Ousted New Milford mayor fails in attempt to fill 107 positions in last Town Council meeting
Updated 11:04 am, Tuesday, November 21, 2017
NEW MILFORD — Outgoing Mayor David Gronbach hit several roadblocks before failing in his attempt to fill 107 positions on 31 town boards at what was supposed to be his last Town Council meeting this week.
But he could try again next week by calling for a special meeting.
All appointments needed to be approved by the council Monday night, but the legislative body was deadlocked from the start with three Republicans and three Democrats. Moreover, the meeting was twice stopped while the town attorney, Rebecca Rigdon, researched whether there were legal or procedural impediments to moving forward.
After more than two hours of contention, the motion to approve Gronbach’s slate failed in a 3-3 vote. Gronbach could not break the tie because appointments need a two-thirds Town Council majority to go through.
Before that, Gronbach had tried to push the appointments to a yet to be slated special meeting — when he might get a Democratic majority — but was stymied by GOP council members, who contended the mayor needed a two-thirds majority to even decide whether to table the appointments.
Gronbach did not say if he would try the appointments again next week, and did not respond to follow up requests for comment, but council Vice Chair Mary Jane Lundgren, a Democrat, said the mayor plans to rethink his appointments and try again.
“We’ll be back next week with some revisions,” she said.
Town GOP Chair Mike Barnes said he feared as much.
“He’s going to change the slate to remove people who are clearly ineligible, but will still start to stack the slate,” Barnes said.
If Democrats have a majority at the future meeting, Barnes hopes “they think it’s as distasful as we do” and vote the appointments down.
Five intended appointees to alternate seats on three boards are candidates who lost election to those boards Nov. 7. Gronbach also wanted to appoint himself to the Library Modernization and Construction Committee and his wife, Vanessa, to the Ethics Commission.
Gronbach and Democrats argued throughout the night it was within his power to make the appointments, and former Mayor Pat Murphy had done the same before she left office two years ago. Democrats said Murphy made 124 appointments in her last two meetings before Gronbach took office.
Vanessa Gronbach’s proposed appointment proved particularly contentious, because she was put forward as an “unaffiliated” appointee although she was a registered Democrat until just days ago.
Barnes said the comparison was like “apples to elephants.”
“The most bizarre one of these is the mayor’s wife changing from Democrat to an unaffiliated to stack the ethics commission … an unethical move,” he added.
About 100 people attended the meeting, and some dozen people spoke during the public comment portion, most of whom chided the mayor to rounds of applause.
“When this type of corruption within the town’s government goes against the will of the people, as it will tonight it goes against the free democratic society that we live in and we depend on to make sure of our future,” said Jeff McBreairty. “If this transpires tonight, then corruption abounds in our town, and you will all define the very fiber of what the word corruption means.”
The appointments, including a number of reappointments, had already spurred outrage among council Republicans and many residents on a community Facebook page.
Republicans feared the appointments would go through because Gronbach’s Democrats control the council with a 5-4 majority until Dec. 1, when Republicans will assume the majority. Mayor-elect Pete Bass, a Republican, also will take office next month.
“This is deceitful and underhanded, to say the least,” Councilman Tom Esposito wrote on Facebook.
Former Democratic Town Committee Chairman Andy Grossman defended Gronbach’s last-minute appointments, saying Murphy prevented the incoming mayor from filling dozens of positions.
“Here are the minutes from Pat Murphy's final two meetings in (November) 2015, when she made a bunch of last-minute appointments to most of the boards and commissions, robbing incoming Mayor Gronbach from filling them,” Grossman wrote. “If the Republicans lose in 2019, they will be able to do the same thing. So let’s not be hypocrites here, OK?”
Grossman himself, who lost his bid for the Board of Finance, was nominated for two commission seats Monday.
Republicans and former town officials under Murphy struck back on Facebook.
“This is in no way close to what you people are trying to pull, and you know it,” wrote former Finance Director Ray Jankowski.
Among the proposed appointees are John Kane, who lost his bid for a Town Council seat and was nominated for an alternate seat on the Zoning Commission, and Jeff Winter, who failed in a bid for Board of Finance but is nominated for an alternate seat on that board and full seats on the Sewer Commission and two town committees.
An alternate board member has full voting rights when full members are absent from meetings.
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