Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Dissenters Spoke Up In Public Forum

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Hot Subject Redistricting and Gerrymandering

Town Council Meeting

By Barbara Heimlich

Civility is the act of showing regard for others by being polite.  Civility comes from the Latin word civilis, meaning “relating to public life, befitting a citizen,” in other words, being friendly and nice to everyone.

The Crier would like to report that Monday’s Town Council meeting fostered respectful, civil engagement in our community.  This was not the case.  The Town Councilors were taken to task for not making eye contact, paying more attention to their cell phones, and even yawning.  At the local government level it appears there are some meetings where the debate is becoming uncivil.

We got to hear a rant form the Town Council Chairman Chris Pia on how those citizens who signed on and spoke during the public forum impinged his integrity.  He did admit that tempers ran high in the meeting; Councilman Jim Connors claimed that there were more Democrats in town than Republican’s, and that the new districts were still democratic by 2 to 1.  Connors blamed Democratic Registrar Jim Simon for the redistricting debate, as in came in and spouted numbers.  The idea of you not having the vote is untrue, the vote was 5-0, the map logically and legally sound.

According to Councilman Greg Cann, the “pony” (a pony has all of the necessary paperwork of issues that will be discussed during the Town Council meeting) given to the Town Council members was inaccurate and did not include data and facts from the Election District Revision Commission.  He also referenced that those who spoke during the Public Forum understood they were losing their elected official.

The Town Council voted YES on the new redistricting to be forwarded to the Ordinance Committee.

The Ordinance Committee will meet on Monday May 22nd

Start time:     7:00 PM

Location:       Town Hall Council Chamber

To be clear during this Town Council meeting there was:

  • No presentation of the new redistricting map for those in attendance
  • They did not present any data (how many are there in each of the 10 district?)
  • No documentation on the guidelines
  • Information comparing Census Data to their data.

Before the Town Council meeting the Stratford Democratic Town Committee on their blog presented their opinion on the redistricting process.  Their article appears at the end of this article.

Stratford citizens that spoke at the Public Forum and highlights of their presentations follow:

  • Kathleen Callagan: I spoke these words to you on February 14th regarding the appointment of the EDRC (Election District Revision Commission):

I like this purpose of redistricting: “to establish and maintain voting districts that are faithful to the principle of one-person, one-vote.” We are starting what I consider the most essential legislative endeavor in our democracy. How and where districts are drawn often shapes our ability to elect representatives of our choice and can provide or deny communities with equal access to political representation.

What a shame it is to speak before you again, three months later, as you consider moving the EDRC’s recommendation to Ordinance.  As the Democratic Deputy Registrar of Voters, I was called upon to fill in on the Commission as allowed by our state statute and have had a ground- level view of this process.

I grew up in politics with weekly party executive board meetings and high-level elected officials in my childhood home. I witnessed the dirty tactics of politics, and not just across party lines. My point is, I am not naïve about how any of this works.

The Town Council cannot approve this map.

It was not discussed at all by the Commission. Imagine that for a moment. Not a single sentence.  And the addendum to the minutes, what you all have before you? That was not handed out in the meeting. We received a 10-page packet with a cover page of the town and single pages for Districts 1 through 9. No District 10, no Stratford data.

Four motions were made in the meeting:

  1. To accept the minutes from the first meeting. It carried 5-0;
  2. To accept the demographer’s interpretation of the range of individual district populations. It carried 5-0.
  3. To accept the Republican maps. It carried 3-0, with the 2 Democrats abstaining.
  4. To adjourn. Who knows what the vote was? It was utter chaos.

There was no motion to deny the Democrats the opportunity to present.  The Republican Party Chair did that all on his own with complete support of the EDRC Chair and District 8 Councilor, Mr. Connor, and the Town Council Chair, Mr. Pia.

This is not a case of they said/they said. This is all on video and everything is easily confirmed.

They were angry to see ME walk in that room instead of our Registrar of Voters, and their anger was turned on me and D4 Councilor, Ms. Rice. I find it hard to imagine the Republican Councilors reviewed the maps before voting. I mean, it said Population: Zero on every page! So, either they didn’t read or extending some grace, they received something different than the Democrats did.

It was embarrassing… a sign of utter disrespect to not only the Democrats in Stratford we were representing, but the entire town. The meeting was an abuse of power that this town has grown too comfortable with.

I repeat, the Town Council cannot approve this map. It was produced from a majority Commission with an agenda and could put Stratford in legal jeopardy.

