Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon mayor apologizes for Ethics Board bid

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
February 22, 2007

VERNON - Mayor Ellen L. Marmer publicly apologized to Town Council Republicans Tuesday after she tried to stack the local Ethics Board with Democrats, in violation of an ordinance she helped craft more than 20 years ago.

The board, which meets four times a year unless there is a case before it, consists of five regular members and two alternates. New members are nominated by the mayor and approved by the council to serve for up to five years.

Republican member Carlos Cruz resigned from the board this month because of time constraints at work, leaving only one Republican on the board, Herbert Slicer, to serve alongside three Democrats: Fredrick Nowsch, Lois Schumey, and Chairman David Herrmann.

Saying there were no viable Republican or unaffiliated candidates to chose from, Marmer nominated alternate member Christal Petrone, a Democrat, to replace Cruz. She further nominated Democrat Kwabena Tandoh to replace Petrone as an alternate on the board.

But a town ordinance written by Marmer and passed in the late 1980s dictates that the board cannot be composed of more than three regular members from any one political party.

Marmer said she forget about the regulation when she began searching for a candidate, and gave up her campaign only after the ordinance was produced toward the end of Tuesday night's Town Council meeting.

For a good portion of the meeting, Marmer pushed for a vote on her Democratic candidates, characterizing it as little more than a promotion for Petrone who was already serving as alternate member of the board.

She further complained that it is difficult to find qualified volunteers for various board and commission vacancies, and chastised Republican members for balking at the nominations, saying they were trying to besmirch the candidates and politicize a commission that was created to be above party loyalties.

"You can't have a commission made up entirely of Democrats possibly deciding the fate of a Republican some day and not have political fallout," Republican council member Daniel E. Anderson told Marmer during the meeting.

Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy said Republican council members had no doubt the Democratic candidates were honest, above reproach, and more than qualified, but stacking the board in favor of one political party lent an air of impropriety.

Bias exists in the world and could subtly, unintentionally cloud someone's judgement, McCoy said. It also could make any decisions by the board suspect, he added.

"It may have been better if you had worked with me and I could have helped you find people," from outside the majority party, he told Marmer.

He agreed to furnish Marmer with a list of Republican candidates before the next meeting.

"Mea Culpa," Marmer said afterwards. "It wasn't my intention to box in this commission. I'm certainly not perfect, and I don't hold myself out to be. I acknowledge my mistakes."

©Journal Inquirer 2007