BREAKING NEWS: 2:45 P.M.–A press release was just sent to media stating that, “Sensible Wilton filed an Election Complaint with the SEEC (State Elections Enforcement Commission) for multiple election violations during the 3 weeks immediately before the 9-23-14/9-27-14 $50M Referendum vote on the Miller-Driscoll Elementary School Rehabilitation Project.”
Calls to First Selectman Bill Brennan were referred to town counsel Kenneth Bernhard, who was unavailable for comment by press time. Neither Brennan nor Wilton’s registrars of voters had received notice of any complaint being officially filed.
However, according to Joshua Foley, SEEC press information officer, he could find no record of a complaint having been filed as of Friday at 3:30 p.m..
The release quotes Sensible Wilton president Alex Ruskewich as saying, “These are serious violations of State Statutes by Town Officials. With a margin of victory of only 27 votes of over 1900 votes cast, Sensible Wilton seeks a revote.”
The alleged complaint refers to the Special Town Meeting and Vote of Sept. 23 (continued Sept. 27) at which the town approved the plan to renovate Miller-Driscoll School with a $50 million bond. The referendum question–for which 1,931 voters (17-percent) cast ballots–was approved by a margin of 27 votes.
Sensible Wilton’s press release alleges that the group was prompted to file the complaint after “reports that during the three weeks before the vote, Town and School Officials used Officially Scheduled Parent Night /Meet the Teacher Open Houses at Wilton schools as ‘Advocacy’ sessions for the Referendum. As part of the evening’s Agenda, Town Officials explicitly encouraged Parents to Vote YES on the $50M Miller Driscoll project….a project that will reduce, not increase school square footage.”
Ruskewich is quoted as saying, “The parents of Wilton students were invited to the Open House meetings. As many as 8000 registered voters were invited to 13 Official School meetings where Town Officials encouraged them to Vote YES. Using an official School meeting as an advocacy session to a captive audience is prohibited by State Election laws for Referenda. “
Other allegations made in the press release:
- “Treasurer Curt Noel reports, ‘Not only did Town Officials conduct Advocacy Sessions, they also distributed Pink and Orange “Vote YES” pamphlets attributed to the Town. That is an SEEC Violation.’
- “During the 9-23-14 Town Meeting to discuss the project, parents described the school meetings as a “sales pitch.” Others complained that during the Miller-Driscoll Advocacy Sessions Town and School officials prohibited questions.”
- “There were similar citizen complaints about the 9-23-14 Town Meeting. Town Officials dominated the meeting, often making factually incorrect or misleading remarks. The moderator stopped speakers who opposed the project and did not allow time for residents to respond to inaccurate, unsupported or misleading statements by Town Officials.”
- This project is nearly twice as expensive as the 1998 High School project which significantly increased Square footage for $26m. Miller-Driscoll will reduce square footage at a cost of $50M. Sensible Wilton’s core question is: Why pay so much more for less?
“Proposing a $50M project without sufficient financial justification is bad enough. Not allowing adequate discussion by concerned Wilton citizens is worse,” Ruskewich says.
The release states that, “Members of Sensible Wilton began asking questions about the $50M project months ago. When answers were not provided, Sensible Wilton encouraged voters to become aware of the underlying issues.”
“The Town has not provided sufficient information for voters to make an informed decision. Details regarding the proposal are missing. There are safety and health hazards that must be corrected immediately. Wilton’s youngest children can’t wait nearly 4 years for relief,” Ruskewich says.
The release also reasserts Sensible Wilton’s complaint, that town officials have not adequately answered their questions about the cost.
According to the release, Sensible Wilton asking for a revote because they believe that if they had been able to have the same access to voters before the vote as did town officials, they would have been able to persuade more people to vote against the proposed renovation plan.
“Sensible Wilton is proud of what it accomplished with a few volunteers who were willing to challenge Town Leaders. Turnout of over 1900 voters was nearly double typical budget votes turnout of only 1000 voters. And the 27 vote margin was razor thin compared to budget votes. We believe that the Town Official’s unanimous approval of a project that did not have similar support of the voter’s reflects Town Leaders disconnection to the citizens. If Town Leaders and School officials gave us equal access to those 8,000 parents, answered questions and allowed for an honest debate of facts, the result would have been very different. We need a revote.”
According to the SEEC’s Foley, once the complaint is filed, it will be reviewed by a 5-member citizen commission to determine whether the complaint falls under the SEEC’s jurisdiction. “It’s a low bar, threshold of determination that the complaint alleges a violation of election law. After that point the complaint is assigned to an enforcement attorney and an investigator and they look into the allegations.”
Michael Brandi, Executive Director and General Counsel of the SEEC is quoted on the commission’s website as stating. “The mere filing and docketing of a complaint does not mean that a violation has occurred. Complaints are regularly dismissed by the Commission with no finding of a violation.”
We will continue to update the story once more information becomes available.