The latest in the special election saga
FAIRFIELD — The continuing saga of the Board of Selectmen special election now includes new letters — one a cease and desist to an attorney, the other a missive urging local election officials to stop the election preparations.
The question of a special election to fill the seat vacated by Republican Selectman Laurie McArdle last December now rests in the Appellate Court, due to an appeal of state Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis’ order that the election go ahead. Bellis ruled in favor of five Democrats who sought a writ of mandamus after the Republican majority on the Board of Selectmen refused to set a date, claiming petitions to force such an election are not allowed under the town’s charter.
Jame Baldwin was appointed at the first Superior Court hearing in March, after First Selectman Mike Tetreau had appointed another attorney, Robert Morrin, to represent the town. But Selectmen Chris Tymniak and Ed Bateson, both Republicans, held their own special Board of Selectmen meeting and hired Baldwin.
Tetreau said while he did authorize Baldwin to represent the town, the Board of Selectmen, and Tymniak and Bateson during the Superior Court proceedings, Baldwin has not met with Tetreau, or the board, since then. “It was obvious from his presentation at the Board of Selectmen that he was being more political than responsive to my questions,” Tetreau said.
At the April 19 selectmen’s meeting, Tymniak and Bateson moved to have an update from Baldwin added to the agenda. At that time, Tetreau questioned Baldwin as to when he was authorized to file an appeal on the town and board’s behalf.
“He did not have a reasonable response when I asked him,” Tetreau said. “Since the Board of Selectmen has not authorize an appeal, his services are not needed going forward.”
Baldwin contends that he laid out a “roadmap” at the special meeting called — illegally, Tetreau maintains — by Tymniak and Bateson. That road map, he said, was that the case would most certainly end up in the state Supreme Court. He contends he was authorized to take all the necessary steps to fight the Democrats’ court action.
The minutes of that meeting do not indicate any discussion of the case itself, and the only agenda item was Baldwin’s appointment.
In an April 20 letter to Baldwin, Tetreau said, “You are hereby instructed to cease and desist all representative on behalf of the town of Fairfield and the Fairfield Board of Selectmen in this matter until proper authorization has been granted.
Meanwhile, Republican Town Committee Chairman James Millington has sent a letter to the town clerk and the registrars of voters, asking them to put the brakes on preparations for the special election, citing the automatic stay that is in place due to the appeal.
“In my official capacity as the Fairfield Republican Town Committee Chairman, I am requesting that you review all public documents pertaining to this case to see for yourself, that in fact, there is a stay on this election," Millington wrote. He said to spend any taxpayer funds “based solely on the partisan advice of a town attorney who signed a petition to force this election is be (sic) ill-advised.” Millington encouraged them to hold off on any election activities “until all your research is done and your questions are answered.”
“Attorney Lessor (sic) is the only one who believes that no stay is in place,” Millington said. “The Democrats have even drafted a motion to have the stay lifted. He can bury his head in the sand but the facts are clear. Mr. Lessor (sic) signed the petition requesting the special election and is thus conflicted in this case. As he did in the initial legal action, he should recuse himself from providing legal guidance on the election until the stay is lifted and the appeal heard.”
According to the state’s judicial website, there has been no motion filed to have the stay lifted. There has, however, been a motion filed to dismiss the appeal.
“The bottom line is that even if there is currently a stay in place, the town needs to be ready in case the final order is that the election proceeds on June 6, which is why I asked the appropriate officers to continue with preparations,” Lesser said.
According to the “Handbook of Connecticut Appellate Procedures,” a stay is automatic, and an order can’t be enforced until the time to file an appeal has expired. The motion to dismiss the appeal is based on the claim that the appeal was not filed within 20 days of Bellis’ March 10 ruling from the bench that the election is held. Bellis held another hearing on March 16 to set the actual election calendar when both sides could not agree on the dates.
Baldwin filed the appeal with the Appellate Court on April 5, after the state Supreme Court denied a request for certification. The last action in connection with the appeal, as of Wednesday afternoon, was the motion to dismiss filed April 17.
At the center of the issue is whether town residents had a right to circulate petitions to force the special election. Baldwin, the former RTC chairman, has argued that a special election can only be held, according to the charter, if no one is appointed to fill the vacancy within 30 days. McArdle resigned Dec. 1, Bateson was appointed by Tetreau and Tymniak on Dec. 7. McArdle was one year into a four-year term.
The Democrats cited a statute that states the person appointed serves until the end of the term, or until a special election is called. Bellis agreed that the statute addresses the term, and allows for a special election if the required signatures are collected.