Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Democrats challenge McCoy nominations

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
January 9, 2008

VERNON - Recently elected Mayor Jason L. McCoy succeeded in pushing through his first controversial appointments at Tuesday night's Town Council meeting, but not without dissent from Democrats.

Two out-of-town men - Robert J. Kleinhans of Niantic and South Windsor resident Solomon Kerensky - were appointed to the long dormant Economic Development Commission, while Chet Morgan was tapped to replace Mary Kelly on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

All three appointments brought staunch challenges from Democrats, who voted for the most part against McCoy's nominations.

Primarily they objected to any changes on the land use commission, as it is now deciding precedent-setting large-scale projects such as Home Depot, that have been years in the making.

The two-year terms of Kelly, a local lawyer, and Walter "Chip" Bellows, expired in December. McCoy says he has not yet decided what to do with Bellows, but wanted Morgan to replace Kelly as a voting member.

In recent meetings Kelly has scuffled with Town Attorney and Republican Town Committee Chairman Hal Cummings over land use legal issues and voted against the Home Depot settlement agreement.

Morgan, a Democrat who served on the Town Council from 1993 to 1999 and was a member of the General Assembly from 1977 to 1983, does have land use experience, having served on Planning and Zoning from 2000 to 2003.

Democratic Councilwoman Marie Herbst said she "had no problem with Chet" but instead wanted to keep the commission intact.

"For the last two council meetings we've listened to planning and zoning members beg this council to bring Mary Kelly back," Herbst said, adding, "The Commission has spoken and obviously they were not listened to."

Councilwoman Pauline Schaefer said that given the vast amount of work done so far, she hoped McCoy would keep Kelly on the commission at least as an alternate, non-voting member.

"It's not easy to jump in and out of a fire that's been going on for seven or eight years," Schaefer said, referring to the longstanding Home Depot issue.

As for the Economic Development Commission, Democrats said they would have preferred to have Vernon residents sit on that panel, which has been inactive for the last three years.

Kleinhans, who used to live in Vernon, served on the Town Council and was a Republican candidate for mayor two years ago. He owns a real estate firm and construction company in town.

Kerensky, a lawyer with extensive experience in zoning and land use, represented developers who wanted to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter near Exit 67 off Interstate 84. He is a partner in the Vernon law firm of Kahan, Kerensky & Capossela.

McCoy nominated the two men at the Dec. 18 Town Council meeting, but placed the vote on hold when questions were raised about residency requirements and their eligibility.

Assistant Town Attorney Susan Boyan researched the issue and found that town ordinance provides only for the number of members, selection by the mayor, and length of term.

Nowhere in state statue or town charter or ordinance is there a residency requirement, Boyan said.

Both Kleinhans and Kerensky are highly experienced, own property in Vernon, and pay taxes here, McCoy said in their defense.

"We need to have more revenue in this town - we need more jobs," McCoy said.

Democrats, however, charged McCoy with snubbing Vernon residents in his nominations.

"I think it's insulting that the first two appointments to this commission are out-of-towners," newly elected Democratic Councilman Michael Winkler said, adding that while it may be allowable, it was certainly rare.

"This is our town - it's where we live and have our cares and concerns, and frankly I want someone who has their finger on the pulse of the community," Herbst said

©Journal Inquirer 2008