Politics dominates Shelton BOE decision
SHELTON — Republicans on the Board of Education have doubled down on their decision to hire the law firm that is suing them.
At the end of a raucous meeting Monday that included an attempted filibuster and two recesses where the Democrats and Republicans met only with board members of their party, the board on a party-line vote agreed to use the city’s corporate counsel, Teodosio and Stanik, as its legal voice.
At the same time, the board agreed not to fire its current legal counsel, Chinni and Meuser, in part because it is defending the school board against a suit brought by the city and its counsel, Teodosio and Stanik.
“We're attorneys, bound by laws of conflict of interest, and we realize full well that there are a couple suits right now pending against the Board of Education,” said Fran Teodosio. “In regards to those items, we have a mechanism to deal with that.”
Tom Minotti, who lost the Republican endorsement for school board, lost the primary and stepped down from the board last month, had cautioned the incoming board against playing party politics. Parents and children deserve people who would have their best interests at heart regardless of political party, he said.
“Do not let politics influence your decisions or voting,” Minotti said during his farewell speech. “Know what your roles and responsibilities are and execute them accordingly, keeping in mind your actions and decisions will reflect on the students of Shelton public schools as well as the citizens.”
But it was by party vote that the new counsel was hired.
Debate on the issue began at 6 p.m. and included nearly a dozen separate motions, made by Democratic members and opposed by the Republican majority.
Democrats on the board had argued that Chinni and Meuser — which had represented the district for a decade — were in the middle of contract negotiations, knew the district’s legal responsibilities and had worked well with the board.
They also called hiring the firm a conflict of interest.
The city, through Teodosio and Stanik, sued the board for repayment of what the city said the board overspent in its 2016-17 and 2017-18 budgets, about $2.7 million. The case is still pending.
Republicans had argued that the charter put the school district under the city’s corporation counsel and that there was nothing wrong about switching lawyers during contract negotiations.
They said the new firm had assured them that they could hand legal responsibilities over to another law firm when the city’s lawsuit was in court.
"We recognize input is necessary from you,” said Teodosio, adding that he has more than 35 years of experience representing municipalities, as does his partner, Fred Stanik, who was also present at the meeting. “Conflicts happen all the time. We know how to handle it and know how to assign it.”
Monday’s vote was a continuation of that debate.
For more than an hour Monday, Democrats, who labor under a 4-5 minority, argued against hiring the city’s corporation counsel and refused to close the discussion.
Eventually, board Vice Chair James Orazietti, a Republican, called for a vote, to which Kate Kutash, a Democrat, asked if that vote was to close discussion.
Orazietti said the vote was for recognizing city corporate counsel as the board’s attorney. Kutash said that, according to Robert’s Rules, discussion must first be closed by a two-thirds vote of the board before any vote on the action item could be taken.
“File an action,” responded Orazietti, and then called a vote.
Kutash said she and the other Democrats on the board would remain vigilant as to which law firm handles which issues.
Republicans Orazietti, board Chair Kathy Yolish, John Fitzgerald, Carl Rizzo and Amy Romano voted to hire Teodosio and Stanik. Democrats Kutash, Amanda Kilmartin, Diana Meyer and Patti Moonan voted against it.
School administration then was told to send Teodosio and Stanik a list of pending court actions and their hourly rates and to work with corporation counsel to assume “a smooth and proper transition of files and projects to firms deemed appropriate by the Board of Education with input from corporation counsel.”