After several months of debate, the Board of Selectmen voted to adopt a more formal procedure defining how its members will fill vacancies and make appointments to various town boards and commissions. One of the major sticking points that was much discussed and drew significant feedback–from both BoS members, as well as members of the Republican and Democratic town committees and residents–was what would be required of residents who were not affiliated with any political party and who wanted to volunteer to serve the town on a board.
Some people wanted unaffiliated candidates to have to seek petition signatures from 100 Wilton voters to be considered, while others felt that requirement would be onerous and an obstacle to encouraging resident involvement in town government. There were even suggestions about putting together a “personnel committee” made up of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters to vet and nominate candidates, as well as to require letters of recommendations. Ultimately, the Board members settled on requiring unaffiliated candidates to obtain the lower number of 25 signatures, although it was far from a unanimous agreement.
As part of the discussion, first selectman Lynne Vanderslice said she felt that, “the most important” responsibility that the Board of Selectmen has is the job of making appointments and filling seats. She noted that two commissions in particular–Fire and Police–have significant, almost day-to-day involvement with the running of the departments they oversee, and that the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee “is sitting with a $45 million project,” as examples of why choosing the right people to serve on those and other town boards is so critical.
“When you look at what’s in the Charter at what we’re supposed to do as a group, the most important thing is the appointment process. Some of the ideas were to delegate it–I don’t think we should delegate it,” she said.
Second selectman Michael Kaelin was concerned that candidates who are unaffiliated voters needed to represent citizens in the town other than just themselves themselves, given that candidates submitted and vetted by members of the political town committees would be representing Wilton residents of their affiliated group.
“It seems to me the most basic requirement for anybody who wants to serve on one of these boards is that they need to demonstrate to us that they represent somebody other than themselves,” he said, adding that requiring an unaffiliated candidate to collect signatures would be beneficial because it would compel candidates to go out and talk to Wilton residents to learn more about the people that candidate was hoping to represent.
“I learned a tremendous amount standing in front of the Village Market talking to people I didn’t know before I approached them and asked them to vote for me. if nothing else I got their views and what was on their minds, which is essential to anybody who wants to serve in a public capacity in this town,” Kaelin said.
Kaelin agreed that requiring 100 signatures on a petition might be onerous and overly time-consuming, but thought that 60 signatures (estimating three minutes per signature would take three hours to collect) would be much more doable.
The other three selectmen–Vanderslice, Dave Clune and Lori Bufano (Dick Dubow was not present)–felt that a number lower than that would be more appropriate; at one point the discussion seemed almost a like negotiation–”60 signatures?” “How about 25.” “How about 50?” “30?”
Bufano felt that the number should approximate the number of elected members in each of the town committees; with the DTC at 20 members and the RTC at 40, she thought 40 petition signatures would be more appropriate.
Clune, the lone unaffiliated member of the BoS, said that he preferred that unaffiliated residents interested in volunteering for town boards not be required to get any signatures at all, so as not potentially dissuade them. He noted how difficult it is to encourage people to volunteer without adding more obstacles and that he would prefer to remove anything that could make someone turn away from volunteering. However, he said in the interest of moving the discussion forward he was willing to consider 25 signatures as the number to use.
Kaelin made an initial motion to reduce the proposed requirement of 100 signatures to 60, but failed to get a colleague to second that motion. That was followed by Clune’s motion of 25 signatures, which was seconded by Vanderslice, who said, “I thought 25 was the right number when we went into this.” Both Bufano and Kaelin voted against the motion, making the vote a tie at 2-2. With only four selectmen at the table last night, the tie-breaking vote fell to Vanderslice as first selectman, resulting in an adjusted requirement of 25 petition signatures.
“I don’t want to be in this [tie-breaking] position, but I’m not going to vote yes for 40 so let’s vote on 25,” she said. Kaelin asked if she was comfortable bringing it to a tie vote in Dubow’s absence, pointing out that Dubow had previously voted to support 100 signatures. Vanderslice’s response was that, “Yes,” she was comfortable with it.
Ultimately, the selectmen also approved the other measures and amendments and finally voted to approve adopting the new procedures entirely.
UPDATE, 10:30 a.m.–We received the following statement from Michael Kaelin, asking us to correct what he says are inaccuracies. As soon as we’re able to review the recording of last night’s meeting we’ll update the article accordingly. In the meantime, here’s his statement in full:
“Your story concerning last night’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting is materially inaccurate. I did not say the 100 signatures was appropriate, and I did not make a motion to make it 100 signatures. The 100 signatures was in the proposal that was presented to us last night. I stated last night that I believed the 100 signatures was onerous, and I made a motion to reduce the number from 100 to 60. I was advocating 60. Your reporting that “I was concerned that candidates who are unaffiliated voters wouldn’t represent anyone but themselves” also puts an inaccurately negative spin on what I was saying and fails to capture the essence of what I was arguing. I was arguing that requiring someone seeking to serve on a town board or commission to ask their fellow citizens to sign a petition was a good thing because it would require them to talk to their fellow citizens and it would demonstrate that they represent someone other than themselves. I was presenting the petitioning requirement positively. Reporting only that one statement presents it negatively. While that is a matter of subjective reporting, the reporting that I said the 100 signatures was appropriate, and that I made a motion to make it 100 signatures is simply wrong. Please correct it asap. Thank you. Mike Kaelin”
UPDATE 1:37 p.m.–we’ve reviewed the tape and agree with Kaelin’s perspective. The story has been updated and corrected to better reflect his statements at the BOS meeting.