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New Canaan Town Council Seeks to Fill Vacancy

During Wednesday's meeting held at the New Canaan Nature Center, Town Council members selected Jan. 3 as the date to interview three candidates who have been put forth by the RTC to fill the seat vacated by Tom O'Dea.

The New Canaan Town Council will soon be interviewing Republican candidates to fill the seat vacated by Tom O'Dea, who was elected to serve as state representative for the 125th District in the November election.

During Wednesday's meeting held at the New Canaan Nature Center, Town Council members selected Jan. 3 as the date to interview three candidates who have been put forth by the Republican Town Committee to fill O'Dea's seat.

Under the town charter, the 12-member Council can appoint an elector to fill a vacant seat until the next special or general election.

However some council members questioned whether the elector must be a Republican, or if the seat is in fact open to candidates from all political parties.

Chairman Mark DeWaele said when he consulted town's attorney Ira Bloom about the process, he was told "that it is up the the Council to elect a new member... and that the member must be a Republican."

He said Bloom explained that although there is no requirement under the town charter that specifically states the elector must be of the same party, it is covered in a section of the Connecticut General Statutes regarding majority representation, which in general requires that a town's ruling party be represented by a two thirds majority on all boards and commissions.

Town Council member John Emert said he too had reviewed the section of the statute Bloom was referring to, "and there's nothing that says there must be eight Republicans on the town council."

"So I would submit, with all due respect to Mr. Bloom, that this section [of the statutes] is silent as to whether the elector must be a Republican, Democrat, Independent or member of any party for that matter...," Emert said, adding that, furthermore, the statute doesn't require the Council to fill the seat.

Emert questioned the validity of Bloom's interpretation of the law that the Council should elect a replacement member based on party. He asserted that the Council should be electing members based on their qualifications.

Member Roger Williams pointed out that as of about 3 p.m. Wednesday, Tom O'Dea was still a member of the Council. He said he had checked with the town clerk's office and learned that O'Dea "has not yet resigned."

DeWaele said he had been informed by O'Dea that he no longer intends to serve and will resign, even though he could legally continue to serve as both a state representative and town councilman.

Williams said he too had discussed the matter with Bloom, who told him that the elector should be a Republican, since voters elected a Republican to the chair originally.

Still, Williams said he would like to see the Council "keep the field open... so as to consider as many qualified candidates as possible..."

Town Council member Kenneth Campbell said he agreed with Bloom's interpretation that "the ruling party is the voters... and if the voters elected a Republican to that seat, I do believe  we need to respect that..."

DeWaele said he would go back to Bloom and get further clarification — and if needed would even go to an outside expert.

"With the budget coming up and all the duties we have, we need that 12th person," DeWaele said.

Town Council member Penny Young said she wants to interview each of the candidates separately. She said when the Council interviewed candidates for the Board of Finance a few months ago, "it felt kind of uncomfortable" to have all of them sitting on the same room.

"I think the people who are being deposed should be able answer questions without the other candidates being able to hear their answers — or be influenced by other answers," Young said, adding that after the candidates are interviewed, she wants the council to go into executive session to discuss the candidates, before coming out to vote.

Taking the opposite stance, Town Council member and secretary Kit Devereaux said in her opinion the candidates would feel more comfortable being interviewed together as opposed to individually "in front of 12 people." Further, she said, "I wish we didn't have to go into executive session at all."

Town Council Vice Chairman Stephen Karl said the legislative body "should move as quickly as possible [on electing a replacement] since the budget process is approaching." He said regardless of the party affiliation question, the Council should proceed with interviewing the three candidates the RTC has put forward, out of respect to their desire and willingness to serve.

"I don't think we can afford to drag this on and on," Karl said.

"I think the only real sticking point here is the party affiliation is an issue," DeWaele said. He agreed that the Town Council should strive to have "the largest pool of people we can possibly get to draw on... but on the other hand I have a hard time going against the town attorney, with regard to whether this has to be Republican."

"Whether you are Republican, Democrat, Independent or Green Party, we want everyone in this town to serve," DeWaele said. "But I don't want to throw out a broad request and get people sending in their resumes who really want to do this — and then have to say, 'sorry, there is a requirement... that you have to be a Republican.'"

Once the question about party affiliation is clarified, DeWaele said the Council could then place advertisements and start actively soliciting additional candidates for the position.

