Selectmen Devereaux and Williams Thank Mike Handler for Years of Effective Community Service

Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams on Tuesday thanked New Canaan’s recently ousted emergency management director for his years of effective volunteer work on behalf of the community. Citing a petition that has garnered more than 1,800 signatures calling for Mike Handler’s reinstatement, Devereaux during a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen said he’s owed “a huge ‘thank you’ for the years of service that he volunteered to our community.”

“Mike’s was a voice we heard over the years during times of emergency and he diligently and clearly and eloquently kept us informed and calm,” Devereaux said during the meeting, held via videoconference. “In my opinion, New Canaan should be celebrating the years of volunteer work that Mike gifted our town and for his dedication to our wellbeing. And whatever the misunderstanding that caused this event, it should not keep the town from acknowledging MH’s long and effective volunteer service to the community. I don’t think he has been thanked.”

The comments came during a general discussion of matters before the town.

New 12-Unit Building Proposed for Husted Lane

A residential property owner on the edge of downtown New Canaan is seeking permission to replace two 19th Century dwellings with a 2.5-story, 12-unit building. The proposed one- and two-bedroom building at 8 and 10 Husted Lane will include commercial space on the ground floor, and an application filed on behalf of the property owner by attorney Jacqueline Kaufman of Stamford-based Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey LLP includes a request to re-zone the properties from Residential B to Retail B. 

“The Retail B Zone contemplates multifamily developments, such as that proposed, and the property can support the proposed density comfortably and pursuant to the existing expectation and allowance within the Zone,” the application said. “The proposed development will serve as a meaningful transition between the surrounding zones, will have complementary standards and goals. The building is designed and situated on the property to maintain a low-profile appearance, is consistent with a New England aesthetic and represents a significant improvement over existing conditions. The updated architectural style also complements the quality of life for neighboring property owners.”

The Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled to take up the application at its regular meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday.

First Selectman in FOI’d Email: Town Council Chair Violated Code of Ethics 

The Town Council chair violated the Code of Ethics by mixing use of his own Realtor’s email account and promotion of a real estate panel with use of a town videoconferencing tool, New Canaan’s highest elected official said. Town Council Chair John Engel on May 17 promoted the panel through his Halstead email account, and in that email blast noted that the event would be held on a town Zoom account that was the same one he’d been using in his capacity as a public official, in a time slot that had been used for daily COVID-19 updates. In an email obtained by through a public records request, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan after being forwarded the promotional blast said that Engel “can’t use the Town’s Zoom account for his private real estate business activities.”

In fact, Engel had already used the Zoom account for a “conflicting meeting” without notifying the first selectman’s office, Moynihan said in an email to Selectman Nick Williams, adding, “This is an Ethics Code violation even [if] the financial benefit is small presumably.”

Questions around Engel’s use of the Zoom account appeared to start immediately after the promotional email went out of his Halstead address. Williams forwarded Moynihan the promotional blast that same morning, with a note saying: “I’m sorry, but isn’t this a mixing of a town resource/official position with a private business?”
Moynihan responded that Engel “has been indiscreet about building his email list for years.”

Moynihan said at first that he wasn’t sure Engel had committed a violation of the town Code of Ethics “when our email addresses are in the public domain.” But when Williams responded that Engel was using the town Zoom account “to establish a daily virtual town ‘meeting’ in his capacity as Chairman of our Town Council” and that he now was using the virtual daily gathering “as part of an ad campaign,” Moynihan said, “He should get his own account for his business.”

Under New Canaan’s Code of Ethics, “No official or employee shall participate in any Town or Board matter in which he or she has a financial interest or a personal interest,” where “official” refers to both elected and appointed officials.

Town Moves To Dismiss Firefighter’s Lawsuit

The town on Monday moved to dismiss parts of a civil lawsuit brought by a New Canaan firefighter claiming that municipal officials for years failed to address multiple instances of abuse by a superior in the department. 

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court (embedded below as a PDF), the town seeks to dismiss the firefighter’s claim of intentional inaction of emotional distress, saying he “fails to plead conduct amounting to extreme and outrageous conduct under Connecticut law.”

The firefighter also doesn’t make a case for hostile work environment or discriminatory practices, according to the motion to dismiss filed by attorneys Claire Ryan and Jonathan Zellner of Stamford-based Ryan Ryan Deluca LLP, because he “1. fails to plead facts showing that he experienced severe and pervasive harassment related to some protected characteristic; 2. fails to plead facts showing that he suffered an adverse employment action under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, perceived sexual orientation, or interracial association; and 3. fails to plead facts showing that he was treated differently from employees outside his protected class, respectively.”

The response from the town does not explicitly address five of the nine counts listed in the firefighter’s complaint, filed by Shelton-based attorney Michael Lynch of Lynch Law Group LLC. Those include negligent supervision of employees, negligent retention of employees, retaliation in violation of Title VII of Civil Rights Act, retaliation under Connecticut Fair Employment Practices and negligence.