As you may have already read, the Common Council voted unanimously Monday to appoint Dan Russo to the vacant seat on Planning and Zoning, and voted 7-3 to appoint Phil Pessina to the vacant alternate seat on the P&Z.
In what was an enlightening foreshadowing of partisan sparring on the Council, and on the P&Z for that matter, Council members who spoke cited the charter, precedent, party privilege and tradition as reasons for making the appointments.
The Council voted Russo in despite his absentee record (missing 40% of P&Z meetings), and despite pleas from a number of residents to seat Democratic alternate Beth Emery, who has an exemplary attendance record. Russo, for his part, claimed that his absences never threatened quorum, and that illness, family duties and business travel had kept him from meetings. Predominantly, Council members cited precedent for appointing Russo because in the election, he was the Democrat with the next highest number of votes. Ironically, when it came to appointing the Republican alternate, the same Democrats ignored the precedent they had used earlier. Despite pleas from Republican Council members to seat the next highest Republican vote getter, Vincent Szynkowicz, the Democratic majority voted to appoint Phil Pessina, who had not run for a P&Z seat.
In defending his vote for Russo, Councilman Tom Serra, corrected what he called an error in testimony by Planning and Zoning member Stephen Devoto. Devoto argued that the next-highest-vote-getter precedent had been ignored in the past when Quentin Phipps was appointed to the P&Z over next highest vote getter David Boyce. Serra claimed that Boyce was not appointed because he was a city employee, and that law forbids such an appointment.
Russo was Chair of the Democratic Town Committee when Phipps was appointed. In a statement last night, Boyce made this clarification:
"Mr. Russo asked to be appointed because he was the second highest vote getter, just like I was in 2009. However he (Russo) passed me over for the alternate (Phipps). Now that he (Russo) is the second highest vote getter, he pleaded to be appointed instead of the alternate, and got his wish, breaking past practice. Majority Leader Thomas Serra stated tonight at the meeting that I was not appointed because I was a City employee. What rule or law is he citing?...If that was the case, why was I allowed to run in the first place, and why was I allowed to be elected to the Board of Assessment Appeals and appointed to the Human Relations Commission? Chapter 2, Section 3 of the City Charter states 'No elected official in the Government of the City, during the full term of the office for which said official was elected, shall be eligible for appointment to any salaried position except to the positions of Corporate Counsel and Mayor's Administrative Assistant(s) within the City Government. Persons being so appointed must resign from elected office.' No violation there since I'm an employee...not an elected official being appointed to a city job. And if he is citing the Hatch Act, no violation there because my job does not get federal funds, and furthermore, if it did, the Hatch Act would allow me to be appointed to finish out and (sic) elected officials term."
An anonymous commenter points to Connecticut State Law:
David you need to read State Statutes 7-421(e) :
(e) Any municipal employee shall have the right to serve on any governmental body of the town in which such employee resides except any body which has responsibility for direct supervision of such employee. Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, (1) no such employee shall serve on any of the following unless such employee is permitted to serve pursuant to the provisions of a municipal charter or home rule ordinance or serves because of membership on the legislative body of the municipality: (A) Any board of finance created pursuant to chapter 106 or any special act or municipal charter; (B) any body exercising zoning powers pursuant to chapter 124 or any special act or municipal charter; (C) any body exercising land use powers pursuant to chapter 125a or any special act or municipal charter; (D) any body exercising planning powers pursuant to chapter 126 or any special act or municipal charter; or (E) any body regulating inland wetlands and watercourses pursuant to chapter 440 or any special act or municipal charter; and (2) any municipality may, by ordinance adopted by its legislative body, authorize such employees to serve on (A) any body exercising zoning powers pursuant to chapter 124 or any special act or municipal charter; (B) any body exercising land use powers pursuant to chapter 125a or any special act or municipal charter; (C) any body exercising planning powers pursuant to chapter 126 or any special act or municipal charter; or (D) any body regulating inland wetlands and watercourses pursuant to chapter 440 or any special act or municipal charter.