  • Tom DeAugustino: you should be ashamed of yourself. Gerrymandering is a poison of democracy, open info to all of us, can’t find words on how shameful you are.
  • Monica DeAugustino: we moved here from Norwalk, love this town’s sense of community, hoping you will win back our trust, it’s very obvious it’s gerrymandering, and do the right thing.
  • Jill D’Angelo: you should be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Stef Levine: I’m new to Stratford.  I am displeased by Ms Shake being gerrymandered out of her district.  Inappropriate especially in the way it was done, there are ways to redistrict, I would understand if the council worked with some sort of amity to do such a thing. I will actively work as hard and fast as I can to make sure that those responsible for the gerrymandering never hold public office again.
  • Betty Powers: what are we really teaching here in Stratford?  Are we teaching our children to cheat?  Because that is what gerrymandering is, cheating!  Are we teaching them that it is alright?  It’s not already, unfair, unappropriate, what we teach our children should be practiced from the top down
  • Andrea Corcoran: I hear all the time from residents, “what can I do to make a difference?”  No matter how many voices write or address the council, e.g.,Center School, Board of Education, no matter how many people you have heard, it is all for naught, public input does not make a difference.it all seems preordained and hardwired and no amount of input makes a difference.  You are not elected to represent one political party or a few political insiders.  The redistricting was not particularly transparent, and changes seem questionable.  Please listen to your constituents.
  • Chris Green: Before the last town meeting, Mike Ferallio pointed out that Stratford leadership takes quick offense to questions.  I would expand, they consistently fail to respectfully and productively address questions. For the most recent redistricting in a op-ed to the Connecticut Post I asked the town to be more transparent and do better, make the plan public earlier, have a public forum, justify any changes made on the record, be fair don’t redistrict out incumbents as it is a partisan disservice.  Again and again I was told the answers would be revealed.  Asking for clarification they said they would answer later in a meeting.  Yet it was passed with no documentation and justification or discussion.    Answering questions with feedback is what you are supposed to do.
  • Jim Simon: I am asking the Town Council to return this plan back to the commission, as it was not the plan approved by the commission. Classic bait and switch. Only Republican’s plan allowed, the Republican plan had 9 pages, no data, so sloppy, District 10 missing from the plan.  Even the vote was incorrect, it was not 5-0, as the Democrats on the commission abstained; Additional information not permitted, it does not follow the town charter which calls for redistricting only when needed.
  • Sonia Huber: 2nd District resident. This is clearly an attempt to gerrymander, this does not belong in Stratford, it will have consequences.

Mike Suntag:  District 2, I have “been there done that” with this town.  I watched Allendale being split down the middle, each side a different district.  By taking a piece out of 2 and putting into 7 is disenfranchising, you are taking votes away from all that voted for Kaitlin Shake, taken our vote away, creates a destructive political power grap, last minute with no notice, done in secret, as if no one would notice, well, .  We Noticed. What seems so suspicious is put the data out there, put the facts out there.  Why was the line right down Shake’s street?  Perception out there is that it was a backroom deal.  It defies equity and justice. put the facts out move on why you moved Kaitlin to 7.

  • Karen Tracy: As a member of the public I attended the April 12th redistricting meeting, as was noted in that meeting the public would in theory be allowed to give input to the process.  Well here are my observations and input:

First off this building is a workplace and as such the conduct of the people working here should follow the Connecticut statutes on workplace behavior.  Any volunteer on a board or commission doing business here or an employee attending a proceeding is required to follow those statutes as well.

I am a manager where I work and each year I’m required to complete and earn a certification- hours of training on what constitutes a respectful and non-toxic workplace.

That is not what I observed on April 12th rather quite the opposite. As a woman sitting in that room for a half an hour — that felt like an eternity — I could only imagine what my two Democratic sisters felt as the Republican men on that commission treated them in a disrespectful manner.

And I recorded the meeting; and they certainly could see that I was recording it – I also noted that a person aligned with the Republican Party was recording the proceeding as well – they didn’t seem to care.

I now direct my remarks to the Stratford women who are leaders in the Republican Party including the Mayor. I imagine you’ve seen their video or have an inkling about it.  The silence from you is deafening.

What does this say to the young women in this town who might be contemplating a political future in either party – what, just get used to this?  I urge you to get your caucus in order; we need to work together in a respectful manner on the challenges we are facing and help our residents.

Ugly episode but rest assured we are not going anywhere.

