Shelton Democrat A&T members angered by canceled meetings

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The Democratic members of the Board of Apportionment and Taxation, upset that the board has not met since April, said they view the constant cancellations as a charter violation.

Members Steven Guralnick, Joseph Knapik and Michelle Laubin call Mayor Mark Lauretti’s decision to cancel all Apportionment and Taxation meetings inappropriate, especially since the board is supposed to examine and approve all budget transfers before moving them to the Board of Aldermen.

The three Democrats sent a letter to city corporation counsel Fran Teodosio in June seeking an opinion on whether the cancellations violate the city charter. At this point, the members said, they have received no response from the mayor or Teodosio.

“We have been stonewalled,” said Knapik. “We have had no communication as per usual from the mayor.”

Knapik said A&T provides oversight on budget matters. With A&T out of the loop, Knapik said there is no minority input on budget matters and everything is concentrated on a “monolithic Board of Aldermen that do the mayor’s will.”

Lauretti, disagreed, saying the Board of Aldermen is the city’s financial authority and can handle any necessary budget transfers, and approval from the Board of Apportionment and Taxation is not needed for the Aldermen to complete such transfers.

“If they understood what they were doing, they would know the first six months after the budget is approved there are no need for transfers,” said Lauretti, adding that he has not canceled any A&T meetings. “They are not scheduled because there is no need to have meetings right now.”

But Democrat A&T members state that the meetings have been scheduled on the city website but then marked canceled. That was done for the November meeting, at which the chairman would most likely have been chosen.

The Board of Apportionment and Taxation has six members, three Republicans and three Democrats, by charter, and there are two new members after the most recent election. Former Chair Karen Battistelli did not run for reelection, so whenever the board meets again, a vote for chair will be needed. Lauretti, as ex-officio member, would be needed to attend to break any ties.

Democrats said their angst began in May, when they questioned the cancellation of that month’s A&T meeting. On that agenda was the transfer of $37,520 from regular payroll to part-time payroll in the sanitation department budget. That department head had failed to appear at the April A&T meeting so it was tabled to the May meeting. Laubin stated that the mayor then canceled that meeting.

The three Democrats submitted a letter to Teodosio dated June 24 asking what authority the mayor has to cancel a meeting on which there is a pending budget transfer request “in order to prevent the board from questioning department heads” on the city budget.

“We believe this to be a violation of the city charter,” the letter said.

Attempts to get comment from the three Republican A&T members were unsuccessful.

Lauretti said in June that the members of A&T “do not have a good comprehension of the city budget” and that was he unsure if he would allow department heads to attend A&T meetings in the future because hesaid he feels the city personnel are badgered, not questioned, about the requested budget transfers.

“I think the mayor’s comments are really unfortunate, and point to the need for us to decide what kind of municipal government we want in Shelton,” said Laubin in June, adding that Lauretti has not attended a single A&T meeting in the two years she has been on the board.

“If you attend our meetings, or listen to the recordings, you will hear that we have very friendly exchanges with the department heads when they attend to explain their transfer requests, and we ask thoughtful questions that indicate that we take our responsibility as board members to act in the best interests of the taxpayers of Shelton very seriously,” said Laubin.

“How can we act on these requests without asking questions about the operations of the various departments? If the mayor considers asking thoughtful questions to constitute ‘badgering’ then we have very different visions of how good government should operate,” added Laubin.

Laubin said that she herself has not heard any complaints from any of the department heads themselves, and “I believe we have approved almost every transfer request that has come before us, except in cases where (through questioning) we have determined that there is an error in the request such that it cannot be approved as written, and needs to be resubmitted to correct the error.”

She said A&T has tabled requests when the department heads fail to appear or sent a representative to answer questions regarding the request.

“The only department heads who routinely fail to appear to answer questions — both in our regular meetings and in our budget hearings each year — are the public works department and the highways and bridges department, which makes one wonder why the mayor does not want those department heads answering our questions,” said Laubin.