Join us this Tuesday January 28 from 7-9pm for our DTC Happy Hour at McGuire’s Ale House, 130 Mt. Pleasant Rd., Newtown.
We’re celebrating our success in implementing the ACA in CT. All are welcome. Come down and enjoy a relaxing night with good food and friends.
DEMOCRATIC TOWN COMMITTEE PRESS STATEMENT
First, the Democratic Town Committee of Newtown (DTC) would like to congratulate all the candidates of both Parties who ran for office this election. Whether elected or not, you were winners. You honored yourselves, your family, your Party and your town by doing so. It is no small feat to run for office. Likewise, it is not easy to serve as an elected official. You assume important responsibilities, are subject to both constructive and unconstructive criticism, and are required to dedicate much time away from your family, employment and leisure activities. Undoubtedly, your dedication and commitment confirm the very bedrock of democracy by which our country exists. Thank you, one and all.
Second, there has been much discussion about the Board of Education race and the maximum number of seats one Party is entitled to hold on the seven-member Board. Members of the DTC have scrutinized this issue closely. We have consulted legal counsel, and submitted the issue to the highest level of the Democratic Party State Central. After thorough review that includes legal analysis, review of the Charter question, State statutes, the Town Charter, minutes of the Charter Review Commission, and inquiry of 2007-2008 Charter Review Commission members themselves we have concluded that a legal challenge to restore a balance of 4 Republican and 3 Democratic members would likely be unsuccessful. This does not mean we approve or condone the events that led up to this unfortunate outcome that has resulted in the move from an equally balanced 3-3 membership to the present makeup of a 5-2 imbalance. Instead it simply means that circumstances occurred that now need to be corrected through an immediate appointment by the Legislative Council of a new Charter Review Commission to restore the intended balance of no more than one Party holding more than 4 seats on the Board of Education.
Third, the DTC submits that the public has the right to know what transpired, how this unfortunate occurrence resulted, and the reason the DTC believes a legal challenge would be unsuccessful.
In 2007, the Town Charter provided that the Board of Education would consist of 6 members, no one party holding more than 3 seats. The obvious reason for the even balance was to attempt to remove politics from the important position of educating our children, and broadening the scope of ideas and representation. That year saw 3-3 votes that stalemated Board work on important issues. The Legislative Council responded to the issue by appointing a 6 person Charter Review Commission that included two Republicans, two Democrats and two independents/unaffiliated. The Charter Review Commission recommended expanding the Board of Education to 7 seats. The consensus was that no Party would have more than 4 members, or what has been referenced as a “bare majority.” The Charter question posed to the voters and passed read:
“Question 7 – Shall the Charter be amended to change the maximum number of members of one political party who may serve on the Board of Education and change the total number of members on the Board of Education to seven (7) members? This modifies 2-30(c) and 2-70(a) [of the Town Charter].”
Unfortunately, unlike other Charter Questions there was no explanation or specification given on the ballots as to the “maximum number of members of one political party”. Instead, the Newtown Bee requested LeReine Frampton, a member of the Charter Review Committee and the Democratic Register of Voters to give an explanation as to each of the Eight Charter Questions. The article published in the Bee clearly and expressly stated the meaning to be no one Party could seat more than 4 members on the Board of Education. There appears nothing in the minutes of the Charter Review Commission that expressly states the makeup was to include more than 4 members of any one Party. At least 4 of the Charter Review Commission members understood that to be the case. The Chairman of the Charter Review Commission submitted the written amending language to the Legislative Council. There does appear to be some comment by the Town Attorney as to the clarity of the maximum Party membership language. The Chairman did recognize that by including certain statutory citation that one Party might secure 5 of the 7 seats, however, what discussion or public information was provided as to this is unclear. Democratic members assumed that the additional amending language as written provided sufficient clarity that the “bare majority” meant no more than 4 members of any one Party. Certainly, neither the DTC, nor the majority of Charter Review Commission members would have approved a move from a 3-3 to a 5-2 makeup. The language was adopted and the Town Charter was amended accordingly.
It is also questionable whether voters would have approved the Charter Question that shifted the makeup of seats from 3-3 to 5-2. Given that the question posed to the voters did not include reference to C.G.S. Section 9-167(a) – a Section that provides one definition of “bare majority” – were voters aware that this language would eventually be included in the Charter? Query, what the voters were actually voting on. Note, there is an absence of C.G.S. Section 9-167(a) in the Charter Question.
