By: Claire Bessette
The New London Day
Published: 09/13/2012 12:00 AM
Sprague - Debate over issues such as job creation
and state debt came to a sudden stop Wednesday in the race for the 19th
District state Senate seat when Republican Senate candidate and current
47th District state House representative Chris Coutu veered off the
campaign trail to focus on a stop-sign complaint.
A Canterbury resident was protesting a new, three-way stop sign
at Main and Spruce streets in Hanover. The sign was ordered by Sprague
first selectman, Democrat Cathy Osten, who is Coutu's 19th District
James Ennis of Canterbury, who also owns property in Sprague,
went to the intersection and gathered hundreds of signatures on a
petition to seek removal of the stop sign. He said the Board of
Selectmen never approved the sign, and he accused Osten of sending state
police to the scene to ask him to leave, saying he was harassing
Osten disputed some of his claims, saying nearby residents had
called state police. She said she talked to police to find out about the
situation, then went to tell Ennis that police were coming.
She said selectmen discussed the stop sign at their Jan. 11
meeting under the agenda item "first selectman's report." She said board
members unanimously supported the new stop sign "by consent" rather
than by a vote. She said the town used the same process to install
several new stop signs recently.
The board discussed Ennis' complaint Aug. 8, and she told him she
would put the item on a future selectmen's agenda - but not Wednesday's
meeting, which already was busy with grant approvals and applications,
and a detailed review of the proposed master plan for the Baltic Village
Center and the town Strategic Plan.
Coutu issued a press release on the controversy Tuesday night and
attended Wednesday's more than three-hour selectmen's meeting awaiting
the pubic comment session at the end. He spent most of the meeting in
the hallway outside the meeting room and left Town Hall for a time. He
did not address the board.
"If these allegations are true, they represent a gross abuse of
state resources and a frightening abuse of executive power," Coutu said
in his Tuesday press release. "A town like Sprague cannot afford to have
its limited number of first responders occupied with the First
Selectwoman's personal political spats."
Osten shot back that during his four years representing Sprague
in the 47th District, Coutu never attended any Board of Selectmen
meetings, never assisted the town on major issues or with infrastructure
funding needs and did not attend town events, except to campaign.
"I could not disagree with him more," Osten said. "His advocating
for the removal of a stop sign is a public safety issue, and evidence
of his continued efforts to mislead the public about his true
intentions. I wish Chris would have come to a meeting before. This is
obviously a campaign gimmick and an attempt by Chris to distract voters
from the real issues in this election."
Osten said state statutes specifically give selectmen authority
to place stop signs for public safety to keep it out of the political
and public arena. There is no provision for a town meeting on the issue,
as Ennis requested.
About 25 people attended the meeting, and some complained that
the selectmen did not adjust the agenda to allow public comment first.
They offered mixed opinions on the stop sign and some asking for better
enforcement of speed limits rather than putting up new stop signs.
Selectman Dennison Allen proposed that the board ask the Board of
Finance to fund a $15,000 to $25,000 study of whether the stop signs on
Main Street in Hanover are necessary. The board approved the motion
Ennis thanked the board for endorsing a study and said he never
has harassed anyone. He presented a petition with more than 260 names,
including 115 town residents, objecting to the stop signs, saying they
were put up in a secretive and "underhanded" way.
Link to article: http://www.theday.com/article/20120913/NWS01/309139548/1044
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