A resignation on the Board of Finance has sparked a lawsuit calling for a special election.
According to resident Vicki Tesoro, one of the plaintiffs, "What's going on here is a carefully orchestrated campaign to deny Trumbull citizens a voice in electing a replacement for David Rutigliano. It's politics before people, and it's political gamesmanship versus the right of the people to choose. This is a pervasive approach in [First Selectman] Tim Herbst's government, and we're putting them on notice that it's not acceptable."
Both Tesoro and resident Tom Kelly filed the suit.
It started after Board of Finance Member David Rutigliano, also a republican state representative, resigned his seat on the Board of Finance Nov. 26.
The Town Clerk stamped it Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving. A special election can be started by petition if filed within 10 days, according to the Town Charter. Later, allegedly after that time span, First Selectman Tim Herbst appointed Republican William Haberlin to the seat.
Kelly and Tesoro contest when the 10 days began say the span is really 10 business days.
The pair said they tried to petition for an election after learning of the resignation in early December, only to be rejected by Town Clerk Suzanne Burr Monaco on Dec. 13. They said Monaco told them the deadline was Dec. 12.
The suit was filed on Dec. 27 in Bridgeport Superior Court. The first hearing is Jan. 13.
Monaco defended the decision, saying she followed all procedures and checked with the state.
"Upon receipt of Representative Rutigliano’s resignation, my office contacted the Town Attorneys as well as Ted Bromley from the Secretary of the State’s office to ensure that all actions taken in properly posting this resignation were in accordance with the Trumbull Town Charter and the Connecticut General Statutes.
"My handling of this matter comported with the Trumbull Town
Charter and followed the directions given by the Secretary of the State’s
office and the Town Attorney. Only after ten days passed and after Mr. Haberlin
was sworn into office did Mr. Kelly and Ms. Tesoro attempt to obtain special
election petitions," she said.
Trumbull's town attorneys were not available for comment Tuesday.
But Kelly and Tesoro said Monaco should have made a public notification of the resignation sooner and that she miscounted the start of the 10-day period. State law also requires notification to the Secretary of State within five days, they added.
At a press conference Monday at the Helen Plumb building, Tesoro and Kelly, both Democrats, announced the suit, along with democrat Tony Silber.
But the matter transcends politics, Silber said. "[Voters] deserve a right to choose who's on the Board of Finance."
"We may end up losing, but at least the people will have a choice" if the suit is successful, Silber added.
Tesoro, who was recently re-elected to the Town Council, said she heard about the resignation Dec. 10, but that it should have been announced sooner. Another member of the Board of Finance, Andy Palo, said he did not know until the panel's meeting Dec. 12.
Kelly was also elected to the Board of Finance in November.
Both plaintiffs also questioned the letter itself, in which both Herbst's and Rutigliano's names are misspelled.
Rutigliano said in his letter he's leaving to focus on his state representative seat. He also partly owns the SBC restaurant chain.
"It has been a joy to serve on the board. I am confident it is in very capable hands," Rutigliano said.
The plaintiffs also asked why Rutigliano did not resign before the municipal election, to avoid the cost of a special election, and why he did not tell anyone else he resigned.
Finally, Kelly asked why the matter has been "shrouded in secrecy."
"What else is this administration hiding from the people in Trumbull?", Kelly asked. He also noted more meetings have been held in executive session.
"[Herbst] promised unprecedented transparency," Kelly said. "It's a matter of principle worth fighting for."