Wilton can look forward to an interesting municipal election season this fall, with contested races for at least three critical town boards–Selectmen, Education and Planning & Zoning. On Wednesday night, the Wilton Republican Town Committee (RTC) and Democratic Town Committee (DTC) both approved their candidates to put on the ballot, and residents now have a better idea of who they’ll be considering for municipal office come Election Day on Nov. 7.

With two spots open on BoS, there are three people on the ballot; for BoE, there are three spots open and four people nominated by the town political committees; and on P&Z, there are eight open seats, and eight town committee nominees–but at least one person who has filed paperwork to petition onto the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.

Republican Town Committee Candidates

By Republican Town Committee party rules, only the 40 RTC members can vote for nominees to be slated on the ballot. Wednesday night’s gathering began as an open meeting with non-RTC members present in the Town Hall Annex meeting room (including GOOD Morning Wilton and one other reporter, as well as a handful of other Wilton residents). While nominees for four races were chosen during the open meeting, the RTC soon voted to move to executive session, asking all non-members to leave so that members could discuss and vote on nominees to three seats–Board of Selectmen, Board of Education and Planning & Zoning.

The only non-RTC member allowed to stay during the executive session was first selectman Lynne Vanderslice, who is not an RTC member but is a Republican.

Even with the executive session happening behind closed doors, it soon became clear that there was lack of unanimity in the choice for the RTC nominees for Board of Selectmen. The RTC could nominate up to two candidates for the two available seats:  one held by current Republican selectman Lori Bufano, who had already made it clear she wanted to run again, and the other being vacated by Democrat Dick Dubow. After a few minutes, RTC chair Al Alper exited the room where it was happening to join the press and other non-RTC members waiting in the hall outside. Shortly after, he was joined by Joshua Cole, and it became evident that the members inside were discussing which of the two men to place on the ballot for one of the BoS seats.

It took 20 minutes until Cole and Alper were invited back inside for the vote, which appeared to be conducted by secret ballot, as both men were handed yellow ballot slips before they stepped inside the meeting room. Soon, applause could be heard from inside the meeting room, and non-members were invited back inside as the meeting was adjourned. It was then that those who had been outside learned Cole had been selected by the RTC members over Alper as a Republican nominee for one of the Board of Selectmen seats.

Cole joined Lori Bufano, who had already been approved as the other Republican BoS candidate to be slated.

As for the other two Board nominations made during executive session, it was less clear whether there were challenges for the nominations or if the RTC considered more individuals than the number of available ballot spots. No other people were asked to leave the meeting room during the closed portion of the meeting aside from Cole and Alper.

The nominees put on the ballot during the executive session were (current members seeking re-election indicated with a ‘C’):

Board of Selectmen:  Lori Bufano (C), Joshua Cole
Board of Education:  Glen Hemmerle (C), Andrea Preston
Planning & Zoning Commission:  Rick Tomasetti (C), Sally Poundstone (C), Peter Shiue (C), Marianne Gustafson, Chris Pagliaro

During the earlier, open portion of the meeting while non-RTC members were still present, several uncontested nominations were made and approved outright for the Republican ballot:

Constable:  Chris Gardner, Ray Tobiassen, Warren Serenbetz
Zoning Board of Appeals:  Kenny Rhodes
Board of Assessment Appeals:  Rudy Hoefling
Board of Finance:  Jeff Rutishauser, Stewart Koenigsberg

Reaction to RTC Nominees and Process

Cole is an attorney who currently serves as chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals. He is a 10-year resident married to Melissa Rotini (they have two children, age 5 and 2 years old). After his nomination, Cole said he was eager to get started on the campaign and make a difference.

“There are a lot of issues that will be facing the town in the next few years–we have to grow the grand list to keep taxes from going up; we’re getting downward pressure from the State, pushing State obligation onto the towns that we’re going to have to deal with. I want to make sure our town remains fiscally strong and competitive, and our schools remain one of the best in the state. And I want to keep it the great place that we moved to 10 years ago,” he says.

Cole points to his “great working relationship” with other members of the BoS developed through a prior stint working with current members of the Board of Selectmen last year on a subcommittee to choose the new town counsel.

“If I’m lucky enough to be elected, we’re going to have a great board that’s going to put the town’s interests first and do what’s best for the community,” he adds.

Bufano said she too was honored to be a candidate and looks forward to working with Cole, as well as the other selectmen, “…continuing to make the town the great place that it is.”

Vanderslice was happy with how things played out.

“I’m very pleased both Lori and Josh have been nominated for selectmen. Josh worked with Lori and me on the selection of the new town counsel. They both are smart and thoughtful. In particular, Josh represents a demographic that is underrepresented on the major boards. I am committed to work as hard for Laurie and Josh’s election as I did for my own–I feel that strongly about them,” she says.

One thing that had some people unhappy was the process of the vote–namely, what they perceived as a lack of transparency by conducting business in executive session.

Vanderslice commented about the way discussion was conducted behind closed doors:

“I’m not an RTC member, so I honestly don’t know why they choose to do it this way. When I sought the nomination I was very transparent. I told every member and I told the general public. I hope that when a new RTC is seated in January, that transparency will be something that they will discuss.”

At least one member of the public was also unhappy with the way the meeting was handled. Vicki Mavis, a registered Republican, was attending her first RTC vote, and was surprised that she was unable to be present for all of the discussions and not allowed to help choose her party’s nominees.

“I don’t get it at all, I don’t agree with it and I think it should change. I believe it’s not in the public interest to be sequestering yourself as a group when there are decisions that affect a lot of people–particularly people who say, yeah, I agree with the platform but I don’t have any say in the voting? It doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.

GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Alper for comment–both on his perspective as party chair on the entire Republican slate candidate slate, as well as on his plan following last night’s events. There is still time for candidates to petition onto the ballot, possibly pushing a primary battle; we’ve asked the question of Alper if intends to do so. The article will be updated with any comment we receive.

UPDATE:  Alper said of his party’s list of nominees:  “The RTC endorsed candidates with considerable experience and a deep desire to help navigate Wilton’s future to the betterment of it citizens.”

He disagreed with the assessment that the RTC nomination process is not transparent enough.

“I don’t think the process is opaque at all. While this year some votes were taken in Executive Session, that was because some of the discussions were warranting that. The majority of the seats were voted on in the public session which is the norm. The process is open and transparent,” he wrote in an early morning email.

He did not comment on his own plans or whether he intends to petition to get onto the ballot.

Democratic Town Committee Nominees

In comparison to their RTC counterparts, the Democratic Town Committee runs its nomination process a little differently. The DTC chooses nominees through a caucus, where participation and voting is open to any Democrat registered to vote in Wilton.

The DTC nominating committee had released a list of names that had already been slated as candidates–a list we published on Monday. As of Monday, only one candidate–Deborah Low–had been slated for BoE, despite two seats being open. Last night, the DTC added an additional candidate’s name–Gretchen Jeanes–to the slate.

All nominees as presented were approved and will be on the democratic ballot come November.

Board of Selectmen: Deb McFadden
Board of Education: Deborah Low, Gretchen Jeanes
Board of Finance: Richard Creeth
Planning and Zoning: Doris Knapp (4 year term); Eric Fanwick (4 year term); Bas Nabulsi (2 year term)
Zoning Board of Appeals: Tom Gunther
Zoning Board of Appeals Alternate: Jaclyn Coleman
Constable: Bo Mitchell