Back to Square 1: Judge rules redistricting plan vote illegal
In an eleventh-hour ruling handed down as political parties are in the throes of nominating candidates for the November election, a Superior Court judge said Friday that a new redistricting plan was illegally approved in May by the Representative Town Meeting's Republican majority and cannot be implemented.
Superior Court Judge Mary E. Sommer issued a temporary injunction blocking the new voting-district map Friday afternoon after hearing two days of arguments over a lawsuit filed by former RTM Moderator Jack Slane, a Democrat, challenging the plan. The redistricting plan, approved on a party-line vote with the RTM's GOP majority prevailing, would have reduced the number of local voting districts from 10 to eight and cut the number of RTM members from 50 to 40.
Sommer agreed. In her decision she noted the even Republican Registrar of Voters Roger Autuori did not argue that the RTM acted properly. "The fact that the plan may have been passed in order to comply with state law does not change this outcome," Sommer wrote. "Towns cannot be permitted to use state law as a pretext to ignore their charters."
Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said Friday he had not had a chance to read the decision, but added, "I think it's the proper result. I said that before they did this."
Lesser had told the RTM prior to its vote that stated in order for the redistricting proposal to be valid, it had to come from the committee. Instead, it was brought to the floor by three GOP members of that committee, which had been deadlocked over redistricting plans after more than 20 meetings over more than a year. The panel is evenly divided between the two parties, with three Republican members and three Democrats.
"The town attorney serves at the pleasure of the first selectman," Millington said, who at present is Democrat Michael Tetreau. "This gives the town attorney's position an amazing amount of power to interpret the town charter and have the final say ... If you can never disagree with the town attorney, we're entering dangerous territory."
Millington said the "whole unfortunate" situation sets a bad example for the town's children when the RTM couldn't come to an agreement on reconfiguring the voting districts after a year and one-half.
He said he plans to reach out to Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ellery Plotkin in the next few days. "It's up to the RTM to decide how they're going to proceed," Millington said, but added he is adamantly opposed to having the same six people sit on the Redistricting Committee to devise an alternate plan.
Sommer also rejected lawyer Robert Russo's argument that the RTM waived its own rules when it ignored them by approving a plan that was not recommended to the full body by the committee. Russo had represented Autuori in the case.
"On the present record, the town did not have discretion to take any actions that were not specifically authorized or which were directly offensive to the charter," Sommer said.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans now will nominate candidates for the RTM on Tuesday using the prior 10-district plan. The Democrats, who Thursday had nominated the rest of their candidates for November, put off selecting candidates for the legislative body until after the judge's decision was issued.