Tensions arise during selectmen discussion on police commission vacancy
Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said Monday she “will not allow” the board to be bullied into making a rushed decision in selecting a police commission candidate.
Stevenson’s comments were made at the June 22 Board of Selectman meeting, shortly after Selectman David Martin brought up filling the vacancy left by the recent resignation of Darien Police Commissioner Thomas Joyce.
Joyce, a Republican commissioner since 2014, resigned upon request by Stevenson after tweets that he called “insensitive” made on his personal Twitter account were brought to the selectmen’s attention by Darien resident Reed Barthold.
At the Board of Selectmen meeting, while Stevenson was about to speak on new business topics, Martin interrupted Stevenson by saying that, according to the town’s guidelines for the police commissioner, no more than two-thirds of the total number of members can be registered under the same political party.
The current members of the Darien Police Commission are Kevin Cunningham, who is a former Democrat but now registered as a “U” for Unaffiliated, and Kim Huffard, who is a registered Republican.
It is customary in Darien’s history for the town committee of the political party represented by the vacated seat to nominate a candidate, but the empty seat on the commission can be filled by a Republican, Unaffiliated or Democrat. The ultimate authority lies with the Board of Selectmen.
Martin said there was previously a “very qualified nominee who was presented to us prior to Mr. Joyce’s resignation, so I’m happy if the RTC can produce someone quickly, but I would offer that we should entertain, vet and vote on a new candidate for the next meeting,” Martin said.
Martin was referring to Sharad Samy, who was the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsed candidate for a vacancy on the police commission last August. Both Cunningham and Samy were interviewed to fill the vacancy by the DTC, and the DTC endorsed Samy. However, the board majority voted to appoint Cunningham.
Stevenson then asked Martin if he would like to entertain a motion to amend the Board of Selectmen agenda to discuss this topic.
Three members voted in favor — Sarah Neumann, Martin and Stevenson, while two were opposed — Kip Koons and Christa McNamara.
Stevenson said she would have appreciated Martin had contacted her in advance to let her know of his plans to discuss the police commission candidate at the meeting.
“We could have added it to the agenda,” she said.
Additionally, she said, “It is always customary when there is an untimely resignation death, departure, of a sitting member of a board or commission, that the political party for which they represent is given the opportunity to put forward a replacement candidate. And that is exactly what I’ve done.”
The Board of Selectmen can entertain any candidates — of any political party — to fill this particular position, according to Stevenson.
“Interestingly, we received a renomination of Sherard Samy on June 12,” she said. “I wasn’t sure why I received that since there wasn’t a vacancy for the Democratic position on the police commission. That may have become clear to me now.”
Stevenson said the Board of Selectmen received a pending a nomination from the RTC of Brent Hayes, a former RTM Finance & Budget Committee member.
“So each party has put forward two potential candidates that this board has seen before, for our consideration,” Stevenson said.
She added that a lot of discussion goes into the selection of a police commissioner.
“The Board of Selectmen, as we always do, will have a thorough and thoughtful process, particularly at this time, around who will become our next police commissioner,” she said.
“Listening and learning”
Stevenson continued: “There’s a lot of difficult dialogue that needs to happen across the country, here in our state, and in our town, and we have to find some solutions. One of those solutions is finding the right police commissioner. That has to be done in a collaborative manner. This is a time for us to be listening and learning, and to understand what exactly our department needs at this moment in our history. But I will not allow this board to be bullied into rushed decisions, nor will I allow this process to corrupted by a group of people who are focusing on a political agenda and a power grab.”
There will be more to come on this issue, according to Stevenson.
Martin then said he was sorry if Stevenson thinks there is bullying and a political agenda.
He said the DTC’s nomination was given in anticipation of Cunningham’s term, which is expiring on June 30.
“We can certainly be interviewing both he and Mr. Samy to fill that position,” Stevenson said. “We will be able to interview everyone.”
Possibly adding more members
The Board of Selectmen is considering expanding the membership of the police commission to five members.
Stevenson said for many years she thought this would be “a wise decision and beneficial to the oversight of the Darien Police Department.”
Other commission members were in favor of that idea.