Top 10 of 2017: #7 – Republican Partisan Gambit in Old City Council Raised Meeting Legality Questions

Many important stories have been covered by the New Britain Progressive in 2017. It may be difficult to name only a few articles as the top stories of the year, but there are a few the New Britain Progressive would like to share as our Top Ten.  Other Top Ten stories can be found at “Top Ten Stories of 2017.”

Before voters in the 2017 elections cut the Republican Party’s City Council membership in half, a number of scandals had roiled through City Hall. One scandal was the question of whether the Republican Party’s caucus on the City Council may have been holding unlawful meetings during the course of their two year term as the dominant party on the Council. City Republicans and Republican Mayor Erin Stewart had been attempting to market a version of bipartisanship that proposed that civic participation by Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters would all be under the umbrella and control of the Republican Party. But the New Britain Progressive exposed that the attempt at that gambit may have resulted in the Council’s Republican caucus having acted illegally.

The article exposing this apparent scandal, “Republican Partisan Gambit Raises Meeting Legality Questions“, is the #7 story on the New Britain Progressive’s Top 10 of 2017.

Republican Partisan Gambit Raises Meeting Legality Questions

August 29, 2017

The attempt by members of the City Council elected as Republicans to claim different party affiliations than they were elected as has raised the question of whether the Republican Party’s caucus on the City Council may have been holding unlawful meetings.

State law requires that meetings of a majority of City Council members must be publicly noticed and open for the public to attend. Closed door meetings of Council members who are “a caucus of members of a single political party” are an exception to this, but only for a legally constituted caucus. There are two ways that a caucus can be legally constituted under state law. One way is that Council members who are registered, as voters, in the same political party can legitimately form a Council party caucus. The other way is for caucus members to register themselves, with the Town Clerk, as intending to caucus together.

But public information provided to the New Britain Progressive seems to show that neither of these two things have been done by the Republican Party’s Council members to make their caucus legally able to hold closed-door meetings with a majority of Council members present.

Registrar of Voters Lucian Pawlak confirmed to the New Britain Progressive that four of the Council members elected as Republicans have maintained voter registrations other than as Republican. This would make the first option for forming a legitimate caucus consisting of all of them, that they all be registered as Republican voters, unavailable to the Republican Party’s Council members.

The other option for legally forming a caucus, filing a document with the Town Clerk registering their intent to be a caucus, was apparently not done either. New Britain Town Clerk Mark Bernacki informed the New Britain Progressive that, “We have no such document on file.”

This would apparently mean that any closed-door caucus meeting held by at least eight of the twelve Republican-elected members of the Council may have been an illegal City Council meeting. Since this applies to the whole Council term of office, such violations apparently may have been occurring for nearly two years.

The sample ballot from the 2015 New Britain city elections, showing Ald. Salerno as a Republican candidate. (Emphasis added.)

Image from City of New Britain’s website

In fact, the Majority Leader of the Republican Party’s Council members is one of those not registered as a Republican voter. Ald. Daniel Salerno was elected as a Republican, as were all members of the City Council in the caucus of which he is the Majority Leader.

Salerno was asked by the New Britain Progressive, “since you apparently serve as a member of the Republican caucus, have you declared with which caucus you intended to caucus with the Town Clerk’s office?”

Salerno’s response was to deny that such a filing is necessary, saying, “Once an endorsement takes place there is no further need to file an intent. In fact, if one decides to caucus with the other and he or she were accepted that could occur. Bernie Sanders has never been a Democrat and caucus with the Dems in Congress.”

But, while Federal law applies to Congress, it is state law that applies to the City Council.