New year, same controversial politics.

Looking to start 2016 with a clean slate, the Trumbull Town Council was instead met with a mess at its meeting Monday night when the Republican caucus chose to elect Richard Kascak to fill the District 2 seat that was left vacated by Robert McGown, who was indicted on vehicular homicide charges in New Jersey and was forced to resign before being sworn in to his elected position in November.

It was a decision that drew the ire of former District 2 Councilwoman Cindy Penkoff, who had received the next highest number of district votes in last November’s election and had hoped her Republican colleagues would elect her to the seat after it was decided the language of the Town Charter for filling vacancies was sufficient for only the Republican Town Council members to vote for the replacement.

“I apologize for whatever I did that caused you to not wish me to occupy that seat, enough for you to ignore the wishes of the District 2 Republican Town Committee members who endorsed me for the position and continue to feel I am the endorsed candidate, never even giving them, the nominating authority, the opportunity to meet anyone else for consideration, to ignore the TRTC chairman who also believes that as the endorsed candidate and next highest vote getter, I should have been placed in that seat,” Penkoff said during the public comment period that begins Town Council meetings. “And, most importantly, whatever it was that I did that was so heinous that you would ignore the wishes of nearly 1,000 voters in District 2, also not affording them an opportunity to meet or hear of another representative candidate.”

Kascak, an attorney who practices from an office on White Plains Road, listened with the rest of the council members, including Chairman Carl Massaro, as Penkoff described how the process for filling vacancies had been violated, according to the charter.

“I feel badly for the gentleman occupying the seat because he has done no wrong,” Penkoff said. “It is I and whatever crime I have committed against you, Mr. Chairman, that has put him in this position. For you are the one who chose to utilize a charter rule that does not apply, in order to fill a seat never claimed by a candidate-elect. Not a vacated seat, but a seat to be filled by an elected candidate. So I apologize.”

First Selectman Tim Herbst told The Times Tuesday afternoon that the town’s attorney reviewed the charter before the 15 Republican members on the council made their vote.

“This is a very unique situation because Mr. McGowan didn’t take his seat and no language exists in the charter that applies to this specific situation,” he said. “However, the town attorney did look at this issue and made the ruling that the existing language in the charter, in regards to how a vacated seat is supposed to be filled, controls how a replacement is chosen in this set of circumstances.”

In comments the day after the Town Council meeting, Penkoff said that “obviously there were many of us that did not agree since the representative was never sworn in to office and never occupied the seat.”

“Right is right and wrong is wrong and last night was a whole lot of wrong,” she added.

Appointment issue

Most of the other business conducted by the Town Council concerned the final dissolution of the Trumbull Monroe Health District, funding a labor agreement between the town of Trumbull and the Fire Marshals’ Union, settlement of a workers’ compensation claim, a few early retirements, and numerous appointments to the Ethics Commission, the Senior/Community Center & Library Study Building Committee, Planning & Zoning Commission, etc., and were approved unanimously. However, two appointment items on the agenda again caused some quarreling.

Vicki Tesoro, who had previously served on the Town Council and was the Democratic candidate for first selectman this past fall, was on the agenda to be elected as an alternate for the Board of Finance.

But the agenda item directly preceding it was the same item with blanks for the name of the candidate.

In a party line vote, the Republican members of the Town Council voted to elect Ted Chase of Francis Street to the position, thereby eliminating the opening and canceling the need to vote on the appointment of Tesoro.

Democratic Councilwoman Mary Beth Thornton spoke in opposition to both the process and the decision, stating that she had been told by First Selectman Herbst that he would recommend Tesoro be elected to the position in November.

Thornton said that despite numerous attempts to meet with Herbst since, she had not been granted time and that the Democratic members of the Town Council were again not allowed to be part of the process to fill key town positions.

She commented that this was once again an example of a lack of civility from the Republican town officials.

“I am not yet completely cynical on this subject, but I am getting there,” she said.

In response to Thornton’s comments, District 4 Councilman Rick Constantini said that he was not aware of any discussions with Herbst on the issue of an alternate for the Board of Finance and that it was not the first selectman’s job to appoint one; rather, it was the job of the Town Council and that electing Mr. Chase was part of that job.

Tradition building

After the meeting, Tesoro told The Times that the situation was “both unfortunate and unacceptable.”

“The Republican Town Council members last evening continued their tradition of denying a Board of Finance alternate seat to a Democrat,” she said. “There was no rationale offered by the Republicans about their decision, so one can assume that their votes are based on nothing more than petty politics.

“It is apparent that the present Republicans did not heed the first selectman’s recent message about civility and bipartisan governing,” she added.

The Democratic leader said it was clear that the current Republican Town Council members, including those newly elected, “have no intention about being civil or allowing well-known long-term and qualified volunteers who happen to be Democrats, such as myself, an opportunity to serve their community.”

“Petty partisan politics should have no place in our community,” she added. “Trumbull residents deserve better than this.”