Ansonia Mayor James Della Volpe had to step in and mediate a heated debate between Ansonia Aldermen Tuesday, as the board debated the process surrounding the proposed $4.9 million in bonding for city projects.
The Aldermen canceled a public hearing on the bonding projects Tuesday as the hearing was scheduled to begin, and instead bickered about the process behind the proposal.
“Let’s act like gentlemen. Let’s start being Ansonians,” Della Volpe said Tuesday night, to the Aldermen. “And let’s not care about whether it’s Republicans or Democrats. Alright. Let’s just stop. And start doing what we’re supposed to do, what we were elected to do.”
Click play on the video to see Della Volpe’s comments.
The bonding proposal didn’t start out divided along political lines.
In May, the board unanimously approved the $4.9 million proposal, which would fund a number of capital improvement projects, ranging from replacing roofs and fixing failing heating and ventilation systems in old city buildings to purchasing land along Olson Drive. Click here for more details on the proposal.
But then on Monday, Republican Alderman John Marini published a guest column reversing his support for the project and raising several concerns about the process.
After the column ran, city officials removed signs urging people to vote at the referendum on June 25, and notified the press that the public hearing would likely be canceled.
Several Democrats on the board called the issue political, and said the loss of “bipartisanship” was part of the reason the hearing was being canceled.
“Legally, this could have gone on,” Board of Aldermen president Eugene Sharkey said Tuesday night. “But I don’t want to see this be political fodder in an election year.”
Marini contended that after Aldermen endorsed the borrowing plan in May, Sharkey and fellow Democrats made changes, such as allowing a yes or no vote on each individual project. The full Board of Aldermen should have been consulted on any changes, Marini has said.
No new date has been set for a public hearing. Sharkey said the board needs to consult with its bonding counsel first. He anticipates rescheduling the referendum to November.
“To say this was done behind closed doors is completely untruthful,” Sharkey said, referring to statements made by Marini.
All Aldermen voted to cancel the public hearing — but not before a back-and-forth argument that broke out when Marini tried to make a second statement.
“These people are getting the total wrong impression,” Sharkey said, after Della Volpe stepped in. “John I asked you when you were finished if that was your statement, if you were done. . . This is how it deteriorates.”
Marini stressed that if discussions were happening without the public, they would be considered “behind closed doors.”
“Closed door is a meeting that the public is unaware of and cannot attend,” Marini said. “So unfortunately yes. The process has been mostly behind closed doors.”
Sharkey and Della Volpe both stressed that was not the case, and wouldn’t be moving forward.
“There was nothing going on behind closed doors. Everything was out in the open,” Della Volpe said. “I want bipartisanship for this bond referendum. We’re going to work at it. I’m going to work at it to make sure it happens.”
Sharkey said the Aldermen wanted to hold the referendum on June 25 because one of the projects on the list — HVAC improvements at the Ansonia Police Department — needed to be complete before the cold weather sets in.
After the city consulted with a bonding attorney, officials determined they could start the project before the bonding was approved. Sharkey said the city would have to agree to use fund balance money to pay for the project if voters reject the bonding.
Despite the disagreement about the process, all Aldermen repeated their support for bonding for the projects, citing the low interest rates available right now.
“It is an opportune time to borrow,” Sharkey said.
“Bonding is a really good idea,” Charlie Stowe said.