The State Elections Enforcement Commission has found that recent complaints filed by local ad-hoc citizen group Sensible Wilton, about last month’s Special Town Vote on Miller-Driscoll Renovations, do call for further investigation. On Tuesday, Oct. 14, the 5-member commission unanimously determined that complaint was “necessary to investigate.”

Sensible Wilton’s complaint alleged that Wilton town officials violated CT election law by using funds and town resources to actively and improperly advocate for Wilton residents to vote ‘Yes’ to approve of the renovation’s $50 million bonding price tag.

But the commission’s ruling on Tuesday doesn’t mean there should be a rush to say the charges are valid, according to SEEC spokesperson Joshua Foley.

“The ‘necessary to investigate determination’ is the first stage complaints go through. It’s basically a jurisdictional determination. It decides if the complaint alleges facts that, if proven true, would constitute an election violation. It’s always unanimous–it’s pro forma and very routine. The commissioners usually react on advice of the [SEEC] staff.”

According to Foley, who called this determination “sort of a basic one,” it means the complaint was reviewed by SEEC staff who recommended further investigation, and the commissioners followed that advice.

Foley said the complaint will now be assigned to an attorney and an investigator who will look into what Sensible Wilton has alleged. “Typically it takes several months.”

Sensible Wilton has said that the Sept. 23/27 vote should be overturned, and they’ve asked for a re-vote. However, the commission is not empowered to order that. Foley says that while the State statutes empower the commission to do several other things, “one of those things is not invalidating votes.”

They are empowered to issue ‘cease and desist’ orders and injunctions, however, should an investigator determine violations did occur, but Foley says, “That’s a stretch–it’s never happened [before.]”

First selectman Bill Brennan referred all requests for comment to town counsel Kenneth Bernhard, who sent a statement to GMW.com refuting the Sensible Wilton charges: 

The complaint filed with the SEEC asserts that the Town used public funds to advocate for and encourage an affirmative vote for the bonding resolution to pay for the Miller-Driscoll renovations.  The allegation is uninformed and incorrect. The complainant has failed, inadvertently or purposefully, to distinguish the difference between the Town’s providing information to assist the public in understanding what the vote was about with advocacy to vote for the proposal. No public funds were used to advocate for an affirmative vote. The complainant, either mistakenly or purposefully, alleges that the materials that were distributed encouraging an affirmative vote were initiated and paid for with public funds. They were not. A private advocacy group printed their own materials using private funds to exercise their constitutional rights. I am confident that the SEEC will find that the Town did not violate statutory election/campaign laws.

Late on Wednesday evening, Alex Ruskewich, the Sensible Wilton president, emailed GOOD Morning Wilton a copy of a lengthy email he sent to town officials, which he called a “courtesy” email notifying them that the SEEC had decided to investigate. In it he continues to press officials for a re-vote, and says that they have additional complaints they intend to supply to investigators:

We continue to receive additional evidence to support the statute violations identified in our Complaint all of which will be provided to the SEEC as supplemental submissions.

Separately, we are evaluating multiple complaints from Registered Voters who claim to have received improper absentee balloting instructions from the Town, thereby impairing their ability to cast a vote in the referendum. We understand these claims would be grounds for a separate complaint.

Beyond this, press reports about our SEEC complaint have generated an increasing number of contacts from Wilton citizens who are expressing their displeasure with the entire referendum process. Aside from complaints about the Advocacy program at the schools, other voters claim they were unaware of the $50M Referendum Vote until they saw reports of the contested result.

You have publicly acknowledged this $50M project represents the largest project in town history. Given the razor thin margin of approval and the documented irregularities surrounding the referendum process, some of which Town Counsel has now acknowledged, we respectfully suggest that you schedule a public discussion of all these issues at the next BOS meeting.

As stated in our SEEC complaint, we believe a revote is the appropriate remedy. We believe it would be in the best interests of the Town for the Board of Selectmen to voluntarily schedule a revote.