No RTM vote as Fairfield parties fail to compromise on fill pile oversight
FAIRFIELD — After a struggle for bipartisan compromise, the RTM adjourned its Oct. 10 special meeting with no action taken on recommending independent fill use oversight.
The Republican caucus had called the special meeting to recommend that the Board of Selectmen hire an outside independent firm to conduct a top-to-bottom analysis of how fill from the contaminated Public Works pile was spread throughout town fields, parks and playgrounds.
The Democratic caucus, meanwhile, had hoped to propose that an appointed commission of residents do the same analysis.
Both proposals stemmed from widespread desires to get to the bottom of the fill pile issue, which arose in August when two Public Works officials were charged with illegal dumping at the town’s aggregate pile.
Soon after former Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo and Superintendent Scott Bartlett were implicated in the dumping of material contaminated with lead and PCBs at the site, the town discovered that the contaminated fill had been used on Public Works projects between 2013 and 2016.
The town spent the summer testing 60 sites at local parks and fields ,finding low levels of asbestos, arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at eight of the sites. Although the state Department of Health has said there are no health exposure risks posed by these levels of contaminants, the town is planning to remediate these sites out of “an abundance of caution.”
At Thursday’s special meeting, RTM members debated the relative merits of the two proposals for oversight on the issue, with clear party lines dividing support.
Many Democrats argued that an independent commission of citizens was the best way to keep politics out of analyzing the use of contaminated fill.
“I wish I could support this proposal, but I can’t because it’s missing a really fundamental feature for me,” said Deputy Democratic Majority Leader Jill Vergara. “I feel strongly that to restore people’s trust, we must have a completely independent body doing this work.”
As a compromise, Democrats suggested an amendment to the Republican proposal that would recommend the requested independent firm report to an established civilian commission, rather than the Board of Selectmen.
Many Republicans, however, objected to this amendment, saying recommending the firm report to the Board of Selectmen would restore the responsibility of and trust in elected institutions.
“While a group of residents is well meaning, it is accountable to no one” said Republican Minority Leader Pamela Iacono.
While representatives from both parties expressed a desire to compromise and work together, few were willing to budge from party lines when it came time to vote.
As midnight approached and a passing two-thirds majority vote looked progressively more unlikely, Iacono and Democratic Majority Leader Karen Wackerman came together for a less climactic show of bipartisanship, motioning in unison to adjourn the meeting with no action taken.
Iacono said the original intent of both resolutions - to tell the public, elected officials and candidates that they wanted action taken - had been met by that night’s debate, regardless of whether a resolution passed.
“We all worked really hard to get the message out to the public that we’re paying attention, we know this is a serious issue and we want action taken on this issue,” Iacono said. “And they now know that these are the things they are going to have to tackle, and that we are all paying attention.”