Tesoro proposes to reform town government

Former Town Councilwoman Vicki Tesoro believes Republican leadership needs to stop wasting time looking to discredit the messenger and focusing on ways to solve Trumbull High School's recent ranking dilemma.
Former Town Councilwoman Vicki Tesoro believes Republican leadership needs to stop wasting time looking to discredit the messenger and focusing on ways to solve Trumbull High School's recent ranking dilemma.

Trumbull Democratic first selectman candidate Vicki Tesoro called for a sweeping overhaul of the ways the town government interacts with its residents in a press release Monday, offering a reminder that the local government exists to serve people.

It should not be a closed, secretive, adversarial place, she said.

“A good government is transparent in all of its operations,” Tesoro said. “Our campaign supports encouraging citizen participation in government, and we hold government’s primary function to be fully responsive to the needs of its citizens.

“Since December 2009, our town government has resembled one-party rule, where time and again, citizens and even town employees who’ve differed from the first selectman’s approach find themselves attacked and criticized by him in the media and elsewhere, even in official meetings,” she added.

The Town Council member said that the main goal of her campaign is “to create a true citizen-driven democracy.”

“Trumbull has felt like a government that has a town, not a town that has a government,” she said.

The first step of her plan is to conduct a referendum in 2016 to see if residents want to return to a seven-district configuration for the Town Council.

“We will let the people decide,” she said.

“Seven balanced districts are better than four unequal districts,” she added. “There is no need for a super-district.”

Defending the proposed strategy, Tesoro said that in a community like Trumbull it’s imperative that all points of view be represented.

“A seven-district plan ensures strong minority representation no matter who that minority may be,” she said. “Seven polling places are better than four. We believe that we should make voting as easy as possible.”

In her release, Tesoro noted that the seven-district plan worked well for the town for 30 years, and that the current four-district plan has resulted in “one-party rule that is hurting our community.”

“The current four-district plan results in lengthy ballots,” she said. “This encourages party-line voting instead of encouraging voters to learn about individual candidates.

Term limits

Another part of Tesoro’s proposal to reform the town’s government was conducting a second

referendum in 2016 on term limits for all boards, commissions and elected offices.

“Term limits widen participation and encourage new perspectives and ideas,” she explained. “Term limits also encourage political parties to develop deep benches, thereby increasing citizen participation.”

In addition to limiting the time spent on a given board, Tesoro also said that residents — via the Town Council reopening the town charter — would be given the opportunity to decide on whether they wanted to reduce the number of seats.

For example, Tesoro asked would the Trumbull community support a Board of Education with only six seats that would be capped to limit each party to no more than three seats?

She added that she would recommend revising the charter to require that Board of Education seats be four-year terms elected on a staggered schedule.

“Since the seventh seat was added, the Board of Education has morphed from a body concerned with education to a political body,” the first selectman candidate said.

More reform

Building on those points, as well as internal tensions on the Board of Education that have been escalating over the last year, Tesoro said she wanted to clean up town government by requiring all members of any board or commission — including the Town Council — to have full documentation of all agenda items at least seven business days before any discussion or vote.

She added that under her plan she would require any elected or appointed official be a member of their party, or unaffiliated, for at least five months before he or she filled an open position.

Some other reforms in Tesoro’s plan included:

  • Require that all elected boards or commissions have at least one alternate of their own political party and of their own choosing.

  • Reform the process for appointing citizens to boards and commissions, to ensure that every citizen who wishes to serve has a full and fair hearing before the entire Town Council.

  • Require appointments to boards and commissions made by the first selectman to be reviewed and ratified by the Town Council.

  • Require that all nominees to a Charter Revision Commission be appointed by a special nominating committee that is made up of two Republicans, two Democrats, and two unaffiliated voters.

  • Require that notice be provided to residents when a resolution before Town Council or any other governing board impacts their quality of life or imposes a fine for non-compliance. Examples include cell tower installation, high-density development, zone changes, and the alarm ordinance.

  • Reform the Code of Ethics to ensure it is consistent with our Town Charter, and state and federal laws. Create a special commission to recommend nominees for the Ethics Commission, said nominees to be reviewed and ratified by the Town Council.

“Community participation, from the nature center to local theater, to art exhibits, even government participation itself should be a positive experience,” Tesoro said. “When community volunteers are ridiculed and dressed down, it reduces the willingness to get involved and it diminishes the town of Trumbull.”

Team Herbst responds

Mark Sargent, the campaign manager for First Selectman Tim Herbst, response to the Tesoro press release Monday afternoon.

“Again, the opposing campaign is all about, ‘do what I say, not what I do,’” said Sargent. “Time and again, the Democrats talk about making Trumbull less adversarial, when it is their team that is the textbook definition of adversarial, to the embarrassment and detriment of the people of Trumbull.”

Sargent said that the list of Democratic behavior is “disturbing and obscene.”

“The current Chairman of the Trumbull Democratic Party, Tom Kelly, is being sued for defamation of character by the Town’s former Internal Auditor for comments he made about him at a public meeting that were carried on public access television,” Sargent claimed. “The campaign’s surrogates questioned the moral fiber and integrity of a Deacon, a man of the cloth who sought appointment to the Trumbull Ethics Commission;

He added that a candidate for constable on the Democratic ticket threatened the employment of the Tax Collector earlier this summer.

“While our opponents talk about empowering voters and another Charter Revision, they only support empowering voters when it satisfies their agenda,” Sargent said.  “While Trumbull Democrats play this back and forth game with the press, First Selectman Herbst is working hard on behalf of the citizens and taxpayers of the Town of Trumbull.

“Tim would rather answer the questions facing Trumbull voters in front of them during the proposed debate schedule for all voters to hear rather than the convenience of his opponent,” he added.

“The four-district model that our opponents continue to complain about was approved by the Trumbull Town Council and has been in effect for numerous elections since, with no outcry or complaints. If voters were so opposed to this four district model — which previously existed in Trumbull, they would have voted accordingly.”