Trumbull hosts community forum on 7-district return next week
Residents are invited to share their thoughts on a proposed return to seven Town Council districts at a community forum Saturday, Jan. 25. The meeting will take place at 10 a.m. in the council chamber.
Returning the 21-member council to seven districts, with three representatives in each, was a major priority in First Selectman Vicki Tesoro’s re-election campaign.
In 2012 the council switched from seven districts to four, with three districts having five representatives and the fourth district having six.
Proponents of the switch said the reduction in council districts would save about $8,000 and result in fewer school disruptions. It also was hoped to reduce split districts in state legislative races.
But critics of the plan argued that creating unequal districts was unfair to town voters, and that it paved the way for one party to dominate Trumbull politics.
The Town Charter mandates one representative from every district to be from the minority party. That meant the maximum party split on the council increased from 14-7 to 17-4. The number is important because some council actions - like overriding first selectman vetoes, approving some committee appointments and increasing the town’s annual budget proposal - require a 2/3 majority.
Opponents argued that the reduction in districts could make the Trumbull Town Council like the Bridgeport City Council, where one party was essentially irrelevant. That proved to be the case in 2013 when Trumbull Republicans swept the council races and governed with a 17-4 majority for the next two years.
A petition drive and 2017 legal challenge to the four-district council failed with a court ruling that apportioning districts was the sole responsibility of the town’s legislative body. In her decision, Judge Barbara Bellis stated that “legislative body” meant the Town Council.
Former First Selectman Tim Herbst, a proponent of four districts, said at the time that “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.”
Last year voters did just that, giving giving Democrats a 16-5 majority and putting the newly elected council in a tricky spot. The party had run on a return to seven districts and a maximum 14-7 split. But with 16 Democrats winning seats, that means that two council members, who have been in office just a few weeks, will not even be able to run for re-election.
Tesoro addressed the issue in her inauguration speech in December.
“We ran on a platform that called for balance,” she said. “If we return to 7 Districts, it will mean that no party can have more than 14 seats on the Town Council. In other words I am asking that our party give up two seats in the 2021 election. It is a difficult thing to ask, but it is the right thing to pursue.”
An informal poll of newly elected council members by Hearst Connecticut Media last month revealed that four of the eight council members that responded supported the change, three others said they were leaning toward supporting it, and one wanted more information.