Questions continue over makeup of wetlands agency

The future of the leadership of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency (IWWA) remains in doubt after the Board of Selectmen deferred action on naming a new member last week.

The selectmen had been poised to act during a special meeting on May 15, but after meeting with Elliot Benton, the agency’s secretary, action has been held off for more information to be heard. Last month the selectmen did not renominate longtime IWWA Chairman Lawrence Perry to a new term, but he continues to serve in his role as no new member has been named to replace him. Once the new member is named, a new chairman would be elected by the agency members.

However, agency members are still making public requests to the selectmen that Mr. Perry be allowed to stay. Mr. Benton appeared at the May 15 meeting and urged the selectmen to publicly discuss why Mr. Perry had not been renominated and advised against promoting alternate IWWA member Scott Salisbury to a full-time member, which the selectmen had been poised to do at that meeting.

The question of Mr. Perry’s future on the agency has been before the selectmen for some time. Last month his name was formally introduced a second time for renomination after his term expired on March 31 by First Selectman Peter Tesei, but there was not a second from either Selectman David Theis or Selectman Drew Marzullo, effectively ending the nomination. While Mr. Perry’s name could be reintroduced and voted on, so far there is no indication it will be.

In order to replace Mr. Perry on the agency, the selectmen had said they wanted to first consider the three alternates. At the May 15 meeting, Mr. Tesei said that alternates Jacob Schondorf and Norma Kerlin had declined interest in it but that Mr. Salisbury was willing and the nomination was moved. But before it could be voted upon, Mr. Benton spoke up and questioned whether Mr. Salisbury was ready for the position in the agency, which evaluates construction projects to see their impact on town wetlands and watercourses.

According to Mr. Benton, in his time on the agency, which began more than a year ago, Mr. Salisbury had not attended any of the training sessions for members. While these are not required for alternate members, Mr. Benton said he had gone when he was an alternate, as had all the others, and that they were encouraged to do so.

“Why would you select someone who has no training and no experience in running a meeting to sit on a board and replace someone who has technical expertise, understands the town, has experience in this area and knows how to run a meeting?” Mr. Benton said. “It’s beyond me why you would do this.”

Ultimately, Mr. Marzullo said that he was concerned enough about the possibility that Mr. Salisbury had not been properly trained that he would prefer to wait until more information was in. The selectmen ended up taking no action at the meeting, but it could come up again as soon as the Board of Selectmen’s meeting today, May 23,

Once a person’s term on a town board or commission ends, the person stays on for the next four months or until a replacement is approved. The March 31 expiration would put that time limit at July, but after June the RTM is not scheduled to meet until September, and unless the selectmen take action at today’s meeting, it is unlikely anything will be heard at the June meeting.

Mr. Benton said that this was not a personal issue about Mr. Salisbury, and that if the selectmen did ultimately put him on as a full member of the IWWA, there would be no objection from him and his colleagues.

“If he is made a full member, he will be treated with the utmost respect and there will be no personal problems with him,” Mr. Benton assured the selectmen. “This isn’t Scott’s doing. … The situation for me isn’t about Scott. It’s about how Perry was treated and the fact that you don’t have an alternate that is truly qualified to step up.”

Mr. Salisbury could not be reached for comment by the Post by the deadline for this week’s edition.

While Mr. Tesei encouraged Mr. Benton to speak at the public meeting, he criticized what he said he considered public campaigning from both agency members and members of the town’s wetlands department, citing director Michael Chambers by name, for the selectmen to renominate Mr. Perry to a new term. Mr. Tesei called this “an issue of governance” and said it was the role of the selectmen to nominate people to town boards and commissions and then send them to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) for consideration. He estimated that 99% of people willing to continue serving were renominated but it was the selectmen’s decision to make and they had decided not to go forward with Mr. Perry.

“When you have members of the staff advocating for someone to be able to continue as head of the agency, it’s like they’re trying to pick their own boss,” Mr. Tesei said, adding that he did not have any personal issues with Mr. Chambers, but felt this was a decision best left to the selectmen.

In an interview with the Post on Friday, Mr. Chambers agreed there are no issues between himself and Mr. Tesei or with his department and the Board of Selectmen. He did, however, dispute that he had been “campaigning” for Mr. Perry, saying the extent of his actions was to forward an email to the three selectmen from a member of the public that he considered to be “improper contact” because he felt it threatened the agency if a member sought renomination.

Mr. Chambers did not reveal the specifics of this email or who it was from, but these communications were also alluded to during the May 15 discussion between Mr. Benton and the selectmen, again without specifics. Mr. Chambers said he was told it was inappropriate for him to have sent the email and that since then he has taken no steps to be involved in this. He stressed that his interest in the matter was strictly so he could report back to the agency members per his duties as department director and that he attended meetings of the selectmen and the RTM regarding all members of the agency, not just Mr. Perry.

“I’m a little perplexed by all of this,” Mr. Chambers said, later adding humorously, “If I am campaigning for my chairman then I’m doing a poor job of it.”

At the May 15 meeting, Mr. Tesei pledged that if there was second for it he would introduce Mr. Perry’s name again and vote in favor of him, despite all the issues. Mr. Theis, however, indicated that his position had not changed and said he would not vote for him, citing what he said was Mr. Perry inappropriately making an opinion known on a matter before it came to IWWA. While Mr. Theis did not publicly state which development he was referring to, it is believed that it is the controversial development of residential property in Cos Cob into a new home for the Greenwich Reform Synagogue, which neighbors have strongly objected to.

Mr. Theis did not indicate what opinion he believed Mr. Perry had expressed and what form he expressed it in, leading to an exchange with Mr. Benton where he said he didn’t believe Mr. Perry would do that and Mr. Theis asking if Mr. Benton was calling him a liar. However, the two men ultimately left the meeting on good terms and shook hands. Mr. Theis thanked Mr. Benton for taking the time to come to the meeting and making his voice heard.

Mr. Perry, who did not attend the May 15 Board of Selectmen meeting, has denied Mr. Theis’ accusations and Mr. Theis insisted “I know what I heard.”

In an interview with the Post on Friday, Mr. Perry said it was his understanding that this did involve the synagogue construction and again denied ever having said anything about the project’s merits.

“Dave has either been misled or misunderstood,” Mr. Perry said. “I have no opinion to express on this project. I have not received any information at all about this project. I don’t even know where there is a wetland on the property. I don’t know what he’s talking about and I don’t recall ever mentioning the synagogue project.”

Mr. Theis said this was also a good time for new blood to be brought onto IWWA.

“He’s been there for 14 years and I’m a firm believer in term limits, ourselves included,” Mr. Theis said. “It’s good to be able to have new leadership.”

He later added, “We need people who are more objective and are willing to pass the baton.”

Mr. Marzullo said he was reluctant to discuss this in the meeting since Mr. Perry wasn’t there to be able to respond to anything that was said. While insisting he would vote for him, Mr. Tesei said he was “disappointed” in Mr. Perry’s demeanor at a meeting they had had over this, saying that he seemed disinterested in what was happening, and in his behavior subsequent to it when this has become public.

Mr. Perry told the Post that he had expressed in the past a willingness to step aside as chairman if former agency Vice Chairman John Conte had wanted to become chairman. But when Mr. Conte had to step down from the board he felt that it was best to have someone there who had experience to help get others ready to take over leadership positions in the future.

“I told the selectmen I was happy to continue to serve if I was wanted and I was told I wasn’t wanted,” Mr. Perry said.

 

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