Who won what? Who’ll resign? The convoluted process of filling ‘minority’ seats

Yikes! Tune up out the kazoos! Electoral craziness.

Ridgefield Democrats were so successful during Tuesday's municipal elections that they’ve taken majorities on three town agencies from Republicans, and have increased their majorities on a fourth.

There are also four places on the ballot where a Democratic candidate has won more than one seat on the same board or commission, and will have to choose to resign one or more of the positions.

Wednesday morning town officials said they thought they’d figured the situation out, but wanted to check with the Secretary of the State’s office to make sure they correctly understand how to fill vacancies created by resignations which must follow when candidates win — but by charter cannot hold — more than one seat.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a triumvirate of town election officials — Town Clerk Barbara Serfililippi, Republican Registrar of Voters Hope Wise and Democratic Registrar of Voters Cindy Bruno — were still meeting, discussing, and consulting with the Secretary of the State’s office, trying to figure it all out.

So, here’s The Ridgefield Press’s analysis, which may be amended when official in town hall have finished all their consulting and announce the results as they see them.

What happens is also likely to shift, depending on decisions made by by candidates who’ve been elected to more than one office

Four Democratic candidates — Carina Borgia-Drake for school board, Amy Macartney Freidenrich for Board of Finance, Charles Robbins on Planning and Zoning, and Mark Seavy for Zoning Board of Appeals — each won more than one race on Election Day, and will have to resign from seats they won, due a charter provision saying a single person cannot hold more than one elective office at the same time.

The charter provision states: “No person shall hold more than one elective office of the Town of Ridgefield at the same time. Any person who holds an elective office or seat on any elective board or commission of the Town of Ridgefield is prohibited from holding any other position on any other elective board or commission of the Town of Ridgefield at that time.”

The situation is complicated by the minority representation rules spelled out in state statutes and mirrored in the town charter. These rules limit the number of seats any one party can hold on a given town board or commission.

On nine-member agencies, including Ridgefield’s Board of Education and Planning and Zoning Commission, the most one party hold is six of the nine seats. The other three can go to either members of other parties or unaffiliated voters.

On five-member agencies such as Ridgefield’s Board of Finance and Zoning Board of Appeals, any one party is limited to a maximum of four of the five seats. (The five-member Board of Selectmen is an exception to this, with a maximum of three seats that may be held by any one party.)

Here’s a look at the lay of the political landscape Wednesday, as town officials continued to try to figure things out. It should be noted that Serfilippi, Wise and Bruno planned to review with the secretary of the state’s office whether town officials were correctly interpreting the interplay of town charter, state election laws, and candidates who’d run for won multiple seats.

School board

On the Board of Education, the big news is that the Democrats won a six-member majority — the maximum allowed under minority representation — seemingly for the first time in memory.

There were actually three separate school board elections on the ballot.

Seven candidates — four Democrats and three Republicans — were competing for four full four-year terms. The four Democrats — Doug Silver (2,880 votes), Margaret Stamatis (3,057 votes), Kathleen Holz (2,934) and Carina Borgia-Drake (2,615) — out-polled the three Republicans, David Cordisco (2,296), Kaitlyn Hayes (2.397) and Scott Preston (2,130). The Democrats won all four four-year seats.

And two candidates were running unopposed to fill out two separate two-year school board terms created by vacancies — Republican Sharon D’Orso got 2,818 votes and for a separate position Democrat Carina Borgia Drake got 3,019. But Borgia-Drake also won a four-year seat.

So, it appears Carina Borgia-Drake will have to resign one of the two seats she won.

The school board is a nine-member agency, so under minority representation a single party can hold up to six seats. Of the three school board incumbents who weren’t up for election, only one — chairwoman Fran Walton — is a Democrat. That means that the Democrats can add five seats. Four of those will be Democrats who won Tuesday night — incumbents Doug Silver and Margaret Stamatis, and newcomers Kathleen Holz and Carina Borgia Drake.

The fifth Democrat joining the board — making a total of six — will be a replacement for Carina Borgia-Drake in whatever seat she resigns from, either the four-year seat she won in the contest with three other Democrats and three Republicans, or the two-year seat she ran for unopposed.