  • Chris Cormier: District 2; it has come to our attention that the Town Council tonight is voting on a plan based on gerrymandering. According to recent census we did not have to redistrict as we were in the parameters that calls for looking at district every 10 years. Yet, they made little change except the line that cuts through the middle of her street placing her in 7th by feet.  Public had no data, no map. Do not pass this tainted map, go back and fix it. Dirty game play.
  • Patty Collegian Levine: I would like you all to look at me while I talk, if you can’t look at me you are not listening to me. I have lived in 3 states, new to Stratford, 2 year and we chose to retire here.  Never in my life have I been through this, I now live in a state that we vote for a person and someone decides they did not like her?  That is cowardice and spineless, how can you do this, the hell with you, we don’t care, school budget bad, but that’s a separate issue.  Do the courageous democratic thing.
  • Tim Bristol: I am here today to talk about the political game and blatant gerrymandering and the attempt to redistrict Councilwoman Shake out of her own district. This is not only a Cowardly act by the Republicans on this council but a gross corruption of the system. You could not beat Councilwoman Shake in a fair election, so you are rigging the system to push her out. It is absolutely ridiculous that this would even be attempted but what can we expect at this point? I know that this will fall on deaf ears and be met with silence, but no political party should be in charge of redistricting. A nonpartisan commission would ensure minimal gerrymandering.
  • Vinnie Caizzt: people responsible look to enrich power for themselves than over what best for the people of Stratford, people responsible should resign immediately or join the mayor and stay out of the process.
  • Marca Leigh: sounds like there is an awfully lot of time being spent trying to keep one person out of office because she spends her time listening to her constituents and getting things done for Stratford. I vehemently opposed to this election revision.
  • Paula Sweely: the shocking lack of respect for any semblance of fair and collaborative input should nullify any considering any plan presented tonight. Most outrageous is the gerrymandering to remove Kaitlin Shake from her district.  To accept the plan is urge vote no, to accept a travesty of justice and fair play for our people.  Time to hold the Stratford Republicans accountable.
  • Tyler Bunch: I spent years in an effort to fight for the voice of heart in this town. There is a culture of blindness behind this dais, even now, no eye contact, picking up cellphones and being dealt with, yawning. We are not stupid, if you silence a single voice that is more than a single mind, people voted for them.

May 5, 2023

Election Redistricting Catastrophe: Stratford’s Process Plummets Into Chaos

Republicans Silencing Democratic Voices During The Process Also Silences Your Voice

Opinion from Stratford Democrats.com

Source: Stratford Democratic Town Committee

The Stratford Republicans have once again proven they are determined to maintain absolute control over our town. As we predicted by their calculated move to delay Stratford’s redistricting process, the Stratford Republican Registrar of Voters Lou DeCilio who is also Chair of the Stratford Republican Town Committee, showed up to the April Election District Revision Commission meeting and bulldozed through his map. They blatantly ignored any input from the Democrats on the Commission and callously dismissed any concerns about ensuring a fair process for our residents.

After further review, and in what can only be construed as an abuse of power, DeCilio has gerrymandered the Town Council Minority Leader and highest profile Democratic incumbent, Kaitlyn Shake, out of District 2 and into District 7. Saving the trees in Longbrook Park, amplifying community voices around the Center School development, securing increased funding for a South End flood study, advocating for stronger public health measures and vaccine outreach during COVID, increasing public safety measures, supporting many small businesses in her district, being a fierce advocate for funding the Board of Education year after year, and even introducing a Resolution Declaring Racism a Public Health Emergency to the Town Council before the state passed the law, Kaitlyn has proven to be a tireless advocate for the people in her district and the entire town.

The Republican moves Shake into the sole district where a Republican incumbent is running for re-election to Town Council. Why? To silence her. It is commonly known that partisan mapmakers move district lines to advance a political goal and maximize their partisan gain. They denied an opposition candidate their incumbency and the opportunity to run for re-election.

Land Use Gerrymandering Remains Unaddressed

In 2013, DeCilio made a significant change by swapping the names of District 2 and District 3. Consequently, District 3 and District 4, which consist mainly of minority residents, have shared a single seat on the 5-member Commissions, which equates to a mere 20% representation for these communities.

The Democrat’s redistricting submission would restore District 2 and District 3 to their original names, prior to 2013. This change required no redistricting and would correct what the Republicans did a decade ago: qualitatively diluted voices weakened fair and equal representation for all, and removed balance in our land use zones.

