The appointed municipal body that oversees the New Canaan Police Department elected a new chair Wednesday night during an awkward organizational meeting.
Paul Foley, a member of the Police Commission since December 2013, was elected chairman by a 2-1 vote following a heated exchange between his predecessor in the role and the town’s highest elected official.
Sperry DeCew, a member of the Police Commission since June 2012, had served the past two years as chair.
As per section 15-3 of the Town Charter, the three-member Commission meets “promptly after” Dec. 1—typically in January—for the election of its own officers “at the call of the First Selectman.”
As First Selectman Kevin Moynihan opened the organizational meeting, held during the Commission’s regular meeting at police headquarters, DeCew said, “Let’s get on with this circus. Nominations for Commission chairman.”
Commissioner Jim McLaughlin—himself appointed one year ago to the Police Commission—nominated Foley. DeCew called for any other nominations. No one else was nominated.
Moynihan began to say, “Hearing none—”
This exchange followed:
DeCew: “It’s not your meeting. It’s not your meeting. All you do is ‘call’ the meeting.”
Moynihan: “Actually, the first selectman conducts the election.”
DeCew: “He does not.”
DeCew: “He does not. Read the book.”
Moynihan: “It’s been done by all first selectman before Rob Mallozzi.”
DeCew called for a vote on Foley’s nomination. Foley and McLaughlin voted in favor, DeCew against. Moynihan then called for nominations for the office of secretary.
Foley asked DeCew, “Sperry, do you want to do it?”
DeCew said, “I decline.”
McLaughlin was elected secretary by a 3-0 vote.
DeCew said, “I hope you will enjoy our imperial hegemony of Republicans in New Canaan. It’s a wonderful thing.”
DeCew is a Democrat. Foley and McLaughlin are both Republicans, as is Moynihan.
Foley said, “Sperry, you have done this for the last two years. I don’t understand your anger. And I am surprised at it, frankly. I’m just surprised.”
DeCew said, “Don’t be.”
The prior Commission chair, Republican Stuart Sawabini, had served four years in the role.
New Canaan’s boards and commissions are chaired by both Republicans and Democrats. Republican-led bodies include the Board of Finance, Town Council and Board of Selectmen. Democrats lead the Parks & Recreation, Planning & Zoning and Health & Human Services Commissions.
Asked during an interview Thursday whether the party affiliation of the chair on any of those bodies stands to change, Moynihan said, “Maybe one.”
Asked which one, he said, “I don’t think there is going to be a change on Planning & Zoning.”
He added, “In the case of Health and Human Services, [Chair] Judy Dunn has been on there for a while and it’s probably time for a change. What has happened with [former Human Services Director] Carol McDonald leaving and the new leadership in the staff—I’ve added Russ Barksdale and Barb Achenbaum, a Democrat, [to the Commission]. These are people in town who deal with public human services issues.”
Asked about his own view on the importance of party affiliation among those chairing local boards and commissions, Moynihan said, “Every board and commission is different.”
“It also is based upon the fact of someone doing it a few years and you want to make a change,” Moynihan continued. He added, “Sperry was elected two years ago and you have a Republican majority in a Republican town, and if Paul Foley wants to be chairman, then Paul Foley has a right to be chairman.”
Asked whether Republicans have discussed, in caucus, more uniform party representation across municipal chairmanships, Moynihan said, “I’m not going to comment on things that are party matters.”
In addition to serving on the Police Commission, DeCew—a 1965 New Canaan High Schoo graduate, Vietnam War veteran and local attorney—is a member of the Silver Hill Hospital Board of Directors and Kiwanis Club of New Canaan and is secretary of the New Canaan Cemetery Association. He has served on the Town Council and Board of Selectmen, is a Getabout founder and has served in the past as president of New Canaan Library and on the New Canaan Historical Society Board of Governors and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church vestry.