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Trumbull Councilman Defends Pension Vote

by John Rotondo

It’s funny that this has even come into question, because both parties have used abstentions numerous times throughout the years, including Jack Testani, Chairman of the Trumbull Republican Town Committee and myself, for that matter.

There’s nothing wrong with abstentions. In fact, it is one of three options every elected official has including Congress.  There are times when there is not enough data, too much confusing data or just an uncomfortable feeling that everything has not been well thought-out. Those are times when abstentions make sense.

Getting to the situation that occurred Monday evening regarding the pension plans. I want to share the facts during that evening so it becomes clear as to what happened and allow you to be the judge.

Going into the Town Council meeting, after having reviewed the L&A committee meeting minutes, we all thought we had the latest facts and information regarding the plan, however during the T.C. meeting we learned that the L&A meeting minutes were conveniently missing key concerns that Councilman Altieri had raised in committee last week. This is strange, as common practice under Republican control has been to capture all verbal discussion during the meetings. Anyway, Councilman Altieri re-raised these two significant concerns on the floor: 1) The new plan might actually cost the town more money in the long run, and 2) It might not be legal to mandate that all non-union employees must sign-up for that plan (after-all we still are in America that last time I checked).   It makes you wonder “how this even made it through the Republican controlled L&A committee meeting with these concerns?”. It should have been tabled there!

In any case, there didn’t seem to be any appetite to table it at the T.C. meeting either, it just seemed like the Republicans didn’t care and therefore the vote occurred. Being an engineer, I don’t like making decisions with critical information/data missing and felt these were important concerns that Councilman Altieri raised and didn’t feel comfortable voting either for it or against it, hence I abstained as did my fellow Councilman Mary Beth Thornton. 

Mr. Testani stated that Mrs. Thornton could have asked the attorney a question. But that’s not true. The Town attorney was present, but the union negotiation attorney was not.

Furthermore, Mr. Testanti stated in his letter that “It is clear that the other members of the Town Council, from both parties, understand their obligations to the hard working people of Trumbull as they were prepared to cast a vote on Monday night.” How could he say they had been prepared when they all voted on a matter for which important questions that were raised both at a committee meeting and again on the floor by Councilman Altieri were still un-answered? I think it makes perfect sense to be prudent and not vote just for the sake of voting when important questions or issues like this are still open. This is the perfect place for an abstention, in my mind.

There is nothing wrong in abstaining or wanting to get more data or answers to very important key questions (especially ones that might not be constitutional). Mary Beth Thornton won’t vote just for the sake of voting, in fact she’ll make the tough decision, even if it’s not the popular thing to do. This is a strong character trait of hers and one that every first selectman should have.

Its just shameful that the TRTC is distorting the facts for political gain. But at the end of the day, I know Trumbullites are smart enough to see through this distortion and realize that Mary Beth Thornton and I abstained when we realized there was no appetite to table this topic.  When the day comes that she is our new First Selectman we will all be happy that she has this wonderfully strong “Due Diligence” trait and the appetite to do what best for Trumbull even if it’s not the popular thing to do.

