Party heads say smaller boards not needed

At some point the Board of Selectmen should look at reducing the number of members on boards and commissions in town because it is increasingly difficult to fill empty seats, First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice told the Board of Selectmen May 23.

“Everyone seems to have trouble finding people to fill these boards. I think it is something we probably should look at in the fall,” Vanderslice told the selectmen during their meeting at town hall.

Specifically, Vanderslice pointed to two openings on the Wilton Library Association Board of Trustees, two openings on the Parks and Recreation Commission, one opening on the Wilton Water Pollution Control Authority, and an alternate position on the Historic District & Historic Property Commission.

“Is there a sense of a greater turnover,” asked Selectman Dick Dubow.  “It seems we’re seeing more vacancies.”

If there are more vacancies these days, it is a concern, Dubow said, because “there is a ramp-up period as new people join a board.”

There is a mix of reasons for the vacancies, Vanderslice told the selectmen. Attendance is an issue for some committees and there may be more two-income households with both partners working.

“Maybe we should ask people if they are available on a regular basis for meetings,” Dubow said in reply to Vanderslice’s statement.

However, political party heads in Wilton do not share that opinion, that it is harder to find volunteers to fill vacancies on boards and commissions. Both Al Alper, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, and Deborah McFadden, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said following the meeting they don’t see it that way.

If there is a problem, it is because the Board of Selectmen took a proactive role in volunteer recruitment last year, and now participates in the interview process for finding new board members.

The political parties used to handle that themselves and make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen, he said.

In their zeal to be open they have watered down the enthusiasm, and made the process more cumbersome,” Alper said.

He does not want to reduce the number of people on boards.

“More voices are always better,” Alper said. “Reducing the number in my opinion, you have a higher likelihood of an echo chamber. At first blush I am not in favor of it. I’m in favor of reconstituting a vibrant volunteer base.”

He decried Vanderslice’s observation that times have changed.

“Markets haven’t changed, the economy hasn’t gotten worse. Two years ago we had a considerable number of volunteers. What changed is the way the town does business,” Alper said.

McFadden said the Democrats have no problem finding qualified names to submit.

“There have been significant delays, where we submit a name and the Board of Selectmen hasn’t acted on it for a period of time, and the person has already been interviewed, and it’s still not filled.” One candidate, she said, came to be processed three times. “They took months and months and she was eventually seated,” McFadden said.

Consolidation of boards would be a good idea, but not reducing the number of people on boards, McFadden said.

Vanderslice said later, “What I said is that we should look at the topic. The discussion centered around Dick Dubow's observation that it appeared we were experiencing an increase in the number of people leaving boards/commissions prior to the end of their term. I said I would review the activity over the last number of years and provide the BOS with a factual accounting.”

People leave boards for a mix of reasons including moving out of town and increasing demands at work, Vanderslice said. An increase in the number of hours spent working and the number of dual-income households has made it more difficult for many to volunteer.

“Several of our boards have experienced times where they were unable to obtain a quorum and thus were forced to cancel a scheduled meeting. In the fall, when we have more facts, the BOS will study the issue,” Vanderslice said.