"I hope this isn't something we need to bring to the Supreme Court," DeWaele mused, adding that he would be calling Bloom to get further clarification on Thursday.

Dave December 13, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Fill it with cheese
Betty J. Lovastik December 13, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Quoting from the article "Town Council members selected Jan. 3 as the date to interview three candidates who have been put forth by the Republican Town Committee to fill O'Dea's seat." Who are these three candidates or must residents wait until January 3 to find out?
Roy A. Abramowitz December 13, 2012 at 01:13 PM
In my belief the RTC has absolutely no jurisdiction here. Where in the town charter does it purport the RTC has the right to select the candidates. My belief is that the town constituents voted in the last election and the next in line would be the next highest vote count Republican candidate which is Dan Radman. If Mr Radman declines then you would go to the next highest vote. Those candidates that ran went through an ardous debate and campaign process and were viewed in the public eye. The legislative branch is to important a role to have a questionable and non chartered process make the selection.
Betty J. Lovastik December 13, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Roy, I agree with your observation. During the last Republican Town Council election registered Republicans came out in record numbers to cast their votes. Each candidate spent countless hours campaigning and everyone on the ballot debated each other in Town Hall with a final presentation at Saxe. All registered Republicans had the opportunity to cast their ballots during three caucuses. Our Town Clerk maintains the voting records from each election. The Town Council should obtain these records and offer the seat to the candidate who received the next highest vote. Bear in mind that the New Canaan Town Council seat is an "elected" position not an "appointed by RTC" one. When all is said and done we need to revamp our charter to more accurately prescribe how to fill seats that are vacated by "elected" officials.
David Kostek December 13, 2012 at 03:14 PM
There is clearly no requirement in CT statutes that New Canaan MUST have Republicans in 2/3 of the seats. Or that New Haven MUST have Democrats in 2/3 of the seats. That is absurd. The majority party may not exceed a maximum number of seats -- in this case 8. But just because the maximum is 8, does not mean it need be exactly 8, and this is certainly not codified in the law.
feo mesics December 13, 2012 at 04:14 PM
DR. DeWailer and the republican mafia at it again.
Betty J. Lovastik December 13, 2012 at 06:03 PM
David, Our charter states that we must have 12 Town Council members. I did not find any mention of the split in parties. However, the strong argument is that the seat was held by Tom O'Dea, who is a Republican, and therefore his replacement would also be a Republican. What I did find was this: § C2-4. Certain Town officers required to be electors of the Town. Every elected Town officer, member of the Town Council and every member of any other board or commission shall be an elector of the Town, and if for any reason such person ceases to be an elector of the Town, he or she shall thereupon cease to hold office or to be such member and such office or membership shall be deemed vacant. Members of appointed committees need not be electors or residents of the Town. Thus, by charter, Town Council members are elected by registered voters only. Committee members are appointed. Tom O'Dea is NOT a committee member but was elected to serve as Town Council member by vote. By charter, O'Dea's seat remains vacant until another person is "elected". Town Council seats are only filled by election. Clearly, since there were more candidates than available seats for Town Council during the last election, Town Council MUST view the counts from the last election and MUST offer the vacant seat to the next highest candidate with the most votes. If that person declines, then the procedure repeats.
Jon S. December 13, 2012 at 08:41 PM
I don’t want the Republican Town Committee dictating to us who should be on our Town Council, not even on an interim basis. It is not their call to make. Back when we voted for Tom O’Dea for Town Council, we voted for Tom O’Dea, not some generic Republican. When Mr. O’Dea decided he didn’t want to fulfill his term on Town Council, he relinquished his seat. Since there seems to be no “Republican” or “Democratic” way to serve our local government, let’s just get the best person for the job, understanding that that could easily be one on our Town’s thousands of unrepresented Independent voters.
Jon S. December 13, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Just another point: Mr. Campbell says since Mr. O’Dea is a Republican, we should only replace him with a Republican, because that's what the voters elected. Let’s take that line of reasoning further. Since Mr. O’Dea is a man, we should only replace him with a man. Since Mr. O’Dea is a Catholic, we should only replace him with a Catholic. Since Mr. O’Dea is a lawyer, we should only replace him with a lawyer. Hey, it’s what the voters elected, so we have to respect it. I contend that — on a Town Council level — party, gender, religion, and occupation are largely irrelevant and should not be used as single determining factors.

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