NORWALK, Conn. – An assertion from Councilman David Watts (D-District A) that his minority party had been “bulldozed” Tuesday caused a rare outburst on the part of Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large).
“For once, I take offense,” Hempstead said, not long before banging the table in front of him.
The issue was a new council bylaw, written to provide some rules for spending the $5,000 appropriated by the Board of Estimate and Taxation for council members’ expenses. Watts said he didn’t like the clause that allows the council president, majority leader and minority leader to approve expenses. That doesn’t work for his caucus, he said, ignoring the fact that they are in fact the minority – and still would be even if the entire Council voted on expenses.
Watts made a motion to table the vote on the by-laws to allow more discussion. The motion failed 7-6, with every member of the Republican caucus voting against it.
“What you did was, you just approved something in a partisan way that affects our caucus. You know what? That’s wrong,” Watts said. The word “partisan” was used three times in this speech. “You just did what I had concerns of, that you would use your majority to bulldoze the minority and that’s wrong. This is a document that affects both caucuses,” he said.
“I’ll tell you why I take offense. … If you had a suggestion you could have made a suggestion. This went through a Finance Committee in which you were present and a member of,” Hempstead said. “At that time you made a suggestion. … That suggestion was incorporated at the time. This has been circulating at least, officially for lack of a better term, probably about the last six weeks.”
Hempstead said that the decision had been made at the last Finance Committee meeting to send the matter to the full Council for discussion. That had been done by email, he said.
“It’s been circulating and I haven’t gotten one comment back from anybody,” Hempstead said. “… Nobody has texted, emailed, marked up and sent back, or picked up the phone and said I’ve got concerns, would you mind changing this part.”
Hempstead said there needs to be something on the books, as the $5,000 had come the Council’s way on July 1, when the new fiscal year started.
“It’s $5,000 of expenditures, but once you put in the Mason’s rulebooks that we need and the keys and all the other things that we need, if we want to have a couple of meetings somewhere there’s not going to be much left,” Hempstead said.
Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said he didn’t understand what the issue was, as a procedure had been set up to deal with working out a new bylaw.
“We’ve had this procedure in place for a long time and I don’t think this is a debatable issue,” he said. Voting down the motion was not partisan, he said, and an amendment could still be introduced and voted upon. “I don’t think what we have here is such a big crisis or any kind of partisan grab,” Kimmel said.
“I normally would have called a recess, but there’s been some rule changes on recess,” Watts said.
Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said the bylaw had been talked about in May. At that point, some Council members said they hadn’t seen it, so everyone was given a draft, he said. There were changes made in July, he said.
“I really do believe that, at this stage, this should come to a vote,” he said, adding that it could be changed at every Council meeting, if members wished. “Rather than just kicking it down the road, hopefully this will get the wheels going,” Petrini said.
Every member of the Republican caucus voted for the bylaw. Watts and Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B) voted against it. Councilman John Kydes (D-District C), Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) and Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) abstained.
Was this grandstanding on the part of Watts, who is running to be a state representative?
“That’s simply not true. Especially over bylaws. I mean … there are other way to get attention and that’s not the way to do it,” Watts said. He laughed. “If I want to get attention I’ll release a video. I’ve got my own ways of doing things when I want to make a statement.”
It was reasonable to try to table the motion as nothing would have happened in the next two weeks anyway, he said. “Both caucuses get to decide how the money is spent,” Watts said. “If one group is ready to go on it, why force it? That’s what they did. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”