200 Tyler Street Referendum: Legal Or Not? (VIDEO)

Current East Haven Town Attorney Joseph Zullo says the Town Council never had the legal authority to hold last fall's referendum. But former Town Attorney Patricia Cofrancesco, who helped author the ballot question, says it did.

It appears the question of whether on the of the old East Haven High School at 200 Tyler Street was binding or not will remain just that — a question.

In November, East Haven's voters of the towb using the facility for community purpose, with education use coming in second and selling the property for condominium use coming in third.

But with the Mayor's Office moving forward with its plans at the town-owned site, Town Attorney Joseph Zullo was expected to provide council members with his legal opinion as to whether or not the referendum's on the town at last night's regularly scheduled meeting.

'Not Properly Authorized'

But Zullo informed the council that instead of specifically focusing on the binding vs non-binding issue, he chose instead to focus on whether or not the Town Council actually had the legal authority to call and hold a referendum in East Haven.

And, after studying the and state statutes regarding referendums, it was his legal opinion that the council did not.

According to Zullo, only the voters have the legal power and authority to call a referendum question in the town of East Haven.

"I'm sorry to report but I don't believe that the referendum that was held in November and I don't believe that that results are binding," Zullo said.

"It was not properly authorize because it was not effected by the residents because they are the only people who have the power," he said.

Home Rule Act

During public comment, however, former Town Attorney — who helped to author the legislation under former Mayor April Capone — was quick to counter that the Town Council did have the legal authority to call and hold a referendum.

And that it's results are, indeed, binding on the town.

"I have to respectfully disagree with the interpretation that was provided to you tonight by Mr. Zullo," Cofrancesco said.

She continued, saying that "if the charter silent on the issue you look to somewhere else" for legal guidance.

Cofrancesco then pointed to a 200-year-old law, called the Home Rule Act, saying it is through that piece of state legislation that the Town Council has the authority to call a referendum.

"And by the way, the only thing you can't have a referendum for is an illegal purpose," she said.

Cofrancesco added that "by the absence of other language," last fall's referendum "was more than advisory this was mandatory."

She pointed out that the question uses the word "shall" as opposed to the word "may."

"And shall makes it mandatory," she said.

No Action Taken

After several residents expressed their frustration at the referendum's results possibly not being heeded by the town, some Town Council members then expressed their frustration at having conflicting opinions on its status.

Town Council Chairman Richard Anania said the board did not intend to move forward on the issue of the site's future use at this time.

"The council is not making any kind of decision tonight," Anania said.

And no action was taken by the council on the referendum or the status of the old high school.

(Editor's Note: This article was edited at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday to clarify that the third option in last fall's referendum was for "condominium use" in general and not specifically  for "senior" condominium use, as the Mayor's Office is .)

