The Hartford city council's regular meeting, a usually placid event, turned ugly Monday evening as one of its members was nearly ejected by his colleagues for speaking out of order.
In a session dominated by public testimony about the need for the city to rein in spending while providing aid to its most needy, it was a standoff between Councilman Larry Deutsch and Council President Calixto Torres that colored the evening.
The dispute in the meeting's last moments stemmed from a resolution that would have provided about $15,000 in funding to one of the city's homeless shelters.
After a majority of the Democrat-controlled council voted to table funding for the Immaculate Conception homeless shelter -- according to council rules, a vote ends all debate on the matter -- Deutsch insisted the public be able to hear what was being postponed.
When Torres told Deutsch he would not be recognized, Deutsch ignored Torres and pushed on.
"The public has a right to hear what item is being tabled!" Deutsch yelled, his facing turning red. "I am going to speak."
The two men tried to talked over one another in increasingly loud tones, Torres repeating that Deutsch was out of order and Deutsch insisting he would not stand down.
As the argument dragged on, Torres said, "Excuse me! I believe I am the president of this council meeting. ? If you can't restrain yourself, you will have to leave!"
Councilman Pedro Segarra stepped into the fray, saying he would sponsor a motion to have Deutsch removed if he did not "show a sense of decorum."
After the meeting, Deutsch -- shaking and his face still red -- said he believed he had been promised discussion on an issue and was surprised when Torres did not honor that promise. He felt an issue as important as helping the city's homeless should, at least, be explained to residents watching the meeting.
"As you can see, I'm stirred," Deutsch said. "But I thought we had agreed that we would have some discussion."
After the meeting, Torres said Deutsch was not following parliamentary rules designed to keep meetings orderly, cordial and productive.
"I think it was a poor performance on his part. It is very embarrassing for the council. In all my years, I've never seen that occur," Torres said. "We can't have anarchy. We have parliamentary rules, and he has to abide by them. I don't try to impose myself on anybody else, and say, 'To hell with the rules.' You have to set the example."
Torres said Deutsch also was under the "misimpression" that, as the council debates Mayor Eddie A. Perez's $552 million budget in a tight economy, money was available for the shelter. Postponing the item was an effort to "keep it alive in case it was something that could be done."
"He doesn't understand the situation," Torres said. "He is a crusader. Probably much in the same way as Don Quixote. I love Larry dearly, and I think his heart is in the right place, but he has a real difficult time understanding the governmental process.
"I hope he doesn't do that again, because he is setting a very poor example to the community."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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