After reviewing the census data from the addendum to the April meeting minutes, the Democrats determined the Republicans proposed compositions for Planning Zones I and II (see Figure 1). The Republican’s plan is to maintain the gerrymandering that DeCilio did in 2013 by packing Stratford’s residents of color into a single Planning Zone to suppress their individual and political power. Figure 2 is the Democrats proposed makeup for those same zones, which would restore Districts 1 and 2.

Land use boards and commissions matter! Planning and Zoning boards are established to represent the interests of the residents who elected them and those across the town. The Zoning Commission regulates land use and enforces the town’s regulations for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare by reviewing issues like density and preventing, for example, manufacturing developments in a neighborhood zoned residential. The Planning Commission is known as The Keeper of the 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development that focuses on everything from transit-oriented development to conservation, greenways to coastal resiliency, public spaces to affordable housing. The Planning Commission governs any changes to the POCD. The Board of Zoning Appeals provides oversight for residents regarding the Zoning Enforcement Officer and space for hearing regulation variance requests.

Both issues, the partisan gerrymandering of a high-value political opponent and the racial gerrymandering of high-value planning districts, are not new in Stratford. They are classic examples of Republican political gamesmanship and show that the Republicans are more interested in maintaining their power at all costs, including playing dirty, disenfranchising entire groups of Stratford voters, and ignoring the will of the people.

Republican Majority Voted on Incomplete Redistricting Maps Despite Lack of Stratford Data

Instead of a productive and collaborative meeting to work through the details of redistricting and getting all 10 of Stratford’s voting districts in compliance, DeCilio and Commission Chair Connor used the meeting to vent about their displeasure with a recent blog post that revealed the history of Republican gerrymandering in Stratford, resorting, and returning, to personal attacks. What is important to know is that Stratford is currently in compliance and no lines need to be redrawn.

The Democratic Commissioners came to the April meeting well-prepared, armed with meticulously crafted maps supported by thoughtful reasoning. Recognizing the possibility of minor adjustments based on the answers to questions raised at the previous meeting, they were open-minded and flexible.

It became immediately evident during the meeting that the Republicans had no intention of doing any work related to redistricting. What’s most disturbing is that they picked a fight with the Democrats at the start of the meeting to distract from their original intention of passing their map and only their map to the Town Council. When Councilwoman Rice suggested they move on from the personal attacks and do the work of redistricting, DeCilio refused to present his map claiming they are “under the gun.” If only Stratford completed this work back in 2022, as all other towns did, we would not find ourselves repeatedly in this position.

Commission Chair Jim Connor had promised to provide the necessary information on data sources and formulas at this meeting. Despite this assurance, however, when the Commission agreed on the data source and formula, DeCilio blocked the Democrats from taking a brief recess to update their maps. It’s difficult to see how this could be considered fair or collaborative, especially given that DeCilio had a whole month to correct his own maps. The Chair should have adjourned the meeting at that point – there was consensus on the data, and his stated reason for this meeting. But why would he? What they were prepared with were political and personal grievances. Every single time the Democrats tried to steer the conversation back to process, they returned to gerrymandering. As Commission Chair, Connor abdicated his responsibility and allowed their Party Chair to own this disaster.

DeCilio eventually distributed paper copies of his maps, aptly likened to a “Coloring Book.” There was no data, and an entire district was missing. His map was immediately approved by a vote of 3:0 with the two Democrats abstaining; however, the meeting minutes incorrectly recorded the vote as 5:0. While requests to correct the minutes were refused, they were amended eight days later including the census blocks that make up each district. This is the recently uploaded information discussed earlier. None of this data was shared during the meeting and it was not part of the vote. If the Commission voted without data and only pictures, how can that vote be valid?

Holding Stratford Republicans Accountable

The purpose of having both parties collaborate on the voting redistricting process is to ensure fairness and impartiality. However, the Republicans, led by the Republican Registrar of Voters and Republican Party Chair Lou DeCilio, have a history of ignoring the Democrats on the Commission from the process entirely.

Stratford is one of the only municipalities in the state to have an Election District Revision Commission. All other municipalities require their Town Council or RTM to work together on their redistricting. This makes sense since the members of those bodies are elected by a majority of the residents in their respective districts. And surely, the process should not include party chairs of any affiliation.

It is time to hold the Stratford Republicans accountable for their actions. They have undermined our democracy through this process, and we should all hold them to task. Allowing them to get away with blatantly disrespecting the redistricting process will continue our town’s descent into one-party rule. This does not bode well for the people of Stratford or our town’s future. We must ensure that every voice is heard, and all votes are counted.

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