UPDATED — Judge dismisses legal challenge from petitioners for seven council districts
Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis has dismissed a complaint brought by a local citizens group, seeking a referendum to return the town to seven Town Council districts from its current four-district setup. Bellis ruled that their legal action before the Superior Court was improper because the Connecticut General Statutes control how municipalities conduct redistricting of local legislative boundaries.
“I am grateful that Judge Barbara Bellis concluded that the town attorney’s original legal opinion was appropriate,” said First Selectman Timothy M. Herbst. “The judge’s ruling reaffirmed the legal position that redistricting is a creature of the Connecticut General Statutes and not a local initiative process due to Town Charter.”
Herbst went on to describe the legal challenge as a “frivolous political stunt” carried out by allies of Democratic first selectman candidate Vicki Tesoro.
“I find very interesting that a candidate who deposes and cries legal fees incurred by the town would actively support and encourage those to take legal action against the town causing additional unnecessary legal fees,” Herbst said. “This legal challenge was nothing more than political theatre and was coordinated between plaintiffs, Mrs. Tesoro’s campaign and the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee. Trumbull voters should remember the thousands and thousands of dollars incurred by the town to defend against this frivolous political stunt."
Tesoro said she was “astonished and appalled” that Herbst would characterize a petition drive carried out by volunteers that garnered nearly 3,000 signatures as frivolous.
“It is an insult to nearly 3,000 voters that signed the seven districts petition so their voices could be heard,” she said. “It is an insult to the citizens of our community who tirelessly gave of their free time and gathered these signatures.”
The Democratic Party voiced support for the return to seven districts, but the party and the petitioners were not coordinated, she said.
While Herbst and the Republicans opposed the petitioners’ efforts, Tesoro said, she and the Democrats stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. She said the fight to return the town to seven districts is far from over.
Town Council Chairman Carl Massaro, whose decision not to place the item on the council’s September agenda sparked the legal challenge from the group Trumbull Citizens For 7 Districts, said the decision to reject the motion had not been made lightly.
“As chairman, I have had to make many decisions in leading the business of the Town Council. None was more difficult than the decision I made to not place the seven district initiative petition on the council agenda,” Massaro said. “My judgment has always been guided by the rule of law and the town’s best interest. I am pleased that the Superior Court has justified my decision and denied the petitioners enforcement action.”
Citizens for 7 Districts spokesman Regina Haley said she hoped the Town Council could put partisanship aside and admit that the four-district plan is not right for a town with 21 council seats, then do something about it. If the council chose not to, it was up to the voters, she said.
“Ruling or no ruling, the Trumbull Town Council chose to ignore the almost 3,000 Trumbull residents who signed the petition,” she said. “We hope the citizens of Trumbull will consider our plight, as well as the plight of the community center, when voting in November. Trumbull deserves a Town Council that welcomes citizens' input.”