Fight for seven districts continues

Citizens group to fight on, seek re-argument of case

The fight over how many voting districts there ought to be in Trumbull is not over, according to court documents filed Monday.

Regina Haley and John Kingston, representing the group Trumbull Citizens for 7 Districts, have filed a motion to reargue their case that was dismissed Sept. 21. The group seeks a referendum to vote on whether the 21-member Town Council should be divided among seven districts or the current four. The group had collected 2,800 signatures to force a referendum on the matter, but took the issue to court after Town Council Chairman Carl Massaro, after consulting with the town attorneys, declined to place the motion on the council’s September agenda. Judge Barbara Bellis dismissed the case, ruling that state statutes gave the exclusive right of apportioning voting districts to the Town Council.

The 14-page motion, filed by the law firm Green and Gross, claims that the judgment was in error because Bellis misinterpreted the meaning of the term “legislative body” in state statutes.

“The Court concluded that pursuant to the Trumbull Town Charter and the Connecticut General Statutes, the ‘legislative body’ of the Town of Trumbull can only be the Trumbull Town Council,” according to the motion.

The plaintiffs argue that the Town Charter, by allowing residents to petition for referendum in multiple situations, including budgets and land purchases, has essentially made the People of Trumbull a legislative body.

“The electors of the Town of Trumbull possess direct legislative powers that extend to the right to initiate redistricting legislation,” according to the legal brief. “The power to redistrict is not restricted to the Town Council because the term ‘legislative body’ includes the electorate.”

The decision on whether to rehear the case falls to Bellis, the same judge who initially dismissed it. Though it would seem unlikely that Bellis would overrule herself, Haley said, the group was simply following the rules as they pondered an appeal.

“The motion to reargue was a simple step to keep our options open if we chose to appeal the case,“ said Haley. “While we know it’s too late to get our issue on the November ballot, we appreciate that our case has ramifications at the state level.  We want to support other voters who are in a similar position.”

Haley pointed out that numerous legal cases involving voting rights are prominent right now, including a case on political gerrymandering (manipulating voting districts to favor one party over the other) that the Supreme Court is expected to hear this week.

First Selectman Tim Herbst scoffed at the filing, saying the case was without merit and would cause the town to spend money on a legal challenge that was certain to be dismissed.

“Dividing the town into voting districts is the responsibility of the Town Council,” he said. “If people don’t like the districts, change the council.”

Allowing residents to petition to change voting districts was also a recipe for chaos, Herbst said.

“Think about it — there would be nothing to stop people from putting the town through district realignment every year,” he said. “If people really want seven voting districts, then elect Town Council representatives who favor changing to seven districts.”

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