FAIRFIELD — Was a special meeting, called and held by the two Republicans on the Board of Selectmen, legal?

Selectmen Chris Tymniak and Ed Bateson say it was; First Selectman Mike Tetreau is adamant that it wasn’t, and the reason for the meeting is tied to another board legal dispute — a special election for former Selectman Laurie McArdle’s seat

At the meeting, held on Feb. 21, Tymniak and Bateson voted to have Jim Baldwin, an attorney, and former Republican Town Committee chairman, represent them, the board as a whole, and the town, in a court action brought by Democrats to force them to set a date for that special election.

“The right of the board to meet does not rest solely with the first selectman, nor does the handling of claims and litigation rest solely with the first selectman,” said Bateson, who took McArdle’s seat on the board when she resigned last December, one year into a four-year term.

Bateson said he and Tymniak work with Tetreau, not for him. “His behavior and attempts to thwart the business of the board and its desire for representative and independent counsel on this matter were very disturbing.”

Because Town Attorney Stanton Lesser had issued an opinion supporting the special election, Tetreau appointed a different attorney to represent the board and the town.

Tetreau said the Tuesday meeting was illegal, and improperly called. “In addition, the topic on the agenda was improper since the selection of the town attorney is an authority given solely to the first selectman in the town charter,” he said. “It is obvious both in holding the meeting and attempting to appoint the town attorney, the two selectmen ignored and disregarded the town charter. The town charter clearly says the first selectman is chair of the Board of Selectmen. It also goes on to state that the first selectman shall preside over all Board of Selectmen meetings.”

He said the charter does allow the board to “direct” the town attorney, but only the first selectman can appoint the town attorney and any assistant town attorneys.

“The two selectmen attempted to extend their authority far beyond their roles and duties provided by the town charter,” Tetreau said. “This is what makes their actions illegal.” The town charter does list the town attorney, and any assistant town attorneys, as being appointed by the first selectman.

The issue of who will represent the town is moot at this point. At a court hearing last week, an agreement was reached to have Baldwin represent the board, the town, and Tymniak and Bateson.

“Given the time constraints we were under to satisfy FOIA and the blatant non-cooperation of the first selectman and town attorney, we wound up meeting on Tuesday( Feb. 21),” Bateson said. “Mike refused to attend the meeting, and improperly assigned counsel to represent us in the matter without consulting our board.”

On Feb. 16, Bateson and Tymniak sent a letter to Lesser directing him to appoint Baldwin as the town’s attorney for this court case.

The next day, they had a letter hand delivered to Tetreau asking him to issue a “proper notice” for a board meeting to address the issue of representation. In response, Tetreau said, “This is a (first selectman) responsibility, not a (Board of Selectmen) one.”

In the second request on Feb. 17, Bateson and Tymniak said there is “no express authority” in the town charter that gives the first selectman “exclusive right to direct the town attorney. We insist that this special meeting be properly noticed so that the Board of Selectmen may direct the town attorney on how to handle the litigation in accordance with the express terms of the town charter.”

The special meeting was not included in the online meeting calendar that is maintained by the town clerk’s office. The official meeting calendar is located in the town clerk’s office.

greilly@ctpost.com; @GreillyPost