Saying New Canaan must apply more rigorous and objective criteria in vetting residents who offer to volunteer on key boards and commissions, a town woman on Tuesday offered to help create more useful standards for evaluation.
Andrea Sandor told members of the Board of Selectmen at their regular meeting that decisions made by groups such as the Planning & Zoning Commission “affect millions and millions of dollars of assets.”
“They affect the whole look of the town,” Sandor said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. “P&Z is probably the most important to take a look at in terms of criteria because they have such an impact on neighbors, on residents, on the look and feel of the town. They are one of the key [agencies] but yet the townspeople have little control over P&Z.”
Her comments came as the the board—First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams—voted unanimously to reappoint three regular and three alternate members of P&Z to three- and two-year terms, respectively: Jean Grzelecki, Kent Turner and Dick Ward, as well as John Kriz, Krista Neilson and Claire Tiscornia.
Sandor criticized the current process as overly lax.
“In a business, I don’ tknow if you would just say, ‘Who wants to do this?’ ” she said.
Moynihan and Williams pushed back on that characterization, saying that such appointments and reappointments are not rubber-stamped—rather, the selectmen conduct interviews and review references and biographies prior to making a decision about candidates a board or commission.
To Sandor’s assertion that a more “empirical” analysis would better serve New Canaan, Williams said: “I don’t think this is a science. We are asking people to give up a substantial amount of time to serve on these commissions. It’s not like the doors are being knocked down for people to get onto P&Z. That is just a fact.”
He added that criteria currently used in evaluating candidates includes qualifications and interest.
“I think there is a good vetting process, to reduce that to a scientific objective standard, I’m not sure what that means,” he said. “And certainly people bring different skills to our committees or commissions, whether they’re lawyers or Phd’s.”
Sandor opened by saying that the town should consider imposing term limits on groups such as P&Z, and said that one of the candidates under consideration for reappointment had already served on it for 23 years, while two others had served for 13 years.
Told by the selectmen that term limits rightly would come through the Charter revision process or an ordinance, Sandor asked about what criteria is used in evaluations.
“The numbers of votes or numbers of actions against the town because of their votes, that kind of thing,” she said.
Told that appointees to the volunteer bodies often are known to the selectmen, Sandor said: “So it’s not formal. It’s just subjective: ‘We know the people. They worked hard.’ ”
Devereaux said Sandor’s point about having consistent criteria was a good one “but I’m not sure unless it’s an ordinance that it can happen until the next Charter review.”
Moynihan noted that volunteers on town bodies recuse themselves in cases where there’s even a potential or remote conflict of interest.
“In fairness, I pay particular attention to P&Z because I do consider this an impactful commission and I spend a lot of time watching their meetings and I am very familiar with them,” Moynihan said. “So for these three appointments, in particular, I think I personally spent more time and talked to more people, so I think we are doing our job. I am not sure having new objective criteria would change that analysis.”
Moynihan added that he would like to add a standing public comments agenda item to selectmen meetings and that that would be one time that those with questions about appointments could raise them.