At Monday evening’s Board of Selectmen meeting, the first one since newly-elected officials were sworn in, the board members were tasked with electing a second selectman. Board member Michael Kaelin, who held the position during the previous term, was unseated Monday evening when his fellow BOS members elected Dave Clune to take the second selectman role.
Kaelin didn’t let that happen without putting up a valiant effort to convince first selectman Lynne Vanderslice and BOS member Lori Bufano why he should remain as second, and the two debated for close to 15 minutes about who should fill the role and what qualifies someone to serve in the position. [Editor’s note: Deb McFadden was not present at the meeting, due to a family medical situation.]
Vanderslice started by outlining exactly what a second selectman does, reading directly from the Town Charter.
“The second selectman shall have all the powers, duties and responsibilities of the first selectman in the event of a vacancy in the office of the first selectman until such vacancy is filled as proscribed by this charter,” she read, adding that the charter specifies the vacancy would be filled by special election.
Some people have erroneously believed that the second selectman would automatically–and permanently–assume the top job in the event that anything happened to Wilton’s first selectman, but the charter states that it’s only a temporary solution.
When Vanderslice moved to immediately vote using a paper ballot that had three names on it–Kaelin, Clune and McFadden (Bufano had removed her name from consideration before the meeting)–Kaelin questioned why a ballot was even being used. He said that because whoever would be chosen would have to immediately take on the job of first selectman it needed to be someone who would be someone town residents and employees trusted enough, to communicate “that everything’s going to be okay, because the person standing in that office has knowledge about what needs to be done and has the ability to get things done.”
Kaelin said that trust from the town would be reflected in the number of votes each board member had received.
“What we’ve traditionally done is elect the second selectman that’s had the most votes from the people in town. That’s not just tradition and tribute because it’s not just an honorary position. It’s really the only objective evidence that we have of who people in town have confidence about. I don’t understand why we would deviate from that practice now. We just had an election, we had an election two years ago. The people of the town had a chance to vote, and I for one wouldn’t want to disrespect what the people voted for,” Kaelin said.
Vanderslice disagreed, explaining that she has changed her view on how the process should be done since learning first-hand over the last two years how difficult the job of first selectman is.
“Who to put in that position requires a lot more consideration than the couple of minutes we spent on it two years ago when we said that the person with the highest vote gets it. Right now, we have people who have been on this board for 2-3 years, or Deb who was on it for nine months.”
She then outlined what she said were the important qualifications for the job:
Based on those criteria, Vanderslice said she put together a comparison of each of the other BOS members, looking at the length of time they’d served, their attendance at BOS meetings, their work on other BOS-related initiatives besides work done at meetings, past government experience, and time and relationships with town employees.
Vanderslice also clarified that she didn’t think comparing the number of votes from both the 2015 and 2017 elections was appropriate, given that voter turnout in each election was different.
“I don’t agree with you that that’s the best way to determine the best person to step in. All the things I just said are more important than the number of votes they received in an election. How prepared are they to step into the job on day one, based on all the criteria I said.”
Kaelin responded that Vanderslice should nominate someone, and she did, putting forward Clune’s name; Bufano seconded the nomination.
Kaelin said he didn’t think Clune was qualified–and that he himself had gotten more votes from the public than Clune.
“As great a guy as Dave Clune is, I don’t see how you could possibly come to the conclusion that he’s the best person to step in in an emergency if you can’t serve. He has a full-time job in the city of New York with the federal government. He has existing conflicts that already limit his ability. His attendance at the pension trustee meetings–which are actually a legal obligation to be at–are not very good. He’s on the board of the Ambler Trust. His wife works for Ambler Farm, and of all the people sitting on this board, he’s got the least votes. When we ran head-to-head two years ago, I had 2,800 votes; David had closer to 2,000. When we had a head-to-head election between Deb and Lori, Deb had more votes. I agree we shouldn’t go by votes alone, but I don’t think we can ignore the statement people made: a lot more people in this town have voted for me than anyone else sitting on this board,” said Kaelin.
