PROSPECT — Following an hour-long political stalemate, Republicans Tom Galvin and Stanley Pilat were re-elected as chairman and vice chairman of the Town Council respectively last Friday night.
Galvin, who has served as chairman for three terms, was chosen on the ninth try by a vote of four yes, zero opposed, and four abstentions. All four Republicans present supported Galvin, including himself, while all four Democrats on the council abstained.
The organizational meeting of the council to elect its officers is traditionally a quick one. Whichever party is in control of the council can easily secure its choices for chairman and vice chairman thanks to a 5-4 majority. That was not the case Nov. 15.
Republicans once again hold the majority on the council this term. However, Republican council member Jeffrey Slapikas was out of town for personal reasons the night of the meeting.
The Town Charter dictates the organizational meeting must be held the second Friday following the election and can’t be rescheduled or tabled to another date. The mayor can not cast a tie-breaking vote, per Charter guidelines, and though the chairman can break a tie, there is no chairman until one is selected. So, the circumstances set up the potential for the council to deadlock at 4-4 along party lines.
Galvin was first nominated for chairman by fellow Republican Douglas Merriman. The motion failed 4-4 along party lines. Democrat Patricia Geary then nominated Democrat Theresa Graveline for chairman. That motion failed as well, 4-4, along party lines.
Republicans and Democrats deadlocked six subsequent times splitting their support for Galvin and Graveline along party lines.
Republican Mayor Robert Chatfield said going into the meeting he was hoping to avoid such a situation.
“It’s not starting off our year in a very good way,” Chatfield said.
Geary and Graveline, who have a combined 48 years on the council, said the Democrats’ position is not a personal one regarding the service of Galvin or Pilat. They sought a compromise from Republicans to appoint a Democrat as vice chairman in an effort to show bipartisanship and unity on the council.
“I think this is an opportunity for us as a council to show that we truly do act as a single unit,” Graveline said.
Chatfield and the Republican council members argued they received the majority of the vote on Election Day and should hold the chairman and vice chairman seats to represent the will of the voters. Republicans added that if Slapikas was present the vote easily would have been 5-4 in their favor.
“The way I look at it the Republicans got the majority of the vote and the confidence of the people that we would run the town,” Chatfield said.
Geary contended the Republicans have the majority on the council and that wouldn’t change regardless of who is the vice chairman.
“We still believe that it’s not unreasonable to ask that a Democrat be considered for vice chairman,” Geary said.
Chatfield said he and the Republicans have gotten along well with the minority Democrats and kept them abreast on issues in the town. He felt the Democrats were taken advantage of the situation since Slapikas was absent.
Graveline pointed out Democrats have nominated one of their own for vice chairman each term she’s been on the council and would have done so even if Slapikas was able to make the meeting.
Democrat Carla Perugini-Erickson, who is in her first term on the council, felt the situation presented an opportunity.
“I think of it as a blessing in a way. It’s happening and it’s happening for a reason, and it’s a brilliant day to think about what could happen if we compromise.”
Both sides held firm to their positions through eight votes and four caucuses. Chatfield didn’t meet with Republican council members during any of the caucuses.
“I think we would not be representing the people who elected us if we don’t carry through on the expressed wishes of the voters,” Galvin said about choosing a Democrat for vice chairman.
The last time the council deadlocked at an organizational meeting was in 1986, according to officials. At the time, former Republican council member Robert Cipriano was home ill and couldn’t make the meeting. According to officials, the meeting dragged on until Cipriano was brought into Town Hall in his pajamas to vote.
Last week’s meeting didn’t end as dramatically.
Following a fifth caucus, the Democrats relinquished.
“I have no desire to continue on a stalemate whatsoever. I recognize the Republicans have won the majority. It’s clear, it’s not anything new. … You’ve done a fine job, but so have we. We too have been a part of all of the good accomplishments that have taken place during your administration Mayor Chatfield,” Graveline said.
Once Galvin was in place as chairman, Pilat was nominated for vice chairman as was Graveline. The vote again split 4-4 along party lines, but Galvin was able to cast the deciding vote for Pilat.