Judge Denies Bid for Preliminary Injunction to Get Track Funding on Hartford Warning

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, February 02, 2018

Woodstock — A bid by 600 petitioners to put a question in support of building an athletic track at Hartford High School on the Town Meeting warning suffered a setback on Friday when a Windsor Superior Court judge denied a request for a preliminary injunction that would have required the School Board to put it on the warning for the March 6 vote.

Former Selectman F.X. Flinn sought the injunction, but Judge Robert Gerety found that Flinn had not provided sufficient evidence that he would suffer “irreparable harm” in the event the question was not placed on the ballot, and therefore did not qualify for the speedy protection that an injunction would offer.

Gerety ruled that Flinn failed to meet another key requirement in seeking a preliminary injunction: demonstrating that he likely would prevail if the underlying lawsuit were to be fully heard. Gerety endorsed the Hartford School District’s argument that it was not necessarily compelled to place the petitioned articles on the school warning just because a petition had received the required number of signatures and been submitted in a timely fashion.

Gerety’s ruling cited a section of the town charter that says the town clerk and elected officials “may” put an item on a meeting warning after receiving enough signatures.

“The use of the word may, instead of shall, is critical to the court’s understanding of the meaning of the charter on this issue,” according to the decision. “The court is persuaded that the proper interpretation of the charter is that the obligation to call a special meeting is discretionary, not mandatory.”

While Gerety ruled that Flinn had failed to make a convincing case for issuing a preliminary injunction, he made no ruling on the underlying lawsuit by Flinn, which argues that the Hartford School Board erred in failing to add the question onto the warning. The School District has argued that the wording of the question was such that it would compel the School Board to relinquish its own fiscal authority, in contradiction of state statute.

Flinn said he plans to pursue the lawsuit, as well as a complaint before the Secretary of State’s Office related to an executive session called by the School Board to discuss the track petition.

“It’s still live,” said Flinn, soon after reading the court’s decision. “The School Board still has time to meet and do the right thing and put it on the ballot.”

The expedited process was undertaken to meet Friday’s deadline for Hartford to submit a final Town Meeting warning to printers.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.