The arrival of new blood in the form of Democrat Stephen Devoto and Republicans Jeremy Clark and Robert Simpson did little to revitalize the Planning and Zoning Commission at the new commission’s first meeting Wednesday. In their defense, the meeting lasted only 12 minutes. The audio problem that caused a stadium-like echoing of Joyce Rossiter’s opening words was eventually resolved, but the issue of whether Carl Chisem could be seated at the meeting as a Planning and Zoning Commissioner was not.
The first item on the agenda, the annual organizational meeting in which the new commission votes on Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretary, got as far as Joyce Rossiter nominating Richard Pelletier as chair. Before the nomination could be seconded, Molly Salafia questioned whether Carl Chisem, who won election to the Common Council and was sworn in to that position on Tuesday, could hold two elected positions at the same time and moved that the meeting be adjourned until a legal determination was made.
The question was met with a lot swiveling of chairs and exchanged shrugs among the commissioners. Bill Warner said he did not have a definitive answer and agreed that legal advice was needed. Carl Chisem offered only, “I have not resigned.” Salafia asked for a two minute recess and left the room. When she returned, rather than vote on the motion to adjourn, she and the other republican commissioners left, leaving the commission without a quorum and the meeting ended.
After the meeting, the general consensus among the remaining commissioners and attendees was that one could not hold two elected positions concurrently and that traditionally an elected official resigns their current position upon being sworn in to their newly elected position. Tradition is one thing and the law is another, and no one was prepared to prove that either the city charter or state statutes prohibit holding two elected positions concurrently. Speaking with Stephen Devoto after the meeting, Bob Santangelo quickly dismissed the idea.
By law, the Common Council appoints commissioners to fill vacant positions. By tradition alone, that appointment has gone to the second highest vote-getter in the election. As Chisem is a Democrat, the candidate with the highest number of votes after Devoto is Dan Russo. If/When Chisem resigns the commission, based on precedent only, the Council will most likely choose one of two options: appoint current Planning and Zoning Commission alternate Elizabeth Emory as full commissioner and Russo as alternate, or appoint Russo to the commission.
The Common Council meets later this month, which may explain what happened at Wednesday’s meeting. If Chisem resigned before the Common Council meeting, or even agreed to simply leave the meeting rather than force an adjournment, Emery would have taken his seat. With only two items on the agenda, either Chisem really wanted to vote on the two lot subdivision on
Crystal Lake Road or
on the chairmanship of the commission.
Spoiler alert: the next chapter of Planning and Zoning is likely to be a battle over the chairmanship. With five votes required, it may be a long chapter. While some of the characters are new, the Planning and Zoning story is the same -- more attention being paid to political issues on the commission, not the land use issues facing
If Thanksgiving dinner with your family doesn't provide your fill of a
dysfunctional group around a big table, the next P&Z meeting is scheduled
for December 11. Middletown