Trumbull Republicans stage walkout over redistricting vote

A row of empty chairs after every Republican member of the Town Council present at the meeting walked out before a vote on redistricting on Monday, April 11, 2022

A row of empty chairs after every Republican member of the Town Council present at the meeting walked out before a vote on redistricting on Monday, April 11, 2022

Zoom screen capture

TRUMBULL — A brief, but fiery, meeting of the town council on Monday resulted in every Republican member that attended walking out of the chamber by meeting’s end.

Despite the walkout, the council still voted to approve a resolution to redistrict the town.

Republican Town Council member Tony Scinto said he orchestrated the walkout, asking the other Republican council members to leave if the vote was called to question.

“Calling to question stops all debate,” he said.

The town last redistricted in 2020, going from four voting districts to seven. Since then, two things have happened.

One is that the 2020 Census data was released, and districts are supposed to be created using the most recent census information. The second is that the Connecticut General Assembly redrew state representative districts, based on the new census data.

Based on that, the town now has to accommodate four state House districts instead of the previous three.

According to the redistricting committee, part of the reason for redistricting was create as few “split districts” as possible. This is when town council districts include multiple legislative districts.

Even before the walkout, Monday’s town council meeting — which clocked in at less than an hour — was a contentious one. Early on, several council members and members of the public had spoken out against the redistricting resolution, which retained seven voting districts in the town, but redrew them, based largely on the updated census data, and the state redistricting.

Those speaking out against resolution complained that, among other things, the seven-member redistricting committee had a Democratic majority, and that one of the members was Tom Kelly, chair of the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee. There were also concerns that people weren’t sufficiently informed about the plan.

“Most people know nothing about it,” said Joe Pifko, a member of the Trumbull Republican Town Committee who spoke during the public comment portion. He also debated the necessity of redistricting so soon.

“This has to be something that lasts — not something that changes every two years because of who’s in office,” Pifko said.

But some were in favor of the plan, including DTC member Marshall Marcus.

“This committee was charged, not to redistrict but to realign,” he said. “Not everyone going is to be happy. We can’t make everyone happy but we can make everyone’s vote count.”

Discussion between the council members was also contentious. Republican council member Stephen Lemoine, who was also on the redistricting committee, said he was concerned that the committee “did not actively seek to involve community in drawing” the districts, and that Monday’s meeting was the first public hearing on the matter.

Lemoine also said he and the other Republicans on the committee wanted to pursue other options besides seven voting districts, including possibly having three districts, but their requests were dismissed out of hand.

Democratic Majority Leader Jason Marsh took issue with the complaints, pointing out that the seven-member committee was proposed by Republican Minority Leader Carl Massaro, who wasn’t present at the meeting.

“I don’t know what to say about that, other than you got what asked for,” Marsh said.

He also pointed out that, despite concerns voiced about Kelly being on the committee, other members of the committee included Mark Block, who is secretary of the RTC and was the most recent Republican candidate for first selectman.

“Were you ever denied right to speak on the committee?” Marsh asked the Republican members of the committee.

When Scinto pushed back, Marsh pointed out that he wasn’t on the committee “because your behavior on the previous committee precluded us putting you on this committee.”

In November 2020, the Trumbull Ethics Commission ruled that Scinto had violated the town’s code of ethics when he made derogatory comments about a volunteer municipal mapmaker during a meeting on redistricting.

Lemoine asked that the current report get sent back to committee for further work. That motion was eventually voted down, and the resolution was called to question, prompting the walkout.

Marsh asked if it was OK to vote in light of the walkout and was told it was fine as long as there was a quorum. The redistricting resolution passed, and the new districts will be effective, starting with the primary elections to be held on Aug. 9.

Kelly said he watched the meeting online, and pointed out that his standing as chair of the Democratic Town Committee had nothing to do with his inclusion on the redistricting committee.

“I was also on the last committee and that’s why they asked me to be on this committee,” he said. “It had nothing to with me being an officer of (the DTC).”

Kelly said he was particularly disturbed by the walkout, and that there was no call for it.

“Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on everything,” he said. “That’s fine. The solution to not agreeing is not walking out.”