FAIRFIELD – The reappointment of a nurse to a town board spurred a debate between Democratic and Republican selectmen about the role of partisan politics in the appointment process, and the place of a nonconformist voice on the Board of Health.
Oftentimes, recommendations for appointees are made by one selectman or another and voted on by the entire Board of Selectmen.
Republican First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick, in a phone call with CT Examiner, said she usually chooses candidates for Republican vacancies and defers the choice for Democratic vacancies to Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz – the only Democrat on the three-person board.
“I’m not being partisan,” Kupchick said. “I’m just trying to fill vacancies in addition to my full time job running the town.”
“I am all about transparency, but it is a very awkward thing,” Lefkowitz told CT Examiner. “It’s very uncomfortable to tell a community member that is willing to put themselves out there that – after the fact – you’re not going to support their application.”
But after a disagreement regarding the reappointment of Board of Health member Sally Connolly, a Republican, at their Monday meeting, Lefkowitz called for more privacy and equal say among board members for appointments.
Connolly’s appointment was eventually postponed.
Lefkowitz said that while the board needed to abide by open meeting laws, she would prefer it if an employee from the First Selectman’s office would mediate conversations between the members. If there was a disagreement, she said, the selectmen could then hold a public discussion and vote.
“Let’s engage in a process that truly is bipartisan where, as the minority selectwoman, my voice is considered in concert with their voices,” Lefkowitz said.
Lefkowitz said she would like more input on Republican appointees, and would also like her Republican colleagues to weigh in on Democratic candidates.
Responding to those concerns, Kupchick said the process had always been this way, and that each selectman has a vote in every reappointment.
“There is no process problem,” Kupchick said. “I don’t know if some of this stuff is just petty.”
Kupchick said that since holding the office, she had made the process of reappointments more transparent to the public by publishing town vacancies in her weekly newsletter, giving all residents the opportunity to apply.
“The practice has always been the Democratic Town Committee puts up people, the RTC puts up people,” Kupchick explained. “But what about all the other people in town who don’t belong to a political party or go to those meetings?”
Kupchick also said that each application for a town vacancy is automatically sent to the three selectmen, giving Lefkowitz the opportunity to contact candidates ahead of a vote and vet their qualifications.
“I have no idea why Nancy is even upset, or has an issue or takes issue with the way we’re doing,” Kupchick said. “To me, it’s a very open process and all the boards and commissions that have openings [are] posted on the website.”
Lefkowitz said she appreciated the inclusion of vacancies in Kupchick’s newsletter, but she said that the debate over Connolly’s reappointment at the Monday meeting showed a sometimes uncomfortable, partisan process.
Connolly, whose term expired in November 2022, spoke in defense of her role on the Board of Health, telling the selectwomen that it is important to have her perspective as a visiting nurse during the pandemic.
But Lefkowitz questioned some of Connolly’s views that differ from positions advocated by the town’s Board of Health.
“You’ve been very vocal and public, and I think that the response to some of your points of view has gotten a lot of pushback from the medical community, and have been really counter to what the Board of Health was promoting and presenting,” Lefkowitz said to Connolly.
Lefkowitz acknowledged that Connolly should not be silenced and that her views mirrored some residents in the community, but she said that given concerns expressed by other Board of Health members and opposition from members of the public, she would not support Connolly’s reappointment.
According to Lefkowitz, on occasion social media posts by Connolly undermined Board of Health and Health Department recommendations.
“She talked about people being overly sensitive and perhaps overly cautious. She posted pictures of herself not wearing a mask at a time when positivity rates were very high and the Department of Health was suggesting mask wearing and mask usage. She talked about being asymptomatic and confusing it for presymptomatic,” Lefkowitz told CT Examiner.
At the meeting, Connolly described a few of “passionate moments” that she apologized for – including a plea for action to the Board of Health and Board of Education following the death of a student – but explained that her statements were often misinterpreted or taken out of context.
“I do not think it’s fair for someone to take a snippet and to let that outweigh, basically, their life’s work,” Connolly said. “And my entire life’s work is taking care of patients every day.”
Kupchick said diverse opinions were important for democracy, and said Connolly’s qualifications were in line with the Board of Health, and after continued debate between Connolly and Lefkowitz, the First Selectwoman recommended postponing the vote for the next meeting when the absent selectman, Republican Thomas Flynn, would have a deciding vote.
Lefkowitz agreed to postpone the vote, but told CT Examiner that she was put in a difficult position by Kupchick. With both Flynn and Kupchick voting, she said, Connolly’s nomination would be assured.
“Tabling the discussion is really counter to the assertions that this process of selecting board members and commission members is nonpartisan and bipartisan,” Lefkowitz said. “Because if that’s the case, the first selectwoman should have really let the decision fall where it does.”
But Lefkowitz, in the end, said she was ultimately comfortable with postponing the vote because the Board of Health could not make policy decisions.
“I was, in the end, comfortable that I made the decision I did,” Lefkowitz said. “I was making it from a negative place, from a really frustrated place, but ultimately, as I said, I was comfortable making it knowing that the board really is not in a position where they’re making policy decisions.”