Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Board, commission appointments may violate town charter

By: Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 23, 2007

VERNON - The town attorney will review appointments made by the Town Council to various boards and commissions as at least three - including Planning & Zoning - may be in violation of town charter rules governing minority representation and party affiliation.

The council had a special meeting Thursday just before the first budget hearing to receive an updated list of appointed and elected officials from Town Clerk Bernice Dixon. Upon examination, they found that at least three commissions, Planning & Zoning, Inland Wetlands, and the Conservation Commission, might not have enough minority members.

On Planning & Zoning there are three regular members who are Democrats while the remaining four are unaffiliated. Of the three alternate members, two are Republican and one a Democrat.

The Conservation Commission also has three regular members who are Democrats, while two are unaffiliated. The two alternate members are evenly split, Republican and Democrat.

Inland Wetlands, however, is stacked with Republicans, having three regular members compared to its two unaffiliated members. The alternate positions are both vacant, but they recently belonged to one Democrat and one unaffiliated voter.

According to the town charter, minority parties must be adequately represented on all boards or commissions. Members are nominated by the mayor, who is a Democrat, and approved by the Republican led council.

Republican Councilman Brian Motola said it was up to the council to police the boards and commissions and ensure representation was fair.

"Right now, I would say that many don't follow and are in violation of the charter," he said, adding that there are times when Inland Wetlands meets and they don't have enough members for a quorum.

"Ultimately, it comes back to us, and all three of those commissions are totally out of whack," Motola said.

Democratic Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said it is a constant battle finding and keeping volunteers to serve on what can often be time-consuming boards.

Exacerbating the problem is that board members sometimes move away, or become sick or die, and the council is not notified for months.

"And keep in mind, every two years minority representation is going to change and some of these term limits go longer," Marmer told council members. Even if every commission is balanced perfectly now, within two years it could be in violation again.

The ongoing argument and political tug-of-war over appointments goes back months, with Republican members saying they've been frustrated by Marmer who they claim has been discourteous and never consulted their leadership for suggested nominations.

On Tuesday the battle came to a head when Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy, a Republican, promised to block any further appointments Marmer made - including a time sensitive nomination to the extremely busy assessment appeals board - until the matter was resolved.

Marmer today blasted the Republican's characterization of her actions, saying she has often consulted their membership, including Councilman Bill Campbell and former Councilwoman Christy Vale, and frequently asked them to put forth names.

But they have never come forward with suggestions, Marmer said.

"The appointments that I make are very rational and cogent for the vacancy," Marmer said, adding "I don't care if they're green, purple, yellow or what party they belong to. I'm just grateful they want to serve."

Marmer said that town attorney Susan Boyan would go over the list of officials, see if the appointments are in keeping with the law, and render a decision in the coming weeks.

"It can be interpreted many ways and we can't just summarily throw people off a commission once they've been appointed" however, Marmer said, adding, "Minority representation could be interpreted to mean a Green Party candidate."

The membership on most boards and commissions tend to be filled mostly with unaffiliated voters.

"They're the ones who often decide elections here in town," Marmer said. "As long as you're adhering to the letter of the law, we should be very grateful to these volunteers."

©Journal Inquirer 2007