CAjones April 04, 2012 at 01:55 PM
The joke maybe on you, Kim. I read last week a few posts that put the total votes in perspective. Apparently not all that many votes were actually cast, and given it's a non-binding or not authorized referendum to start with, perhaps there are many more people who don't like the plans as laid out in the wording of the referendum. Maybe, just maybe a "silent majority" sit home laughing at the Democrat's and your sentiment on this issue.
TOM DEMATTEO April 04, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Joe I have been a supporter of yours for years, but enough is enough. Legal or not the town voters, the same ones that got you back in office voted and that is what we want. You need to start thinking about what the people want and run the town our way and not do or say what ever you please when ever you want. Start putting effort into rebuilding pride in EAST HAVEN
April B April 04, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I have a question, with three choices, what was the percentage of votes for each choice? Just because one choice got more votes that doesn't mean it got the greatest percentage of votes, and then it wouldn't truly be the choice of the people.
Julie Weisberg (Editor) April 04, 2012 at 03:03 PM
April: The results for each of the questions last fall were as follows — 1. Shall the property located at 200 Tyler Street be rehabilitated at a cost to the town and used for educational purposes? Yes - 2,207 No - 1,994 2. Shall the property located at 200 Tyler Street be rehabilitated at a cost to the town and used for community purposes? Yes - 2,527 No - 1,711 3. Shall the property located at 200 Tyler Street be sold by the town for condominium use? Yes - 1,966 No - 2,240
Good Question 71% of the people who voted,...Voted for option number to which was to make it a community center. Another thing to keep it mind as a community center it could host programs for youunger East Haven residents which would give them a place to go and something to do instead of getting into mischief which in turn would lower the crime rate and reduce the amount of money that is paid out for police overtime. Thanks for asking your question and I hope I gave you the answer that could best help you out.
Julie Weisberg (Editor) April 04, 2012 at 03:09 PM
April: Ms Confrancesco said these numbers crunched out to: • 38 percent for community use • 33 percent for education use • 29 percent for senior condominiums So, hope that helps! (FYI: The complete results from last Novembers municipal election can be found here http://patch.com/A-n7TC, and the referendum's results are also linked in the article above..)
Mitch April 04, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Just a refresher for all: The 3 options were (a) retain the building for educational purposes; (b) retain the building for community-based purposes; and (c) sell it for condominium use. At no time was "senior housing purposes" ever proposed as an option. The former mayor had option 3 changed to state "condominium use" from "housing use". You would have to ask her why that was done, or perhaps Gene can shed light on that decision. The costs related to options (a) and (b) were each a minimum of $24 million. Naturally this would have to be a combination of whatever grants/federal funding may be available (not much is my guess) and bonding. When the building was put up for sale several years ago, the buying price offered was so low ($750,000)because the building is loaded with asbestos and lead. The cost to remove this, due to the local/state/federal DEEP standards, is monumental in scope.
CAjones April 04, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Hey Hoff, your third paragraph is one of the longest sentences I ever read. My question to you is this, do you take a breath when you are saying something this long winded?
Julie Weisberg (Editor) April 04, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Mitch: Thank you for the clarification. I'll update the article above to note the accurate language as far as condo use. I think all the talk of the proposed senior housing project at the site has allowed that point get lost in the shuffle — but it's an important one to the discussion. So, thanks again!
CAjones April 04, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Additionally, I personally think this building is one big eye sore. It has zero historical or architectural significance. That building has more scrap value than anything. It sits on an extremely large and valuable parcel of land however. Our schools indeed need rehab and updating, but each already sits on good land, with available space. We should seek grants for each school. Rebuild or enlarge them to accommodate more students and consolidate. The High School property is worth more without that albatross sitting on it.
Julie Weisberg (Editor) April 04, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Everyone: Two extended clips of comments/discussion among Town Council members, as well as Town Attorney Joseph Zullo, about 200 Tyler St referendum from last night's meeting have just been added to the gallery. Just an FYI.
Lou April 04, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Thats 38% community center, check your math Hoff
EH Resident April 04, 2012 at 05:00 PM
I voted to have the the old high school used for community purpose. Along with that said, I also voted for put a mayor in office too! The % of votes that were tallied put Maturo back in office and put April out. As far as I see we the people of East Haven voted regardless of what the %'s were to have the old high school used for Community Service "MAJORITY RULES" . Now lets focus on moving forward and building the best East Haven that all residences will be proud to live in.
Ric Raffone April 04, 2012 at 05:07 PM
I am a little tired of it getting refered to as the empty building. The Sal Tinari Biddy Basketball program caters to nearly 500 kids from September to April. It uses the building 7 days per week during that time.
EH Resident April 04, 2012 at 05:34 PM
I agree with you Ric. Also doens't the Historical Society use space within the building and not to mention the town pool where they provide swimming lessions to lots of our young children and elderly. I bet once the mayor and East Haven Economic Development Coordinator get started using their thinking caps the town will benefit even more and bring our town into the 21st century and beyond.
April B April 04, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Thanks Julie, so it appears 62% of the votes were against the community purpose?? Majority may Rule, but the majority wasn't for this purpose. It's not the same as electing an official to office. I just don't think you can say it's what the people want. I also voted for the use as a community center. I am happy to hear it was and is being used by Biddy Basketball. More organizations should use it to prove it's worth as such.
Patrick Madley April 04, 2012 at 06:47 PM
