Contentious warrant article in Wilton to make public works position elected
WILTON — A petitioned warrant article asking voters to make the director of public works an elected position may have some negative unintended consequences, according to Daniel Donovan, chairman of the board of selectmen.
But the author of the warrant article said that voters should get to choose who leads the department.
Thomas Schultz, chairman of the board of water commissioners, acquired the 30 signatures necessary to place the article on the ballot that would make the position of director of public works — which is currently held by Steve Elliot — an elected, not appointed position. Schultz has pointed to the increase in spending by the department of public works as a motivating factor in his push to elect the next director.
But Donovan said that the warrant article appears to be the result of a personality clash between Schultz and Elliot that has become public instead of personal, and he fears that the friction between the two men could yield unintended consequences for the town.
“The water commissioner felt that the way to resolve those differences is to choose the DPW director through election,” Donovan said. “The problem with making the director of public works an elected position is that there is no way to ensure that a candidate has the necessary qualifications to run the department.”
There are licenses required to run the recycling facility and to drive the town vehicles and machinery, Donovan said, and whoever was elected would need knowledge about the operation and maintenance of the department’s heavy equipment.
“Our current director does a lot of the maintenance and repairs on the equipment himself,” said Donovan. “We have 60 miles of roads to be maintained and that can be complicated because of drainage issues and bridges. There’s a lot that goes into this job.”
The director would also have to be a resident of the town, and would not have to answer to the board of selectmen.
“It’s an ill-conceived idea,” said Donovan, “and I mean that with no disrespect to Mr. Schultz.”
Schultz, who said he acted as a registered voter and not a member of the water commission when he filed the warrant article, said that being a member of the board of selectmen and running the town and its multi-million dollar budget comes with no requirements for experience or qualifications.
“Neither does any other position,” he said. “So why should the director of public works be any different?”
Schultz said that his move to make the position an elected one is not the result of clashing personalities, but rather a concern over the increased costs at the department and their impact on taxpayers.
“Everyone wants to make this out as a conflict between Mr. Elliot and myself,” said Schultz, “but that’s not it at all.”
Schultz said that the selectmen are retaliating against him because of the petitioned warrant article by including a warrant article to dissolve the water commission, but Donovan said that article is meant to make government more efficient.
Donovan said a study commission has looked at the necessity of having a water commission and it appears that the town could maintain the functions of the commission – overseeing the water system and billing water users – with a lot less complication that the commission has encountered in recent years.
“We have a three member board that’s elected, and there’s been a lot of chaos on that board,” said Donovan. “There have been 10 different water commissioners in the last three years.”