A Flawed Process, Shoemaker Acknowledges, for Halls Road Appointments in Old Lyme

Old Lyme Town Hall


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OLD LYME — At Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectman Martha Shoemaker acknowledged that the process of choosing and confirming candidates for the Halls Road Improvements Committee this year could have been better but she vowed to improve the appointments process in the future. 

“I know that there were some issues with this appointment. I feel terribly that information was put out there that should not have been put out there. I am extremely sorry about that. Because that’s not the way I wish to run this administration and I will make sure and endeavor that that never happens again under my term. So it’s the best I can do at this point in time,” Shoemaker said as the Board of Selectmen began their discussion of candidates for the committee.

In February, the board completed its appointments to a number of other boards but delayed the Halls Road Improvements Committee until March, because, according to Shoemaker, applications had been lost in the town’s computer system. 

“We had lost applications, which we had our IT department go through to look for in our IT files because people said they sent in applications – and there were two,” which Shoemaker told CT Examiner she had noted at the last board meeting in February.

On Monday, Shoemaker provided Selectmen Jude Read and Jim Lampos with a packet containing four names to consider for the committee: Old Lyme residents Bill Folland, J. David Kelsey, Christina Gotowka and Lyme resident Carie Tonovitz. 

“There are four participants, four applicants for the Halls Road Improvements [Committee]. Jude, you asked this morning how many. It is a Board of Selectmen committee, therefore we can have as many as we would like on it, so number is not a factor,” Shoemaker said. 

Shoemaker said the packet included recommendations from Edie Twining, chair of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, “after interviewing all four candidates,” but Shoemaker did not specify those names.

Read opened by nominating Kelsey and Folland for two seats on the committee. Lampos asked how many seats were available for candidates and Shoemaker clarified that the board could make as many appointments as it wanted. 

Lampos said he believed Gotowka was also a qualified candidate. 

Read said the problem with appointing Gotowka was that she had already been told she would be approved for a seat on the committee.  

“I feel that Miss Gotowka was [and] is probably a very good candidate. I don’t like the perception that her appointment was an ex post facto done deal. We hadn’t even had our meeting and I have a problem with that – and it’s a housekeeping issue. And the perception is, the deal was made that she will be on this committee without ever coming to us as a group. And that conversation has taken place in town and people have spoken to me about it … And if we choose to put her on that committee, it should not be at the expense of someone else’s time the way she did that. Those are my thoughts and I’m not happy with that at all,” said Read.

Lampos said that Shoemaker had made clear the information had not come from the Selectmen’s office.

“[Iit was] from another committee chair, and it was something that was done and not the way we’d like to see it done, but I don’t think that that should preclude Christina from being appointed to the committee,” said Lampos. 

Lampos suggested that Kelsey, Folland and Gotowka all be appointed to the committee.

Read modified the motion to include all three and said she was happy with the solution. 

Shoemaker said, “I applaud all of us for coming with a quick solution to a very difficult situation.” 

The motion passed unanimously. 

In a phone call with CT Examiner on Wednesday, Shoemaker was asked to clarify her opening statement at Monday’s meeting, including the issues, what information was improperly shared, and what she was sorry about. 

“Basically I think that, you know, my apology went out to the people that it affected and really and truly they understood what it was for. So I don’t think that I need to clarify that any further,” Shoemaker said.

Asked again to clarify, Shoemaker responded, “Well there was just a lost application for a while which we couldn’t find and then we finally found it – lost in IT –  and you know, other things that just came about that we put together when we finally got around to doing it.” 

The other things, she said, were “appointing people. We didn’t do it in January, we did it in March.”

Asked about Read’s complaint, Shoemaker said “There was just some misinformation put out to a committee. And that’s not for me to say because it’s not my committee.”

Shoemaker said she did not put the information out there and she had apologized on behalf of the person who did. 

Asked whether Gotowka was pre-approved by Twining, Shoemaker said she did not recall that being said in Monday’s meeting.

Regarding the process, Shoemaker said “we are continually looking for ways to improve the entire process. There are a lot of applications that come in. There were 71 appointments and probably 135 applications.”

Starting earlier in November instead of January, Shoemaker said, would be key to a smoother process next time. 

In a phone call with CT Examiner on Wednesday morning, Read said Folland was the only candidate to submit his application by the Jan. 8 deadline.

“Bill Folland is the only one who had his application in on time, even though it couldn’t be found at the town hall. It was requested three or four times [before] we found it. I got a copy of it on March 4, the morning of the appointments,” Read said. 

According to Read, weeks after the deadline, on Feb. 24, Twining recommended Gotowka and Kesley in an email to Shoemaker.

“You can also quote me that it was a deal that was made before our meeting and the appointment was promised to someone else without Selectmen inputs. And I think it’s wrong or unethical,” Read said.