Confusion sparked during board's review of 'illegal' Metro Center hiring
Discussion of the recent court ruling that overruled hiring an outside environmental consultant for the Metro Center project at the Inland Wetlands Commission meeting last night left those in the audience -- and even some commission members -- scratching their heads.
The panel initially voted to file a brief supporting the appeal of the ruling by Gary Weddle, who was hired by the commission to oversee wetlands compliance as the project is built.
Weddle was appointed several years ago after First Selectman Kenneth Flatto ordered town Conservation Director Thomas Steinke and his staff from their usual role of overseeing compliance with the town's wetlands rules.
The Metro Center, off lower Black Rock Turnpike, was envisioned as multi-faceted commercial project, which includes the town's third train station. Only the rail depot, however, has moved forward.
A group of residents, calling themselves "Concerned Citizens," subsequently filed a court action challenging Steinke's removal and Weddle's appointment, claiming the violated.
At the time, there already was a wetlands compliance officer on the town staff, who has since left that job, and Commission Chairman Stanton Lesser said the judge essentially ruled that the town can have only one compliance officer. The panel needs to support the appeal, he said, to get that question answered.
Confusion arose, however, when the commission then moved to appoint Weddle as its designated agent to supervise the administration of the Metro Center's wetland permit. Under the proposal, Weddle would be under Steinke's "general supervision" and would report directly to the commission.
"He reports to us, but he's under the general supervision of Tom Steinke," said commission member Milan Bull. "I don't understand what that means." The removal of the town staff from its traditional oversight was done administratively by Flatto, said commission member Frank Rice. "I don't think we can overrule the selectman," he said.
"I think it's total confusion," said George Bisacca, the lawyer representing the Concerned Citizens.
"Flatto's already said he has nothing to do with it and he's said he has no problem with reinstating Steinke," Bisacca said.
In discussing the judge's ruling, Lesser said the judge went beyond the allegations contained in the complaint. Bisacca, however, said that Connecticut case law holds that an issue doesn't have to be formally included in a complaint, or added via an amendment, if evidence regarding the issue is heard as evidence during the trial.
Bisacca also said the law in Connecticut is if someone is appointed to a public office -- in this case, the town's wetlands compliance officer -- another person cannot be appointed to the same office.