Saying they felt poorly treated in their volunteer roles, two members of a town body that oversees the New Canaan Department of Human Services on Thursday resigned from their positions.
Judy Dunn, a member of the Human Services Commission since 2010 and its chair for the past five years, said in a letter read aloud at the appointed body’s regular meeting that First Selectman Kevin Moynihan had acted inappropriately in selecting the nine-member body’s next chair himself.
Because the Commission had a quorum, the first selectman also had been incorrect in January to postpone an organizational meeting for the body to elect its own chair, Dunn said in her letter, and wrongly asserted that Commissioner Renate Dolphin should resign for missing meetings.
“Mr. Moynihan said Renate Dolphin had missed three meetings and should be asked to resign,” Dunn said in the letter, read out by Commissioner Alicia Meyer. “He said I should ask her to resign. The Charter says that if you miss three successive meetings without an adequate excuse, there shall be cause for removal by unanimous vote by the Board of Selectmen. This is not what has happened with Mrs. Dolphin. Considering these things, I am going to resign today as chair and from the Commission. The goodwill has been taken away.”
Moynihan thanked Dunn for her service to the town and said he wasn’t aware of her intention to resign through the letter.
“But just to correct the record as far as Judy,” he said during the meeting, held in the former Outback Teen Center building where Human Services now is located. “Judy came to my office on a Monday three weeks ago, the Monday before that meeting in January. We had a discussion. So, I was kind of surprised that Judy acted the way she did at the meeting on the 15th, because we’d had a discussion on Monday. You know, it’s traditional that the chairmanships of commissions change over time. Judy served. I would like this Commission to be more effective than it has been. Another member of this Commission resigned because it wasn’t accountable and it wasn’t data-driven. So I would like to see this Commission be more effective.”
According to draft minutes from the Commission’s Jan. 15 meeting, Moynihan “stated that he is going to ask Renate Dolphin to resign, and that he wants Barb Achenbaum to join the commission.”
“He further announced that he wants to replace Judy Dunn as the chair of the commission,” the minutes said. “Alicia Meyer stated that she has been happy with Judy’s leadership and questioned the need for a change.”
Meyer confronted Moynihan during Thursday’s meeting, saying she had spoken with the commissioner who recently resigned, identified as Carol Blauvelt.
“I spoke with that Commission member after the meeting, when Judy was embarrassed—I thought in a very cruel manner, by what was said about her—and I spoke with the former commissioner that was cited as resigning because of the ‘ineffectiveness of the Commission,’ ” Meyer said. “She said that had nothing to do with Judy. She said that had everything to do with Carol McDonald. And that she actually felt that Judy actually did a very good job working around Carol McDonald. So, I don’t understand why Judy is being asked to take the fall with issues with Carol McDonald.”
McDonald is the former director of Human Services. Town officials in November said that she was out of medical leave, and then said that she had resigned. The circumstances of her departure are unclear. The New Canaan Human Resources Department responded to a public records request to view the town’s separation agreement with McDonald by saying that there was none.
Moynihan told Meyer, “Judy is not being asked to take the fall.”
This exchange followed:
Meyer: Well you asked her to resign and then she was embarrassed at the last meeting. I just don’t think this is how you treat volunteers. To know that Renate also wasn’t even told—
Moynihan: OK, we’ve had this conversation. The press can report it however they want. Judy decided to make it political. It has nothing to do with politics.
Dunn is a Democrat, records show, while Dolphin, a Commission member for seven years, is unaffiliated. According to public meeting minutes, Dolphin missed five of the Commission’s last nine meetings, including this week’s (no more than two consecutively).
Dolphin in her own resignation letter, also read aloud by Meyer, said she had intended to resign last year “but was asked to hold off for a few months due to upheaval in the department.”
“Upon reading the minutes of Jan. 15, 2020 meeting I was surprised and saddened to see how the first selectman chose to inform me of his desire for my resignation,” Dolphin said in the letter. “In today’s world of cellphones and email, reaching out to have a conversation with an individual is not difficult. I simply cannot understand why we cannot treat each other with a modicum of civility and courtesy. I have enjoyed my time spent on this Commission, I value the friendships I have made, I am incredibly grateful for all your support through some trying times. However, I don’t want to be in an environment where the energy of the town citizens who volunteer their time is summarily disregarded and dismissed.”
The resignations from the Human Services Commission follow another visibly uncomfortable change in leadership on an appointed municipal body. During a Police Commission meeting last month, then-Chair Sperry DeCew voiced his displeasure at a change in leadership of the three-member body.
“I hope you will enjoy our imperial hegemony of Republicans in New Canaan,” DeCew said during that meeting.
Asked about it afterwards, Moynihan, a Republican, said that Police Commissioner Paul Foley had a right to the chairmanship if he wanted it, and that New Canaan is a Republican town. Selectman Kit Devereaux, a Democrat, rebuked Moynihan during a subsequent Board of Selectmen meeting, saying changes in chairmanships were being made in a disrespectful way.
The Human Services Commission elected Dr. Harrison Pierce as chair and Meyer as secretary.
Meyer abstained from voting for chair, saying, “I respect Dr. Pierce and I will be happy to serve under him but I don’t appreciate, I don’t like how this was handled.”
Moynihan said, “You should know the facts before you make that judgment.”
Meyer said, “Well I did call Carol Blauvelt to find out the facts, because I was appalled. And now I know also after I read this letter that Renate was not even told that you were asking her to resign. She had to read it in minutes. Publicly available minutes.”
Moynihan said, “I asked the chairman then to talk to her. She said she would. Not my fault.”
Pierce said that Meyer “has done a great job” as secretary and that he was sorry that Dunn resigned from the Commission. Dunn showed “compassion” and “competency” as a commissioner, Pierce said.
“Things do turn over with time, and maybe that’s where we are right now,” he said. “But I am sorry that she ended it the way she did.”
Dunn and Dolphin were removed from the Commission’s page on the town website within hours of the meeting.
Asked during a press briefing in his office for a summary of what had transpired, Moynihan said only that Pierce and Meyer had been elected as Commission chair and secretary, respectively.
During the meeting, he said, “I should make clear: I respect Judy. I used Judy as my broker when I sold my home. This is not personal. And I worked with Judy on the Senior Housing Policy Development Committee. So how this thing got political, I don’t understand. But it wasn’t me.”
[Note: The reporting in this article is based on video footage of the full organizational meeting at the Feb. 6 Human Services Commission meeting.]