Victoria Triano, Paul Champagne and Tom Lombardi sought to appoint the deputy town manager, Town Attorney Mark Sciota, to the post.
Those in favor of the national search argued that Brumback had been selected with such a search, and had done good things for the town. They also argued against a “good old boy” policy of favoring locals.
Those in favor of appointing Sciota said that he was highly qualified and that the town could save money by appointing him. Even those who favored the national search said, at the time, that they had no issue with Sciota.
However, things turned ugly when the Sciota proponents were accused of conducting a secret meeting by their peers.
Riccio and Champagne countered that a straw poll had been conducted during a meeting of the Republican council candidates in preparation for the November election. Lounsbury and Pocock had not been invited, they said, because neither was running for re-election.
They argued that a public vote would still be held - and it ultimately was, resulting in Sciota’s appointment. However, those who had favored the national search still insisted that a majority had been reached behind closed doors, and that they had felt “shut out” of the discussion.
Democrats take council
In the Nov. 7 elections, Democrats took the majority on the Town Council for the first time in eight years, replacing a 6-3 GOP edge with a 5-4 advantage of their own.
The council now consists of Palmieri, Miceli, Chris Poulos, Barry and Kelly Morrissey for the Democrats, and Triano, Lombardi, Riccio and William Dziedzic for the Republicans.
Palmieri was appointed chairman as the leading Democratic votegetter. He has served on the council for 14 years, second only to Barry among Democrats.
“First and foremost, we need to take to heart the input we received from the public throughout the campaign,” said Palmieri, shortly after the election. “We have received invaluable feedback and we want to take the council in a direction where it is transparent, open and honest. We want to be thoughtful and don’t want to make any rushed or rash decisions.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.