By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
Tensions ran high for a moment at the November 12 Selectmen meeting when the chairman of the Country Club of Woodbridge ad-hoc committee, during her report, carefully sidestepped questions about the identity of developers or their proposals for the property. The ad-hoc committee, chaired by Carolyn Wolff and vice chair Andy Esposito, has been reviewing the two proposals that were submitted after the town published a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the 153-acre property. The committee is working on a recommendation for the Board of Selectmen, Wolff said in her report.
But despite repeated questioning by Selectman Joe Dey, she would not divulge any details about the kinds of questions they have been dealing with. In fact, her report kept to naming the people who were on the committee – Debbie Fried, Chris Lovejoy, Tom Kenefick, Deke Hotchkiss and Gary Desir — and the dates of their meetings. First Selectman Ellen Scalettar is an ex officio member.
How come they meet and discuss in executive session, Dey wanted to know and who else was invited in (Administrative Officer Tony Genovese and Assistant Administrative Officer Betsy Yagla)? The planning consultant (initially)? Again and again – why? “We’re not trying to hide anything from anybody,” Wolff replied calmly, adding the committee’s charge is to report to the Board of Selectmen.
But when Dey started insinuating that the vote to go into executive session for one of the site visits may have been invalid, given that the vote was taken with no quorum present, Selectman Susan Jacobs snapped. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she shouted. “You should be thanking them [the people serving on the committee], not badgering them. It demonstrates what your intent in all of this is, to make these people look bad.”
First Selectman Scalettar — short of a gavel — had to pound the table a few times to get the board back to order. “I am committed to do what is in the best interest of the town,” she said. The law under Freedom of Information doesn’t require, but allows the RFP process to be held in executive session, she said. “This is a very important and controversial issue facing our town, and I won’t be bullied into changing my position.”
Asked after the meeting why she decided to conduct the RFP review in executive session, she said it was not secrecy, but confidentiality that was needed to allow the committee to do its work without the inevitable pressures from the public. It also keeps the discussions with each respondent confidential from the other, she added. “I am committed to a thoughtful, deliberative and transparent process that best serves the interests of our town, she said. “In fact, since I have been First Selectman, we have had nearly a dozen public meetings where the CCW was solely or partially on the agenda.”
She said once the ad-hoc committee reported to the Board of Selectmen, she again will weigh the public interest in disclosure versus confidentiality. Even if the boards deliberate in executive session, theirs is only a recommendation to the residents of the town. Final decision about the future of the Country Club will be determined by Town Meeting or referendum, and all original responses and any subsequent submissions will all be available to the public at that point, Scalettar said. “While some may be impatient, haste does not serve us well,” she said. “I want to reassure everyone that there will public disclosure of the responses and ample opportunity for review and discussion.” As far as the vote to go into executive session for a site visit is concerned, she said the meeting was properly noticed and FOI does not require a quorum in order to go into executive session.
Selectman Dey said after the meeting that he was just trying to understand “what they were doing behind closed doors”. He said he has no animosity toward the ad-hoc committee and felt that his questions were fair. “I do applaud what they do,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to badger them.”