John Rotondo

Town Council, D-3

trumbulite09 August 08, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Thank you John for clarifying. It's apparent the government in Trumbull is broke. Nothing seems to be as it is originally reported (or written about). Time for change!
Bill Holden August 09, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Abstentions do have a place. However, one in a leadershhip position such as minority leader and/or a party's candidate for the top elected office should be expected to make a decision. After all, six of her other 7 party members were able to decide on whether to vote "yes" or "no." Sometimes abstensions are used simply to avoid taking a stand on an question. Sometimes abstensions are employed to not block passage of a question while implying (in the member's mind) disapproval of a question (this was clearly not the case on this vote).
Cindy Katske August 09, 2011 at 03:18 AM
I disagree, Bill. Lack of information is lack of information whether you're a TC member, minority leader, or candidate for the top elected office. I see no problem in ANY Town Council member abstaining for the stated reasons if it was not an emergency situation requiring an immediate decision. And thank goodness all those party members were able to think for themselves and reach their own, independent conclusions! Isn't that what we elect them to do?
Thomas Tesoro August 09, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Cindy, I agree 100%. If people are to have confidence in their government and if the elected representatives are to do a good job for the people, then it is imperative that those representatives have both ample time and ample information to make sound judgements. Further, those who put forth an idea should be available for questioning and be prepared to answer those questions. The Town Council should have tabled this matter. It might have delayed the inevitiable political soundbite for the administration but it would have been the right thing to do for the people.
I Love Trumbull August 09, 2011 at 02:05 PM
John, I agree with your statement about not making decisions when you are missing critical pieces of information. How could the 6 other Democrats cast their votes for or against? (I don’t know how they voted) Did they have more information? Did they vote merely to go against the Republicans? It looks like the Democrats, especially their leadership are not communicating within their own ranks.
Thomas Tesoro August 09, 2011 at 02:12 PM
The majority of Democrats who voted did in fact vote for the proposal. While I have not spoken to all of them the ones that I did said that they voted for the plan because they agreed with the concept of defined contribution plans. However, they too were troubled by the last minute rush and the lack of thoroughness but felt that the concept in this case outweighed the sloppy nature of the presentation. One other thing, unlike our Republican colleagues, Democrats do caucus but do not have strict rules about following Party lines. Each Democrat is expected to vote in a way that they feel best represents the interests of their constituents. In the Democratic Party leadership means putting forward qualified candidates and allowing them to use their knowledge and experience for the benefit of the people. The TRTC by contrast has shown a willingness to use Boards and Commisssions as vehicles for punishment when a Republican strays from the party line. Just look at Mr. Palo and Mr. Pescatore as examples. It is one of the most telling differences between the parties.
Cindy Penkoff August 09, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Interestingly during all this discussion, no one is bringing up the fact that for all the talk of a lack of information, not one council member, including Mrs. Thornton, who is the leader of her caucus, made a motion to table this item until "crucial" questions could be answered. In this case an abstention was a poor choice for someone who claims to wish to lead. If you wish to lead, you come up with a solution to what you say is a problem, lack of information and/or time to review. That was not done. It was avoided. Bad call.
Cindy Penkoff August 09, 2011 at 04:39 PM
John, I hate to disagree with you but MaryBeth doesn't make unpopular decisions, she doesn't make any decisions and that is dangerous. Making an unpopular decision is something that benefits the town in the long run. Avoiding making a decision benefits no one and puts all the blame on others. That's a shame that people would be willing to settle for that. That isn't a leader, it's a place holder until something better comes along.
Afreedman2011 August 09, 2011 at 04:48 PM
I see that Herbst has now given Ms. Penkoff permission to speak. Ms. Penkoff, just rememeber that you are now a candidate for a seat on the Board of Education. You need to think about the example you are setting for the children of Trumbull when you flick your wicked tongue in the public forum between now and November. By the way, will you be releasing your resume so that he populace of Trumbull can determine your qualifications for that position?
Thomas Tesoro August 09, 2011 at 04:53 PM
I think you need to read Mr. Rotundo's letter. Clearly the Republican majority was ready to move forward and tabling the proposal would have been a waste of time. This is just like the time when the Town Council openly contradicted itself when discussing the illegal health insurance account by first saying it is a placeholder and 20 minutes lter (after a convenient recess) doing the exact opposite of what they said earlier. Some members seem bound and determined to approve whatever is put before them by the administration. The Chair or the ranking majority member should have made the motion to table the matter when it was clear that those making the proposal could not even answer the most basic questions. Why didn't he do that? If Ms. Penkoff was really interested in leadership for the people instead of the Party line, she would be demanding that the Town Council and every other Board refuse to act when presented with sloppy, incomplete or last minute items. Instead, Ms. Penkoff and the Republican majority seems content to accept this kind of work. That is the real bad call.
