By MIKE CHAIKEN
Editor’s note: This story was written and printed prior to the corporation counsel’s decision being made public Tuesday morning. The decision says Calvin Brown could continue to hold his seat on the council. The article however does offer clarification to the matter.
Councilor Calvin Brown and his party say there is no need for him to step down if and when he moves out of the first district.
The party chair also has accused the Republicans of politicizing a personal matter of Brown’s.
However, the Republican chair argues there was no attempt to personalize the issue but he believes the councilor should step down from his seat once he moves out of the district from Ivy Drive into his new home on George Street.
Brown was asked via email to clarify his current living situation—has he moved to George Street or does he live in his original domicile on Ivy Drive? He did not respond at press time.
Dean Kilbourne, chair of the Democratic Town Committee. said in a prepared statement, “Calvin has been advised by several attorneys that he may retain his council seat. Our local charter is silent on the subject. Therefore, we are governed by Connecticut General Statutes. The state statutes indicate that Calvin may serve out the remainder of his term. To confirm this interpretation, we will request a legal opinion from Corporation Counsel. This will clarify the issue for the future.”
Calvin Brown, in an email, was asked if a written request for a clarification had been submitted to the corporation counsel. The councilor said, “Yesterday (Monday), at about 4:30 p.m., I submitted a request for an opinion to corporation counsel, for them to review CGS 9-186 and determine it’s applicability in this case.”
Connecticut general statute, 9-186 states: “Each elected municipal officer and each justice of the peace shall be an elector of the municipality in which he is elected, or in the case of a justice of the peace, nominated or appointed to office and, if for any reason he ceases to be an elector thereof, he shall thereupon cease to hold office therein and such office shall be deemed vacant.”
In Brown’s request for a ruling from the corporation council, he asks, “Does Section 9-186 of the Connecticut General Statutes cause the council seat of a councilor to be deemed vacant when the councilor, who was elected from one district moves to another council district within Bristol? Or may the councilor continue in the seat until the end of the elected term? If the answer to this question is negative, I also ask that the office describe the method in which my seat would be vacated, i.e., whether such vacancy is automatic, or whether additional action must be taken by the city, by myself or some other party (i.e., is my resignation required), and to articulate the legal grounds for said opinion.”
In his request for a ruling, Brown also said the corporation counsel, Edward Krawiecki, a Republican, may have a conflict of interest in this issue. Brown’s request says, “I hope that if the known political leanings of the Corporation Counsel present a conflict of interest pursuant to Rule 1.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, or would in any way jeopardize the issuance of a fair and unbiased opinion on this issue, that outside counsel will be engaged.”
Krawiecki is a Republican.
“First and foremost,” said Kilbourne in an email response to questions from the Observer, “we need to determine if Calvin can retain his council seat. After talking to several attorneys including a staff attorney at the Secretary of the State’s office, we determined that he can retain his seat. However, corporation counsel represents the city. We thought it was most appropriate to put the question before him. He will be able to research past legal opinions for precedent and issue the city’s official position.”
The Observer spoke to Josh Foley, at attorney at the state Elections Enforcement Commission at the secretary of state’s office. Foley was not asked to address this particular case, but he said a matter involving a local office would not be governed by state rules— he said the state would be called in if this were a question about a state legislator. He said if the question was about a city elected position, the charter would govern the question.
Brown’s purchase of a home out of the first district prior to the November election came to light when the Republican town committee chair, Derek Czenczelewski, made note of it in public comments at the Jan. 12 council meeting.
Brown subsequently offered a lengthy explanation of the situation, detailing his family situation, and he brought up the possibility of stepping down from the council.
As for when the city Democrats learned about Brown’s situation, Kilbourne said in his statement, “Like most of us, I found out earlier this month about the situation with (councilor) Calvin Brown’s residence.”
Kilbourne said, “An extremely personal issue has been made a very public political issue. Without delving any further into Calvin’s private family matter, suffice it to say that this young man is making great sacrifices to support his mom and brother and to keep his family afloat. He truly values his family and his motivation is to be commended, not ridiculed. Once he and his mom analyzed the upcoming change in their finances, Calvin realized that they would no longer be able to afford their single family home on Ivy Drive. It is a matter beyond his control. Calvin understood that if he relocated outside of his district and was forced to resign, then that is what he would do. What he would not do, however, is leave his mother and brother to fend for themselves.”
Kilbourne criticized the local Republicans for turning a personal issue for Brown into a political matter.
“What is most surprising is how this issue was handled by Republican Town Committee Chairman Derek Czenczelewski, RTC Vice Chairman Jeff Caggiano, a newly elected member of the Board of Education, and RTC member Peter DelMastro,” said the Democratic chair. “None of them approached Calvin to ask questions or relay his concerns. Instead, the chairman decided to politicize the issue by ambushing Calvin at a City Council meeting.
“There, in front of the audience and the TV cameras, Calvin was forced to address this very personal issue. He did just that; he gave a heartfelt emotional response sharing an intimate family matter with all,” said Kilbourne.
A video of the council meeting available on Nutmeg TV (Nutmeg TV video of Jan. 12 council meeting where Councilor Brown was asked about his residency) shows that Czenczelewski said to Brown, “I understand you closed on a home this past fall.” The GOP chair noted the home was not in the first district and he asked Brown to “set the record straight… so the public doesn’t feel duped they elected someone who didn’t intend to live in the district you were elected to represent…. Can you shed a little light. The constituents want to know what’s going on.”
