Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Town Council blocks 2 reappointments

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
December 21, 2005

VERNON — Republican Town Council members have blocked the reappointment of two members of land-use regulatory commissions.

With two 7-5 party-line votes, council Republicans blocked Democratic Mayor Ellen L. Marmer's reappointment of Planning and Zoning Commission member Terri J. Goldich and Inland Wetlands Regulatory Commission alternate member Jane T. Seymour.

Both Goldich's and Seymour's terms expire on Dec. 31.

Although discussion on the reappointment was limited during Tuesday night's meeting, Republicans said after the vote that they had concerns over the ability of both commission members to remain impartial.

Goldich, a Center Street resident, is not affiliated with any political party. Seymour, who lives on Valley Falls Road , is a Democrat.

After being appointed as an alternate member of the commission in January 2004, Goldich was appointed as a regular member on Oct. 6, 2004 .

Seymour was appointed to the wetlands commission on July 14, 2004 .

Goldich's initial appointment in January 2004 stirred up controversy among the then Republican Town Council minority because of her past involvement with the Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development — a coalition in the northeast section of town that advocates controlled growth.

Because Goldich had already publicly expressed opinions on certain types of developments, Republicans expressed concern that she would be unable to remain impartial on certain applications.

Goldich was appointed after an 8-4 vote, in which all four council Republicans voted against her.

Her involvement with the organization resurfaced last week when a developer's lawyer asked Goldich to recuse herself from an application because a lawyer for one of the project's opponents had worked with the neighborhood group.

Goldich responded by saying she was no longer a member of that group and could remain impartial in the application.

The developer's lawyer appeared to be satisfied with her response and Goldich continued to hear the application.

Still, Goldich's actions did not sit well with Town Council Republicans.

"I'm very concerned that the perception of this appointment is that there is a question about her ability to be unbiased," Vale said. "In public office, perception is reality."

Although he would not point to any specific incidents during her tenure on the wetlands commission, Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy said Republicans also had concerns about Seymour 's ability to remain impartial on applications.

Seymour works for the state Department of Environmental Protection's wildlife division and has worked for the Belding Wildlife Management Area off of Bolton Road .

"We didn't have confidence that they were open minded on all issues," McCoy said. "It is tough. We know these people are volunteers."

Given the party line vote that appointed her last year, Goldich said today that she had a feeling she would not be reappointed when Republicans took control of the Town Council after the Nov. 8 election.

Noting that she has invested many hours attending meetings and training courses, Goldich, who works in the University of Connecticut library, said she is sorry to leave the commission.

But she added that she would continue to remain active in local planning issues.

"I think it's unfortunate when politics like this take over other aspects of town issues, like planning," Goldich said. "We do not make decisions politically, but obviously the Town Council does and they have the last word."

Goldich also said that her previous involvement with the Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development has never clouded her decisions while serving on the commission.

Seymour today would not comment on the council's decision.

But outgoing wetlands commission Chairman Ralph E. Zahner, who was in attendance during Tuesday's Town Council meeting, said he was disappointed by the council's decision on Seymour .

"I found that she was a very valuable asset to the commission," Zahner said

The Republicans' actions were blasted by council Democrats, including Marmer, who accused the other side of trying to cede the land-use commissions to party patronage.

"It places people, who should be neutral, in a position of politicizing these commissions," Marmer said. "Volunteers who wish to serve on these commissions are very important."

Tuesday marked the second time in as many meetings that Republicans blocked a Marmer appointment without discussion during a Town Council meeting.

On Dec. 6, Republicans voted to block the appointment of Old Town Road resident Jason Bowsza, a Democrat, to the Board of Ethics as an alternate member.

While they did not give their reasons during the vote, Republicans said after the meeting that they were concerned about Bowsza's lack of experience in Vernon government.

McCoy denied that Republicans were playing politics and said that his caucus was not demanding that Marmer appoint Republicans to fill the new vacancies.

Marmer said she would get to work immediately on finding replacements for Goldich and Seymour.