This building should be converted for community purposes. I personally wanted education but community purposes won therefore, that is what it should be. I have no problem admitting my option lost. I just want to see the majority of people be happy.
John Mayhew April 04, 2012 at 07:47 PM
It just boggles my mind that they are having this discussion: is the referendum binding or not? Did the Town Council have authorization or not? Why should any of this matter? The fact is that we did vote and the voters made their decision. Why can't our elected officials simply honor the voter's wishes???? Why is that so difficult? Remember, the people who voted on this referendum are also the same people who voted in the mayor and council members. The voters will remember this in 2 years.
Richard Poulton April 04, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Julie, its been awhile since the election, but I only remember each question had a box to be filled in indicating ones choise from the three. Is that correct? I don't recall a box for any no vote. If so, how did the "no" votes get tallied? Its a little confusing, for me anyway.
Julie Weisberg (Editor) April 04, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Richard: Yep, there were "Yes"and "No" spots on the ballot, see the Election Day story here where I had the ballot posted http://patch.com/A-n6fk. And you can also see this release from then-Mayor April Capone's Office of a summary of all three proposals here http://patch.com/N-c9xn.
Sam Giglio April 04, 2012 at 09:11 PM
I love the way Richard comes back with a comment when he is not in agreement with was said by someone who will not agree with him. It is not the Courts that I am afraid of its the Mayor and his made up mind to sell this building Not the Vote of the People to try and make this Building a Community Center. Its all smoke and mirrors telling everyone we need to see if the Vote was Legal,Just other way to let everyone think we should sell this building and put it on the tax rolls. Let me remind everyone in Town this Building never gave the Town any tax dollars it was always a School.Some times you need to do more for the People then worry about tax dollars. If he sells this building we can never get this back again,a chance to have a place for all to enjoy. I know it will not be easy but with the right minds working together the Town may find away to get it done Please Richard stop telling me to wake up maybe its you who should wake up and find out who the Mayor has in mind to sell this Building to under fair market rates. Someone is going to make money with this if he gets his way.
Richard Poulton April 04, 2012 at 10:29 PM
You have the nerve to challenge me on "come back comment".. Are you kidding me! If anyone has the conrrol on comments not in agrement in you, and others on the Patch in the same political arena. All I want and have said right along is for what we, the voters, did , too be legal. Sorry if that offends your agenda. Just because something has always been something as you call it, doesn't make a change wrong. You and others like you need to get off the "its us versas them attitude", which is right out there. So don't ever, thats EVER tell me to wake up on something. And by the way, you said the Mayor has someone in kind to sell the building too, well tell us about that since you have inside information.
Sam Giglio April 04, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I have just started my Friend. The last time Mayor Maturo was going to sell this Building we did not have EHPatch, But this time we will watch every move he makes and will comment on them. Just like you. Nerve, you will need it more them me. Challenge you, why not.
Thomas April 05, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
Suzanne Youle-wardle April 05, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Joe knew when he ran for re-election what he wanted to do w/this land, on election day at the polls @ Tuttle I overheard him tell an elderely woman that know matter which vote won "the pool would be gone." Where is our swim team supposed to practice @ the Y. Is Zullo looking just to make more money from us the taxpayers as in the next budget we will have a 40% increase in legal fees, where is that money going, stop taking everything to court to fight and only the attorneys make money. Joe needs to respect the voters who actually took the time to vote, not treat us as unwitting fools. Why did he not do anything with that building but literally let money (oil) fly out the window in the 12 years he was in office. As far as the work needed on the building I have an idea: How about we let our public works dept. do it, obvioulsy not asbestos remediation but they proved during the Capone administration that they were more than capable of doing other things but pick up leaves and remove xmas trees. On another note THANKS JOE FOR MY TAX INCREASE as my property value only came down $15,000 and that was after meeting with the Assessment company. What an absolute ignorant thing to also put up a persons name and property value, if you wanted to use an example WHY NOT USE YOURS, as it is public knowledge which I will look up out of curiosity I would like to see what your assessment came in at.
EHVoiceofReason April 05, 2012 at 10:58 AM
"Some times you need to do more for the People then worry about tax dollars.".... I agree with your quote--maybe some of your Democrat buddies can look at it this way and stop bashing the "tax incentives" that may or may not have been offered.
noname April 05, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Personally, it's difficult to take the prior attorney's word. For a professional to put a large sign on the lawn to offend and disrespect the Mayor, shows the utmost unprofessionalism and childish behavior! As for GR, you should have taken your own advice about spending money...wasn't it just as important then??
Julie Weisberg (Editor) April 05, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Everyone: A reminder to keep your comments focused on the article on hand. Also, any comments completely off topic — and the comments responding to that initial comment — will be removed. Thank you for your cooperation!
James April 06, 2012 at 12:46 AM
After all is said and done Joe wants to sell the building I guess the vote must have been binding Now they challenged the TC's right or legality to put this on the ballot in the first place. Joe must have a sweet deal set up with someone for this property AND just where will the Youth play basket ball? Teen center needs a new location now who are they going to rent that from and at what cost Not to mention the pool Did i not see where the town is now looking for funds for a bike and jogging path on High street where Joe has spent a lot of time jogging I guess none of the Maturo gang uses the old high school.
Flowers April 06, 2012 at 01:23 AM
I don't have any strong feelings as to the ultimate use of this building and property, however the facade of the old high school entrance is a familiar sight in East Haven and I would like to see it preserved somehow.


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