Contentious debate by the Town Council notwithstanding, there is a new member of the New Milford Board of Education.

Rodney Weinberg was selected Monday to fill the education board seat vacated by Democratic veteran and former school board chairman Lisa Diamond.

Diamond's resignation became official Feb. 1.

In a move Democrats described as a "power grab,'' Republican Town Council members stepped away from precedent to support Mr. Weinberg, 72, as a nominee without allowing the Democratic Town Committee (DTC) to make a recommendation.

Democrats learned of Mr. Weinberg's nomination last Friday after the council agenda had been revised, just prior to the close of business.

Protocol has long been that the respective Republican and Democratic town committees make nominations when one of their candidates resigns a seat.

The Democratic leaders described this Republican departure from such practice as an attempt to "stack'' the school board with fiscal conservatives who would limit money spent on education.

"I'm very uncomfortable... this has a smell to it, and I don't like it,'' said Democratic council member Walter Bayer.

"I don't think there is anything smelly about it,'' countered Republican council member Ray O'Brien, who said Mr. Weinberg was a legitimate choice for a seat that had become vacant during the critical budget season.

"I think it smells like a power grab,'' said Democratic council member Mary Jane Lundgren.

If Mr. Weinberg had wanted to be considered for this position, the Democratic council members said he should have come forth to the party and asked to be interviewed.

For Republicans to usurp that role showed a "lack of courtesy,'' said Democratic council member Peter Mullen.

"This was obviously a Republican nomination for a Democratic seat. I don't think that's fair,'' Mr. Mullen said.

By charter, the Town Council has the final vote on all such appointments.

Before Monday's final vote, Mr. Weinberg was asked to offer his qualifications and interest in the school board.

In his opening statement, Mr. Weinberg said, "I'm not a politician.''

Rather, he said, he is a businessman concerned about the way the schools spend money.

Mr. Weinberg said he favors "affordable education'' but, in this economy, does not believe residents can afford spending increases such as those proposed.

After the vote, DTC chairman John Lillis said he was "disappointed, but not surprised.

The Republicans "showed a certain arrogance'' in picking someone whose sole concern is "cutting the budget,'' he said.

Democratic school board member David Lawson said the GOP-dominated council's action was "political gamesmanship that promotes an atmosphere of incivility.''