Election will leave vacancy on Planning and Zoning Commission

Democratic candidate for Planning and Zoning Department Jennifer Leahy at the League of Women Voters Debate at Town Hall on Oct. 25, 2017. The other candidates were not present.
Democratic candidate for Planning and Zoning Department Jennifer Leahy at the League of Women Voters Debate at Town Hall on Oct. 25, 2017. The other candidates were not present.Justin Papp / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — The terms of five members of the Planning and Zoning Commission are expiring this November, but only four candidates are up for election.

The result will be a vacancy on the board following the election.

“What kind of screwed us up is two Republican resignations within the same cycle,” said sitting Planning and Zoning Chairman, Republican John Sini, who is also up for re-election to a two-year term. He was referring to Richard DiDonna, who resigned in September 2016, and former Chairman Susan Cameron, who resigned in March.

In the Nov. 7 election, in addition to Sini, two incumbent Republicans, Stephen P. Olvany, who has served since 2013, and James H. Rand, who was appointed after DiDonna’s resignation in 2016, will run uncontested for the land use board, along with Democrat newcomer Jennifer Leahy. Leahy will replace commissioner Eric Voigt, who is not seeking re-election.

Sini, the sole candidate running for a two-year term explained that, in essence, he is finishing out the term of one of the resigned commissioners.

Current commissioner Elizabeth Riva, who was appointed in May after Cameron’s departure, received an endorsement from the Republican party during its July caucus, but was left off the official ballot because of a technicality.

State law allows for a six member board, like Planning and Zoning, to have four majority party representatives, but does not allow a majority party to put four candidates on the ballot.

The number of votes constituents can cast for a particular board or commission is equal to the number of candidates each party is allowed to put forward. In this case, two for the four-year term, and one for the two-year term.

The vote totals are based on a 1959 Connecticut minority party representation statute, which created a “limited voting” scheme in the state. As part of this semi-proportional electoral system, electors have fewer votes than there are positions available.

The positions are awarded to the candidates who receive the most votes absolutely. In this case, residents can only choose two names on the ballot even though there are three open seats (for a four-year term).

“The actual Planning and Zoning Commission will appoint a commissioner just like they would under any other circumstances,” said Town Clerk Donna Rajczewski. ”The voting restrictions are to ensure minority representation.”

Both parties had the option of putting forth up to three candidates. The Democrats did not, not only for the Planning and Zoning Commission, but for the Board of Finance and Board of Education. According to Democratic Town Committee (DTC) Chairman David Bayne, the minority party has traditionally not put forth multiple candidates for boards and commissions below the selectmen, as competing candidates from the same party can sometimes cannibalize one another.

“That’s essentially because of proportionate representation those were the only seats allotted to us without a challenge. Typically committees don’t challenge anything but the top spot (First Selectman),” Bayne explained.

ju stin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1