After an exchange that became heated and accusatory at times Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) voted 2-1 to transfer resident Larry Miller from his position on the Inland Wetlands Commission to fill a Republican vacancy on the Zoning Commission, denying the recommendation of the Republican Town Committee (RTC) and Republican Selectman George Walker to promote a newly appointed alternate on Zoning, Jeff Cordisco.
While discussing appointments at the end of their monthly agenda Tuesday, Walker questioned the wisdom of going against the RTC and Zoning and bringing in a new commission member rather than appointing from within. Walker also asserted that the choice of Miller seemed like political patronage for his financial and personal support of First Selectman Bill Davidson during recent elections.
Davidson denied these assertions, vehemently at times, stating that Miller is simply more experienced in zoning issues and will be an asset to the board. The Zoning Commission’s former chairman, William Mercer (R), resigned recently after moving to Pennsylvania to be closer to family, creating the vacancy.
“With no disrespect to Mr. Miller, he does not attend Zoning Commission meetings — he will have a learning curve that may or may not be equivalent to what Jeff Cordisco has in getting up to speed,” Walker said. “The message that something like this will send to the volunteers is, ‘Don’t bother volunteering’ because there is not a progression… I don’t see why Mr. Miller would do a better job than Mr. Cordisco on this.”
“I want Jeff Cordisco to stay on Zoning,” Davidson said. “But he needs more experience.”
According to Davidson, Cordisco’s seven months as an alternate on Zoning is insufficient for the needs of the commission, which he contends lacks experience as a whole.
“If you look at the composition of the Zoning Commission, we don’t have any long term members there,” he said. (Senior member of the commission, Ryan Blessey, was appointed to an alternate position in 2006 and has been a full member since 2009.)
“I mean him no disservice, but when you compare the resumes of Mr. Cordisco and Mr. Miller for this position, to me they’re night and day.” [See attached bios.]
“The most important single criteria [when making an appointment] is what does that person bring to that board or commission,” Davison continued. “We need to get the most experienced people available, period.”
“You can’t just ignore the Republican Party,” Walker said. “This is a Republican position.”
Though Miller is a registered Republican, he left the RTC in May 2011 over disagreements with the direction of the local party.
“He is a registered Republican, but he is tearing down the Republican Party locally and the RTC,” Walker asserted, speaking over interruptions. “It’s important that this community understand what’s going on — this is patronage.”
“You be careful, Mr. Walker,” Davidson warned of making such accusations. “You be damn careful.”
[See more of their conversation in the video attached above.]
Patronage or Politics?
After the meeting, Walker said that the appointment appeared to be patronage for Miller’s political support in the past, including acting as one of the founding members of the bipartisan Brookfield’s Best Candidates (BBC) PAC, which , though the majority were running on the Democratic line or running for unopposed seats.
Walker also noted that Miller was one of the primary financial contributors to the PAC and the Davidson-Lasser campaign.
[Editor's Note: According to the Town Clerk's Office, Miller did not contribute directly to the Davidson or Lasser campaigns but was involved with the BBC PAC.]
“When you totally ignore what the RTC and its vacancy committee and the Zoning Commission itself 100 percent endorsed, that smacks of patronage,” Walker said.
Davidson denied these accusations, as did Miller, who, reached Wednesday, said that Walker’s comments were “consistent with what the RTC has become.”
Miller, who spent five years on the RTC, and just short of four years as chair of the Vacancy Committee before abdicating the position to Walker in 2011, said he did support Davidson in the last election, “as many Republicans did.”
“Who I contribute to in any campaign is my business — and I support Bill Davidson,” he said, unabashedly.
The Brookfield Republican Party, he continued, “Seems to have forgotten that Bill Davidson served this town as a Republican,” before switching to Unaffiliated and running for First Selectman on the Democratic line in 2009.
“The RTC is looking for every opportunity to politicize anything and everything,” he said, and, though the seat is reserved for a Republican, personal politics should not be a factor in zoning.
Miller said in his 10 years on Wetlands (four as chairman), he “never encountered a situation where things got political” in a zoning case.
The series of events have left Cordisco a bit turned around.
“I was all set to jump on board as a full-time member,” he said Wednesday after speaking with Walker about what transpired the night before. “I don’t necessarily understand it but I’ll agree with it,” he added, as the final decision rests with the majority vote of the BOS.
“On face value it is a bit discouraging,” Cordisco said in reference to Walker’s assertion that this may dissuade others from volunteering as alternates. However, having served on the commission for a few months now, he said he is excited to continue working on zoning issues and hopes to become a full member in the future.
The BOS also appointed Mara Frankel (D), a Zoning Enforcement Officer for the town of New Fairfield and member of a number of area zoning boards [see bio attached above], to the Zoning Commission as an alternate member in a vote of 2-0, with Walker abstaining.