It appears that whatever seat she resigns from would be filled by the procedure for filling vacancies as spelled out in Charter Section 4-7:

“In the event an elected board or commission member's position becomes vacant due to a tendered resignation or other cause, such board or commission, within 30 days, shall, by majority vote, appoint an interim replacement for the unexpired portion of the term or until the next regular election as defined in Section 9-1 et seq. of the Connecticut General Statutes, as amended, whichever event shall first occur.

“If such board or commission fails to fill a vacancy within 30 days, the Board of Selectmen shall fill the vacancy by majority vote. Within seven days of said vacancy, notice shall be given by such board or commission, for publication, in a newspaper having general circulation in the Town for the purpose of filling said vacancy.

“When the person vacating the office shall have been elected as a member of a political party, such vacancy shall be filled by the appointment of a member of the same political party.”

So the school board will have 30 days to fill the seat Borgia-Drake resigns from, and after that the decision will fall to the selectmen — but in either case the newly appointed member would have to be a Democrat, giving that party the maximum of six seats allowed on a nine-member board.

By tradition a board and commission filling a vacancy will often seek a recommendation from the town committee of the party that will hold the seat — in this case the Democratic Town Committee — but it is not a legal requirement that the board of commission seek or follow a town committee recommendation.

The Democrats on the school board will be incumbents Frances Walton, Doug Silver and Margaret Stamatis, newcomers Kathleen Holz and Carina Bordia-Drake, with a sixth Democrat chosen through the charter process.

The three Republicans on the school board will be Tracey O'Connor and James Keidel, incumbents who weren’t up for re-election, and Sharon D'Orso, who won re-election to fill a different two-year board vacancy from the one Borgia-Drake won.

Planning and Zoning

Democrats will also seize majority of the nine-member Planning and Zoning Commission, five seats to four, after wins Tuesday from Joe Fossi, Joe Dowdell and Charles Robbins — who won two seats, a full four-year term and also a two seat filling out a vacancy that was filled by appointment.

Similar to Carina Borgia-Drake, Robbins will resign from one of the two seats which he won Tuesday — presumably the two-year seat — leaving it to be filled by the commission through the charter process, with another Democrat.

The election for a full-four-year Planning and Zoning Commission positions was a six-way contest for five seats, with three Democrats facing three Republcians. All Democratic candidates won: incumbents Joe Fossi (3,303 votes) and Charles Robbins (2,967 votes), and newcomer Joe Dowdell (2,931 votes). They outpolled all three Republicans on the ballot, and the write-in candidate, but in the six-way contest for five seats two Republican incumbents were still re-elected: Rebecca Mucchetti (2,698 votes) and George Hanlon (2,595). A third Republican incumbent, Steve Cole, came in sixth with 2,526 votes, and lost his seat. Write-in candidate Robert Cousins got 201 votes and did not win a seat.

In a separate race to fill a two-year vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Commission, Democrat Charles Robbins (2,456 votes) defeated incumbent Republican Bob Cascella (2,296 votes).

So, Robbins will have to resign one of the two seats he elected to, leaving it to be filled through the charter process.

Because the Democrats have only one incumbent who wasn’t up for re-election, Timothy Dunphy, they can add four — Fossi, Dowdell, Robbins and whoever is appointed to the second seat Robbins won, which he will reign from — and take a 5-to-4 majority on the commission, while remaining under the minority representation rules limit of no more than six members of one party on a nine-member commission.

The new commission’s four Republicans will be John Katz and Mark Zeck, incumbents who weren’t up for re-election this fall, and Rebecca Mucchetti and George Hanlon, who were re-elected in the six-candidate race for five four-year seats.

The new commission’s Democrats will be Fossi, Dowdell, Robbins and whoever is appointed to the second seat Robbins resigns from.

Finance board

There are also complications for the Board of Finance where, again, Democrats outpolled Republicans for all open seats Tuesday, and will enlarge their majority on the five member board from a 3-to-2 to a 4-to-1 majority.

Again, there are two separate races.

Four candidates, two Democrats and two Republicans, were competing for two full four-year finance board seats.

In this race the two Democrats, Sean Connelly, an incumbent, and Amy Macartney Freidenrich out polled the two Republicans, Marty Heiser and Michael Raduazzo, both incumbents. Vote totals were: Connelly (D), 2,715; Freidenrich (D) 2,702; Heiser (R), 2,290; Raduazzo (R), 2,235.

