Reduce the members? Wilton selectmen grapple with commission vacancies
WILTON — Issues with vacancies on appointed boards and commissions led to disagreements and split votes with the Board of Selectmen.
The board reviewed a number of issues and policies regarding vacancies at a meeting on July 21, followed up with legal advice on Aug. 3.
The first was whether two nine-member boards, the Energy Commission and Commission on Social Services, should be reduced in size to seven members.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the selectmen were reviewing the size of these commissions for various reasons, including trouble they were having maintaining quorums, according to First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.
She said members of the Energy Commission recommended their membership be reduced from nine to seven members.
Selectmen Joshua Cole proposed reducing the number of members on the Energy Commission and Commission on Social Services from nine to seven in order to help them with quorum issues.
The board tabled Cole’s proposal and instead agreed to postpone membership reductions until the board reviews the charges of both commissions to see if reductions are warranted.
Vanderslice also had concerns about three vacancies on the six-member Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA).
She recommended filling the vacancies with three members of the Board of Selectmen, noting that she is chair of the WPCA.
Selectwoman Deb McFadden was concerned about potential conflicts of interest for selectmen on that board. For example, she said, the WPCA deals with sewer projects, and there was a possibility the Board of Selectmen and WPCA could have conflicting interests on that subject.
The board decided to table a vote on the matter, pending an opinion from Town Counsel.
At the Aug. 3 meeting, Town Counsel Ira Bloom submitted an email saying in his opinion there was no conflict of interest with selectmen serving on the WPCA. “Indeed,” he wrote, “Westport’s Charter provides that the BOS is also the WPCA. The WPCA is governed by separate statutes and regulations. The WPCA’s authority is very focused, and I see no conflict.”
The board then reviewed and voted to approve an updated list of preferred backgrounds for police and fire commission members. The list is subject to review by town counsel and the town’s human resources director.
The backgrounds of candidates for these commissions are important, Vanderslice said, because those commissions have authority afforded no other appointed board and commission, in that they are responsible for hiring, firing and promoting members of the departments.
For both boards ,the selectmen would like to see candidates who have the ability to work cooperatively and objectively, have experience interviewing/hiring/terminating employees, and have the ability to attend regular commission meetings and flexibility to attend special meetings.
With demographics showing there is a 15-percent minority population in Wilton, the board agreed these commissions should also reflect racial and gender diversity. The board does not intend to institute quotas, but was just listing its preferences, Vanderslice said.
Fire Commission vacancy
McFadden was concerned about two vacancies on the three-member Fire Commission and whether action taken while there was just one member on the commission was legal.
She put forth a motion to appoint Democratic Town Committee candidate Rich McCarty to the Fire Commission.
The motion was defeated in a 2-3 vote along party lines, with Democrats McFadden and Ross Tartell voting in favor and Republicans Vanderslice, Cole and Lori Bufano opposed.
After the July 21 meeting, Vanderslice submitted to town counsel McFadden’s concern about the legality of the commission functioning with one member.
Bloom responded with a memo stating the Fire Commission was properly constituted and operating legally. He said Town Charter Section C-41, provides that the term for appointed town officials “shall be two years and until a successor shall have taken office,” which can be reasonably interpreted to include members of the Fire Commission.
He said the provision is not uncommon in other towns and has important value in providing for unforeseen contingencies.
While discussing the importance of appointments to the fire and police commissions, Vanderslice moved to change the candidate nominating procedure.
Currently, nominations to the fire and police commissions are made by the selectmen through recommendations from the Democratic and Republic Town Committees and petitioning candidates.
Vanderslice made a motion to allow the Board of Selectmen to nominate candidates for the fire and police commissions, along with recommendations by the Democratic and Republic Town Committees and petitioning candidates.
McFadden said she did not agree and said these appointments should run through the typical process and be vetted. She suggested the selectmen recommend interested candidates to the town committees.
The motion failed, with only Vanderslice voting in favor of it.
In other business, the board voted unanimously to appoint Chris Gardner to the Deer Committee.
The board also voted unanimously to reappoint Christian Bilella, John DiCenzo, Max Fanwick, Prasad Iyer, Toni Lee, Dominick Musilli, Kevin Kane and Mary Beth Stow to the Economic Development Commission for terms ending June 30, 2022.