Town Charter Section 2-30(c) as amended reads:
The number of members of any one political party who may be elected to serve on the Board of Education shall not exceed the maximum of the whole membership of the Board as prescribed by the provisions of Section 9-167(a) of the Connecticut General Statutes, as amended. At each Town Election the number of candidates of any one political party elected to serve on the Board of Education shall not exceed a bare majority of the number of candidates to be seated.
The ambiguity of language occurs because Section 9-167(a) provides that a definition of “bare majority” may be 5-2 on a seven person board. It also provides that a town may restrict that definition to a more balanced number (4-3), if it chooses. If the amendment had stopped there it would be clear that a 5-2 makeup is permitted. Instead, the language continues – “At each Town Election the number of candidates of any one political party elected to serve on the Board of Education shall not exceed a bare majority of the number of candidates to be seated.” One interpretation is that the additional language tightens the balance of 9-167(a) from 5-2 to 4-3. Query, The question arises – [A]t each Town Election – does that mean the number of candidates to be seated out of the seven board members to be seated – “bare majority of seven” is a maximum of 4. Or, in the recent election, does this mean of the 5 seats vacant that “bare majority” is 3 of the 5 such that two Democrats would have to be seated. The Town Attorney has opined that in the November election there were actually two elections, one for the 2 year vacancy, a bare majority being 1, and then a separate election for the remaining 4, four year term seats would be 3. This interpretation would permit 4 of the open 5 seats to be secured by one Party, thus in total equaling 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats. It is true that for vacancies, that seat is filled first for purposes of minority representation (9-167(d)). We can find no law or statute that says this constitutes two separate elections though. We would suggest that there was only one election in November, one election for numerous elected offices.
With this analysis in mind, we now turn to whether a legal challenge would succeed in rectifying the issue. A recent case is helpful in understanding the avenue of jurisdiction and likelihood of success. The Connecticut State Supreme Court in Lopez v. Board of Education 310 Conn. 576 (2013) cites “Historically, the writ of quo warranto originated as a device to require [Norman Kings’] barons to justify their claims to power or to abandon them…Today, unless otherwise provided by statute, a quo warranto action is the exclusive method of trying the title to an office…[I]t lies to prevent the usurpation of a public office or franchise …Thus, the writ of quo warranto developed and has continued as a limited and extraordinary remedy…to test who the lawful public official is…A successful quo warranto action unseats an illegal office holder and declares the position vacant. It does not place the rightful claimant into the office.” 590-591. Of note, any taxpayer has standing to bring a quo warranto legal challenge once the office holder has been seated. It would appear the burden to be carried weighs on the occupant of the office, however, the lightest burden of proof of more likely than not applies.
The Town Attorney suggests that the language of 2-70(c) of the Town Charter is of significant ambiguity. The rules of statutory interpretation require that upon ambiguity the intention of legislators (in this case the Charter Review Commission and/or Legislative Council) must be examined. It would appear that the intent of the language is inconsistent. Despite the absence of such intent by some members of the Charter Review Commission, as well as the silence even after the publication of intention in the Newtown Bee, it does appear that the Chairman was aware of the 5-2 possibility, and with the documented comments by the Town Attorney potentially some members of the Legislative Council were aware as well. Resultantly, after much legal consultation including that at the highest level of Democratic Party State Central, we believe given the burden of proof required as to intent, the Court will likely allow the decision of the Town Attorney to stand, i.e. we would not be able to satisfy the burden of proof that it was more likely than not the intention of the framers didn’t intend to allow a 5-2 seating. If the Town Attorney had opined differently, the shoe would be on the other foot and the outcome perhaps different.
Finally, the purpose of this Statement is not to cast aspersions or enter into conspiracy theories. It is safe to say that one Party could have been more forthcoming if in fact it was promoting a change from 3-3 to 5-2, especially after the requested explanation of the Charter Question in the Newtown Bee went unchallenged. It is also safe to say that our Party could have been more diligent in reviewing the proposed Amendment. When we make these observations we particularly include the DTC. There is no question that all involved in this issue want what is best for Newtown, including what was most likely understood to be the intent of the voters who approved the Charter Question. The most constructive way to dismiss those that would find ill-intent or some conspiracy plot would be for the majority Party led Legislative Council to immediately appoint a new Charter Review Commission to correct the amended language of the Town Charter such that no one Party may seat more than four members on the seven-member Board. The correction would then be implemented in two years at the next election.
