New Canaan Woman Calls for More Robust, Objective Criteria in Evaluating Appointees for Town Boards, Commissions

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.

9 thoughts on “New Canaan Woman Calls for More Robust, Objective Criteria in Evaluating Appointees for Town Boards, Commissions

  1. We are all so fortunate to have this extraordinary group of elected leaders at Town Hall. Kevin, Nick, Andrew, Claudia and Kit – they all seem to share a KNACK for knowing how to get it right. (wink)

  2. Mr. Moynihan would be wise to add the “standing public comments agenda item” to the Town meetings. It could guide their “KNACK” in making decisions. Also, it provides a helpful “thermometer” to take their public’s temperature.

  3. I wonder what more “objective criteria” for selecting P&Z commissioners would look like, Andrea. I’m not sure that implementing “The numbers of votes or numbers of actions against the town because of their votes, that kind of thing,” would be a very good criterion. You can have, and this town certainly does, odd characters with bees in their bonnet about very specific issues, bringing legislation against the town for P&Z decisions. Why should we give undue weight to the minority voices of these very small groups in selecting out P&Z commission?

  4. I think that term limits are a good idea. I am one of many in our Town who feel that our P&Z Board is developer friendly and out if step with the wishes of a Newcanaanites to preserve our Village and adhere to the zoning rules we have. Time for change to reflect this in the make up of P&Z.

  5. Andrea makes some very good points. Completely agree with term limits for appointed and elected officials. Term limits would eliminate cronyism, foster diversity of opinions and transparency. The “this is the way it has always been done” mentality. Many of the concerns such as the point raised at the Board of Ed regarding a curriculum committee or the FOI meeting issue is due to an unwillingness to be open and transparent and have a healthy balanced dialog.

  6. So term limits on something that “….the doors are not getting knocked down for….”, as accurately described by Mr. Williams – how realistic is that? P&Z takes a balanced and realistic look in their work. They are dedicated, hard working, and let’s not forget that they are volunteers. They truly are interested in preserving the character of this town, as are most people here, including developers like me. They are also realistic. They realize that change is indeed inevitable, so it’s far better for the town to have a hand in it than not. They do not subscribe to the delusion of a very small, yet vocal, group of people that despise any change whatsoever and want to freeze the look of the town exactly as it is now. That “now” has evolved and always has. At one point the mid-century modern movement was new, and there was opposition. Now it’s a town gem and a point of attraction for people from all over the globe. Change will happen, but it’s up to us to guide it. Delibarate, controlled change is the task for P&Z, which they handle well. Evolution and preservation.

  7. So Jack, what year do you think the Town of New Canaan was perfect, was it 1962, 1984, some point in 2001? Well thought out change and zoning updates is what is needed to keep a community vibrant. Additionally, the updating and change to real estate is what helps a Town keep it real estate taxes reasonable.

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