I love municipal politics. Those who detest the way President Donald Trump conducts himself obviously haven’t paid attention to their local races for mayors, school boards or even dog catcher. These epic struggles can and often do get nasty in a way that would make the sitting president blush. Stolen yard signs are typically the opening act to the scurrilous competition for a seat on some municipal commission. Accusations fly and conspiracy theories take root as the aggrieved claim they will move heaven and earth to out the perpetrators. This is the way elections, with candidates jousting over a couple hundred votes, often play out. With the advent of social media, a whole other world of misdeeds and toes stepped on becomes possible.
In my home town of Killingly, Gail Oakley Pratt an incumbent on the town council obviously decided her seat was safe and decided to attack another incumbent. She is in leadership on the council holding the position of Vice-Chairperson. A title she chose to include on her campaign’s Facebook page in what must be an attempt to have the longest social media tag on the interwebs. At 44 characters (leaving out the Re-elect part) she has nearly equaled Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, aka Webster Lake, in letter count. But no one ever accused Ms. Pratt of not being an overachiever. Apparently not happy that her attack was falling short in the attention span of those more concerned with how the state budget would effect the town, she lashed out. But how was she scorned?
The issue revolved around that year’s budget that had passed but is often the fodder for sniping during campaign season. Town Council member Dennis Alemian raised a question that the $800,000.00 that was over budgeted should have been alternatively used as a mill rate cut. Ms. Pratt made the obligatory rebuttals of budgets long forgotten and which were based on different scenarios and edicts from the state. Pratt then attempted to tout her record (not the council’s record mind you, but her’s) on business creation in town. To which, the lone conservative on the council let fly that her accomplishments were only half of what had been achieved under a republican controlled town council. Ms. Pratt then circled the wagons and sought to explain away the over taxation of the good people of Killingly by saying that she felt, due to the state budget uncertainty, extra money should be collected by the town to pad any possible cuts from the state.
The capricious town official then embarked on a swashbuckling tour of other members and candidate’s social media pages. She no longer had the will to fight about the facts, but decided to stomp her feet in classic sixth grader fashion and demand people stop talking about her. Previous social media antics had ostensibly forced Mr. Alemian to block her from his personal Facebook page long ago. Who needs trolls crashing your place to share family memories and connect with people? As seen in the screen capture, she decided to up the ante and say Mr. Alemian blocked her from his campaign page. But once again, Ms. Pratt’s claims were not correct since Mr. Alemian does not have a campaign page.
As is often the case the more convoluted and complicated a story gets, holding those stories together also becomes more difficult. For starters, Killingly is an Alliance School District which besides meaning Ms. Pratt should share in the ownership of school’s problems, also means the school system is in in trouble. Even with Governor Dannel Malloy’s draconian cuts, he spared these Alliance Districts. As is with all towns in the state, school budgets vastly overshadow all other expenditures municipalities will incur. When this unlikely proposition of education cuts was posed to Ms. Pratt she exclaimed , with a slight air of condescension, that school funding was not the only state funding the town receives. Then the wheels began to fall off.
“The council voted to transfer $800,000 from the General Fund to cover the teachers’ retirement fund, a move proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. It remains to be seen if that requirement will remain in the state budget, which isn’t expected to be finalized until June.” Hartford Courant May 10, 2017
So apparently the $800,000.00 was indeed meant to cover costs of a possible shifting of teacher’s retirement costs onto towns as Ms. Pratt’s fellow Democrats in Hartford had proposed. Research revealed that the budget also included a line item for Municipal Revenue Sharing that had been increased 39% over the previous year. If Ms. Pratt was going to argue that state budget uncertainties were the reason for not dropping the mill rate then why would a grant from the state be increased by such a large amount? This isn’t demonstrating uncertainty in the state budget figures. This is a possibly a blatant contradiction by one of the town council’s leaders of the need to over tax the people of Killingly. This is adding significant revenues to your budget that doesn’t come in a year you are planning for a cut in state aid.. In what was an ambiguous state budget process it would appear, either information was received to allow for this additional revenue or it was just a gross exaggeration. It also demonstrates that Ms. Pratt is at worst someone not fully understanding the town’s budgeting process or at best used an empty tale to justify her position on not lowering taxes in the town. What should become an interesting topic of discussion for the sitting democrat in the last week of the race is the state budget sitting on the Governor’s desk cuts $327 million from the same MRSA grant. Ms. Pratt took exception to being asked by town’s people about these budget shifts. From the Hartford Courant article on the budget process;
Town Council Vice Chair Gail Oakley Pratt said the council tried hard to work with the BOE, but there were questions she had about the budget that weren’t quickly or adequately answered.
“I felt the answers to some questions were being avoided,” she said.
“I find comments about the cuts to this budget perplexing,” – Hartford Courant
Curiously, after refusing to answer the questions pertaining to the additional state revenues, her comments on the topic disappeared. Comments on the topic disappeared other platforms as well. Strikingly, as most candidates in municipal elections spend their time attacking their opponent, Ms. Pratt has left Kevin Kertulla out of her attacks. Even more of a head-scratcher is, why a candidate would pursue this type of reckless course if they have the record of fair budgeting that they claim to have? As Shakespeare pointed out, maybe she doth protest too much.
In the information age, pilfering yard signs seems like a much less precarious endeavor.
**UPDATE** It appears Ms. Pratt has removed her campaign Facebook Page. We have removed the link and will not add one for her personal page.