CFO search yields FOI complaint by Wilton citizens
Three Wilton citizens have filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act complaint against First Selectman Bill Brennan, Selectman Dick Dubow, and Board of Finance Chairman Warren Serenbetz for their actions as a search committee for a new chief financial officer. The complaint was filed Sept. 16 by Kevin Hickey, Detlef Fuhrmann and Marissa Lowthert.
The three citizens claim Brennan, Dubow and Serenbetz, as a committee, have met secretly and entered into a contract with the search firm NESC (National Executive Search Corps). As evidence they submitted media reports and a letter of agreement and invoice from NESC.
The Freedom of Information Act defines a public agency as “any state or town agency, any department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official of the state or of any city, town … including any committee of, or created by any such office, subdivision, agency, department, institution, bureau, board, commission authority or official …” It stipulates meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions, be open to the public.
In their complaint, the citizens say the search committee constitutes a public agency and a search of the town’s website reveals no notices of meetings, agendas or minutes from any meetings of a CFO search committee. Based on media reports and a discussion with the first selectman’s assistants, the complainants conclude there were two meetings held in August. The complaint also says even if those meetings were conducted via email, they would still be legal meetings.
“This is not the first time that the Town has violated the Freedom of Information Act,” the complaint reads. It then cites two violations reported by Lowthert regarding meeting notices. In one case, the Freedom of Information Commission found the Board of Selectmen had failed to specify why it was going into executive session and the minutes did not identify all persons present, as required. In the other, the Board of Finance failed to specify why it was going into executive session. The town resolved a third complaint with Lowthert when it failed to adequately notify the public of a change of time and location of a posted meeting.
The complaint also makes note of the NESC contract — which stipulates a payment of $28,500 whether or not any candidate it recommends is eventually hired — and says “the job qualifications for the CFO are inappropriate.”
The complainants have asked the Freedom of Information Commission to expedite their case, given the stated desire of the first selectman to have a new CFO in place before the current CFO, Sandy Dennies, leaves at the end of November. They have also asked the commission to direct town officials to “cease and desist holding secret meetings of the CFO Search Committee” and produce any emails that would constitute meetings.
The complaint also asks that approval of an agreement with the NESC and the job requirements be made “null and void.”
It also asks for fines “in the maximum amount permitted against each of the individual Respondents, in light of Respondents’ willful misconduct and repeated violations of the FOI Act, and any additional relief the commission would deem proper.
The commission’s next meeting is Sept. 24, and this matter was not on the agenda. The commission will meet again Oct. 14, Oct. 28, Nov. 18, and Dec. 16. The agendas for those meetings have not been posted.
The Board of Selectmen meets tonight, Sept. 21, at 7:30 p.m., and the search for the chief financial officer is on the agenda.