In an email response to the Observer, Czenczelewski said he brought up the matter in the public forum because, “I felt this matter deserved the public’s attention, and the best place for the largest number of people to hear an explanation of the situation was the City Council meeting – a meeting routinely attended by the public and covered by the press.”
Czenczelewski said, “City Council meetings feature public participation so the public can ask questions, give praise, and pose issues for the public’s edification. By asking my simple, direct and transparent question to the councilman, on public record, I guaranteed my question would not be misconstrued or distorted. There was no malice in my question, nor was there any intent to embarrass or defame. It was, and remains, a valid question that deserves to be addressed.”
There has been criticism on social media—especially among those sympathetic to Brown— that the GOP party chair’s question was an example of “gotcha politics.”
However, Czenczelewski said in response to that criticism, “The term ‘gotcha’ politics indicates there is something to be ‘gotten.’ In other words, if people acknowledge this as ‘gotcha’ politics, they are acknowledging there was wrong doing. If there was wrongdoing, which I’d argue there was on the part of Councilman Brown, he should be held accountable.”
As for what the GOP chair wants to see happen with Brown, Czenczelewski said, “By the councilman’s own admission, living outside his elected district would seem to disqualify him to uphold the duties of his position. Although the matter is silent in the City Charter, ultimately he understands that continuing to serve while living outside his council boundaries is not fair to his constituents. The councilman vowed to resign, but has since backtracked after his team found a loophole in the charter. I think if the councilman is a man of his word, he should stick to his vow to resign.”
Brown was asked if he thought it was fair to the candidates who lost in the first district because he chose to run knowing there was a possibility he could not serve if he moved out of district. However, Brown opted not to answer that question.
Kilbourne, however, replied in his email response, “Although there have been some nasty attacks on Calvin, we will not engage in that same behavior. We will continue to keep it positive, as we did during the election. Residency issues on the Republican side were brought to our attention in 2009 and 2014. We have not pursued them, believing that the voters should have the ultimate decision. Some in our party are now questioning that strategy.”
“If Councilman Brown fails to stick to his publicly issued pledge to resign, there are a number of courses of action that could be taken,” said Czenczelewski. “Before any actions are taken, I will afford the councilor a chance to rethink his new stance. Should that fail to occur, the Republican Town Committee will not act alone in the next steps. There will be a bi-partisan effort to rectify the situation. At the very least, I will be requesting that a Charter Revision Committee review the language regarding residency requirements of elected officials so this issue does not occur again in the future.”
And if the shoe were on the other foot and there were similar questions regarding a Republican councilor, the GOP party chair said, “I would ask that any elected official, of any political party – including the Republican party – resign if they did what Councilman Brown has done.”
Brown also was asked how we would feel if there was a Republican making a similar request as he to maintain his/ her seat because family matters necessitated he moved out of the district from which he was elected.
“To me…, family always comes first, regardless of your party, and regardless of whether or not you hold an elected office,” said Brown. “Similarly, sometimes people have to move, regardless of party, and regardless of their position in the community. Any family could find themselves in a situation like mine, where they have to band together to survive, and many families have all across America. Any one of those families would have my empathy. The last thing I would be thinking about is their political affiliation.”
Kilbourne, when asked a similar question said in an email response, “Ultimately, this issue should rest with the voters. They decide on who they want to represent them. Calvin received the highest number of votes in his district. The voters have spoken. He lived in his house on Ivy Drive for 21 years. Clearly he knows his district. There is no reason to believe that he will not continue to advocate for his first district constituents just because he crossed over the district line. Calvin’s record of service to his constituents is exemplary.”
“We wish we found out sooner so that we could have guided Calvin through this difficult process, but he wanted to handle this matter on his own. We are here for him now. The Democratic Party is with Calvin, supporting and defending him,” said Kilbourne in his email.
The issue with Brown brings up the question as to whether the city should do away with council districts and elect candidates at large.
“This is an item that has been discussed in-depth by past Charter Revision Committees,” said Czenczelewski. “Ironically, the Democratic Town Committee came out in strong opposition to At-Large representation and minority representation the last time this item was addressed.”
The GOP chair said he too “was against the idea of At-Large representation, although many in my party have supported the measure in the past.
“Ultimately, I think this is an issue and a conversation that should be held with the community, with the community able to voice how they best wish to be represented in the future,” said the GOP party chair..
Brown also was asked about the possibility of an at-large council but he did not reply. Kilbourne also did not address the question.
Brown also was asked if thought it might be possible that with this precedent that it might be used as a strategy in the future to place a candidate in a winnable district temporarily and then allow them to move out once they won. Brown did not answer the question directly.
Instead, he replied, “When I became a candidate, we didn’t know this was what was going to happen. My family and I didn’t decide we would not be able to keep up our first district residence until recently, as I’ve already said.”
The Democratic party chair, Kilbourne in his statement, stood by Brown.
“Calvin Brown puts his heart and soul into representing his constituents in the first district, and will continue to do so,” said Kilbourne in defense of the councilor.
In general, said Kilbourne, “The Democratic Party will continue to promote and support candidates who have the best interest of Bristol at heart, and welcome those who share our positive vision to join us to make a difference. Actions speak louder than words, and I think the exemplary record of our elected officials and the candidates we put forward speaks volumes.”
Kilbourne said, in his email, “We hope that this issue does not continue to be a distraction. The city deserves better. There are bigger more important issues. Calvin and our other Democratic council members want to talk about Downtown, the Memorial Boulevard, education, and other quality of life issues.”
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.