To the Editor,
A minor mishap at a recent Woodbridge Board of Selectmen meeting brought back bitter memories. First, here’s what happened: The selectmen met with finance board members on September 29 without having posted a meeting notice on the town website 24 hours in advance, as required by Connecticut’s Freedom of Information law (FOI). As the session began, Selectman Maria Kayne pointed out that the meeting might therefore be illegal.
First Selectman Ellen Scalettar and Gerald Weiner, the town’s lawyer, replied that they didn’t think 24 hours’ advance posting on the website was required. When Selectman Joe Dey produced a copy of the state law, Scalettar and Weiner conceded that Kayne was correct.
However, because the meeting was informational, and no votes would be taken, all agreed that the meeting should proceed. “There was a mistake,” said Weiner. “People make mistakes.”
Continuing that meeting was probably reasonable, but the situation was certainly ironic. Here’s why: When Maria Kayne and I served together on the Conservation Commission, we made a similar mistake, failing to submit a notice for an informational meeting at which no votes would be taken.
As on September 29, no subterfuge was involved. But a local husband-and-wife team pounced on our error to harass the Conservation Commission with the first of a series of formal complaints to the FOI Commission in Hartford. After we acknowledged our error (“People make mistakes”), we were forced to admit it in writing. Yet even then, the man who brought the formal complaint expressed outrage and refused to drop his complaint for many months. Finally, the Conservation Commission had to attend a lesson on FOI—not a bad thing, but a punishment imposed with malice.
Weiner “represented” us before FOI but, the tolerance for human fallibility that he expressed on September 29 was nowhere in evidence. In closed-door meetings of the Conservation Commission, Weiner excoriated us for our error. To handle the complaint and two subsequent complaints that were even more trivial, Weiner billed the town $1,750 on top of the hefty retainer he was paid for his part-time job. One wonders what work his retainer covered ($70,000 now, somewhat less in 2011).
We were volunteers, sacrificing our evenings and sometimes weekend mornings to protect open space in Woodbridge, and for our minor breach of the law, Weiner treated us with disdain. All of us who were not seen as sufficiently compliant were subsequently forced off the Commission or quit in disgust. The town lost some knowledgeable volunteers.
And here’s the irony: on September 29, Weiner showed he could have made the same mistake himself. And he’s no volunteer. He’s the town’s legal expert.