YEAR IN REVIEW: A look back at Meriden’s top stories of 2018

MERIDEN – The city’s historic budget referendum, the fallout from City Manager Guy Scaife’s firing, and changes downtown were some of the stories that dominated headlines in 2018.

Here’s a month-by-month look back at the top Meriden stories in 2018.

January

Fire Chief Ken Morgan completed his first full month as acting city manager after the City Council voted 8 to 4 on Dec. 17 to fire City Manager Guy Scaife, citing escalating discord in City Hall. The vote to fire Scaife was split along party lines, with all eight Democrats voting in favor. Animosity between the council’s two political caucuses continued in the weeks following the vote.

Democratic City Councilor Miguel Castro stepped down as the council’s deputy majority leader and was replaced by Larue Graham. Castro cited family obligations, but Mayor Kevin Scarpati tied Castro’s decision to step down to friction between Castro and the Council of Neighborhoods after text messages surfaced appearing to show Castro voicing opposition to Beth Bryan, a political opponent, leading the west side neighborhood group.

February

Work began on a $2.7 million project to transform Pratt Street into a boulevard-style "gateway" to downtown Meriden. The project reduced the road to one lane in each direction with a landscaped median.

A 20-ton hydroelectric generating screw installed at the Hanover Pond dam had a mechanical malfunction and ceased working for several months until it was repaired in July. The hydroelectric generating screw was believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. When it was installed in 2016, officials said it would generate 920,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually and save the city $20,000 a year in power costs and property taxes over 20 years.

Former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos announced his plans to run against Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Esty in the 5th Congressional District. Esty would eventually announce she would not seek re-election.

March

The Planning Commission unanimously approved plans for the city’s second Taco Bell location on West Main Street with several conditions to address traffic concerns.

Undocumented Meriden resident Nelly Cumbicos returned home after federal immigration officials agreed not to deport her during her appeal. Cumbicos, 41, fled Ecuador and illegally crossed the border into the United States in 2000.

In light of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the public school system implemented new measures to strengthen school security. Meriden high school students joined other high school students around the country by participating in a walkout demonstration to advocate for stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting.

Assistant Fire Chief Louis DiGennaro retired 10 days after the department sustained allegations he violated workplace policies by threatening and intimidating a lieutenant over a wage issue.

April

U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty announced she would not seek re-election in November as Democrats continued to call for her resignation over the handling of complaints by a female staffer against her former chief of staff.

State and city leaders held a ceremony at the new Meriden train station to cut the ribbon on the CTrail Hartford Line.

City Councilor Miguel Castro responded to calls for his resignation over allegations he tried to have a public record altered by saying he plans to remain on the council. Members of Castro’s own party, including Council Majority Leader David Lowell and Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Millie Torres-Ferguson asked Castro to resign.

May

The City Council adopted a $198 million budget that raised taxes for fiscal year 2018-19 by about 4.6 percent over the prior year. A group of residents, led by Michael Carabetta, who were unhappy with the tax increase started a petition to force a budget referendum. Carabetta eventually received the 2,733 necessary signatures by a deadline of June 20 to force the referendum.

Lincoln Middle School Principal Dianne Vumback was named the Connecticut Association of Schools 2018 Middle School Principal of the Year.

Former City Manager Guy Scaife filed a federal lawsuit against the city, accusing top staff and elected officials of engaging in a retaliation campaign against him that resulted in his termination. The city denied the allegations.

The former Bradley Eatery was demolished to make way for rebuilding of the 88-year-old Sodom Brook Bridge on West Main Street.

The city recently notified residents in the West Main Street and Johnson Avenue area that their drinking water tested above acceptable levels for chlorine during the January and February testing periods.

June

The city’s School Readiness Council voted to cut $553,288 in funding for 62 daycare spaces in the Women and Families Center’s school readiness program, effectively laying off WFC Director of Childcare Karen Yorker and 10 teachers. A state Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer later determined the readiness council violated state FOI laws by not publicly announcing the meeting or producing minutes.

Wilcox Technical High School graduated its 100th class.

July

Nearly 6,000 voters, or 96 percent those who cast a ballot, voted to reject the City Council’s $198 million budget in a referendum. It is the first time the budget has gone to referendum since a 1996 City Charter change allowed the process.

