Closson speaks in Journal exclusive: Lawsuit conclusion is vindication
WINSTED â€” While last weekâ€™s decision to come to an amicable resolution to the George Closson lawsuit received a unanimous vote by members of the Board of Selectmen, it was clear to some that there are still some sour grapes among members of the previous board.
So said Closson himself, the former Planning and Zoning Commission chairman who was ousted by the previous Republican-led board for still unknown reasons.
In an interview at The Winsted Journalâ€™s Main Street office Tuesday morning, Closson said last weekâ€™s executive session allowed members to express their true feelings about his lawsuit, which alleged a violation of his civil rights and was criticized as being an unnecessary expense for the town.
Former Mayor Ken Fracasso, now a minority selectman, has seemed willing to defend privately the action of the previous board, Closson noted, despite voting with the new board majority last week to support an amicable resolution. There is no official record of what Fracasso said in executive session, and Closson said he could not elaborate.
So why was Closson removed in the first place?
â€œI think it was pretty evident â€” you had to be there when I went before the Board of Selectmen when we were in the middle of one of the Aurora applications,â€ Closson said, referring to the housing projects near Highland Lake proposed by supporters of the local Republican Party. â€œI got a call from [former Town Planner] Charlie Karno, who said the check for the engineering review that was supposed to be paid by [developer] Anthony Silano had bounced. I said, â€˜OK, weâ€™re not going to try to chase him. Weâ€™ll get ahold of our consultant and see if he pays or not.â€™
â€œEverything was on a tight schedule, so I went in to the Board of Selectmen, and you could see which selectmen didnâ€™t like what I was telling them. They seemed to think I shouldnâ€™t have told the public that this guy was bouncing checks. I kind of thought thatâ€™s where it started.â€
Later on, after Closson had been removed by the Republican board, Silano was quoted in the local press as saying Closson could have retained the position as chairman if only he had recused himself from decisions regarding Silanoâ€™s proposed developments.
â€œI donâ€™t know what he was trying to get at, other than he was involved in the decision to remove me,â€ Closson reasoned.
The Winsted community was also shocked to learn during the Closson controversy that Silano had hired a private investigator to spy on the planning and zoning chairman. No evidence of any wrongdoing on Clossonâ€™s part was ever reported.
Similarly, the former Board of Selectmen offered vague reasoning for Clossonâ€™s dismissal, saying he was â€œanti-development.â€
â€œThey [the selectmen] were looking for something they thought would stick, and they still today have not come up with any justification for the removal.â€
Perhaps also discomforting to the Republicans was the fact that Closson had recently been voted chairman of planning and zoning. Following his election, former Chairman Anthony Cannavo and member Michael Hamm resigned in an apparent protest. Hamm went on to become one of the Republican selectmen who voted for Clossonâ€™s removal.
Closson said that during the executive session not all members of the board were in exact agreement, even though they came out and voted unanimously to resolve the lawsuit. The resolution requires the board to write an ordinance clarifying the process for removing commission members. The ordinance, regarding section 601 of the charter, allows a removed commissioner to call witnesses and submit evidence on his behalf. It requires the Board of Selectmen to hold a recorded hearing and to file the hearing within 15 days at the town clerkâ€™s office. A formal, written decision by the board is required within 30 days.
Closson did have a hearing after being removed, but nothing stated was under oath and the Republicans on the board were not required to respond, so there was no official outcome. Board members at the time claimed they had just cause to remove Closson essentially because they wanted to do so.
â€œThey didnâ€™t have anything to back up what they were talking about,â€ Closson recalled. â€œThatâ€™s why we felt this area of the charter needed clarification.â€
The 5-2 Republican majorityâ€™s decision to remove Closson was not their first. Upon being elected, they asked then-Town Manager Owen Quinn to resign.
â€œThey got rid of Owen and they figured they could do the same thing to everybody, but these are different issues,â€ Closson said. â€œPlanning and zoning is a statutorily set up commission. The town has to go by state regulations. This [new ordinance] will set a precedent for a lot of the other towns.â€
Closson said he was ultimately pleased with the cooperation of the current board and its final, unanimous decision to agree to end the legal battle, but that he canâ€™t forget personal attacks leveled on him by members of the previous board, including current Selectman Fracasso.
â€œHe came out and said I was totally incompetent. Thereâ€™s no need for that stuff,â€ Closson said, noting that during the 2008 campaign Fracasso said he would vote to remove Closson again if he had the chance.
Fracasso did not return calls for comment Wednesday afternoon as the Journal went to press.
Closson reasoned that the community needed to be spared from any lingering animosity, and that explains why last weekâ€™s meeting was held in executive session.
â€œIt was a lawsuit, and sometimes in order to get a resolution you have to present both sides. If youâ€™re in public, you might not get whatâ€™s going on, quite frankly.â€
As evidenced by public meetings and turnout at the polls, the majority of community support has been with Closson since he was removed from the Planning and Zoning Commission. Residents came out to support him at hearings and subsequently elected him selectman, along with a new Democratic majority. He said he was thankful for all of the support and particularly thankful to his attorney, Patsy Renzullo.
The new ordinance regarding removal of commissioners has received initial approval by the Board of Selectmen and is expected to be finalized within the next month.