Election will take place in May, with new member seated in June
After two straight meetings of a deadlocked council unable to agree how to fill a vacant seat, on Jan. 6 there was finally a shift, as the two Windsor council members who had been holding out for an appointment process gave in to the enormous public pressure and decided to approve calling for a special election.
Previously, Mayor Dominic Foppoli and Councilmember Deborah Fudge had been firmly in favor of an appointment process, citing the fiscal cost of the election and the length of time the seat would remain empty, along with concerns about the divisive nature of the November election. Councilmember Esther Lemus and Vice Mayor Sam Salmon both said they felt in this instance an election was important to allow the town to come together and select the candidate.
According to town clerk Maria De La O, the council received 76 emails in favor of an election and seven in favor of appointment. There were six public comments at the meeting, four of which were in favor of an election, one in favor of appointment, and one who wasn’t particular married to either viewpoint, but wanted it to be made clear there would not be any particular precedent set for the future by which ever option was chosen.
Foppoli, whose former seat is the one being filled, stepped out of order to explain his change of heart.
“It’s normal protocol for the mayor to speak last, but this feels so important with the emotional day we’ve had,” he said, referencing the riots and attack on the U.S. Capitol earlier in the day. “Personally, I fell on the side of the most important roles of mayor is to unite the town … and I want everyone to know we heard and are listening. Personally, I still have trepidation — it is a fiscal concern — but the reality is we’ve been sent an overwhelming message. So, I want to let everyone know I’m leaning towards a special election, and we should call it as soon as we can.”
Fudge stated that she had “gone back and forth 10 times” as she read through emails and correspondence and spoke to people throughout the town she hadn’t heard from yet, and that there were good arguments for both positions.
Because they made a decision prior to Jan. 10 (or really, Jan. 11, because Jan. 10 is a Sunday), the special election will take place on Tuesday, May 4, 2021and will be mail-only (so no in-person voting or polling places).
The candidate nomination period will begin Jan. 11 and ends on Feb. 5 (because there are no incumbents, there is no chance of the period being extended). The certification of the vote will take place by June 3, and the victor will be officials “canvassed” and sworn in on June 17.
According to De La O, 25 people turned in applications for appointment to the vacant seat, though one withdrew their application on Jan. 4. It is unknown how many of those may consider filing the candidacy paperwork.
This action will still leave the seat vacant for nearly six months, during which multiple important issues will be coming before a council which is one short, can deadlock 2-2 and could potentially leave multiple commission seats vacant.
Because of that, Councilmember Deborah Fudge asked if it would be possible to appoint a temporary council member who would step down when the new member is sworn in in June. She suggested it would be someone who was experienced enough to “hit the ground running” and would promise not to run, so as not to be “bestowing incumbency.”
However, town attorney Jose Sanchez said that while there is no law prohibiting such an appointment, it would have had to be codified as a statute by the town to allow it. Essentially, the state gives municipalities a lot of freedom to choose their own methods for filling seats, but it does require them be codified.
In order to do as Fudge suggested this time around, the town would have to pass an urgency ordinance, and Sanchez was not confident that this type of ordinance would fall under the narrow scope of requiring an urgency ordinance. This would leave anyone appointed under such an urgency ordinance open to potential legal protest.
As such, the proposal as it relates to this particular time was shelved, but at the end of the meeting, it was proposed to be brought back as an agenda item for discussion in the future. In fact, there was council support to take a look at the scope of future appointments and elections, since its clear the switch to district elections will have potentially far ranging consequences that may require new ordinance to prepare for.
Lemus and Salmon were not in favor of a temporary appointment, Lemus primarily because there was no way to legally prevent someone from running for office, but both were quick to acknowledge their appreciation for their colleagues’ change of heart.
“I want to acknowledge our mayor and Councilmember Fudge for their change of heart,” Lemus said. “And I know I’ve said before, but I want to reiterate that I completely respect that others had different opinions and I appreciate we would come together on this and want to acknowledge that. I believe an election is in the best interests of our community, for what it’s worth, I want to thank you.”
Lemus also proposed asking recently retired Councilmember Bruce Okrepkie’s commission appointees to stay in their post until a new councilmember has seated, in order to keep commissions fully staffed.
“I’m proud of our council for coming together and thanks to all the residents for caring enough to send messages. We are listening,” Foppoli concluded.