Sensible Wilton and selectmen to appear in court June 22
Sensible Wilton filed suit in Connecticut Superior Court on Monday, June 1, for a “temporary and permanent order of mandamus” to compel the Wilton Board of Selectmen to call a Special Town Meeting — as the group has petitioned for — in order to vote on whether to repeal the $50-million bonding authorization for the Miller-Driscoll renovation project.
Sensible Wilton was established in the summer of 2014 by several Wilton residents “out of concern for the Miller-Driscoll School renovation project,” according to the group’s website, sensiblewilton.org, and is “dedicated to advocating transparent and fiscally responsible policies and practices for the town of Wilton.”
The group says the school project was “being promoted without giving taxpayers a financial breakdown or detailed explanation of its estimated cost that had grown from $35 million to $50 million in 15 months.”
The renovation project was narrowly approved by voters in September 2014, after which Sensible Wilton filed a petition requesting the Board of Selectmen call a Special Town Meeting to have a revote because of “several activities by renovation project supporters that were viewed to be in violation of state election laws,” according to the group.
The petition was signed by more than 1,100 Wilton registered voters.
As for its lawsuit against the town, Sensible Wilton said it is not looking for monetary damages or seeking an injunction to stop the renovation process “at this time,” but is asking for a timely hearing and vote, which it believes it has a right to under the town charter.
Wilton’s town counsel, Ken Bernhard, has advised the Board of Selectmen the town charter grants no such right.
Bernhard told The Bulletin he hasn’t seen the complaint — “only the story” in the media, which he said “provides nothing new about the claims of Sensible Wilton,” he said. “Most of their allegations are premised on claims of election violations.”
Sensible Wilton maintains town officials spent “thousands of taxpayer dollars to sell” the renovation to voters. It is awaiting a decision by the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) on a complaint it filed last year in that regard.
Bernhard said the SEEC will be reporting its findings on Tuesday, June 16.
“I am very confident that the commission will find that the town did nothing wrong and was in full compliance with all voting requirements and procedures,” Bernhard told The Bulletin.
“If that proves to be the case, I trust Sensible Wilton will do the right thing, withdraw its lawsuit and stop issuing press releases with either inaccurate or incomplete facts.”
Sensible Wilton also maintains town officials did not reveal a projected decline in school enrollment before the vote. An enrollment report was discussed at a Board of Education meeting this spring. The group says pre-K enrollment is expected to drop 13% over the next five years while a decline of 27% in the kindergarten through second grade population in the same period is predicted.
According to Milone & MacBroom’s Wilton Comprehensive School Enrollment Analysis and Projections report released in March, kindergarten through second grade enrollment is projected to decline between 5.3% and 8.5% over the next eight years.
Sensible Wilton believes the renovation project “as currently constituted is fiscally irresponsible and will significantly damage the Town of Wilton and its taxpayers.”
It also claims that in addition to nearly 1,400 signatories on two petitions, members of town boards and commissions agree the project is ill advised, although none have said so publicly or on the record.
Sensible Wilton and the Wilton Board of Selectmen — First Selectman Bill Brennan, James Saxe, Michael Kaelin, Deborah McFadden and Richard Dubow — are scheduled to appear before the Stamford Superior Court on Monday, June 22, for a “show cause” hearing regarding Sensible Wilton’s motion for a temporary order of mandamus.
According to a notice regarding the hearing from the State of Connecticut’s Office of the Clerk Superior Court, a status/settlement conference will take place on June 22, during which the court will not take evidence.
If the case is not resolved at the first hearing, the court will then schedule a hearing — usually within two weeks of the first hearing — where evidence will be accepted.
If either the plaintiff (Sensible Wilton) of defendant (the Board of Selectmen) or their attorneys do not come to court on June 22, the judge will make a decision based on the papers Sensible Wilton submitted.
Alex Ruskewich, president and chair of Sensible Wilton, could not be reached for comment.
—Jeannette Ross contributed to this story