Cindy Katske August 09, 2011 at 05:03 PM
The same thing happened later that night with charter revision. The document before the Council was a mess--full of typos, incorrect cross references, outright errors, as well as inconsistencies, yet the full Council decided to barrel ahead and send this awful mess to the voters in November. The document had not even been proofread! It's incomprehensible that our elected representatives believed the document was ready to be presented to the voters. If this thing passes, you can be assured there are more legal opinions in store to figure out how to apply the inconsistent provisions that resulted. Just what we need!
trumbulite09 August 09, 2011 at 05:06 PM
If we are going to start attacking a sitting council member's voting record because she has a history of experience on a council, can you please provide Mr. Herbst's voting record on the short time he was on the P&Z? Additionally, since that was not even comparable to tenure and experience of Ms. Thornton, could you please provide a resume (not tax return) for Mr. Herbst? Please, if you are going to start throwing ridicules accusations out to the public can you please back it up with the experience of Mr. Herbst? Please do not try to give the past 18 months because, for one, it still pales to Ms. Thornton many years of "volunteer" service to the community. Furthermore, it is full of broken promises. Can't you run a clean campaign and run on accomplishments instead of negativity?
CTPati August 09, 2011 at 07:08 PM
What you say of the Democratic Party "allowing them to use their knowledge" may be true in Trumbull, but definitely NOT true in Hartford and D.C.! In Washington especially Reid and Pelosi expect all the DEMS, like Jimes, to line up and vote with them, *contrary to all common sense* in many cases--such as Obamacare and raising taxes in times of recession! They make rare exceptions, when the outcome is already assured, so that lapdogs like Himes can fecklessly proclaim their "independence" because they vote against their party 4 or 5 % of the time!
John Rotondo August 13, 2011 at 12:42 AM
Hi Bill, Just because others decided to vote without all the info doesn't mean everyone has to. A good leader recognizes when additonal information is needed and her vote to abstain is simply a sign that if she were in charge of the Town she would have not forced this issue and moved to get additonal info. However, in the current situation, being in the minority, we could not stop it or table it, so the best thing is to avoid voting on an issue that is incomplete. That's how I see it anyway. Hope this helps. John Rotondo
John Rotondo August 13, 2011 at 12:49 AM
Hi Michael, What are you experiecing is called "True Freedom of Democracy". I can' tell you why my fellow Dems decided to vote for or against it. All I can tell you is, we are never forced to vote for the party line vote in caucus. We discuss the issues and get a sense for how we may vote or not, but the final decision is always made individually on the floor. In Caucus, I was going to vote for it until Mr. Altieri re-iterated his concerns on the floor and I felt that there were too many open questions (in my mind) to vote for this, however I did not want to vote against it either becaue I agree with it in concept. I just wanted to see all the qestions vetted before voting up or down. So yes we communicate with each other, but sometimes, discussions on the floor can cause one to change their mind (and hence their vote). That's the beauty of America! Hope this helps. John Rotondo
John Rotondo August 13, 2011 at 01:01 AM
Hi Cindy, Its okay to disagree with me, I don't hold grudges :-). Anyway, like I mentioned in another posting, abstention can be misleading. One can argue, that they mean one wants to avoid voting and the other side of the coin is that one didn't want to vote Yes or No because they agree in principle but yet, need more info. The latter is what happened in this case as we all heard about the unanswered questions that Councilman Altieri raised. Now, your second question is going to be, then why didn't we make the motion to table it. The answer is, we knew there was no appetite to do that as no-one really had any questions or concerns. Should we have made the motion, sure we could have and when it failed, everyone still would have said that we abstained. Putting politics aside, the real questions are: 1)why were these concerns not captured in the meeting minutes and 2) why was this not tabled at the Committee meeting - where the research is suppose to be done? Hope this helps. John
Bill Holden August 13, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Tim Herbst was a voting member of P&Z from Dec. 1999 to Dec 2009. Additionally he was an alternate member of P&Z for about a year +/-. That's 11 years. Mary Beth Thornton was first elected to the Council in 2003, almost eight years ago. Eleven years is more than almost eight years.
George August 13, 2011 at 02:47 AM
He was also the chair for a period of time. In his capacity as a voting member or chair, what efforts did he make to loosen up regulations and promote business expaning and encourage new business. I am also more interested in life experience making a candidate qualified. If he held a political position for more than 1/3 of his life and in general has limited life/family/homeowner/career experiences, it gives me the uncomfortable impression that he is the ultimate "career politician."

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