Tesoro — I hope next Ethics Commission nominee is treated fairly

In accordance with the Town Charter, it is my prerogative as First Selectman to recommend to the Town Council an appointee for a seat on the Ethics Commission. That recommendation requires a two-thirds vote of the Town Council for appointment. At the February Town Council meeting, I recommended Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, with extraordinary qualifications, for a seat on the Ethics Commission.

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro

The controversy surrounding Sujata’s rejection by all ten Republicans on the Town Council, voting as a block to stop the confirmation, raises many questions. Our community deserves straight answers and the facts.

Let’s look at the history a bit to understand the situation. The seat on the Ethics Commission in question was held by Mr. William Brown. His five-year term expired, and during his tenure he served admirably. I said so at the meeting. His qualifications were never in question. There were others who wanted an opportunity to serve the community.

My appointment and nomination philosophy is evident in how I have conducted myself during my administration. I have appointed Democrats, Republicans, and Unaffiliated residents with one thing in mind: their qualifications. I also believe that it is important to add new perspective to all boards and commissions. This is my right and obligation under our Charter.

I have reappointed Democrats, Republicans, and Unaffiliated residents to commissions on which they currently serve. I recently appointed a Republican to a different commission because her qualifications were perfect for that new commission.

Most important, I have chosen not to reappoint some Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated residents to boards and commissions in order to bring new ideas to those boards and commissions and to give other qualified candidates an opportunity to serve our community. One of my most difficult decisions was not to reappoint a Democrat to a seat he had occupied for decades. This shows that I have kept my campaign promise to be fair and balanced in appointments. This is a matter of record and can be easily verified.

When Mr. Brown’s term had expired in 2017, I put forward in 2018 my first nominee for the position on the Ethics Commission.  That individual had previously served on the Commission with distinction and wanted to return. He was rejected by the Town Council Republicans.

Surprised by this rejection of a well-qualified nominee, and to avoid the embarrassment of a public rejection of future nominees, I reached out to Carl Massaro, the Town Council minority leader, with another well-qualified nominee. This individual is a respected former First Selectman who is not serving on any board and commission at this time. Mr. Massaro’s response? None whatsoever.

I submitted a second name to Mr. Massaro, a highly respected and universally admired resident, a man with no political experience who is known for his work with a philanthropic institution. Again, no response from Mr. Massaro. On two separate occasions he did not even extend to me the courtesy of a response.

Faced with Mr. Massaro’s refusal to engage with me, I recommended Sujata to the Town Council. She is one of the most qualified nominees ever put forward for a seat on the Ethics Commission. Several days before the meeting, Council Democrats reached across the aisle to the Republicans to discuss Sujata’s nomination, providing them with her resume and offering to answer any questions they may have had. Still she was rejected.

Please note that, just one month earlier I had put forward another impressive candidate, Laurie Giles, who had previously served on the Ethics Commission. She was appointed after little discussion by the Town Council. It makes no sense whatsoever to have one highly qualified nominee appointed and an equally qualified set of nominees either rejected or ignored. So what was the rationale?

In Sujata’s case, at the Town Council meeting the Republican Council members implied that campaign donations from me and my family totaling $300 would impair Sujata’s impartiality or that I, through that mighty sum, would exert some mystical influence over the nominee. How silly.

One Republican Council member said I was trying to pack the Commission with Democrats. That Council member should know that the Charter prevents that, and my record shows that is not how I govern.  Except in cases where majority limitation rules would be violated, using a person’s party affiliation is a bad precedent to set.

Another Republican Council member suggested that a person who has run for office or has the desire to run in the future should be disqualified. Ridiculous. Please know, none of these objections was ever raised before, and in fact, some now sitting on the Ethics Commission or who served with honor and distinction in the past would fail these new “tests.”

Impugning character and making up “tests” where none had existed are a disservice to our community. People should be judged on merit alone; otherwise, it will have a chilling effect on good people who may want to serve our community.

Every member of the Town Council has an absolute right to vote as they see fit on any matter before them. Whether you agree with their votes, they should not be subject to any form of perceived intimidation or harassment. I ask all elected officials and citizens to refrain from this kind of conduct as nothing is to be gained from it. For the sake of our community everyone needs to maintain civil discourse at all times.

However, while Council members are free to vote as they please, they are not free to impugn—either directly or by innuendo—the character of any nominee either before, during, or after the proceeding.

Typical politics says there must be a tit-for-tat response, that I should now “punish” the opposition by refusing to reappoint other Republicans, as was done to the Democrats in the previous administration. In the previous administration, qualified Democrats were rejected or ignored simply for being Democrats. I refuse to play that game.  I will continue to be balanced in both my appointments and reappointments. I will not repeat the bad behavior of the past. I will let my record in this regard speak for itself.

I intend to present to the Council another highly qualified nominee, just as was Sujata.  I hope the next person will be treated fairly and judged solely on their merits. We need to encourage people like Sujata to come forward, not discourage them.

This is election season. Mr. Massaro’s letter may well be a harbinger of my opponents’ theme in the upcoming election should I decide to run again, that is, that somehow after twenty-five years of service to our community, I have magically morphed into some uncivil political animal. Those who know me, including Mr. Massaro, know better.

I will continue to operate on a fair, transparent and civil basis. I urge all of my supporters to do this as well. This approach may put me at a disadvantage in the election, but while winning elections is clearly preferable to losing, what is far worse is to betray my principles.