“A Crisis Point” for Inland Wetlands Commission Puts Appointment Process Under New Scrutiny

The discussion at the Monday, Nov. 1 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting became tense at times, when motions were made to approve two appointments to the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC).

The first motion was for the appointment of Miriam Sayegh, who was well known by members of the BOS. Sayegh currently serves as the chairperson on the Town’s Ethics Committee and has previously served in leadership positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Selectwoman Deborah McFadden was first to raise an issue — not with whether Sayegh was qualified for the position, but whether the BOS was following the proper process for considering her appointment.

“I think Miriam is a fabulous candidate. I think she is well suited for the position,” McFadden began. “My concern is how she came before us, because it isn’t our normal process of coming through the Town Committee process or an unaffiliated [applicant] that would petition to enter the process.”

Specific procedures for applicants for town boards and commissions are outlined on the Town website. In addition to completing an application form, applicants are supposed to contact the Republican or Democratic Town Committee for the political party with which they are currently registered to vote, and go through a vetting process of sorts. Unaffiliated voters (or those from another party) may contact either the RTC or DTC, or submit a petition with 25 voter signatures, verified with the Registrar of Voter’s records.

McFadden continued, “Although I think she’s a highly qualified candidate, I’m concerned about our precedent [of] not going through the process that we have as a Town for having people serve on our boards, committees and commissions.”

McFadden contrasted the present situation with vacancies that were left open for long periods of time during the pandemic. She said,

“Now we’re going the other direction where we’re accelerating the process and circumventing the agreed-upon process that we have.”

McFadden emphasized, “[It’s] not [Sayegh’s] abilities, but the process that brought her to us.”

Selectmen Ross Tartell also appeared uncomfortable with the process, noting that the meeting calendar would not preclude the applicant from going through the usual process before the next IWC meeting, and even expressing his willingness to convene a special meeting of the BOS meeting to vote on the apppointment.

Like McFadden, Tartell said the issue was not about Sayegh’s qualifications.

“I would absolutely approve her,” Tartell said.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice was clearly frustrated with the discussion.

“Why are we accelerating it now?” she asked, responding to McFadden’s point. “Because as you all know, the Inland Wetlands Commission is basically at a crisis point. It is a seven person commission. We have struggled to fill it. [It’s] harder than any other commission lately to fill.”

Vanderslice explained that, among the six people recently serving on the commission, two had left within a very short time and somewhat unexpectedly, leaving the commission with just four members.

With one of those four members about to reach the end of a maximum term limit, and two members only recently appointed, the commission will be relatively inexperienced.

As a result, Vanderslice indicated the stakes are high. “[This is] a commission that is regulatory. And if it isn’t done right, it ends up in a lawsuit.”

Vanderslice said the workload currently on the commission is adding even more pressure.

“The commission is extremely busy, probably the busiest it’s ever been, ” Vanderslice said. “We decided to be proactive to look for people who have experience, who could step in.”

She emphasized, “This commission is in a crisis. We identified a person who is highly qualified… and it’s a person this board has already interviewed previously in January of 2020, when this person was recommended by the RTC to this board for the ethics commission… She’s perfectly qualified.”

Vanderslice argued that the process behind the appointment was less important than the BOS’s mandate to ensure Wilton’s boards and commissions are functional.

“It’s our responsibility under the charter to make sure that these commissions are able to operate properly because they have qualified individuals. It is our job to appoint [them]. If we have somebody who’s qualified, I see absolutely no reason why we would go back to the Wilton Republican Town Committee to tell us if we can do what is our job with a very qualified person.”

Vanderslice went further, saying that the notion of Sayegh submitting to a Town Committee or petition process was “silly bureaucracy.”

Agreeing with Vanderslice, Selectmen Josh Cole said, “I think this is a special circumstance where we need to staff this commission as soon as possible.”

Second Selectwoman Lori Bufano echoed Vanderslice and Cole. “I think this is an urgent need and I would be in favor of appointing her tonight,” Bufano said.

On the principle she raised, McFadden voted in opposition to the motion to appoint Sayegh.

Tartell voted in favor, but only with the caveat that an “emergency” would not become a handy excuse for circumventing the appointment protocol in the future.

Tartell told Vanderslice, “I’m willing to vote for [Sayegh] with the understanding that we are not setting a precedent, that we will stay with the standard process, knowing that this is an emergency and not everything will become an emergency.”

With that, Sayegh’s appointment was confirmed. The BOS voted unanimously to appoint Rem Bigosinski to the IWC.

Considering Volunteering?

Information on how to volunteer for a board or commission position can be found under the “Resident” tab of the Town website.

The following currently have vacancies:

  • Building Inspectors Board of Appeals* (applicants must have construction related experience; meets very infrequently)
  • Council of Ethics
  • Deer Committee*
  • Economic Development Commission
  • Zoning Board of Appeals (alternate)
  • Inland Wetlands Commission

All applicants must complete a short application form.

Applicants for asterisked boards/commission should contact Jackie Rochester at Jacqueline.Rochester@wiltonct.org. Otherwise, applicants should contact the Town Committee for the political party with with they are currently registered to vote (Republicans should contact the Republican Town Committee; Democrats should contact the Democratic Town Committee).

Unaffiliated voters (or from another party) may either contact one of the Town Committees or submit a petition with 25 signatures, verified with the Registrar of Voter’s records, in support of the appointment. Please contact Jackie Rochester in the First Selectwoman’s Office at jacqueline.rochester@wiltonct.org for more information.