Republican Partisan Gambit Raises Meeting Legality Questions

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.