Special election must be held, GOP to push case forward
Updated 3:49 pm, Thursday, March 16, 2017
FAIRFIELD — A Bridgeport Superior Court judge ruled the Board of Selectmen must schedule a date for a special election to fill a seat on that board.
That ruling from Judge Barbara Bellis, however, is being challenged by the defendants, who filed a motion March 15 to bring the special election question before the state Supreme Court for an expedited review.
As of press time Thursday, March 16 Bellis had not set a date for the special election or ruled on the motion to send the case to the state’s Supreme Court.
A group of five Democrats filed for the writ of mandamus after the GOP majority on the Board of Selectmen refused to set a date for the seat vacated in December by Republican Selectman Laurie McArdle.
The remaining selectmen, Democrat First Selectman Mike Tetreau and Republican Selectman Chris Tymniak, voted on Dec. 7 to appoint Republican Ed Bateson to the seat, following a process laid out in the town charter.
Democrats, within the 15 days provided in state statutes, collected the required number of signatures to force a special election. Tymniak and Bateson, arguing that a special election could be held only if the appointment of Bateson had not been made within 30 days, refused to set a date.
McArdle resigned one year into a four-year term.
But James Baldwin, who represented the town, the Board of Selectmen as a whole, Tymniak, and Bateson, said an appeal of that decision is most likely. “I would said that there is a very good chance that would happen,” he said.
“Of all the types of cases I’ve handled over the years,” Bellis said, those dealing with the rights of the electorate “are the most important.”
Bellis said the statute addresses the length of the term for the seat, and the relevant statutes and the town charter are not in conflict.
In his argument prior to the ruling, Baldwin said the plaintiffs were trying to usurp the “plain meaning” of the charter language. “I urge you to consider very carefully the effect of a decision that would appeal to the popular instincts of the people in this room, and the town of Fairfield, over the rule of law.”
Baldwin said he didn’t really know that the plaintiffs’ argument was. “It really boils down to a wish and hope that the vote taken by the remaining members on Dec. 7 had not been held, or that Mr. Tetreau had not voted in favor,” Baldwin said. He also characterized the petition efforts as a form of “mob rule,” and said Democrats objections to Bateson’s appointment should have been made known to Tetreau prior to his vote.
Tetreau was represented in the case by attorney Robert Morrin.
Joel Green, representing plaintiff Tara Cook-Littman, argued that the charter does not say a special election can be held “only if” an appointment is not made within 30 days. “If it meant ‘only if,’ they would have said ‘only if,’” Green said.
Green said the charter confers upon the town’s residents any of the provisions of the state statutes — including the ability to petition for a special election.