New Canaan Town Council decides replacement process for open seat
After weeks of deliberation, an opinion by the town's legal counsel, a second opinion on that opinion, and a robust discussion at a special meeting, the Town Council on Thursday, Jan. 3, unanimously decided to fill its open seat by voting for one of four Republican candidates.
The four candidates for the seat held by Republican Tom O'Dea, who was elected to the state Legislature, are Kevin Moynihan, Dan Radman, John Engel and Roy Abramowitz. The election will take place at a Town Council meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. in the Sturgess Room of the New Canaan Nature Center. The term will end with new Town Council elections in November.
The council decided that the candidates would be given four questions ahead of time, then would face a "lightning round" of inquiries from individual council members. After that, the members will vote.
There was some discussion of what should happen if there was a tie in the vote. Town Counsel Ira Bloom confirmed that, under town charter, in the case of a tie, the first selectman breaks the tie.
In a four-way race, with 11 council members voting, the chances of a tie vote are higher than normal. Several on the council were displeased with the idea of the first selectman picking their new member. They decided to make it known to First Selectman Rob Mallozzi that they would prefer him to abstain if it comes to that, and allow them to have a runoff between the top vote-getters.
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Councilman John Emert was emphatic that the first selectman abstain and allow the council to have a runoff.
"Going back to Political Science 101, the separation of powers is important here. I would hope that the first selectman would respect that and abstain and allow us to revote on that tie," he said, though both Town Council Chairman Mark DeWaele and Councilman Roger Williams reiterated that Mallozzi is granted that power in the charter.
Engel asked the council if the voting process could be done in private in order to spare those who lose from potential public embarrassment.
"You were all elected in a much more public process. This is not the same. This is very personal. You have four people, all of whom are friends, and someone is going to come out damaged. I would rather not know that I won 12-0. I would also rather not know I lost 12-0. In that respect, perhaps this ought to look more like a jury, and come out and make your decision," Engel said, adding in jest in the direction of Steve Karl, owner of Karl Chevrolet on Elm Street, "If I know that you didn't vote for me ... I'm not going to buy a Chevy ever again!"
O'Dea suggested that the Republicans might caucus and make a decision before the meeting, then vote unanimously in public, in order to spare the feelings of those who lose. This suggestion was met with support from Ken Campbell and Penny Young.
But DeWaele countered that the vote should be transparent and public, and that part of the job description of being on the Town Council is to put oneself up for a certain degree of ridicule from time to time.
"We're weighing two issues: one is a transparent vote of the council and the other is bruised egos of the candidates," said DeWaele. "I guess I have a hard time having it not be transparent ... We want them to feel that we're in this as one, and that's something as chairman that I strive for. I think partly this is what it is to be on the council. You will have to make votes that will be sometimes popular and sometimes unpopular."
In the end, the council decided unanimously to vote publicly.
The Jan. 3 meeting also represented the final one O'Dea would be sitting in his seat before being sworn into staff office in Hartford on Wednesday, Jan. 9. He will represent the 125th General Assembly District.
"I want to say that it's been a pleasure and it's been an honor," said O'Dea. "I haven't always been right, but I've tried my best. [Town Council member Christine Hussey] has been on the council since 1985 and we've certainly argued but I've enjoyed my service sitting next to you. Dr. DeWaele, you've been an open and forthright chairman. It's been a pleasure, and I've enjoyed it very much."
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