We hope this is helpful to the public in understanding the issue, and moving forward to correct the matter.
Chairman, Democratic Town Committee
Our newly elected and re-elected municipal officials took their oaths of office at a public swearing-in ceremony on Sunday December 1, 2013 in the Municipal Center. Congratulations to all and we look forward to your service.
Board of Selectmen: James O. Gaston, Sr.
Legislative Council District 1: Paul Lundquist
Legislative Council District 2: Daniel Honan, Lisa Romano
Legislative Council District 3: Dan Amaral
Board of Finance: Jim Filan, Michael Portnoy
Board of Education: Michelle Embree Ku
Planning and Zoning Commission: Don Mitchell
Planning and Zoning Alternate: Rudy Pozek
Zoning Board of Appeals: Alan Clavette
Zoning Board of Appeals Alternate: Herb Rosenthal
Police Commission: Andy Sachs
Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers: Mary Fellows
Here’s the official Head Moderator Tally from the November 5, 2013 election provided by Democratic Registrar LeReine Frampton.
Jim Gaston, member of the town’s Board of Selectmen, has said, “Being an Elected Official on the Board of Education is perhaps the most difficult job one can have on any Town Board, Committee or Commission.” Both Democratic candidates to the Board, Michelle Embree Ku and Laura Main, are up to that challenge. Each candidate brings diligence, intelligence and a balanced perspective in education that will make them some of the best candidates put forth by the Democratic Town Committee, much like the former gifted teacher and current Democratic Board of Education member, John Vorous.
Michelle Embree Ku believes this is a critical time for Newtown, one which requires a renewed focus on preparing our children for the future. “I truly believe I can make a valuable contribution to the Board, through data-driven decisions, advocating for a transparent and inclusive process, and encouraging a more cooperative spirit…I would like to see our district develop a comprehensive education Strategic Plan with input from all stakeholders – parents, teachers, administration and the community. I would also like to see continued support for and augmentation for programs that support the potential of each student. It is imperative that we expose every possibility for enriching the full education experience of our children while balancing the need for fiscal responsibility.”
Michelle Embree Ku holds a B.S. in Animal Science, and a Ph.D. in Pathobiology. She has served as an Adjunct Professor, Brown University, and worked as a research scientist at RI Hospital, as a Quality Assurance Associate at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, and a Reproductive Toxicologists at Lederle Labs. Locally, Michelle has served on the Charter Revision Commission, been the editor of the PTA newsletter, and volunteered for the Newtown Volunteer Task Force, and March for Change. Ms. Embree Ku has three children in the school system.
Laura Main will bring a wellspring of knowledge and experience to the Board. She is an Elementary School Principal with experience as a classroom teacher and instructional specialist in both public and private schools. Laura has earned a Bachelors of Art in English, a Masters of Science in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, and a Sixth Year Degree in Education Leadership. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate in Instructional Leadership. Laura has also published five books on education. She has two boys who attended Newtown Middle School, has been married for eighteen years and lived in Newtown for seventeen. She has been a member of the Board of Directors at Children’s Adventure Center for more than ten years, and is an active member at Trinity Episcopal Church.
Michelle and Laura look forward to serving Newtown using their extensive professional experience to enhance the decision-making process needed for hiring a new superintendent, and balancing the educational needs of all children with costs to taxpayers. Both see balance playing an important role in this important work.
Thank you, and please remember to vote on Tuesday, November 5th!
Ross Carley describes himself as a moderate Democrat. The “semi-retiree” and 24-year Newtown resident has served on multiple boards in town — currently the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Fairfield Hills Authority and the Lake Lillinonah Authority. He’s been working as an appointee since his first post, on the Commission for Aging, 10 years ago.
On Nov. 5, he’s hoping voters will promote him to the Legislative Council.
“It all started because I had the desire to get involved — to stop complaining and get involved,” he says.
A senior himself, he says his work on the commission gave him perspective on what seniors need in Newtown.
“We’re losing our seniors, and we need to do something,” he says. “Right now the town will give you tax breaks on your property. That needs to be raised. Something has to be done — more tax relief has to be available, taking into consideration their outlay of funds for other expenses— to keep our seniors here. “
He wasn’t happy when the budget bifurcated between municipal and education. While he’s a supporter of the schools — his wife is a teacher and school librarian, and his son teaches chemistry at Newtown High School — he says the Legislative Council should take a close look at how much money is going to education.
