MERIDEN — Planning Commission Chairman Steven Iovanna resigned his seat earlier his month to accept a new opportunity out of state, leaving the panel with its second vacant chairmanship in less than six months.
Because Iovanna is a Republican, the Republican Town Committee assumed it would be given a chance to name a replacement on the commission. But Mayor Kevin Scarpati has put forward Kevin Curry, an unaffiliated alternate member of the Planning Commission, in a resolution before the full City Council on Monday.
Word of Curry’s nomination surprised Republican Town Chairman Sean McDonald, who vowed to fight for a Republican replacement.
Iovanna’s departure leaves the Planning Commission with four Democrats, Vice Chairwoman Laura Uhrig, Ross Gulino, Victoria Church and alternate Tristan Shields; one Republican, Secretary Elain Cariati; and unaffiliated alternate Curry.
Cariati is the Republican-endorsed mayoral candidate running against Scarpati in November.
Scarpati, who is also not affiliated with a party but is running again for re-election with the Democratic nomination, said politics didn’t influence his appointment. He was swayed by Curry’s knowledge and experience on the commission, he said. Curry was appointed by Republican Mayor Manny Santos in 2014.
Curry could not be reached for comment.
Curry operates the Fuel Distribution Co. serving New England and New York. He also owns several retail gasoline and convenience stores on East Main Street with partner Kevin Danby and has branched out into real estate development.
“He’s a local business owner who knows the city,” Scarpati said. “He has sat in on meetings as an alternate and I’m excited to see what he can contribute as a full-time member.”Party snub or obvious choice?
News of Scarpati’s choice angered McDonald who expected the seat to go to a Republican, and said party leaders weren’t consulted before Scarpati put forth Curry’s name.
“That seat will not be filled by an unaffilitate,” McDonald said. “This seat will go to a Republican.”
Typically when there is a vacancy, council leadership notifies the town committee leaders so they put forth a nominee to the mayor for consideration. But according to the City Charter, the mayor makes the final recommendation to put before the City Council for adoption. Curry’s nomination is on Monday’s City Council agenda.
McDonald said that Iovanna only resigned 14 days ago and the Republican Town Committee was still waiting on a candidate resume to put forward for consideration.
Scarpati said he didn’t consult with the GOP because Curry’s qualifications made him an obvious choice. Scarpati added that he recommended a GOP-referred candidate for the city’s Pension Board that also appears on Monday’s agenda.
“I thought it was in the best interest of the city to appoint someone who was already a seated member and had the experience,” Scarpati said. “Any selection to a board and commission, I am making sure I am taking into consideration who is the most qualified and there is no exception with this appointment.”
Scarpati proposed Curry’s nomination to City Council leadership Wednesday and asked Republican Minority Leader Dan Brunet to speak with McDonald and other GOP leaders about the decision. He told Brunet he would consider a GOP candidate for the vacant alternate spot if Curry is seated.
But an alternate spot on the commission isn’t enough, McDonald said.
“That seat will not be filled by an unaffiliated,” McDonald said.
Brunet said it’s going to be difficult to do anything now except draft a resolution. He was prevented from telling McDonald sooner about the appointment because of a surgical procedure on Thursday, he said.
“That’s his prerogative,” Brunet said about McDonald’s push to fight the appointment. “I‘ll do what I can to help him.”
But Brunet’s main concern, he said, is the makeup of the commission overall, and that members and alternates are treated equally.
“Things could have taken place much easier if (Scarpati) told me sooner,” Brunet said. “We could have had the discussion about the alternate. But Curry has done his time on the commission and when he leaves it will go back to being a Republican seat.”