There’s a potential dispute brewing in advance of tonight’s (Monday, Nov. 2) Board of Selectmen meeting.
Board of Finance member Al Alper sent an email Sunday morning (Nov. 1) to 45 recipients alerting them that a likely controversial item had been added to the BoS agenda for consideration. The item is titled, “Consideration of Approval of Authorization of First Selectman to Sign and Execute all Construction, Architectural, Subcontractor and Vendor Contracts on Behalf of the Town of Wilton for the Miller Driscoll School Renovation Project.”
Based on the title, such authority would presumably give just one person⎯the first selectman⎯complete control over financial decisions and contract oversight for the largest capital project in Wilton’s history.
The agenda is created by the office of the first selectman. According to town government sources, Wilton’s first selectman Bill Brennan is the person who put the item on the agenda.
GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Brennan for comment on Sunday, but had not received a response by press time.
Alper clearly states in his email, “I am strongly against this.” He also says he plans to attend tonight’s BoS meeting to speak publicly about it.
Alper, who is also chair of the Wilton Republican Town Committee, sent his email to the members of the RTC⎯among which are several local officials⎯and cc’d town officials, including State Sen. Toni Boucher, State Rep. Tom O’Dea, and current members of the Board of Selectmen Michael Kaelin and Kenneth Dartley, as well as first selectman Brennan. Alper also copied GOOD Morning Wilton and the Wilton Bulletin on the email distribution list.
“Effectively this will give the 1st Selectman sole authority over the remainder of the Miller-Driscoll project that has yet to be finalized and still has many moving parts that should be considered by the full Board of Selectman – both the present and newly elected,” Alper writes in his email.
He charges that the move is “in direct conflict with the charter.” He cites several sections: “…including, but not limited to § C-15: A.2, A.3 and A.6 and, more specifically it directly contradicts the limiting powers defined therein § C-19.A through .D – (see http://www.wiltonct.org/departments/townclerk/documents/towncode.pdf).”
He adds that if the BoS members vote on such a move, it would be improper and negligent: “Moreover, inasmuch as members of the BoS, including the First Selectman are involved in the M-D building committee and have been vocal advocates, their participation in any vote on this matter would appear to be a conflict of interest. Finally, it would an abdication of their ARTICLE IV Charter responsibilities for the BoS as a body, and members who voted in favor of this action item specifically to vote to take away the very job (advise and consent) they were voted (or may be voted) for to exercise and would amount to gross negligence on their part.”
Not only is the move highly unusual considering the huge scope of the M-D project, but given that Brennan has less than 30 days remaining in his time in office, it’s also seen as a brash move. Brennan received a considerable amount of pushback on a similar move recently, when he introduced plans to quickly replace outgoing CFO Sandy Dennies with a permanent replacement, potentially before leaving office himself. Following debate, the search was amended to primarily target an interim replacement to allow the next administration to have final say over the hire
GMW.com reached out to several town officials for comment about this latest move, including the current board of selectmen. In addition, given that the town is only one day away from selecting its next BoS and first selectman, we also emailed the candidates who are running for those positions.
Michael Kaelin, who currently sits on the BoS and is running to keep his seat, said he would not approve such a measure. In addition, he said he spoke with several of his fellow BoS members who are also against it. Kaelin said he believes it actually may be “a mistake.”
“I first became aware of this issue when I received the agenda for Monday night’s meeting on Friday afternoon and I assume it is a mistake. I have since conferred with at least two of my fellow board members and confirmed they share my views and would not vote for it. Without getting into specific Charter provisions, all of us believe it would be an abdication of our responsibilities as members of the Board of Selectmen to vote for this resolution. It would go against everything I have been advocating since I joined the Board of Selectmen last year and specifically what I said in answer to the first question at the debate last Monday night. Therefore, I hope and assume this will not become a subject of controversy at tomorrow night’s meeting and the proposed resolution will be withdrawn without any contention or acrimony.”
Lynne Vanderslice is one of the two candidates for first selectman. While she says the town charter doesn’t entirely prohibit such a move⎯“Within Section C-17, the BoS has the power to delegate their power and duties, so it does not appear to be in direct conflict. ‘…the Board of Selectmen may, except to the extent otherwise provided by other law, delegate in whole or in part any of its powers and duties to the First Selectman or any other Selectman or Selectmen’⎯she doesn’t think giving the first selectman total authority in this situation makes sense:
“In general, I would question why the BoS would choose to delegate their responsibility for contract approval, other than perhaps for small dollar contracts. The BoS, composed of five individuals, is empowered to make these kinds of decisions and five minds are always better than one. The most transparent manner in which the BoS can operate is to hold discussions in public meetings. If necessary, special meetings can be convened.”
Gil Bray, one of the candidates for BoS, said he did not have enough information to take a definitive position on this, adding, “I would like to understand Bill’s rationale for this request, a reaction from [town] counsel on the violation of the Town Charter allegation and the process for accepting, reviewing and awarding contracts to those making the acceptable bids after review by the Building Committee.”
Another candidate for the BoS Dave Clune wrote back that he is “…hopeful that this resolves itself and does not become an issue.”
Update: Deb McFadden, current BoS member and candidate for first selectman emailed GMW with a comment shortly after this post was first published: “I first heard about this agenda item on Saturday afternoon and look forward to discussing my views at the Board of Selectman meeting on Monday in a public setting which will allow full transparency.”
GMW.com also reached out to Wilton’s town counsel for clarification on the charter question, but have not heard from either Cohen and Wolf attorneys Ken Bernhard or Pat Sullivan for comment.
Tonight’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in meeting room B at Town Hall (238 Danbury Rd.). It is also televised on Cablevision’s Ch. 79.