“The budget increases all went to education, not to the town,” he says. “That leaves us with the roads and the cleanup services we don’t have anymore. When you take roughly 70 cents per dollar and put it in education, it doesn’t leave a lot of money to pave the roads and take care of all the town employees.”
He suggests the town may even wish to consider an outside audit of the Board of Education.
“Even our First Selectman is one of the lowest paid in the state,” he says. “But we do have one of the highest paid superintendents. Our teachers, firsthand, I know are on the lower end [compared to] other towns. Where’s the money? They’re getting an awful lot, and the town doesn’t have enough money to pay for the roads except for the roadwork done on Queen Street.”
Carley: Newtown Has Budget ‘Inequality’
Not only did he not support splitting the budgets, Carley says he didn’t support the $71 million 2013-14 education budget, which passed in June on the third referendum.
“It wasn’t that the school budget was too high, but there was an inequality between the town budget and the school budget,” he says. “It’s flowing too much to education and not enough to support the town itself. It’s just the distribution and the equity of the split.”
“The solution isn’t necessarily to cut the overall budget,” he says. “There’s other ways to ease the income of the seniors in town. There are lots of national and state programs we can tap into — Meals on Wheels, or heating programs.”
On More Democrats in Newtown Politics
“This town ran best when the two major parties were in balance, and that’s the whole thing with restore balance,” he says. “This town functioned a lot better when it was 50/49. 60/40 even wasn’t bad. But the Democrats are poorly represented on any of the boards right now, and I just want to see a return to that balance … I think right now we’re seeing one-sided politics. I’d like to have more of a balanced voice in town.”
On the Future of Fairfield Hills
“Fairfield Hills has a couple problems, and unfortunately the [Fairfield Hills Authority] gets blamed for it,” he says. “We’re limited to what we can allow there. We’re not allowed to have residential living at all, but we’re looking at that right now.”
An updated version of the Fairfield Hills master plan re-opens the prospect of eventually allowing residents, and Carley says he’s weighing an application that would do just that.
“The main problem with Fairfield Hills is that for anyone who looks at renovating or tearing down, the cost is so great that it [makes more sense] to just go somewhere else and build somewhere else,” he says. “Some of those buildings would cost almost $1 million to take down. It comes down to $200 per square foot to renovate. You can build somewhere for $125 per square foot and not have to deal with abatement and all that.”
The Lake Lillinonah Authority
“I worked with Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, and Chris Lyddy to close the trash transfer station in Hawleyville that was starting to send polluted water down Pond Brook into the lake.”
On November 5th, the residents of Newtown will cast their ballots in the municipal election. I am a candidate for Town Clerk and would like you to know why I am the best candidate, and why you should feel good about voting for me. Most important, I am well qualified and have an exceptional work ethic. My record demonstrates an ability to complete tasks in a timely manner and with particular attention to detail. I will bring my extensive experience back to the Town Clerk’s Office and make sure the information available to the public is up-to-date and accurate.
The Town Clerk’s Office is the direct link between our community and the town government. As the official keeper of municipal records, the Town Clerk must use proven and effective procedures to carry out the provisions of law. Given the progress in information technology, and my firm grasp and understanding of it, I will be able to use staff more efficiently and offer additional services to taxpayers, as well. Some of these services will include:
- Implement early/late office hours for the convenience of working residents.
- Provide hunting/fishing licenses in the office.
- Automatically send absentee ballots to permanently, physically disabled residents for every election to every voter who qualifies without having to reapply.
- Offer training to real estate agents in the use of the town’s land records software.
In 2006, I began working in the Town Clerk’s Office where I spent more than four years serving the community. After becoming a Certified Town Clerk in 2010, I was elected as the Borough Clerk for Newtown and am still serving in that position. This position involves additional knowledge of typical Clerk work given the uniqueness and subtleties of Boroughs. For the past three years, I have served as a Case Manager with Newtown Social Services working closely with families in need, as well as many seniors requiring assistance.
Your vote for me will be a vote for the most experience, dedication and integrity in the Town Clerk’s Office. Serving the community is a privilege to me. I would be honored to have your vote on November 5th. Thank you!