In a rebuke of New Canaan’s highest elected official, the Town Council last week declined to appoint a nominee for a municipal committee that helps oversee financial reporting for the town government and school district.
The legislative body during its April 5 meeting voted 6-5, with one abstention, against appointing Roy Abramowitz to the Audit Committee.
As they have in the past, Councilmen opposing the appointment voiced concern with the process that landed the Abramowitz nomination in front of them. Specifically, they reiterated that since the Audit Committee is a creation of the Town Council itself, they should be involved earlier in vetting candidates.
One of the Council’s vice chairs, Penny Young, said that nothing’s bothered her “more than the events that have accompanied the nomination of the Audit Committee.”
Appearing to read from a prepared statement at the meeting, held in Town Hall and via videoconference, Young said, “Transparency and process are key components of sound and healthy government. And that includes the Town Council in making our decisions, as over my tenure on the Town Council I have stood strongly in support of these two dynamic concepts—transparency and process. Whereas the Town Council was not conferred with in this selection of nominees for the Audit Committee and whereas there appears to be parts of the ordinance forming the Audit Committee which warrant further study in order to assure deeper research into the ordinance, legal opinion indicates the process would be to vote down the nomination, after which the Town Council will begin a thorough analysis of the ordinance. This vote does not reflect—necessarily—on the qualifications of the nominee, who shall be invited to be part of the future considered nominees that allows us to go through the process, allowing further discussion and complete comfort as we make this decision.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what Young meant by “necessarily.” Abramowitz himself has a unique history in New Canaan.
The Audit Committee was established in 2014. Under Section 5-29 of the Town Charter, its purpose is to assist the town’s funding bodies—the Boards of Selectmen and Finance, and the Town Council—vis-á-vis “[t]he integrity of the Town’s financial statements, financial reporting processes and systems of internal accounting and controls” and “annual independent audit of the Town’s financial statements,” among other areas.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, who sets the agenda for the Board of Selectmen, voted last month in favor of recommending Abramowitz as an appointee to the Audit Committee (as did Selectman Nick Williams; Selectman Kathleen Corbet abstained). Moynihan said at the time that Abramowitz’s nomination “has the support of all members of the Audit Committee”—an assertion later challenged by some. Moynihan then pushed for the Town Council to take up that nomination during a subsequent meeting of the legislative body, despite Chair Steve Karl and others saying they didn’t want to act on it.
Ultimately, those voting in favor of Abramowitz’s appointment last week were Councilmen Luke Kaufman, Maria Naughton, Mike Mauro, Cristina A. Ross and Kimberly Norton. Those voting against were Karl, Young, Vice Chair Mark Grzymski and members Hilary Ormond, Robin Bates-Mason and Tom Butterworth. Councilman Rita Bettino abstained.
Abramowitz, a CPA, said during a prior Council meeting that he’d already been vetted in the past for a seat on the Audit Committee, with which he’s been working closely.
Mauro cited that 2018 vetting in explaining his own thinking.
“I can understand preserving the integrity of a process,” Mauro said. “But at least from what I’ve learned of this particular candidate, the history behind his vetting process, I’m a little concerned about changing things up now, saying ‘Hold up, wait, let’s now submit this to Bylaws and Ordinances’ and ‘Let’s vet it out and talk and come up with a revised or modified process.’ Any time you’re kind of changing the rules of the road as we go along, or past practice. And one of the most compelling points that I heard last time was how when the DTC [Democratic Town Committee] nominates somebody to the first selectman, the name comes right forward. So I’m a little concerned about changing past practices. But I understand it’s the will of the Council to have the nominee resubmit to a revised process in the future. I just have a big problem when we are now, to me, at least from my perspective, it seems that we are changing things up a little bit midstream right when we’re supposed to be voting on the candidate.”
Ross said she was concerned because the Town Council has “approved and voted on candidates before in the same manner that this has been presented, and we haven’t had an issue.”
“It seems that it all stops here and I’m very concerned about that because it’s not a reflection on the candidate as much as a reflection on us,” she said. “And if the Board of Selectmen did not communicate directly to us, that is on us and on them. But I think that we owe it to the candidate to vote on it and then make the necessary corrections so that this does not happen again.”
After the vote, Abramowitz could be heard complaining about how some members of the Council cited “process” as their reason for turning down his candidacy.
“Ira Bloom said the process was right,” Abramowitz said, referring to the town attorney. “This is an assassination of my character.” He added that the Town Council should try and “go find better candidates” and called them a “bunch of backstabbers.”
Here’s a bookmark to that part of the Town Council meeting (story continues below):
Following the Town Council’s vote, and before Abramowitz’s interjections, Karl said, “The way I would frame this is, ‘Process wins out.’ ”
“And I want to make it perfectly clear: This is not a reflection on the candidate,” Karl added. “It’s a reflection on the process.”
Karl said the Town Council essentially voted in favor of making its next steps to have its Bylaws and Ordinances Committee look at the Audit Committee ordinance “and ask that we be part of the decision-making on our committee.”
When Ross responded by saying, “But Steve, that’s not what we were voting on,” the chair answered, “It’s the way I voted.”
“I don’t know how you voted but that’s the way I voted,” Karl said. “Because that’s how I’m thinking of this. I don’t care if it’s the queen of England who we put forth. I’m talking about the process and that’s how I voted. So we need to move on from this, because we’ve spent way too much time on this.”