S.E.E.C. INVESTIGATES COMPLAINTS, ISSUES FINDINGS; GAZETTE CHAIR ISSUES SUGGESTION
On June 30, 2016 the State Elections Enforcement Commission received complaints filed against town officials, and on July 13, voted to authorize an investigation. The nature of the complaints vary, but all stem from issues surrounding the June 23 Referendum that asked voters to decide on whether the towns should study dissolution of Regional District #11. The Gazette recently received the results of that investigation. The complaints, and the findings, are as follows
Chief complainant, Linda Fasake, and Kathy Freed, claimed one of the respondents, First Selectman Allan Cahill, violated the law by authorizing Gay Wagner, a volunteer of Hampton Town Activities, to email a communication that allegedly constituted the “use of community notification systems” and “expenditure of state and municipal funds to influence a vote.” The email in question stated: “The referendum is to decide whether to initiate a study concerning the future of Regional District 11 Parish Hill Middle/High School. It is not a referendum to close the school”. Fasake and Freed both submitted testimony stating: “This email was clearly an attempt to influence my vote.” The Commission concluded that Cahill did not violate General Statute’s 9-369b by using Hampton’s community notification system to disseminate the information and dismissed the complaint against him.
Fasake and Freed lodged a similar complaint against Wagner, claiming she produced and disseminated “an explanatory text” on a referendum question through the community notification system in violation of CGS9-621 which mandates that such texts be prepared by the municipal clerk and approved by the municipal attorney. The Commission concluded that the content of the email “was insufficient to constitute an explanatory text pertaining to the referendum question” and, moreover, “did not explain the question that was the subject of the referendum itself”. This charge leveled against Wagner was therefore dismissed.
The complaint also alleged that Wagner violated the statute by failing to include an attribution on the email, a requirement when a group of two or more individuals jointly advocate for or against a referendum question. The Commission dismissed this allegation, stating that “the email in question did not promote the success or defeat of the referendum or otherwise contain advocacy”. Further, the Commission found that Wagner and Cahill “did not constitute a group of two or more individuals joined together to support or oppose a referendum for the purpose of applying General Statutes 9-621.”
Fasake also charged Registrars of Voters Dayna McDermott-Arriola and Mary Oliver and Referendum Moderator Juan Arriola with violating election law by posting a solicitation in the polling place pertaining to the referendum that read: “Please STOP – If you have any questions about the ballot, ask before you check in. If you are concerned regarding any definition or wording of the question on the ballot, please see a Selectman in the Selectmen’s Office. Election officials are statutorily precluded from providing interpretation of any ballot question.” The Commission decisions states that while the parties did not dispute that a notice was posted at the entrance of the polling place during the referendum, the notice “did not solicit… on behalf of or in opposition to any question being submitted at the election or referendum” as prescribed by General Statures 9-236, and the allegation against Oliver, McDermott and Arriola was dismissed.
Lastly, Fasake claimed that Kathi Newcombe, as agent for “A Better Education” (ABE), violated the law by failing to register ABE as a political committee after it exceeded $1,000 in contributions and expenditures through the distribution of flyers and posting of signs advocating for a “Yes” vote at the referendum. The Commission’s decisions states that Newcombe provided documentation pertaining to ABE and a detailed inventory of costs associated with the flyers, as well as the explanation that the “VOTE YES” signs were “rescued” from the refuse center “some time ago” and believes that the signs were originally generated for an earlier 2009 vote pertaining to RD#11. The Commission found a lack of evidence contradicting the explanation regarding the signs and that the expenditures did not exceed the $1,000 limit and concluded that ABE was not required to register with the Hampton Town Clerk pursuant to CGS9-602, and dismissed the complaint.
The Commission declined to address “allegations pertaining to municipal codes and federal regulations” regarding a complainant filed against Newcombe by Kate Donnelly, who stated under sworn testimony that she observed a stack of flyers on the counter in the Post Office that the Postal Clerk refused to move.
In conclusion, the Commission “determined that these complaints remain unsubstantiated after a thorough investigation and therefore dismisses each allegation that formed the basis for the complaints.”
Hopefully this will be the end of waging war against each other.
The issues surrounding RD#11 have been around a little too long to suit me and have created a “we versus them” conflict not only in our Town but in Scotland and Chaplin as well. And, it’s not over yet. There are not going to be any winners here. Nobody is going to fully get what they want no matter how passionate they may be. I understand how important education is. I also understand how important money is to some for this education. Money that perhaps some cannot afford. Everyone has to give a little and try to understand how the other half is affected. It’s called compromise. The infighting between neighbors can be hurtful and long lasting. Is this what we want? Can we just go back to being kind to each other? Let’s see more smiles and politeness around town, especially in meetings. Who’s with me? Jimmy Halloran