Vanderslice disagreed, and said that she had wanted to avoid listing publicly why she felt Clune was a better choice to step in if something happens to her, but she felt she had to respond to Kaelin.
“We knew that the pension meeting were going to be a conflict for him from the beginning. But if you look at these board meetings, in the current fiscal year, you missed 19% of the meetings, which I think is five; Lori and Dave missed nothing. You missed the January budget meeting, you missed the February all-day budget meeting, you missed a meeting in the summer, you missed a meeting in October and you missed a meeting in November. On the legal search, which was the most important thing we have done as a board, you were not able to participate. You were going to be the co-chair with Dave, and instead Dave picked it up, was the chair, and it was a significant amount of time–we worked on that for months, and Dave did an outstanding job on that,” Vanderslice said, noting that Clune is also an ex-officio member of the Parks & Recreation Commission and led fundraising for the turf with stadium advertising, while Kaelin does not serve on any boards or commissions.
Vanderslice also pointed out that through Clune’s work on the legal search committee, he had a working relationship with the town’s CFO, HR director and Land Use/Town Planner, as well as with the director of Parks & Rec..
“In speaking with each of those town employees, he has earned their respect. Dave has a significant amount of hands-on working experience with the town employees; I’m not aware that you had any of that while you were on that board,” she told Kaelin.
Kaelin tried to make the case for the experience he could bring to the position.
“I’ve got 20 years of history in this town, I’ve chaired boards and commissions, I was the president of the library. I don’t know if Dave has ever chaired a commission in this town, and that’s functionally what you do in the role,” he said.
He also defended what his contribution to the BOS has been, noting that he felt it wasn’t the role of selectmen to take assignments from the first selectman; instead, he felt the reverse was true–that it was the role of selectmen to give assignments to the first selectman.
“Our Primary responsibility to this town is to oversee what you’re doing as first selectman, to challenge you and question you on what you’re doing as first selectman. And I don’t think there’s anyone on this board that does that better than I do,” Kaelin said.
For his part, Clune acknowledged that he’d be happy taking the role of second selectman, and also wanted to correct Kaelin’s point about where he worked–not for the federal government but for the Federal Reserve. “I would feel comfortable stepping in if I had the role.”
Bufano said that based upon the criteria of what a first selectman does, she felt Clune had the necessary qualities.
Clune was approved as the second selectman by a vote of 3-to-1, with Kaelin the only one opposed.
The next day, Kaelin sent the following statement to GOOD Morning Wilton:
“Unfortunately, this is politics. The reality is that once I left the Republican Party and did not endorse the Republican candidates for the Board of Selectmen, I was not going to be reappointed Second Selectman unless both of the candidates I endorsed won the election. The only thing I have to add to the comments I made on the record last night is that if my fellow board members did not believe I should be reappointed Second Selectman, they should have appointed Deb McFadden. She not only got the most votes for the Board of Selectmen in this past election, she received more votes in this past election than David Clune received in 2015, and more people voted in 2015 than in 2017. More importantly, her experience in town government is equal to or greater than any other member of the Board of Selectmen. She not only previously served on the Board of Selectmen, she actually ran for First Selectman, proving that she is more than qualified to step into the job as First Selectman if the need arises, which is what we need in a Second Selectman.
As for the Board of Selectmen going forward, it is going to be great. As I have said many times before, I believe Lynne is doing an outstanding job as First Selectman. However, as I also have said before, I believe she would do an even better job if she was more open to the ideas of others. As I said last night, our job on the Board of Selectmen is to assist her in doing that, and I know we will. While I did not vote for David Clune for Second Selectman, I do believe he is an outstanding Selectman as is Lori Bufano. I know Deb McFadden will be also, and that together we will do the best possible job for the people of Wilton. I am looking forward to it.”
Clune also provided a comment about being chosen as second selectman:
“I have enjoyed the last two years on the Board of Selectmen, appreciate all that everyone on the Board has contributed and am happy to serve the Board in any capacity that is helpful.
“I look forward to continuing to work with the Board and welcoming Deborah McFadden.”