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City Council Rejects Torres' Efforts To Change Rules

JEFFREY B. COHEN

February 11, 2009

City council President Calixto Torres tried to change the rules that govern the council Monday, and the council fought back.

In his first meeting since narrowly surviving an effort by his colleagues to oust him from the presidency last week, Torres pushed a measure to give the council's president more control over the body's agenda to ensure "orderly operations and administration."

But what became clear was that even though Torres still has control of the gavel, there is now greater question as to whether he retains control of the council.

The vote to change the council rules told the story.

Torres wanted all agenda items that were submitted after the noon Wednesday deadline kept off the agenda, except those that he approved. He lost.

He wanted to eliminate the use of last-minute "place-holder" items, except those that he approved. He lost.

He wanted to make it so that a majority could vote to suspend the council's rules, instead of the current higher bar of "unanimous consent." He lost.

Lastly, Torres wanted it written that all ordinances "must" be reviewed by city attorneys before coming to the council. He lost, and the "must" was changed to a "should."

"Cal was basically trying to take control of the docket," said Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, an outspoken critic of Torres. "The message of that vote is that, basically, there's a new majority, a new consensus that basically controls the council's agenda."

Torres said Tuesday that the council president has "very little authority" as it is and that he was "trying to bring about some kind of authority to do certain things trying to bring some order to what can become chaos at times."

Asked whether he thought he, as president, still had the ability to put together five votes, Torres said, "I think it all depends on the issues."

Torres survived last week. Six votes were needed to change the council's leadership, and Torres' opponents only had five.

Some on the council argued that Torres was tainted by his allegiance to Mayor Eddie A. Perez who was arrested two weeks ago on bribery charges relating to allegedly discounted work done on his home by a city contractor. Perez has pleaded not guilty.

Torres has said that he has no link to Perez's troubles and should stay at the council's helm.

"I think you're going to see some people begin to shake things up a little bit, and maybe take on a more active leadership role than in the past," said Democratic Councilman Matt Ritter, who also voted to oust Torres.

"I think we're all saying quite directly that we oppose a dictatorship, a dictatorship where one individual can make some of the decisions," Minority Leader Larry Deutsch, of the Working Families Party, said at Monday's meeting.

Councilman Pedro Segarra was the opposition's choice to replace Torres.

"Leadership is not so much about being the figurehead, but about being able to have the trust of the followers," Segarra said Tuesday.

Does Torres have that? "Of course not," Segarra said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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