After hearing the public complain, criticize and none-too-politely make suggestions for about an hour Monday night, (See “Public has harsh words…,” this issue.) seven Town Council members and Mayor John Harkins took the opportunity during the council meeting to comment in reply.
Councilwoman Stephanie Philips (D-3rd), said she was pleased to see the public participation at the meeting, which she called “the best in a while.”
Over 110 people attended the Jan. 12 public forum and town council meeting, and 29 spoke publicly to the council.
“Stratford theater is more than the art,” Philips said, it is part of the town’s history and identity. She said that the theater will succeed, “because people are willing to invest it.”
She also said she is concerned that the last proposal, which was publicized by three elected officials and calls for building an amphitheater, has not been vetted by the RFP review committee.
Countering an idea stated by Republican Registrar Lou DeCilio when he unveiled the amphitheater plan, which says that there may be government grant money available to take down the Shakespeare Theatre if it were found to be contaminated, Philips told the council meeting audience, “There will not be state funds to eliminate the theater and take it down, I say with some assurance. So if it is taken down it will have to be taxpayer dollars.”
On the possible sale of Water Pollution Control facilities, Philips acknowledged that “We don’t know” all the plusses and minuses, but, she said, if a sale is proposed it should go to public referendum. “This has generational impact,” she said, and she urges “the council to get the public to speak” on the issue.
Councilman Matt Catalano (R-2nd) said he was pleasantly surprised with the mayor’s theater operator RFP process. The proposal review committee “did a fine job and made a great recommendation” of Elm Street theater Company, he said.
“People clearly want the theater to exist,” Catalano said, and he urged his fellow council members to “give the theater a chance to move forward before moving to any plan B’s.”
On eminent domain, Catalano called the proposed expansion in town power, “a severe departure from democracy.”
“I would like to know what properties brought this up,” he said. “Obviously it was something.”
Jason Santi, Democratic councilman for the 4th district, said that the council has not yet received presentations on the theater or on WPCA. “All options will be considered based on merit,” said Santi.
Councilman Ken Poisson (R-6th) took the opportunity to thank the many people in town who have volunteered to be mentors for local youths, and then focused on the theater. Last week Poisson has made public his support for an amphitheater to replace the Shakespeare Theatre building. On Monday night he simply mentioned an article that ran in this newspaper in January 2014 with the headline: “Task force: No to theater renovation, yes to outdoors.” That story stemmed from a committee’s work in the wake of Arts Consulting Group’s three-year analysis.
Paul Hoydick, Republican councilman for the 10th district, said, “It is nice to hear people talk,” because sometimes the public can seem “complacent.”
Council Chairman Joe Kubic pointed out to the audience that the council members have a wide variety of issues to deal with such as education, ballfields, sanitation, and others. “Understand we consider many issues. Keep in mind we look at the forest,” meaning the town as a whole and not solely one issue that may have gotten a constituent’s attention.
“And do the best we can,” Kubic said.
First district Councilman Peter Massey, a Republican, asked audience members to contact him directly and he will respond to their concerns that way.
Mayor John Harkins was not in the chambers during the public forum, but he responded in general to the issues raised. He reminded the audience that he, as a state representative in 2005, wrote language into the deed of the Shakespeare Theatre property that efforts be made to continue to use the property for the arts.
On Monday night he said, “All intentions are to make good use of the property for people to enjoy.”
“Be respectful of each other,” Harkins said. “Listen to ideas. Something is going to happen (with the theater property), and it’s going to be good.”
On WPCA, Harkins asked people to “keep an open mind.”
He said there would be a proposal in the next month or two, and he used the word “regionalization,” not privatization. “Whatever is best for the town of Stratford,” he said, implying his confidence that that is what the council will do.