Sensible Wilton filed a lawsuit in CT Superior Court (Stamford) yesterday, Monday, June 1, asking the court to compel the town of Wilton and its Board of Selectmen to call a town meeting to readdress the Miller-Driscoll renovation project.
In a Monday evening email to GOOD Morning Wilton, Sensible Wilton said the suit was filed “…to compel the Town of Wilton Board of Selectmen to fulfill its obligations under the town charter to call a Special Town Meeting, in order to vote on whether to repeal the $50,022,000 bonding authorization for the Miller-Driscoll (MD) renovation project.”
The suit, Sensible Wilton v. Board of Selectmen of the Town of Wilton et al. names the Board of Selectmen, as well as each of the selectmen as defendants, including first selectman Bill Brennan, second selectman James Saxe, and selectmen Michael Kaelin, Deborah McFadden and Richard Dubow.
According to Simon W. Reiff, the attorney (and Wilton resident) representing Sensible Wilton, the group is not seeking monetary damages nor are they asking for an injunction to stop any work on the project from proceeding at this time. “The purpose it only to get an expedited court date and get a vote at the earliest possible date,” he said.
At Monday evening’s BoS meeting, GMW.com asked the selectmen for comment. The question surprised the town officials, as they hadn’t heard about the suit until we asked for their thoughts. While they were surprised at the news, the selectmen didn’t appear fazed. [Editor’s note: first selectman Bill Brennan was not present at the meeting, as he is on vacation. Jim Saxe presided as acting first selectman.]
“I think it’s a silly waste of time and I have no concern about it,” Kaelin said.
The suit that was filed is a ‘motion in support of a temporary writ of mandamus,’ which asks the court to mandate that town officials appear to explain why they have not acceded to the petition requests. Kaelin, an attorney, explained that even if the court does issue an order to the BoS (or town lawyers representing the town officials) to appear and explain their actions, he doesn’t believe it is something on which the court is likely to take further action or force the town to call another town meeting.
Sensible Wilton’s Reasoning
In contrast, Sensible Wilton is confident that a court date would “be set shortly.”
Reiff said that the group has obtained information “both about the project details as well as election law violations” since the September vote and since the two petitions the group filed calling for new town meetings (the first to revote, and the second to repeal the Sept. vote) were turned down by the selectmen.
He said that not only have there been “serious violations of election law” but that the “purported needs of the project have been undermined.”
- Reiff pointed to what he called a main “selling point” of the project was the need to expand the pre-K classroom areas because of a growing pre-K population. “On the contrary, there is evidence that the population is actually declining.”
- He also stated that the construction plans “provide a dedicated pre-K entrance–that will never happen because the state will not allow it.”
- Reiff also told GMW that Sensible Wilton has learned the M-D “roof is covered by warranty and the town is within its rights to have the roof repaired by the manufacturer.
In all, Reiff says Sensible Wilton feels, the evidence they have found “changes the calculus of the project” and that it “doesn’t make sense on its merits.”
The filing can be found on the Sensible Wilton website.
Sensible Wilton Press release in full
“Sensible Wilton (SW) filed suit today in the Connecticut Superior Court to compel the Board of Selectmen to fulfill its obligations under the Town Charter to call a Special Town Meeting, in order to vote on whether to repeal the $50,022,000 bonding authorization for the Miller-Driscoll (MD) renovation project. We expect a court date to be set shortly. Sensible Wilton is NOT looking for monetary damages and is NOT seeking an injunction to stop the renovation process at this time, only an expedited hearing and vote at the earliest possible date, as is its clear legal right under the Charter.
“As we have consistently stated throughout this debate, Sensible Wilton believes that immediate repairs should be made to various components of the MD school building, including the roof, HVAC, and electrical systems, and Sensible Wilton agrees that sprinklers and fire alarm systems need to be installed as well. It is likely that mold and asbestos remediation will be needed too. Claims that Sensible Wilton “just wants to fix the roof and HVAC” are completely untrue. However, the renovation project contemplated by the Town’s leaders – the largest capital project in our Town’s history – goes far beyond what is necessary or appropriate to provide our children and educators with a first-rate, Code-complaint school facility.
“The September 2014 referendum, which passed by just 27 votes, clearly was not conducted in accordance with State law. Evidence obtained following the vote has proven that Town leaders, including First Selectman William Brennan, engaged in a massive marketing campaign and expended thousands of taxpayer dollars to “sell” the project to voters. Such conduct constitutes a serious violation of Connecticut election law, which strictly prohibits the expenditure of taxpayer money or use of government property or assets to advocate for a position on a referendum. SW promptly filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC), which unanimously agreed to investigate, and which is expected to issue a decision in the coming weeks. We expect the results will vindicate our complaint, especially given the detailed documentation of prohibited activities that we provided to the SEEC.
“SW has also discovered that many essential facts in the possession of the Town’s leadership regarding the renovation project were not provided to the citizens. To give just one example: In January 2014, a demographic study of the Wilton Public School population concluded that school enrollment will be dropping significantly every year going forward for the foreseeable future, including a decline of approximately 13% in the pre-K population over the next five years, and a decline of 27% in the K-2 population in the same period. This report was known to Town officials well before the referendum but neither discussed nor disclosed prior up to the original vote – Sensible Wilton obtained a copy of the report only in February 2015 — and the report’s results were substantially confirmed by a subsequent demographic study in April 2015. We now know that there was no responsible basis for claiming, as the Town’s leaders repeatedly did, that the demolition of the Peach Core and North Wing in the Miller-Driscoll School building was necessary to accommodate a “growing” pre-K population and to build new classrooms, which undoubtedly will remain empty for years to come if this project goes forward.
“SW is not alone in believing that the MD project as currently constituted is fiscally irresponsible and will significantly damage the Town of Wilton and its taxpayers. Over 1,100 individuals signed Sensible Wilton’s initial petition, and nearly 300 individuals signed Sensible Wilton’s current petition in just a few days. We have received an outpouring of support from many of Wilton’s electors, including members of the Town’s boards and commissions who quietly agree that the MD project is ill-advised.
“SW submits that a Special Town Meeting, conducted in full compliance with State law, should be held as soon as possible to allow the citizens of Wilton to decide whether it really makes sense to go forward with this $50 million project, based on all the facts we now know.”