Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council reverses vote and reappoints wetlands alternate

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
January 18, 2006

VERNON - The Town Council reversed a December decision Tuesday night and voted to reappoint Jane T. Seymour as an alternate member of the Inland Wetlands Regulatory Commission.

The Town Council voted 7-5 in December to block the reappointment of Seymour and Planning and Zoning Commission member Terri J. Goldich.

Both votes were along party lines, with members of the seven-member Republican majority citing potential conflicts of interest of the two commission members.

But in the days following the council's vote on Seymour, other wetlands commission members and environmental advocates have spoken in her favor and requested that the council reconsider its decision.

And on Tuesday the council obliged, voting 9-3 to reappoint Seymour, a Democrat, to her former post.

Republicans Jason L. McCoy, Christy N. Vale, and Daniel A. Champagne voted against the reappointment.

Earlier in Tuesday's meeting, the Town Council heard from members of several town commissions and from residents urging them to reappoint Seymour, who works for the state Department of Environmental Protection's wildlife division.

Seymour also had worked with the Belding Wildlife Management Area off Bolton Road.

Representing the commission, wetlands member Harry D. Thomas wrote a Jan. 9 letter to Democratic Mayor Ellen L. Marmer expressing the group's "astonishment" that Seymour wasn't reappointed.

"Jane's experience and knowledge of the field of wetland management and protection far exceeds that of any other of us," Thomas said. "She has been and we anticipate would continue to be a considerable asset to our functions."
Susan Road resident Audrey Clay criticized the initial vote and asked the council to reappoint Seymour.

Clay and her husband, Warren, were granted intervenor status by the wetlands commission in 2003 during a controversial proposal to construct an 186,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter near Interstate 84 exit 67.

The wetlands commission rejected that proposal in June 2004, less than one month before Seymour was appointed.

"I can't comprehend the Republican majority's refusal to appoint Jane Seymour to the Inland Wetlands Commission," Clay said. "Her willingness to serve is truly a gift to the town."

But Republican Councilwoman Christy N. Vale said she continues to have concerns about potential conflicts of interests involving Seymour.

Vale noted that many of Seymour's supporters are lawyers who frequently appear before the commission in opposition to applications, as do members of the Friends of Hockanum River Linear Park and the Friends of Valley Falls.

Members of both those organizations have appeared before the commission in various capacities and Seymour rents her Valley Falls Road home from the Friends of Valley Falls.
Because there is a perception of conflict, Vale said, the town could be opening itself up to lawsuits.

"I agree the appointee is extremely qualified," Vale said. "As is evidenced by many letters to the editor, this appointee has strong support from advocacy groups who routinely lobby for matters in front of the Inland Wetlands Commission."

But Democratic Councilwoman Marie A. Herbst said Seymour has the right to recuse herself in matters where she feels there is a conflict of interest.

Herbst said the commission also benefits from Seymour's expertise in environmental matters, especially when they are bombarded with expert testimony from applicants.

"Is it so wrong to have someone who has the experience to protect our community," Herbst said. "I don't see that as a wrong, especially if that person has a right to recuse themselves if there is a conflict of interest."

While Republican Councilman Daniel E. Anderson supported Seymour's reappointment, he urged Marmer to act on potential Republican appointees who also have perceived conflicts of interest.

Marmer responded by saying that political parties do not factor into her appointments.

Following the council's vote, Seymour said she was happy with the council's decision and said concerns about potential conflicts of interest were unfounded.
"I think they did the right thing," Seymour said. "I believe the reasons they had about my conflicts of interest were not true."

But during a recess in Tuesday's Town Council meeting, Republican Jason L. McCoy said he would expect that Seymour would recuse herself in any matters involving the Friends of Hockanum River Linear Park, Friends of Valley Falls, or local lawyer Amy Blaymore Paterson, all of whom publicly supported Seymour.

"Why not put her on another commission where they don't come in front of her?" McCoy said.