The Bristol Blog features news and information about Bristol, Connecticut.
May 6, 2010
Pothole claim garners City Council attention
During a torrential rain about midnight March 13, Nancy Santorso’s vehicle struck a pothole while driving on South Street, wrecking two of her tires.
Like many residents who hit potholes, Santorso asked the city to reimburse her the $266 tab for replacing the tires.
Whether to pay her has now occupied as much of the City Council’s attention as any other issue to come before it in the past month.
At a recent regular meeting, councilors voted 4-3 to reject her claim, but recently, during a special session, on another 4-3 vote, they agreed to reconsider it next month.
The council already argued about the claim for nearly 45 minutes — more time than it has spent on the budget, the vendor issue or anything else in recent weeks.
It seems to be a simple case.
Santorso, a park department employee, ran into a pothole marked by an orange cone that city workers put there several hours earlier when two other cars had the misfortune of hitting it.
The city generally rejects nearly every pothole claim, usually because it has no obligation to pay if it didn’t know the pothole existed. In this case, the first two drivers were out of luck, because the city had no notice.
The question that councilors are still debating is whether the four-hour gap between the initial collisions with the hole offered enough time for the city to fix it. But there’s also an issue of whether Santorso should have steered clear of the cone.
City Councilor Kate Matthews said Santorso was “maybe driving too fast for conditions” if she failed to see the cone as she testified. She said Santorso, who didn’t want to comment, contributed to the accident and shouldn’t be paid for the damage.
But city Councilor Ken Cockayne maintained that “the city dropped the ball” by not doing more to stop drivers from hitting the hole. He said the city should have fixed it or parked a police car beside it.
At the April council meeting, three councilors wanted to pay Santorso. Three sought to tell her no. A seventh, David Mills, said he wanted to abstain, a move that city lawyers said he could not do. So Mills voted to reject the claim.
It turned out, however, that Mills could have abstained, though the city charter said he should have left the room entirely if he planned to do so.
At Thursday’s special council session, officials rescinded the first vote, effectively erasing it so that the issue can be looked at fresh at May’s regular council meeting.
If Mills abstains, it would appear there would be a 3-3 tie, which most city leaders said would not be enough to secure payment for Santorso.
But Mayor Art Ward said Mills doesn’t necessarily have to abstain. He could vote to pay her the next time, giving the pro-Santorso side the margin of victory.
Aside from Mills, the rest of the council hasn’t shown any signs of switching sides.
The three who would pay Santorso are Cockayne, Kevin Fuller and Ward.
The three who would not are Matthews and city Councilors Kevin McCauley and Cliff Block.
It remains unclear what Mills will do when the council meets Tuesday.
Cockayne said if he’d had any idea how complicated and time-consuming the matter would get, he would have given Santorso the money out of his own pocket.
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