In the other finance board race, to fill a two-year vacancy, Democrat Amy Maccartney Freidenrich — on the ballot a second time — outpolled Republican Richard Moccia, with 2,772 votes for Freidenrich to 2,068 votes for Moccia.

The Democrats currently have a 3-to-2 majority on the finance board and that will be enlarged to 4-to-1. But exactly how the seats will break out didn’t seem fully clear.

As town hall election officials were figuring it Wednesday morning, a state law comes into play that says that vacancies are filled first — before full board seats.

This would mean that Freidenrich’s defeat of Moccia for the two year seat is registered before the contest for the two open four-year finance seats.

Under minority representation, the Democrats can take only four of the five board seats. Two board members who weren’t up for re-election are both Democrats, Dave Ulmer and Jessica Mancini.

With Freidenrich’s victory for the two-year seat registering first, the Democrats had three sitting board members going into the four-year contest and could win only one of the two four-year seats — giving them four of the five board seats, the maximum allowed under minority representation —  with the remaining seat going to the high vote-getter among the remaining candidates for four-year seats, all Republicans. And that would be Marty Heiser.

As this works out: Democratic incumbent Sean Connelly was re-elected to a four-year seat with 2,715 votes; Freidenrich came in second with 2,702, followed by Republicans Heiser (2.290) and Raduazzo (2,235).

Town election officials said — though they did plan to check it with the Secretary of the State’s office — that with Freidenrich having already won a two-year seat, the final four-year finance seat — which couldn’t go to another Democrat, under minority representation — would go to Heiser as the high Republican vote-getter in the contest for four-year seats.

An alternative scenario would have Freidenrich winning two seats, and having to resign one, with the remaining finance board members, all Democrats, filling what ever seat she resigned from through the charter process — but not with another Democrat, since they’d already have four of the five seats. They could choose among Republicans, members of other parties, or  unaffiliated voters.

Town officials, however, appeared to be leaning toward the other scenario — with Freidenrich winning the two-year seat and becoming ineligible for the last four-year seat, which would then go to Heiser, the high Republican vote-getter.

Zoning Board of Appeals

The situation, incredibly, seems even more convoluted for Zoning Board of Appeals, which is the only town agency which has alternates, and also elects people to staggered terms that sometimes begin a year after the election.

As elsewhere on the ballot, Democrats outpolled Republicans in every ZBA race, for both full board seats and alternate positions.

Since there is only one Democratic incumbent on the regular appeals board, and Democrats have only one of three alternate seats, the minority representation rules shouldn’t pose an obstacle to having victorious Democrats take their seats.

The wild card is that there were five ZBA elections on the ballot — three regular appeals board seats, and two alternate positions — and of the five separate elections the Democratic candidate in four of them was the same person, Mark Seavy, who is currently an alternate on the board with a term that is expiring.

Since Seavy can only hold one office at a time, he’ll have to resign some — at least two, it appears — of the four offices he was just elected to.

Here’s a look at the various ZBA elections.

For a full five -year appeals board term beginning in 2017 — this November — Democrat Terry Bearden-Rettger got 2,648 votes to defeated Republican incumbent Carson Fincham, who got 2,052.

No problem, Bearden-Rettger is in, Fincham’s off the board.

In all the remaining ZBA contests, the Democratic candidate is Mark Seavy.

Seavy defeated Republican incumbent David Choplinski, 2,591 to 2,099, for a full five-year term that doesn’t begin until November 2018.

Seavy also was elected, unopposed, with 3,054 votes, to a one-year appeals board vacancy.

He could fill both those positions, since the full five-year term he was elected to doesn’t start until 2018, when the one-year vacancy would be completed.

Seavy was also elected to two ZBA alternate positions. He was elected unopposed to fill out a three-year vacancy, collecting 2,944 votes.

And he also defeated Republican John McNicholas, 2,314 vote to 2,153, for a two-year vacancy.

The most likely outcome appears to be that Seavy will serve in the two consecutive ZBA seats he was elected to — the one year vacancy and then the five-year term beginning in 2018 — and resign the two alternate seats he was elected to, leaving those to be filled by the charter process.

But, should he do that, it’s not clear whether the group of sitting board members that would vote on filling the empty seat would be the five regular ZBA members, the other two alternates, or all seven of them.

It only seems to get crazier.