FAIRFIELD — Local Democrats appear to have the signatures needed to force a special election for a vacant Board of Selectmen seat. The move is not sitting well with the GOP.

Democrats submitted 3,199 signatures to the Town Clerk’s office Dec. 22 for certification calling for a special election to fill the Board of Selectmen seat vacated earlier this month by Republican Laurie McArdle. A total of 2,031 signatures were needed.

“The action of forcing a special election is in violation of our long-standing agreement regarding vacancies in elected offices,” Republican Town Committee Chairman James Millington said. “There were several times in the past when we could have done the same thing, including forcing a special election for first selectman, but choose not to.”

There are three years left on McArdle’s term, who resigned effective Dec. 1. The two remaining Board of Selectmen members, Democrat First Selectman Mike Tetreau and Republican Selectman Chris Tymniak, voted Dec. 7 to accept the RTC’s recommendation of Ed Bateson to fill the vacancy. Tymniak beat out Sheila Marmion, a Democrat, by a slim margin of 68 votes. Had Marmion won re-election to the board, Democrats would hold the majority.

Under the town charter, the remaining members of the board vote to fill any vacancies. The replacement must be from the same party as the person who resigned. If that is not done within 30 days, however, the choice then goes to the elected members of the political party - had that happened in this case, all elected Republicans would have been eligible to vote.

State statutes, however, allow for anyone in town to petition for a special election, even if the seat has been filled via appointment.

“There is no doubt that the Democrats are well within their rights to do this, but that action will negate our agreement moving forward,” Millington said. “I have asked the DTC Chairman to reconsider this decision, and we are going to talk again after the weekend.’

While both parties have stuck to that agreement numerous times in recent years, when First Selectman Ken Flatto resigned in May of 2011, James Walsh, then a Republican selectman, refused to accept the DTC recommendation of Tetreau. Tetreau was voted into the acting first selectman position by 18 Democrats serving in elected positions.

Walsh, who himself later resigned as selectmen over potential conflicts of interest in his capacity as an attorney appearing before land use boards, did not want to fill the seat with someone who planned to run for first selectman.

Tetreau was elected to a full four-year term in November 2011.

“The executive board voted to petition so the people of Fairfield will decide who sits on the board for the remainder of the term of three years, and not 53 insiders on the RTC,” Democratic Town Committee Chairman Steve Sheinberg said. “The Board of Selectmen is the only board where someone who is appointed does not stand for election in the next scheduled election.”

The next municipal election is slated for November of 2017, with members of the Board of Finance, Board of Education, Town Plan and Zoning Commission, Board of Assessment Appeals, Zoning Board of Appeals and all 40 members of the Representative Town Meeting up for election.

Two of the Board of Finance members, Democrats Marmion and Kevin Hoffkins, were appointed to fill vacancies, but only until the next municipal election, and not for the seat’s full term. Marmion was appointed to fill a seat with a term that expires in 2019 and Hoffkins to a seat with a term that ends in 2021. However, if they wish to stay on the finance board, they will have to run for re-election in 2017,

Millington said the GOP had opportunities to petition for a special election in the past, but chose not o.

“The cost to the taxpayers, and the unnecessary tensions such an action create between parties, was not worth it,” Millington said, and cited the Marmion and Hoffkins appointments.

Sheinburg said he was told by the Registrar of Voters office that a special election in May would cost between $14,000 - $20,000.

greilly@ctpost.com; @GreillyPost