Under threat of lawsuit, Selectmen refuse to call second vote on Miller-Driscoll
Sensible Wilton told the Board of Selectman Sunday it would pursue “judicial intervention” if the Town of Wilton refuses to call a second referendum on the Miller-Driscoll school renovation project.
But, the board remained steadfast in opposition at its meeting Monday, telling Sensible Wilton it would not vote to hold a second Town Meeting on the topic.
“I asserted at the last meeing that I did not believe the Board of Selectmen have the legal authority to order a revote. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything tonight to persuade me otherwise,” Selectman Michael Kaelin, a lawyer and former member of the Wilton Charter Commission, said.
“The only reasoning I’m hearing here, or seeing, is [an argument from Sensible Wilton that says] we now have the power to repeal the authorization because the authorization is the same thing as an ordinance under the Charter. I don’t think you can bend the English language like that.”
A note sent out Sunday by an official Sensible Wilton email account said the group “will commence litigation to pursue the electors’ rights as secured by the Charter” if a second vote is not called.
A letter sent by Sensible Wilton’s attorney Simon W. Reiff to First Selectman Bill Brennan on Sunday asked the “Board of Selectmen to respect its legal obligations under the Town [Charter] and to submit the Petition to a vote at a Special Town Meeting so as to avoid the unnecessary escalation of this matter.”
Wilton’s legal counsel, Ken Bernhard, has previously argued his client has no obligation to call a revote on a bonding issue, and the Board of Selectmen agreed.
“After a resolution is passed by the Town Meeting,” Bernhard wrote in a recent legal opinion. “the Charter… does not provide for further legislative input by the Town Meeting, by ordinance or otherwise.”
Because the “power of a municipal corporation to repeal an ordinance or resolution is… as broad as the power to enact it,” if a group of citizens does not have the right to call a bonding resolution, they do not have the right to call for the repeal of a bonding resolution, either, he wrote last week.
The majority of public comment in regards to Sensible Wilton’s request was voiced in opposition of the plan, including a summary comment by Jim Newton, a member of the Milller-Driscoll Building Committee.
“This whole process is ridiculous. A legal vote was taken, the measure passed, and its time to proceed with the building,” he said.
Instead of fighting the town on the Miller-Driscoll project, many argued Sensible WIlton should “get involved” in the town government rather than shout out from the sideline.
Nick Davatzes, a former member of the Economic Development Commission was specific in this argument.
“ One side won, one side lost. I suggest to those who are not happy, get in the arena and run for public office to make changes rather than do it through the courts,” he said.
Sensible Wilton supporters were not unheard at the meeting, however many argued for better municipal financial responsibility in general — not just on the Miller-Driscoll project.
“I want to make sure this is doe right,” said Kristina Duncan, of Middlebrook Farm Road. “The taxes are hideous now. There’s just a lot of sloppy stuff going on, and this is a big project.”
A ‘Sensible’ opinion
While selectmen followed his guidance, a recent legal memo sent by Sensible Wilton argues Mr. Bernhard’s opinion does not represent the truth.
Reiff, the group’s attorney, enumerates three areas of concern in the letter to the town:
• That town counsel wrongly concluded the Special Town Meeting’s vote in September 2014 was a “resolution.” Sensible Wilton argues the vote represents an ordinance which may be overturned by another Special Town Meeting.
• That town counsel overlooked the fact that Sensible Wilton seeks to exercise a Town Meeting’s express power of initiative — not an implied power to repeal a bond authorization.
• That the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution in no way prohibits the consideration of the proposed ordinance, and the chaos Bernhard “claims would occur in the event of a repeal is totally unfounded.”
In the letter, Reiff also notes that the State Elections Enforcement Commission unanimously voted to investigate claims of electoral impropriety during the run-up to the Miller-Driscoll renovation.
That case is scheduled for executive review on Tuesday, May 19.
Calls made to the SEEC went unreturned as of Monday morning.