BOE member leading parks & rec., resigning seat in coming days

FAIRFIELD — A school board seat will soon open up for a Republican as a sitting member departs to lead the parks and recreation for the town.

Town leadership appointed Board of Education Vice Chairman Anthony Calabrese as the town’s parks and recreation director effective April 17, Director of Human Resources Emmet Hibson confirmed Monday afternoon. Calabrese, a Republican, plans to step down from the board.

“I will be submitting my letter of resignation in the coming days,” he said Monday.

The town charter dictates elected or appointed town officers are ineligible to hold elected town office, a distinction hotly debated last week after a walk-out protest by three board members claiming Calabrese’s vote was already ineligible.

A longtime recreation coordinator for the town, Calabrese became interim director after Gerald Lombardo retired at the end of October. Town Attorney Stanton Lesser provided an opinion that Calabrese could remain eligible as a board member as long as his department leadership wasn’t permanent. The three board members that staged a walk-out protest during the April 6 board meeting offered evidence he had been selected for the role and argued that made him ineligible by the charter’s intent and word.

The Board of Selectmen will pick a Republican to replace Calabrese until November, likely accepting whoever the Republican Town Committee recommends. His term ends in 2019, but the seat will be up for a vote at the next election by town rules.

The RTC will vote on a candidate replacement to recommend to the Board of Selectmen, Chairman Jamie Millington said. Republicans’ letters of intent for the party nomination are due to Millington by May 5 at 5 p.m. ahead of a vote at the RTC’s May 8 meeting, according to member and RTM moderator Pamela Iacono.

Millington said he hoped Democrats would not push for a special election as a group did for a selectman’s seat vacated in December. A judge ruled in the Democrats’ favor for the vote to be held June 6; the seat would not have been up for a vote until 2019.

“It’s not that long of a term so I’m hoping they won’t go that route,” Millington said, citing the expense it’s caused to taxpayers. Town Democrats and Republicans have each assigned the other party blame for the cost of the ongoing legal battle over whether the election would be held.

Millington said he did not yet know who might fill the seat.

The board will also need a new vice chairman, and its bylaws dictate members vote to fill a vacancy at the next board meeting. A town hall-style meeting for public input is set for April 25, but the next regular board meeting is the day after the RTC plans to vote, May 9. Board of Education Chairman Philip Dwyer wrote in an email that the board would await an appointment before making changes to officer or liaison roles, adding he assumed the seat would be filled soon.

Calabrese was voted onto the Board of Education in November of 2015 and elected as its vice chairman shortly after. He said he enjoyed his time on the school board and work with fellow board members, central office staff, teachers and community members. Wishing the board “all the best,” Calabrese added he hopes he helped make positive change while a member.

“I’m going to miss it,” he said. “I loved every minute I was on the board.”

Calabrese looks forward to working as parks and recreation director, continuing more than a decade of work in the town department. He said he is happy to live and work in Fairfield and looking forward to many more years of work in town.; @LauraEWeiss16