Powers plans run for Wilton first selectman
Michael Powers has had political ambitions for a long time, and now he’s finally jumping in with both feet.
He’s announced he is seeking the Republican nomination for first selectman, setting up a challenge to Wilton’s incumbent, Lynne Vanderslice.
If he doesn’t get the nod from the Republican Town Committee (RTC) he’s prepared for a primary and/or getting on the ballot as an independent candidate.
His decision has roiled the waters, he said, telling The Bulletin last week that after he joined the RTC he was approached about running for a seat on the Board of Finance, but he decided to set his sights on the chief executive’s position.
Powers is an attorney and certified public accountant who specializes in fiancial-based legal matters. He also does consulting work on forensic and fraud auditing as well as anti-money-laundering work.
While he was considering a run for Board of Finance, he started going to meetings and reading minutes of past meetings. Then he started watching past meetings online.
“What I found was an inconsistency in the process and procedures,” he said. “Then I went to the Board of Selectmen and I went through their minutes and watched their videos and I was finding a greater extent of inconsistencies,” he said.
By inconsistencies he means “the process and procedures that are supposed to happen to what was actually happening.”
The Board of Education, he continued, “was even worse.”
“Then I read the town charter, all 244 pages of it,” he said. “I’m an attorney. I’m used to legal wording. I read the revised 2012 version of it and a lot of it I had to go back multiple times to review.” Then he watched the videos again. “So what I thought was inconsistencies with the process and procedures, there were outright vacancies in the process and procedure.”
He took a recent Board of Finance meeting as an example. “Every single motion they passed — for a proper motion because they use Robert’s Rules of Order, it goes —a motion is made, there’s a second to the motion, there’s debate about it, and there’s a vote — yeas, nays and abstentions. They weren’t even making motions. They would talk about something and then they were like ‘does everyone approve it — yes.’ I’m like you didn’t make a motion, you didn’t vote on it, it’s not actually forwarded.
“Then I saw the minutes, and the way they are done in the town is they actually have someone who is not a secretary — there has to be a secretary there to take contemporaneous minutes. … then they can write it up later. They don’t do that. They offset it to some third party who watches the video, types it up and then says it passed. But it never passed because the motion was never made.”
Powers cited another lapse of the rules when at a special meeting of the Board of Finance, Chairman Jeff Rutishauser said there would be only two speakers — First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and Board of Education Chair Chris Finkelstein — and no public comment.
Powers said there were people present who wanted to comment, but they could not. Then, however, Finkelstein invited Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith and Assistant Superintendent Andrea Leonardi — who were not on the agenda — to speak. At this point Powers said he raised his hand.
“No one called on me,” he said. After they spoke, Powers called a point of order. He pointed out there was to be no public comment, but in allowing two people not on the agenda to speak, that was public comment and he asked that their comments be stricken from the record and their handouts be excluded. Special meetings, as opposed to regular meetings, must follow their agendas. In addition, they did not address the point of order, which should have been done before the meeting continued.”
Chain of command
He brought up his concerns and said he was told, “mind your business.”
“One of the other things I kept hearing more and more is that we don’t want to upset the highest authority in the town which is the first selectwoman,” he said of the RTC and some boards.
His response is that the highest authority in the town is the town meeting. “That’s the number one legislative body in the town … the pre-eminent decision-maker.” The town meeting is made up of all electors eligible to vote.
That is followed by the Board of Selectmen, first selectman and second selectman.
In talking about procedure, he said, “This is wrong, and it can’t go on. To me, it seems there are a lot of discussions going on that are not open to the public and I found that improper.”
He is also concerned about the lack of handouts at meetings, or attached to agendas or minutes.
“Without handouts, how can you tell if they are going to discuss something that is important to you or not important to you?” he asked. Timeliness is also important. “Don’t give it to me after the meeting.”
“They keep it secret, they don’t want you to know and when a government restricts information, it’s no longer a government for the people and that’s where I have a problem. And they’re allowed to get away with this lack of coherent process and procedure, lack of transparency, and when they do provide information it’s not timely. How can we act as a community — especially as the single-largest stakeholder, we’re the town meeting?”
When he made a Freedom of Information request for a legal opinion the town counsel gave on a particular matter, he was told it was just a conversation. “Conversations don’t equate to a legal opinion,” he said, and that leads to uncertainty should similar situations arise in the future.
When asked about other issues that form his campaign, Powers focused on the grand list and expenses. The grand list is irrelevant, he said, because town officials back into the finance equation.
“Instead of saying this is what we have, we’re going to times it by a reasonable mill rate, and this is the money we have to spend. They come back with ‘this is the money we need to spend’ and they back in the mill rate in to whatever the grand list is.”
Looking at the schools, he said, while enrollment is dropping the cost per student will jump dramatically next year.
“What you have is an out-of-control spending environment where people are guaranteeing future payments and increases without the revenue coming in,” he said.
“The increased mill rate has the effect of decreasing the demand on houses,” he said.
“The more ‘for sale’ property signs you see, the lower the property values are,” he said, generating a downward cycle.
For real estate to recover, “we need to have fewer houses on the market and the duration on the market needs to decrease.”
“The tax rate is the single largest detractor. It needs to be reduced. Spending has to come down.”
What else can the town do?
Help the commercial aspect. Help incentivize people to have their business here, he said.
Powers’ website will be up in the near future: wiltonfirst.com