SHELTON — Social media exploded with anger over the weekend when word broke that Ruth Parkins, the former Planning and Zoning Commission chair ousted by voters in 2017, is returning to the commission.

Parkins will be filling the vacancy left by the resignation of commission Vice Chair Anthony Pogoda, a Republican. The remaining Republican commissioners — Chair Virginia Harger, Mark Widomski and Charles Kelly — caucused Saturday and tapped Parkins by a 2-1 vote, with Widomski opposed.

“This selection is a slap in the face to every resident of Shelton and the democratic system,” said Widomski. “She could not win through the democratic process, so instead the will of the people is rejected, and she is brought in through a back door.”

Widomski was referring to Parkins losing in elections for state representative, Planning and Zoning and, this past November, for a seat on the Board of Education.

“I received a call from the P&Z chair asking if I would accept the appointment to the P&Z Commission to fill a vacant seat, and I accepted the position,” said Parkins. “It is a position for which I am well qualified, and I welcome the opportunity to serve.”

The most vocal opposition has come from organizers of the Save Our Shelton group, which formed when the Towne Center at Shelter Ridge proposal first appeared before the Planning and Zoning Commission, with Parkins as its chair.

“I guess if you can't win the last three elections, the mayor can still find a way to use you to screw the citizens and take back control of building in Shelton,” states the Save Our Shelton Facebook post. “Now the developers will come in droves with ridiculous proposals that will get passed.”

“While I have been made aware of the social media postings, all I can say is that I find it sad that individuals can harbor such hatred for others, especially during such a difficult time,” said Parkins. “I believe my record speaks for itself for those who know, or care to know, how I voted during the 10 years I served on the commission - a record that goes well beyond the decision of one project.”

Harger called the appointment of Parkins “a very practical action,” which permits the commission to seamlessly continue operating.

“I feel we acted in the best interests of the citizens of Shelton,” said Harger, adding that Mayor Mark Lauretti had no say in the commissioners’ decision to appoint Parkins, as was charged on social media Sunday.

“Ruth Parkins has 10 years of experience on the commission, eight as chair; extensive knowledge of our city’s zoning, an exceptional educational and occupational background, and a great deal of community involvement with civic organizations,” added Harger.

Harger said, in Parkins, the commission has an individual with a background in planning and zoning who is knowledgeable of Shelton’s zoning regulations, requirements and standards and who would be willing to serve the remainder of Pogoda’s term through November 2021.

Seven potential candidates were considered, according to Harger, but two were not eligible — one did not have the correct party affiliation as required by the charter; the second was thought to still be a city resident but was not.

Harger said the trio discussed the remaining five candidates. After the discussion ended, one candidate was nominated but did not receive a majority vote. The nomination process resumed, and a second candidate, Parkins, was nominated and did receive the necessary votes.

“I was dead set against this selection when the remaining Republican commission members caucused,” said Widomski of Parkins. “A few token names were mentioned but more for show. It was a charade.

“I stand by my dissenting vote because I support the electorate of Shelton and respect their rejection of her being elected to office three times,” added Widomski.

Parkins was on the Charter Revision Commission but has resigned to take the P&Z seat. She was to be sworn in Tuesday. Kelly, during Tuesday’s remote P&Z meeting, was unanimously elected P&Z vice chairman, replacing Pogoda in that role.

Save Our Shelton remains focused on the Towne Center at Shelter Ridge plan, which calls for a development with 450 housing units in a nine-story apartment building, more than 300,000 square feet of retail space and more than 3,000 parking spaces along 121 acres at the intersection of Mill Street and Bridgeport Avenue.

The plan was approved by the P&Z. The decision was appealed, but the court denied the appeal. The plan, however, remains in doubt as the Inland Wetlands Commission, at its meeting May 7, appeared to be leaning toward denying the application for having insufficient information.

Save Our Shelton put the blame for its approval squarely on Parkins as commission chair and spent the 2017 election season campaigning against her. In the end, she lost her seat, with Widomski garnering Republican support.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com