Letter: Herbst should revoke Ethics Commission appointment

To the Editor:

There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the appointment of the latest alternate member of the Ethics Commission in town. The issue arose because the Town Charter prohibits two members of the same political party from serving as alternates, thereby preventing domination of the Ethics Committee by any one political party. As one republican was already serving, the Charter required that other appointee be from another party or unaffiliated. Mr. Herbst appointed a person who had been a republican for over 30 years and who changed his affiliation immediately prior to being appointed. By renouncing his republican affiliation, he was technically able to serve without violating the letter of the Charter.

In spite of the fact that the appointment satisfied the letter of the Charter, I believe it violated the spirit of the Charter and Connecticut State law. The statute providing for so-called “minority representation” is Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-167a, which reads in part: “a person shall be deemed to be a member of the political party on whose enrollment list his name appears on the date of his appointment..., provided any person who has applied for erasure or transfer of his name from an enrollment list shall be considered a member of the party from whose list he has so applied for erasure or transfer for a period of three months from the date of the filing of such application.” This statute appears designed to prevent these types of last-minute switches, requiring a 3-month waiting period that did not occur here.

Further, Connecticut case law has disapproved of efforts to circumvent these rules to the detriment of the minority, as in the 1972 case of Santaniello v. O'Connor, which states: “It is held and concluded that the present composition of the board in question is illegal in that it violates the spirit and intendment of the minority representation statute. … This could work a disadvantage to minority voters which the statute patently was designed to forestall and to prevent. Obviously, the lawmakers never intended that the statute should be circumvented in the manner attempted.” I will be the first to admit that this case deals with elected officials and is therefore not dispositive of this issue. But the important part is that there, a here, it appears that the “spirit and intendment” of the statute was violated, and the same concerns regarding one-party domination apply.

For this reason, I call on Mr. Herbst: please revoke this appointment. I am sure that the gentleman you proposed has many qualities and can find some other way to serve Trumbull. But however talented he may be, his appointment violates the spirit of minority representation and, very likely if not clearly, the state law intended to limit the power of the majority. While I am sure Mr. Herbst can obtain a legal opinion stating that these authorities do not apply, there is no question that the spirit of these rules has been violated.

When people have asked similar questions in the past, Mr. Herbst and his supporters have responded with suggestions that such people should file a lawsuit if they believe the law has been broken. I hope this will not be the response, and in any case I do not plan on doing so. First of all, I think we have had enough lawsuits in town lately. Secondly, I don’t believe we should have to force our leaders to follow the law – they should do it because it is right and they have taken oaths to do so. The proper course of action after making a mistake is to admit the mistake and then to take steps to remedy it. Doing so demonstrates both humility and maturity. I hope that is the course Mr. Herbst will take here.

Anthony Musto