NORWALK, Conn. – Some Norwalk political notes for you:
- Republican praises Rilling, defends long delay
- Lawyer to Council: You can’t create term limits
- Melendez moves up a notch
Mayor Harry Rilling left an important Republican Commission seat open for nearly seven months and then – zip – within minutes, Tony Lopez was in.
Lopez called Rilling at 3:15 p.m. Feb. 28 and volunteered to be on the Police Commission and the Traffic Authority. “I had him sworn in that minute,” Rilling said at last month’s Fire Commission meeting. At 4 p.m., Lopez was on the job,
Republican Common Council member Tom Keegan said that’s fine.
“Lots of names are bandied about, at the end of the day it’s his decision,” Keegan said last week. “… It took a while for that right person to appear. And as soon as we were able to make the proposal of Tony Lopez, the Mayor went, ‘That’s the guy.’ Pretty simple. It’s no more complicated than that.”
Then-Republican State Central member Kelly Straniti left the Commission and Authority on Aug. 7 when she moved to Washington D.C. to pursue a career in Homeland Security.
In early February, Keegan who represents District D and plans to resign July 1, said he’d submitted many candidates to Rilling and “The Republican Party believes strongly that there be equal and balanced representation on such an important commission.”
There are three members on each body. Without Straniti, Rilling and Commissioner Fran Collier-Clemmons, both Democrats, had carried on as a two-member body.
“I don’t know what the hold up is,” said Republican Town Committee Chairman Fred Wilms.
Rilling said, “It’s important to select the right individual.” He had narrowed down the field to seven candidates who he thought were “better suited to the position. It was down to two, and “I will be selecting in the next few days.”
Rilling, on Feb. 28, said he had been alerted to Lopez as a possible Commissioner four days earlier. But that Tuesday was the first time they talked.
Last week, Keegan said, “Good for the mayor that he tried to get the right people.”
A lawyer’s wet blanket
You think term limits for the Mayor or any other Norwalk elected official should be written into the charter? You’re out of luck.
There’s no legal foundation for term limits, Attorney Steven Mednick advised the Common Council recently. To adopt local term limits there would need to be an express grant of authority in the General Statutes.
He compared the issue of “term limits” to that of “recall,” citing a mid-80s case, Simons v. Canty, which he said invalidated “recall” in Connecticut, except for a handful of communities that were granted such authority through a Special Act prior to the enactment of the Home Rule Act in the late 1950s.
Mednick expressed confidence that a court would follow the rule established by the State Supreme Court in the 1980s.
Mednick advises Charter Revision Commissions around the state. He said one Commission member recently told him of a Fairfield County town that has term limits, and he replied “Well, either they have a Special Act, because there are five towns in Connecticut that do have recall because they have Special Act recall, or they made a mistake.”
A “Special Act” is a law adopted by the General Assembly for a specific jurisdiction, Mednick explained to NancyOnNorwalk. “They are used very sparingly in the modern era; although they do get adopted form time-to-time.”
Mednick didn’t say what town he was referring to, but described it as “a little bit north of you and a little bit east of you.”
Bethany’s charter was revised in 2019. It states that neither the Mayor nor Council members can serve more than three consecutive four-year terms.
Mednick said he called a Charter Revision Commission member. “He’s a lawyer in Hartford, not a Home Rule lawyer. And he said, ‘All of the law was silent on that. So we thought we could do it.’”
But, “Silence is not authority, you need an Express Grant of Authority,” Mednick said. “So that town, little bit north of you and a little bit east of you, doesn’t have term limits. It’s on their books, but they don’t have it, and they couldn’t enforce it. If they went to court, they’d have a big (problem).”
About a year ago, then-Bristol Corporation Counsel Wyland Dale Clift said he agreed with Mednick’s opinion. Mednick also guided the Hamden Charter Revision Commission to give up on term limits, according to the New Haven Independent.
If you’re watching television and an ad for Gov. Ned Lamont comes on, you might notice a familiar name down in the right-hand corner of the screen.
Norwalk Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez is serving as treasurer for the governor’s reelection campaign.
Melendez was elected Connecticut Democratic Party treasurer in 2019, when she was still a Council member.
Asked about the Lamont campaign, she said, “I’m doing everything I can to help Democrats up and down the ballot.”
The Lamont campaign had raised $1,374,195.34 as of March 31, according to the documents filed by Melendez. Expenses paid were $742,795.32 and the Committee had $631,400.02 on hand.