Recount, Swearing in on Monday at Town Hall

Monday will be a busy day at Town Hall. Mayor Thomas Dunn will be sworn in or his fourth term as the town’s independent mayor at noon. The public is invited.

Mayor Dunn won his re-election bid with 86% of the vote over Democrat George Babcock. Dunn hopes to work on revising the Town Charter so that money can be better saved and local govenment can work more efficiently and respond to residents better. During the campaign he has promised to continue to propose lean budgets and to work with whomever the voters elect.

Dunn will now be working with an unusual make up of 3 Democrats, 1 Republican, 2 candidates who ran as a group on Row C, and 2 more residents who ran independently for the Town Council. Michael Santogatta was elected Chairman on the Town Council this past Wednesday. Yet, his seat is being contested because 1 term Councilman Christopher O’Brien lost to Santogatta by only 22 votes. State Statutes require an automatic recount of the votes when the margin is under 0.5% of the ballots cast. That recount is scheduled for 4 pm. The public may view the recount.

Election night was a confusing night for both candidates. Some numbers, including those initially collected at Republican Headquarters showed O’Brien initially winning the race. Later, Channel 96 reported numbers that showed both O’Brien and fellow Republican Rachel Wisler winning a seat in the 2nd Town Council District race against Michael Perrone. In between, observers from various political groups – including O’Brien himself, calculated numbers that showed him losing by margins of 17 to 22 votes. Ultimatly, Santogatta was seated on the Council at its Wednesday meeting after the Town Clerk’s office, which oversees elections released unnofficial vote counts of 1542- 1520. Some of the confusion from that evening stemmed from poll counters, but others is currently unknown. Perrone ultimatly defeated Wisler 1573-1544, a margin of 29 votes. Twenty-six votes was the maximum gap to qualify for a recount in the Council races.

Even after the night was over, some leaders were still scratching their heads whether or not Santogatta could be seated. Traditionally, two endorsed Republicans and two endorsed Democrats run for Council seats. No matter what happens, no more than two from either party wouuld be elected under this scenario. Most local boards and commissions must follow the Town Charter and State Statute rules which require minority paty representation. However, because Republicans and Democrats ran on the petitioning candidates’ line, – and 4 Democrats ran for the 4rd District seat – it became inevitable that there could be a unique scenario. State Statute 9-167a (a) (2) however provides that if the Council is wholly or partially decided upon a geographic framework, then minority representation rules do not apply. Since the Council is selected by voting district, it is possible to have as many people from one party or another as there are members of the Council. In contrast, because the Board of Education is not selected based on geography, there must be at least three members on that Board from a minority party.

The other issue which came into play where the Town Council was seated on Wednesday night was the officialiatiy of the vote. The Town Charter requires that the Council be seated on the day after the election. On January 20th, Wolcott Republicans used the potential recount as one of many reasons that the Town Charter should be changed. They argued at the time that if a recounted contested who won the council – and the recount were overturned, there would be an issue having the organization meeting on the next day. Ironically or prophetically, O’Brien was the member to raise this issue while at that time he referred to a recount two years ago between Michael Bokon and Brett Mucino were separated by only seven votes. Bokon lost two votes in the recount, but still won the election from the 1st District. Francis Masi at the time argued that the Council should be seated as soon as possible. Yet, the United States President is still seated three and a half months after he is elected.

It was based on the Town Charter’s clear reading and the precedent of two years ago that the Council was seated this past Wednesday and chose Santogatta as their Chairman. This was done even though the Town Clerk had not yet made the results of the election official pending the recount. If the recount changes the outcome of the election, the Council will hold a new organizational meeting this Wednesday.

Reference: Town Council meeting, January 20th, Discussion of Revising Town Charter

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