Letter: Rules not followed after resignation

To the Editor:

Last week, two Democrats filed suit against the Republican Town Clerk for refusing to accept petitions seeking a special election to replace Board of Finance member and State Rep. David Rutigliano, who resigned on Nov. 27.

Those Democrats, Vicki Tesoro and Tom Kelly, argue that the 10-day deadline imposed by the Town Charter for filing such petitions had not yet passed. They also argue — and I agree — that there was a deliberate, concerted effort to conceal Rep. Rutigliano’s resignation from the public in order to avoid a special election.

With the next municipal election two years away, the public should elect Rep. Rutigliano’s replacement. I believe transparency and open government are important principles worth standing up for. They’re not empty campaign rhetoric to be dismissed when they become inconvenient. First Selectman Tim Herbst sees this differently.

We as a community should permanently eliminate the political games that occur every time a position is vacated where a special election is possible. The Charter sets a deadline, but it does not provide specific requirements for disclosure to the public. As a result, the party in power has an incentive to keep a resignation quiet until after the 10-day deadline. This is because the Charter allows the first selectman to appoint a replacement for the uncompleted portion of a term if no petitions are filed.

There are a number of things to consider in fixing this in the Charter. Here are some suggestions:

• Require the chairperson of the board or commission where the vacancy occurs to formally announce to all members and alternates — from both parties — that the vacancy has occurred, and make that date the start of the 10-day countdown for petitions.

• Post the vacancy on the town Website and start the countdown from that date.

• Expand the 10-day window for filing petitions.

We can and should consider all of these things and more. Still, it’s important to note that even as we seek to improve the Charter, Mr. Kelly and Ms. Tesoro are arguing that the rules in place now were not followed.

Just a short observation on Rep. Rutigliano. He continued to serve on the Board of Finance for a year after being elected to the Connecticut legislature. He missed some votes on the finance board because of his duties in Hartford. Other than his resignation letter, quietly submitted the day before the long Thanksgiving weekend, he said nothing to his constituents. He stayed in two demanding elected positions, I believe, not because he felt he could do both effectively. He did it, I think, because Mr. Herbst asked him to. And then he resigned after the 2013 election, denying his constituents a chance to vote on his replacement.

So remember this: When given the chance to do the right thing by his constituents or the right thing by Mr. Herbst, Rep. Rutigliano chose to do the right thing by Mr. Herbst. That should be part of the conversation as he seeks reelection to the legislature this fall.

Tony Silber