Attorney: BOS can’t reject special election based on outside opinion
Published 3:55 pm, Thursday, February 16, 2017
FAIRFIELD — The waters surrounding what seems to be an inevitable special election in town got murkier this week.
According to Town Attorney Stanton Lesser, the town charter doesn’t require the Board of Selectmen to take the town attorney’s advice, but rejecting it based on outside legal advice is a violation of the charter.
Lesser provided the Board of Selectmen with answers to 11 questions submitted by Republican Selectmen Chris Tymniak and Edward Bateson, but any discussion of those responses was delayed Wednesday until the next board meeting.
The questions arose from Lesser’s opinion that state statutes require the selectmen to set a date for a special election for a seat on the Board of Selectmen. Tynmiak and Bateson contend that under the town charter, no special election is needed, and have based their opinion, and subsequent refusal to set a special election date on advice from James Baldwin, a lawyer with the Republican Town Committee.
Republican Selectman Laurie McArdle resigned her seat in December, one year into a four-year term. Tymniak and First Selectman Mike Tetreau voted to appoint Bateson, following the process outlined in the town charter. But Democrats, citing state statutes, collected the necessary petition signatures to force a special election.
“It is clear that the charter makes it the duty of the town attorney to render opinions regarding legal matters involving the town,” Lesser stated in his written response. “There is no provision in our charter which permits town officials to seek advice on legal matters involving the town from anyone other than the town attorney.”
Lesser has told the selectmen that they need to follow state statutes and set a date for the special election. Town Clerk Betsy Browne has issued a call for the special election, but the selectmen are the ones who must choose a date.
The GOP has argued that a special election can only be held if the remaining members of the Board of Selectmen failed to fill the vacancy within 30 days.
Lesser’s response is the charter only deals with filling the vacancy, and not what happens after the vacancy is filled.
“It does not refer to how long the person holds office or to the special election,” Lesser writes. “In fact, the appointment of a person to fill the vacancy is a condition precedent to the special election, triggering the fifteen day period for the filing of petitions.”