State and local leaders and developers celebrated the completion of the $25 million mixed-income Meriden Commons I project and the start of construction on Meriden Commons II at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

August

Following the budget referendum, the City Council voted to pass a revised budget that cut about $1.4 million in spending, including $250,000 in cuts to police and fire. Mayor Kevin Scarpati used his line-item veto power to cut an additional $520,000 from the budget, including $420,000 in cuts to police spending. The cuts in total saved the average homeowner about $75 in property taxes. The City Council’s original budget would have meant an additional $200 in taxes for the average homeowner, while the new budget meant an additional $125.

The City Council unanimously hired Tim Coon as city manager, replacing Acting City Manager Ken Morgan, who held the office while continuing to serve as fire chief for about 10 months. Coon started on Sept. 4.

The city held a ceremony to mark the beginning of the demolition of the Mills Memorial Apartments, a downtown high-rise public housing complex city officials have wanted to demolish for decades.

The longtime West Main Street bar – Ryder’s on Main – was demolished to make way for the city’s second Taco Bell.

Retired educator Mary Daugherty Abrams defeated 24-year-old Alex Tiktinsky in a primary to earn the Democratic nomination for the 13th Senate District.

Police Chief Jeffry Cossette and Deputy Chief Tim Topulos said they had no imminent plans to retire one week after Mayor Kevin Scarpati made cuts to the now final 2018-19 budget in anticipation that Cossette and Topulos would retire by October. Scarpati and city staff met with Cossette and Topulos to negotiate a retirement package, but Cossette considered that deal “off the table” after the City Council rejected the move.

A fire that started in a second-grade classroom on Aug. 10 at Thomas Hooker Elementary School caused about $500,000 in damage. School staff worked to make the school ready for the first day of school 17 days later.

September

Police Chief Jeffry Cossette eliminated three of his department’s five school resource officers positions and the department’s entire 12-member Neighborhood Initiative Unit in response to cuts made to his budget by the City Council and Mayor Kevin Scarpati.

The city agreed to pay $37,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against Mayor Kevin Scarpati earlier this year by a Libertarian Party congressional candidate who claimed the mayor violated his First Amendment rights by asking police to remove him from the Daffodil Festival while he was collecting ballot signatures.

A heavy rainstorm caused flooding in several areas of the city, including Pratt Street.

The Police Department celebrated its 150th anniversary with a community event at the Meriden Green.

October

The City Council voted to approve funding for new tracks and synthetic turf fields at Platt and Maloney high schools, despite objections from the public.

After some city councilors recently complained that the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center has not met financial disclosure requirements established by the council in 2016, new City Manager Tim Coon said he will work with the nonprofit to ensure compliance.

November

Democrats swept all four state legislative races, including Mary Daugherty Abrams’ victory over Republican incumbent Len Suzio in the 13th Senate District. Incumbent state Reps. Buddy “Emil” Altobello, Cathy Abercrombie and Hilda Santiago also won re-election. Former city mayor Manny Santos, a Republican, lost his bid in the 5th Congressional District to Democrat Jahana Hayes.

The City Council passed a resolution to reinstate school resource officers at the city’s two middle schools by using savings from current and anticipated vacancies in several city departments.

The City Council unanimously approved a retirement incentive program.

City resident Ryan Holley alleged undercover police officers in the city’s Crime Suppression Unit racially profiled him during an incident in October that ended with Holley, armed at the time, being shot and wounded by three officers in a CVS parking lot. Police Chief Jeffry Cossette called the allegation “ridiculous.” As of late December, Holley had yet to be charged by police.

The Platt High School powder puff team defeated Maloney High School for the third straight year.

December

City officials said a clerical error in the tax assessment for Eversource, the city’s largest taxpayer, led to approximately $3.4 million in uncollected revenue. The city is expected to fully recoup the uncollected taxes.

Democratic City Councilor Miguel Castro was arrested during a deportation protest on charges of two counts of assault on public safety personnel and one count of first-degree riot. Castro has denied any wrongdoing.

Police Chief Jeffry Cossette requested $200,000 from the City Council to reinstate five positions in the previously-eliminated Neighborhood Initiative Unit in light of what he called a recent uptick in violent incidents in the city.

A proposed medical marijuana dispensary on East Main Street will open after it received a license from the state Department of Consumer Protection.

A few weeks after Platt High School defeated cross-town rival Maloney High School in the annual Stoddard Bowl, Maloney got even in the Class L semifinal playoff game. It was the first time the two schools ever squared off in a playoff game. Maloney went onto to lose to Daniel Hand in the Class L championship.

mzabierek@record-journal.com
203-317-2279
Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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