A divided Common Council voted to approve a compromise to the parks and playing fields bond referendum offered by Mayor Dan Drew.
The 7-5 vote saw Democrat Tom Serra joining Republican Council members (Kleckowski, Giuliano, Bauer, Russo-Driska) opposing the compromise, while the remaining Democrats voting for the compromise (Daley, Chisem, Streeto, Bartolotta, Kasper, Santangelo and Faulkner).
The special meeting was called by Drew to address concerns about the bond issue voted into effect on August 24 by the Council which would have provided $37 million for new natural grass fields and park improvements. The compromise lowered the bond amount to $33.45 million, added 4-6 new playing fields and extended improvement to fields not noted in the original language to satisfy residents who felt that some schools, especially those in urban neighborhoods, had been ignored by the initial bond proposal.
Several residents spoke about the issue during the public hearing.
Advocates from the town's sporting leagues raised issues of playing time and quality of fields hoping to defeat the measure. Resident Michelle Malloy said it was important that the city should better its reputation with other sports leagues, asking that "we strive to be the best we can be."
Residents opposing the use of artificial turf reiterated concerns about health and safety issues they had made at the previous meeting. Moses Harvell said, "Use what the good lord blessed us with: dirt and natural grass."
Council members opposed to compromise cited lack of a detailed plan with the compromise package. Some questioned where the new proposed fields would be built, and were not satisfied that there wasn't a ready answer. Council member Seb Giuliano advocated for an approach which would allow for new artificial turf technologies in the future. In a florid speech he compared the compromise bond language to Humpty Dumpty, broken apart, and unable to be put together again. Council member Sandra Russo-Driska, who is running for mayor, indicated that it was unrealistic to expect to reach the staffing levels needed in the future to maintain parks since past performance indicated that future councils would not vote for adequate personnel.
Council member Gerry Daley agreed with the maintenance issue, "We have to face up to maintenance in the next budget cycle." But he stressed the need to do something for the parks, "I don't think we should delay, this is long overdue." Others in favor of the compromise cited the need to err on the side of safety when it came to constructing fields of real grass, and not artificial turf, and the overall need to pay attention to parks which have suffered neglect for years.
In a separate resolution, the Council voted to bifurcate bonding language to separate the request for parks money from the request for additional dollars for sewer line construction, making them separate questions for the ballot.
In addition, the bifurcation allows the parks and fields bond to be challenged again at the next Council meeting where it's expected that opponents will once again try to defeat the compromise by having it removed completely from the ballot.