Residents demand answers, but don’t wait for them

Most of those who commented at Tuesday’s public hearing before the Town Council meeting left after the public session and before the council convened for its regular meeting. They missed some return fire from the councilmen, in particular Councilman Craig Budnick (R-7th District).

“Next time, run for office and pray you get a storm,” Budnick chastised the public speakers who were no longer present. He took offense at comments regarding cleanup and recovery efforts following Superstorm Sandy.

In particular, he and some of his fellow councilmen were taken aback by accusations that they were unavailable to constituents.

“We went back there and checked the computers,” said Budnick. “Every single one of us has our phone number listed.”

A quick check revealed that the phone numbers and email addresses of all the town council members except Chair Joseph Kubic are listed on Stratford’s Town Council directory. Kubic’s listing lacks an email address.

Earlier in the evening, a speaker, Walter Rimkunas, blasted the council and Mayor John A. Harkins for their handling of the storm. In particular, he was upset that he didn’t see the mayor doing more to pressure United Illuminating to restore power to some of the hardest hit areas, such as Lordship, more quickly.

The remark that really raised Budnick’s ire, though, was when Rimkunas alleged that only Councilmen Jason Santi and John Dempsey had their contact information available.

Other council members reiterated Budnick’s sentiments and expressed disappointment that their accusers left before they had a chance to respond. Standard procedure in Stratford is to begin the public hearing at 6:45 p.m. and the main council meeting at 8 p.m. Council members are allowed to respond to public comment only during the public session.

During the main meeting, most of the council gave passing praise to the town and mayor for the storm recovery. Harkins offered a brief synopsis of what was required on the town’s part to get through the recovery.

“We had 200 miles of road to clear, with crews working four 18-hour days to make areas safe. That’s why we were asked to delay Halloween. There were some areas that just weren’t safe. Some streets had lights, others did not,” said Harkins.

Participating in the cleanup were 18 crews from public works clearing trees and working with UI teams to make sure the area was safe. Harkins estimated that more than 300 trees were down around town.

The Birdseye Dock suffered severe damage and is taped off and awaiting repairs. Sand had to be removed from area lots.

Almost all the municipal buildings suffered some degree of damage, the extent of which is still being assessed, according to Harkins. The town plans to apply for assistance from FEMA, which has pledged 100% coverage for qualified claims covering the first 10 days of storm recovery.

In the end, Harkins’ report was only so many numbers spoken to a few Girl Scouts observing the meeting for their Government Badge and to a handful of other residents. The people who claimed to want answers had, for the most part, already left the building.

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