Ansonia’s two major political parties have agreed to change the way they conduct some of their business.
The change was prompted by a complaint against the Board of Aldermen made by David Knapp, the chairman of the city’s Democratic Town Committee, to the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.
The complaint, filed Dec. 30, 2016, concerned an Aldermen’s meeting that had been scheduled for Dec. 21.
The Aldermen were supposed to talk about a lawsuit filed by the city’s former trash hauling contractor. The hauler alleges the mayor and other officials fired the trash company under false pretenses and illegally steered a city contract to another firm.
Instead, the Republicans on the board — they outnumber Democrats 12-2 — held a caucus inside Mayor David Cassetti’s private office.
The board’s two Democratic Aldermen showed up for the meeting on time but left after 10 minutes as the Republicans argued behind closed doors.
Afterward, the GOPers said the non-meeting was “unfortunate.”
While the practice of holding single-party caucuses of members of public agencies probably won’t win any open government awards, it’s perfectly legal.
The state’s Freedom of Information Act says that political parties can exclude the public from such meetings even if the people getting together “also constitute a quorum of a public agency.”
The tactic is fairly routine in the lower Naugatuck Valley.
However, Knapp’s complaint noted that three non-Aldermen participated in the Ansonia Republican’s “caucus” — Cassetti, John Marini, a former Republican Alderman who is now the city’s corporation counsel, and Sheila O’Malley, the city’s grant’s writer and economic development director.
That made it illegal, Knapp said.
A “contested case hearing” was held April 5 at the Freedom of Information Commission in Hartford before hearing officer Matthew Streeter.
The hearing only lasted five minutes, because Knapp and Marini announced they had agreed to settle the matter.
Marini noted that when Democrats held power in Ansonia, they would hold similar Aldermen’s caucuses and invite non-Aldermen to participate in them.
He said it won’t happen in the future.
“Going forward, when the Republicans do a single-party caucus, they will limit it exclusively to members of the Board of Aldermen,” Marini said.
The Democrats will abide by the same rules, Knapp said during an interview April 24.
“Basically they agreed not to do it and we agreed not to do it,” he said. “If they do it again we have something in writing with some teeth that we can use.”
The settlement is posted below.