Special election ruling reversed by state Supreme Court

The State Supreme Court has issued an opinion that Republican Edward Bateson should be reinstated to the Board of Selectmen. Fairfield,CT 5/23/18
The State Supreme Court has issued an opinion that Republican Edward Bateson should be reinstated to the Board of Selectmen. Fairfield,CT 5/23/18Genevieve Reilly / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — The State Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling on the Board of Selectmen special election, and said Republican Edward Bateson should be reinstated, a move that puts the board back under GOP control.

“I am happy the courts unanimously respected the significance of a town charter over state statue,” Republican Town Committee Chairman James Millington said.. “The court voted unanimously to respect home rule and recognized the importance of Fairfield’s town charter over politics.”

Bateson was appointed in December of 2016, following the resignation of fellow Republican Laurie McArdle, by First Selectman Mike Tetreau, a Democrat, and Selectman Chris Tymniak, a Republican. But a group of Democrats gathered the requisite number of petition signatures seeking to force a special election, citing state statutes.

William Burke, one of the attorneys representing the group that sought the special election, said, “It is disappointing that the Supreme Court saw this issue differently than the Superior Court did and the voters, who expressed a clear preference for Kevin Kiley last year, will have to wait until 2019 to have their say.”

When Tymniak and Bateson refused to set a date for a special election, citing the town charter, five Democrats took the issue to court. Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis issued a writ of mandamus, instructing that a special election be held on June 6, 2017. Democrat Kevin Kiley easily beat Bateson in the special election by a vote of 5,434 to 3,727.

“We are disappointed but respect the decision of the Supreme Court,” Democratic Town Committee Chairman Steve Sheinberg said. “When the voters were given the choice, they overwhelmingly voted for Kevin Kiley.”

Kiley himself said, "In 2017 the Connecticut Superior and Appellate Courts made decisions about the special election in Fairfield and I respected their decisions. Likewise, I respect the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court yesterday regarding the case.”

Bateson and Tymniak, however, appealed and the case ended up before the State Supreme Court. Their attorney, James Baldwin, argued that the town charter only allowed for a special election for the Board of Selectmen when the remaining selectmen fail to make an appointment within 30 days.

“This has been a divisive issue for Fairfield and it’s unfortunate this had to go this far,” Millington said. “It could have been avoided if the charter had been respected as it was written.”

The Supreme Court opinion from Chief Justice Richard Robinson cites a 1979 that stated if a town charter was to be altered, it must be done by the town, not the court. “Accordingly, we conclude that the trail court improperly granted a writ of mandamus directing that a special election be held to fill the vacancy caused by McArdle’s resignation. As a result, Bateson is entitled to reinstatement to the office of selectman,” Wednesday’s opinion states.

It further states that unlike state statutes, the town town charter does not provide for a special election, so long as an appointment was made within 30 days.

“Significantly, the charter explicitly limits the use of statuatory procedures by employing the contingent term ‘if’: such a construction contemplates a contingency that did not occur in the present case — namely a failure by the board to fill the vacancy created by McArdle’s resignation withing thirty days,” Robinson wrote. There was no dissenting opinion.

When McArdle resigned, there were three years left in a four-year term. The seat is up for re-election in 2019.