Last Friday, GOOD Morning Wilton published an interview with Al Alper, chair of the Wilton Republican Town Committee, in which he confirmed his intention to run for the Board of Selectmen. Alper did not receive the endorsement from the RTC, which slated two other candidates on the ballot–current selectman, Lori Bufano, and Joshua Cole.
Also on Friday, GMW published remarks in support of Alper’s bid from second selectman Michael Kaelin–a former RTC chair before he resigned from the RTC in 2010 and later from the Republican Party entirely in 2016.
Over the weekend, we received the following comments from Bufano and Cole, as well as from RTC member Scott Lawrence, with different takes than those offered by Alper and Kaelin. All three acknowledge Alper’s right to challenge the nominations in a primary, but they each dispute some of his actions and statements made in his GMW interview.
Statement from Selectman Lori Bufano
I am honored to be endorsed by the Wilton Republican Town Committee as a candidate for the Board of Selectmen. I believe the RTC nominating process was fair and conducted according to all rules, including those set by the chair of the process and nominating meeting. It is deeply disappointing that the RTC Chair would not abide by the overwhelming vote of this committee. Although Mr. Alper has every right to do what he is doing, as a current member of the Board of Selectmen I am concerned that the town must now incur the expense of a primary. This would occur during a time when we are expecting more cuts in aid from the state and possible shifting of pension costs.
Statement from Joshua Cole
Wilton RTC Endorsed Candidate for Bd. of Selectmen
As a strong proponent of the democratic process, I acknowledge the legal right of anyone to challenge a party’s nominee in a primary. However, for the Republican Town Committee Chair to complain about the process of the nominee selection is disingenuous. The fact is, motions were made for a vote to go into Executive Session in accordance with the RTC Party Rules, Article V(4). Both Al and I voted to permit the Executive Session and my recollection is that the vote was unanimous. There were no complaints regarding the process made by the RTC Chair while we waited in the hall during deliberations. In fact, after the vote the RTC Chair stated: “The process is open and transparent.” He also noted that: “The RTC endorsed candidates with considerable experience and a deep desire to help navigate Wilton’s future to the betterment of it citizens.” (see “Wilton RTC and DTC Choose Candidates For November Town Elections”).
Both the current and former RTC Chairs now complaining about the process have engaged in calls for Executive Session previously. Most notably, the two disputed the issue in 2010 (see “Alper and Rudolph Unanimously Reelected to Lead RTC”). To my knowledge, neither drafted any proposed changes to the RTC Bylaws or Party Rules during their tenure with the RTC.
I am extremely honored to be chosen by the voting RTC members, and by the subsequent support I have received from Republicans, Unaffiliated Wiltonians, and even Democrats in town. It is often difficult to go against the status quo, and I applaud all those who have taken action to do so and support my candidacy. Those who have already gotten to know me understand that I gather all the facts, assess those facts, and then act. With me on the Board of Selectmen, all Wiltonians can rest assured that there is another person doing the appropriate due diligence on every issue before the Board. My style is measured, and effective. I do not believe being divisive serves the public interest, and I do not think the citizens of Wilton will conflate being loud with being strong. I think this is an unfortunate distraction from discussions about the serious issues facing the town, but I am prepared to defend my candidacy for all those who want someone with positive energy to work hard for them.
If anyone is interested in learning more about why I am running, or engaging in a dialogue about Wilton, please contact me via email.
Wilton RTC Endorsed Candidate for Board of Selectmen
Scott Lawrence Letter
To the Editor:
As a Wilton Republican Town Committee member who participated in its July 19 meeting endorsing Lori Bufano and Josh Cole to run for the Board of Selectman (BoS), I read Mike Kaelin’s and Al Alper’s GOOD Morning Wilton interviews and comments on the RTC endorsement process with a mixture of puzzlement and disbelief. To recap for context: Mr. Kaelin, a former Republican and RTC chair, now an unaffiliated BoS Member, did not attend the RTC endorsement meeting but asserts in his interview that, based on what he heard and read, the RTC violated the nomination-by-committee rules he personally put in place in the 1990s, thus resulting in a non-transparent and non-inclusive process that requires a primary to fix. In his interview, Mr. Alper, the current RTC chair who presided over the July 19 meeting but was not endorsed as a BoS candidate, embraces Mr. Kaelin’s support and similarly cites the “opacity, the lack of inclusion, [and] the closed door” nature of the RTC nomination process as a central reason for pursuing a primary, which is at the town’s cost.
Before we let the former and current RTC chairs throw the RTC and its process too far under the bus in order to justify Mr. Alper’s pursuit of a primary, I thought it useful to offer some additional facts and, hopefully, a different perspective.
