‘The ability to thwart the will of the voters’: Sparse turnout at Trumbull redistricting hearing
TRUMBULL — A public hearing about voting districts drew little in the way of public interest over the weekend.
Only five people spoke at Saturday’s hearing, three of whom were part of the committee that developed the redistricting plan. The Town Council will hold a second public hearing on the topic Aug.3 before its monthly meeting.
Speaking first, Tony D’Aquila, a Democratic member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, declared himself to be a supporter of the proposed change in the 21-member council from four districts back to seven. His comments centered on making sure the public had conveniently located polling places.
“When my family moved to Trumbull in 1983, there were seven districts and we were able to walk to Middlebrook School to vote,” he told town officials. “Then 20 years later, for some unknown reason, the politicians decided to change seven districts into four districts.”
The change forced people in his neighborhood to vote at Hillcrest Middle School, about 21/2 miles away.
If the council votes to change back to seven districts, D’Aquila urged the members to shorten the trip to the polls rather than lengthening it. According to the proposed redistricting plan Tashua School, the only school in the revised District 6 where D’Aquila lives, is nearly four miles away from his street.
In his comments, Republican Town Committee Secretary Mark Block questioned the need to change back to seven districts.
“There really is no quantifiable data indicating voters are supportive of the change,” he said.
A 2017 petition drive to restore the seven districts had collected about 3,000 signatures, but those results are hardly scientific, Block said.
“It’s easy to find a few thousand people to sign a petition, any of us can do that,” he said.
The weight given to such petition signatures was also open to question, Block said, since many of the signers likely were ignorant of the current town council makeup.
“I’m unclear how you can pinpoint with any accuracy, at all, the number of town council representatives the residents know Trumbull has,” he said. “Also, I’m not confident that there’s any quantifiable way to find out whether residents know exactly what district they’re in, how many districts there are, or who, in fact, represents them.”
Given Trumbull’s Town Charter mandates minority representation in each district, a seven-district council could not have a party split greater than 14-7. The current four-district council allows a 17-4 disparity. The council currently is split 16-5 in favor of the Democrats. Republicans held a 17-4 edge for two years between 2015 and 2017.
This is important because some actions such as overriding vetoes, adding to the annual budget, approving some commission appointees and changing voting districts, require a 2/3 majority.
Therefore, Block said, a seven-district council created an effective “super minority” where the minority party could have more seats than it merited based on election results.
“When you establish a super minority, it has the ability to thwart the will of the voters,” he said. “Minority representation was intended to give the minority a voice. It was not intended to be an equal voice or a voice where it impeded the will of the majority.”
Block also disputed the common argument that splitting a 21-member council into four districts created unequal districts with three districts having five representatives and the fourth having six.
“Every voter has representation,” he said.
Jean Rabinow, who had served as clerk of the Redistricting Committee, spoke in support of D’Aquila’s comments and clarified his concern about polling locations.
“Where are the polling places? We don’t know, that’s going to be up to the registrars,” she said.
But the concern over polling locations was valid and “deserving of serious consideration,” she said.
To Block’s comment about residents not knowing their representatives on the council, Rabinow argued that, too, was a benefit of the seven-district council.
“When we had seven, people used to actually be able to hit every door,” she said. Dividing the town into four districts created territories that were simply too big for most candidates to walk, she said.
“I’d like to be able to do that again,” she said.
Redistricting Committee member Tony Scinto, who is also a town council member, notified the council representatives at the meeting that he planned to submit a minority report. Scinto had been the lone GOP representative on the four-member commission that also included Democratic Town Chairman Tom Kelly, council member Kevin Shively and former Democratic Registrar of Voters Laurel Anderson.
Scinto voiced his concern that there was a seeming lack of potential polling places in the proposed District 7. While the town could place polls on private property, like the current District 2 location at St. Joseph High School, such arrangements are not easily made, he said,.
“Back in 2012, (Republican Registrar) Bill Holden had a hard time getting polling places,” he said.
But Anderson, who had chaired the committee, pointed out that the committee’s role as defined by the council had not included locating polling places.
“Though we did discuss it, it was not ours to consider,” she said.