Wilton Fire Commission candidates reviewed for conflicts of interest
WILTON — The Board of Selectmen is weighing potential conflicts of interest of three candidates who have applied to fill a vacancy on the Fire Commission.
A former Wilton firefighter, a paramedic, and a volunteer with CERT, the town’s Community Emergency Response Team, are among those who expressed interest in the open seat.
The candidates were not personally named by the board during a discussion on Sept.16. The former firefighter expressed interest by petitioning the board directly. The paramedic was referred through the Democratic Town Committee. The CERT volunteer personally expressed interest in the seat.
In a previous executive session, the board discussed potential conflicts of interest the three applicants could have because the Fire Commission has the authority to hire, discipline and fire members of the fire department.
While candidates for town boards and commissions are usually discussed in executive session, outside public purview, Selectman Ross Tartell requested the board seek advice from Town Counsel Ira Bloom before deciding whether to exclude any of the three candidates, and the discussion was held in public.
After discussion, the selectmen decided two of the candidates merited at least an interview for the seat — the former firefighter and the CERT volunteer.
The paramedic was deemed to have a conflict of interest, and was excluded from further consideration.
As to the former firefighter, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice expressed concern about having a former employee on the commission, which oversees hiring and disciplining firefighters.
“The applicant is no longer a member of the union and when it comes to disciplining and such, they can recuse themselves. It doesn’t mean I don’t have concerns, I just don’t think it is a knockout factor,” he said.
Taking a poll of the other selectmen, Deborah McFadden was not in favor of having a former fire employee on the commission, but voted to interview the candidate. Lori Bufano and Joshua Cole voted not to interview the candidate.
Breaking the tie, Vanderslice voted to move forward and interview the candidate.
The board decided unanimously to eliminate the paramedic candidate for consideration due to a potential conflict of interest which could arise from incident commands.
McFadden pointed out the paramedic is a member of the Wilton-Weston ambulance service run by Norwalk Hospital and is not a town employee.
Vanderslice questioned if the board wanted to consider candidates for the Fire Commission who have the authority to fire, discipline and terminate fire employees if they are also “someone who finds themselves in situations where they are under the command of those individuals.”
By state statute, the fire department is in charge of incidents at emergency scenes, and as such, is in command over paramedics at those scenes, Vanderslice said.
Tartell agreed there would be too much conflict of interest for the paramedic. “That is such a large part of the job that a person would have to recuse themselves from such a significant portion of the job that they wouldn’t be able to carry out the duties,” he said.
Regarding the CERT volunteer, the selectmen agreed there may be a conflict of interest, similar to the paramedic, in that during an emergency response such apppointees could find themselves under the command of the fire department.
However, since the candidate is a volunteer, and not a paid employee, that persom would have the option to resign from CERT if appointed to the Fire Commission, McFadden said, therefore removing any conflict of interest.
“I think it would be appropriate to say, ‘If we consider you for this position, would you step down from CERT?’ Often people would be willing to do that. They’re just changing how they volunteer in the community,” she said.
In other business, the selectmen made the following appointments to town offices and commissions:
Sarah Scacco was reappointed town assessor.
Jeff Lapnow was reappointed to the Conservation Commission.
Former Town Clerk Bettye Ragognetti was appointed to the Commission on Social Services.
Jeff Bendremer was appointed to the Historic District & Historic Property Commission.
Philip Murphy was appointed to the Conservation Commission.
Members of the Board of Selectmen have also been assigned to liaision with other commissions to help with future emergency service issues those commissions may encounter.
Deborah McFadden was assigned to the Energy Commission; Joshua Cole was assigned to the Tree Commission; Lori Bufano was assigned to the Economic Development Commission; and Ross Tartell was assigned to the Social Services Commission.