To fill a vacancy, unaffiliated voters need 100 signatures for consideration

Unaffiliated voters who wish to serve on an appointed town commission will have to collect 100 supporting signatures or pursue a recommendation from either the Republican or Democratic town committee. That was the 3-2 decision of the Board of Selectmen at its meeting on Monday, April 18. Voting in favor of the process were Michael Kaelin, Dick Dubow and Lori Bufano. First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice and David Clune voted against.
The decision follows several months of discussion and taking into consideration the positions of both town committees, which preferred to maintain the previous system where they undertook all vetting and  recommendation of candidates. In those instances, both committees invited unaffiliated voters to apply but expressed a preference for candidates from their respective parties.

The selectmen thought this was not a strong enough welcome for unaffiliated voters, who, despite numbering a slight majority in Wilton, held very few appointed seats. For the last few months, the selectmen have been directly interviewing unaffiliated candidates for vacancies, but admitted this process has been inadequate since they have a limited amount of time to speak with each one.

There was some discussion on how the town committees could be more open to unaffiliated candidates, but Vanderslice felt that did not go far enough.

“I don’t think we should be recommending that,” Vanderslice said of the suggestion that unaffiliated voters should be “encouraged” to go through the committees. “That creates a stumbling block, and I think we’re trying to remove all the stumbling blocks.”

As for the committees being open to unaffiliated voters, Clune said, “There is language there, but there could be more.”

The heart of the discussion focused on how many signatures an unaffiliated candidate would need to collect. Both committees had said they would support a petitioning process that required 150 signatures. Clune, who ran as an unaffiliated candidate for the Board of Selectmen, said he would oppose a number higher than 20.

“My view is you want to make this as open as possible for people,” he said. “If you put it up to 100 or 150, that becomes a roadblock.”

Dubow countered by saying the vetting process of the political parties has been “more robust than ours has been. We schedule 15 minutes with people. It’s not the same. Therefore, I am not uncomfortable with having a higher threshold to account for that.” He said he would be happy with 100.

Bufano said she thought the process should be comparable to the thoroughness undertaken by the town committees.

“Even if you are on an appointed board, you are serving in a representative capacity,” Kaelin said, arguing for a number on the high side.

Vanderslice was not persuaded. “I think we just shut a door on people. We’re talking about people that don’t want to go to the town committee, because if they wanted to go to the town committee they’d go in the first place. … It’s the people who don’t want to do that … this is the way the country is going increasingly, if you look at the young people who are unaffiliated, and I don’t know as a town we want to start putting doors in front of them.”

When all was said and done, a motion was passed to require 100 signatures of registered voters — of any party — for an unaffiliated voter to self-nominate for a seat on an appointed board or commission. The person would then be interviewed by the selectmen.

Registered members of the Democratic or Republican parties must go through their town committee nomination process.

All open positions are posted on the town website. Other than an elected minority position, Vanderslice said, no parties are assigned to open positions.