Election laws cloud choice of interim Fairfield first selectman
Updated 5:37 pm, Thursday, May 12, 2011
The clock is ticking on the time remaining for the two remaining Board of Selectmen members to choose an interim first selectman, but if that choice were challenged in a special election, state law would likely push that vote past the date of the Nov. 8 municipal election, according to the town attorney.
Acting First Selectman Sherri Steeneck and Selectman James Walsh have until June 1 to come to an agreement on a successor to Kenneth Flatto, who stepped down last week to become the state director of special revenue.
If Steeneck and Walsh do agree on an interim first selectman, that official would serve until the November election.
Their first go-round Wednesday of last week ended in a stalemate, with Steeneck saying she would not support anyone but Michael Tetreau, a Board of Finance member endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee, and Walsh vowing he could not support someone who plans to run for the office in November, as Tetreau does.
Election law requires that, like Flatto, his replacement be a Democrat.
If Steeneck and Walsh cannot come to agreement by June 1, the process then falls to a convocation of those elected Democrats in town who do not serve on boards with staggered terms, according to state law. That rules out members of the most of the town's major elected boards, including the boards of finance and education and regular members of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.
Both Town Clerk Betsy Brown and Town Attorney Richard Saxl "have discussed the matter with the Secretary of the State's office independently, and we both came up with the same list of 17 Democrats who would vote in a 9-222 election," according to a memo from Saxl.
Those Democrats eligible to vote include Steeneck, the party's 12 members of the Representative Town Meeting, Democratic Registrar of Voters Matthew Waggner; one alternate member from both the TPZ and ZBA, and a constable.
Should the June 1 deadline pass without an appointment by the two selectmen, Browne would then have to notify those 17 Democrats within 10 days that they need to make a selection. Saxl said although state statute gives the Democrats up to 60 days to act, "Betsy and I both think that such an election should be held sooner rather than later for the sake of a quick transition."
Saxl said should choosing an interim first selectman come down to the 17 elected officials, he anticipates that Tetreau would be elected sometime between June 12 and 19.
"It's a very interesting situation," Av Harris, spokesman with the Secretary of the State's office, said of that situation. "It may have happened in the past, but there's been nothing in recent times. It definitely is a unique circumstance."
Harris said state law doesn't spell out exactly how that selection by the Democrats should be conducted.
But even if Tetreau is appointed by the 17 Democrats, 5 percent of the registered voters have 15 days to sign a petition calling for a special election. Should that happen, Saxl said he doesn't think the election could take place any earlier than July 5.
However, he said state election laws also include several different times periods to allow for the parties to select a candidate and for an unsuccessful candidate to wage a primary, pushing the earliest date for a special election to Nov. 10, two days after the Nov. 8 general election.