First, Mr. Kaelin and Mr. Alper each contend that a primary is more inclusive and transparent than the committee-nomination process the RTC uses. Perhaps, but this question is best addressed by the RTC and Republicans of Wilton in a neutral setting without a primary by the current RTC chair looming over their heads. This is also a curious epiphany coming from Mr. Kaelin, who, according to his interview, moved the RTC from a primary-like caucus selection process to the current committee-based nomination process in the first place. It is an even more remarkable position coming from Mr. Alper, who has been a staunch advocate of the RTC‘s committee-nomination process as being the better approach, until now (see, e.g., Mr. Alper’s comments in his GMW interview dated July 7, 2015). The reader can draw his or her own conclusions about the basis and timing for this change of heart.
Next, Mr. Kaelin faults the RTC for entering into executive session, including the First Selectman in the executive session and voting by secret ballot at its meeting, all of which allegedly violated RTC rules he put in place. To the extent true, Mr. Kaelin should probably direct his ire towards the person primarily responsible under the RTC bylaws and rules for administering the endorsement process, conducting the meeting, enforcing RTC rules and resolving procedural disputes – namely, the RTC chair, Al Alper (see RTC Bylaws Article IV, Section D, and Wilton Republican Party Rules Articles V, VI and X, assuming these are the correct bylaws and rules previously pulled from the RTC website). Mr. Alper indeed presided over the meeting, including the entry into executive session, but was excused temporarily for deliberations on the BoS nomination. To his credit, Mr. Alper acknowledges in his interview that he bears ultimate responsibility for the RTC process as RTC chair, saying: “As a chairman you represent the rules, the bylaws, and the voice of the people who operate within those rules and bylaws. Those rules and bylaws allow the process to bear out the way it’s been bearing out.”
Mr. Alper can rest easy, however, because as far as I can tell, the RTC process fully complied with its rules. First, the Party Rules expressly allow using executive session and inviting non-RTC members to such sessions by a 2/3 vote (see Party Rules Article V, Section 4). As Mr. Alper has explained to the RTC on several occasions, executive session can serve an important purpose in permitting confidential and candid discussion and evaluation of candidates without the risk of public criticism or embarrassment, which may chill volunteerism and future participation in what is fundamentally a volunteer-run town. When an RTC member moved for executive session at the meeting, I moved to amend the motion to include the First Selectman as a Republican non-RTC member, because she’s the town’s leader and could contribute essential input on town and board operations and positions, just as she has done at other RTC meetings. As I recall, my amendment and the motion each passed without opposition, in compliance with the above rules. If there’s any doubt about what happened on those motions or votes, don’t take my word for it; ask the press and public who were present. Second, while I agree that a secret ballot should be the exception for a nomination vote, the RTC has used such ballots in the past, and I have yet to find any RTC rule prohibiting their use. In fact, the RTC Bylaws and Party Rules adopt Robert’s Rules where the RTC rules are silent, and Robert’s Rule 46 provides for secret ballots when members might hesitate to vote their true sentiments, such as when a committee is put in the sensitive position of assessing the candidacy of its chairperson against the candidacy of fellow members, as occurred here. In total, there were good reasons to use executive session and a secret ballot under the circumstances, and the RTC followed its rules and precedent in doing so.
Finally, Mr. Kaelin asserts that the BoS candidates were somehow prevented from speaking before the RTC to promote or defend their candidacy. In fact, each potential BoS candidate took the opportunity to email the RTC about their candidacy before the meeting, and any nominee could have asked to speak to the members before being excused for deliberations. No candidate did so, including Mr. Alper, and there is no basis to assume any candidate was or would have been prevented from doing so.
If there are further facts, rules or considerations I’ve missed, I welcome discussing them. But for all the above reasons, Mr. Kaelin’s claims about a defective RTC process appear unfounded or misplaced. And were such claims valid, Mr. Alper would be primarily responsible as RTC chair. This makes any reliance on such claims to justify Mr. Alper’s primary bid all the more eyebrow raising.
I’ll conclude with these remarks to Mr. Kaelin and Mr. Alper: Look, guys, I get it: you wanted Al as the BoS nominee. The RTC chose Lori and Josh in a deliberative process; you disagree with the result. Al has every right to primary, which I agree is a normal and healthy part of the political process. But the retrospective and unwarranted handwringing about alleged process errors and opacity is a little too “transparent” (to use a popular term) of an attempt to delegitimize the RTC endorsement and justify the current primary bid. Let’s keep focus on the candidates and the issues, where it belongs. We all agree that this nomination process, this election and this town are too important to do otherwise.
79 Hemmelskamp Road
Wait – are Lori, Joshua and Scott just now realizing how Al and Mike play politics? The candidates and the RTC Chairman should have known that these two guys are primarily interested in themselves and the Town of Wilton is of secondary interest.
I commend the individuals above for making a stand against Al Alper and Michael Kaelin trying to change the rules when they did not get their way in the normal democratic process. I further believe that Wilton Would be better served by NEW board members. The past approach of recycling the same individuals between boards has resulted in the financial mess we are in.
Go Lori and Joshua. We need capable citizens with fresh ideas to try to solve some of the problems that were created in the past.
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