Allegations Against Party Chair Prompt GOP Response
NEWINGTON - Republican Town Council incumbents are responding to allegations-made by a number of residents on social media and referenced by Democratic Mayoral candidate Terry Borjeson in his call for a public debate-that Republican Town Committee Chair Domenic Pane has a heavy hand in decisions made by members of the current Majority.

       Councilors Beth DelBuono, David Nagel, Gail Budrejko, and Tim Manke wrote a strongly worded letter to the editor rebuking the claims, following it with an ad placed last week in The Rare Reminder and other local newspapers.

       “Each of us, myself, Dave Nagel, Tim Manke and Gail Budrejko volunteer countless hours trying to make Newington, our community a better place for ourselves, our families, our friends and all residents,” DelBuono writes in the October 10 letter. “We talk, sometimes disagree, and hash out our thoughts and ideas. When our opinion is united, it reflects a set of shared values and beliefs on what action is best for Newington. For people to insinuate otherwise is disheartening. We are independent thinkers who care tremendously about Newington and all of its residents.”

       But critics say they suspect that Pane is, at the very least, heavily involved. They point to a March 2017 text correspondence-obtained through a resident’s Freedom of Information request-wherein which Town Manager Tanya Lane asks to meet with Pane on the then tentative Board of Education purchase of the St. Mary’s School building as an offset to Town Hall project costs.

       The messages-dated March 24-also reference “budget cuts”, although Pane stated in an email conversation a few months ago that this too, was related specifically to Town Hall. The Board had proposed the $1.8 million purchase-and the use of its own CIP funds for any necessary renovations of the building-in order to allow them to relocate their offices and keep the Town Hall project on its $25 million budgetary target in exchange for an equivalent additional $1.8 million in operating funds.

       Borjeson, who has referred to Pane as incumbent Mayor Roy Zartarian’s “boss” in comments expressing frustration over the debate discussion impasse the two sides have been stuck at over the course of the election, said that the correspondence, for him, raises questions.

       “If I’m elected Mayor, the Town Manager will be approaching me to discuss such matters-not the Town Committee Chair,” Borjeson said.

       “Obviously he is keeping with his theme that the Republicans can’t think for themselves,” Pane countered in an email.  “As you know, I’m not running for anything.  I guess it’s easier to attack me because the republicans in office now have kept their promises to the taxpayers.”

       When contacted a few months ago about the correspondence, Lane-when shown the text message-said that while it appeared to clearly originate from her, she did not remember much about the conversation.

       At the time, Pane said that the meeting was a summer of 2016 sit down with Democratic Town Committee Chair John Kelly, and then-Town Hall Building Committee Chair Chris Miner about “not politicizing” the Town Hall project, before correcting himself and confirming that another March 2017 discussion had taken place with just Miner and Lane.

       Kelly, who confirmed a few months ago that he did not attend and said he was never asked to, said that while such a meeting is “not the norm”, it’s not out of the question either.

       “If somebody wanted to gauge residents’ thinking on the issues, they could certainly call me-anyone can call me,” Kelly said. “Sometimes the Town Manager might say, ‘what’s happening on the street?’ It’s not unheard of, it just doesn’t happen a lot.”

       But he said that typically, he prefers to defer to councilors.

       “We chair a Committee,” Kelly said. “These are residents that have been elected to serve.”

       Though Pane did not offer specifics from the meeting, Miner, who is running for Council with the Democratic slate, said over the phone months ago that while Pane weighed in on Town Hall discussions in general, he “did not try to push the Committee in one direction or the other.”

       Councilor Maureen Klett, a former Republican who left the party when she found herself at odds with GOP colleagues over 2016 budgetary votes, offered a different take on the party’s decision making dynamics, specifically when it came to the proposed school budget flat funding of that year.

       While Klett and the Republicans would ultimately part ways when the former Deputy Mayor took issue with her colleagues voting against restoring Library funds for Sunday hours and approving appropriations for Human Services Department consultants in a year when town administrators received raises, she said the disagreement began well before the budget session over the 0 percent, which she says originated with Pane during the last election.

       “While we have heated discussions on issues, how we feel, is how we vote,” DelBuono said over the phone. “Has he [Pane] expressed opinions? Of course. But he never asked us to vote a certain way.”

       DelBuono said that she and the other Republican candidates had not made up their minds about a number when the school budget was discussed during the 2015 election, although the consensus was to come in leaner than in past years. Klett echoed that recollection, while stating that she was the lone dissenter on the idea of a 0 percent.

       “I felt it was a forgone conclusion because Domenic was pushing it,” Klett said.

       Pane denied the claim, alleging that Klett harbors resentment toward the party over Zartarian replacing her with Dave Nagel as deputy mayor in the aftermath of that year’s budget vote.

       “Councilor Klett will do and say anything to get back at me because she blames me for the Mayor removing her from her Deputy Mayor appointment,” Pane wrote in an email.

       Klett denied the allegation, saying that the Mayor’s decision allowed her to “distance herself from what was going on at the time”.