Town officials say they’re considering dissolving the Utilities Commission, which has recently seen three resignations and currently lacks a quorum.
During Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan floated the idea of dissolving the commission—which in recent years has worked on initiatives related to cellular coverage, natural gas and solar energy—and replacing it with a Selectmen’s Technology Advisory Committee, which would simply advise the board on technology initiatives.
“Because of FOIA I can’t talk that much—outside of this meeting—but we’ve had three resignations on the Utilities Commission—which leaves us with not even a quorum,” Moynihan said during the special meeting, held at Town Hall. “They had to cancel their meeting last night—and I’ve been thinking about asking the Town Council to repeal the ordinance the created the Utilities Commission and replace it with a Selectmen’s Technology Advisory Committee.”
Moynihan said the main difference between the new Selectmen’s Technology Advisory Committee and the Utilities Commission is that the committee would simply advise the board on technology matters related to the town.
“The Technology Advisory Committee would work on how the town can employ technology to provide better, more efficient services to our citizens,” he said, adding that he got the idea for the committee from a town resident a couple of months ago.
“If you look at the ordinance that created the Utilities Commission—and I think it was established in 1989—it talks about facilitating relations between town residents and the public utilities … and I think it includes the telegram,” Moynihan said. “And, as of about six years ago, the Utilities Commission had gone dormant for almost a decade… So, it’s ‘utility’ as a commission was suspect.”
The Utilities Commission had been re-established by former First Selectman Rob Mallozzi about six years ago, primarily to study the prospect of bringing natural gas into New Canaan. Its chairman, Tom Tesluk, resigned last month after the election. Other former members include JoAnne Kennedy. Derek Bennett remains listed on the town website as a member of the commission, with Bob Clay and Wade Eyerly. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Bennett still serves on the volunteer group.
Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams also were in attendance at the meeting.
Williams said the Utilities Commission “sort of morphed into kind of a natural gas/wireless commission… and solar too.”
Moynihan said the results of the recent efforts with regard to cell service and natural gas, combined with the recent resignations, are what prompted him to consider dissolving the commission. Improving wireless coverage in New Canaan ranks among Moynihan’s priorities in the town’s highest-elected office.
“My thought is: Natural gas is done, cell service is not done… but since we lost our… since [Utilities Commission Chairman] Tom Tesluk resigned, he was largely the expert on cell services, so we no longer have that expertise… and I think we need to take a different approach to how we address the cell phone issue,” Moynihan said.
However, Moynihan added that the new Selectmen’s Technology Advisory Committee would not necessarily take on the issue of cell service.
What’s more, Moynihan suggested that solar energy become “the responsibility of the Conservation Commission … because it’s really more of an environmental issue.”
“It could stay with the new Technology Advisory Committee—but my druthers would be that we transfer [solar] to the Conservation Commission … which is now a chartered commission,” Moynihan said.
Moynihan emphasized that the new advisory committee would simply advise the Board of Selectmen on technology issues. “It will help us research items and bring in expertise… we have a lot off expertise in town,” he said. “I’m not proposing we do this today, just that we discuss it. First, I have to talk with the Town Council about repealing the ordinance—which is a simple item, if they agree with the concept.”
The discussion on the idea of dissolving the Utilities Commission came as part of the selectmen’s agenda item to appoint and re-appoint the members of numerous town board and commissions—a job which Moynihan said likely won’t be fully complete until sometime in January.
The board unanimously voted to re-appoint Bill Parrett for a three-year term on the Audit Committee, to expire Dec. 1, 2020. This reappointment is subject to confirmation by the Town Council.
The selectmen also voted 3-0 to re-appoint Colleen Baldwin to the Board of Finance for a four-year term expiring Nov. 15, 2021, and to appoint Todd Lavieri to the Board of Finance for a four-year term expiring Nov. 15, 2021. Lavieri replaces John Sheffield, finance board chairman. The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Town Council.
The board also unanimously voted to re-appoint Peggy Jay to the Ethics Board for a three-year term expiring Dec. 1, 2020.
The selectmen also voted 3-0 to re-appoint Thomas DeMartino, Paul Howes, Margaret Kirby, Daniel Stepanek and alternates George Perkins and Priscilla Woyke for two-year terms omg the Inland Wetlands Commission expiring Dec. 1, 2019.
Lastly, the board unanimously voted to re-appoint Jeanne Rozel, Carroll Yanicelli and alternates Ben Bilus and Luke Tashjian for two-year terms on the Zoning Board of Appeals expiring Dec. 1, 2019.