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 .)

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 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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