Beacon Falls Dems spar with First Selectman over appointments

From left, Selectman David D'Amico, First Selectman Gerard Smith, and Selectman Chris Bielik looks over papers during the Feb. 13 Board of Selectman meeting at the Beacon Falls Town Hall. - LARAINE WESCHLER

BEACON FALLS — Democrats cried foul when Republican First Selectman Gerard Smith and Republican Selectman David D’Amico filled a Democrat vacancy on the Board of Finance with a former Republican candidate.

Unaffiliated board member Lou DiPiro resigned, leaving the position open.

The two Republican selectmen voted in Jack Levine, who is currently unaffiliated, against the wishes of Democrat Selectman Chris Bielik and the Democratic Town Committee during Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting.

Although the Board of Selectman could vote to fill the position with either a Democrat or unaffiliated nominee, Democrats said the board usually listens to the wishes of the town committee.

Democratic Town Committee Chair Kathy Grace said Smith never contacted her to ascertain the Democrat’s choice to fill a vacant Democratic seat.

“Mr. Transparency has never contacted me,” Grace said.

She said Smith put a Republican nominee on the board to replace a Democrat.

“He tells us that he is there as first selectman because he was called by God. I find it hard to believe that God wants him up there playing partisan politics with his appointments to boards on our town, especially the Board of Finance which is required to be non-partisan,” Grace said.

Bielik nominated Bruce Angeloszek, owner of CT Energy Services, another unaffiliated candidate. In a letter, Angeloszek said his strength lies in his ability to create budgets for his company, make profit and loss statements, and project future profits. He manages 12 full-time and two part-time employees.

Bielik emphasized that Angeloszek was hand-picked by the Democratic Town Committee.

“I think he’s an outstanding candidate,” Bielik said.

D’Amico nominated Levine after Bielik’s unsuccessful attempt to nominate Angeloszek.

“This isn’t the way I wanted this to go,” D’Amico said after nominating Levine to the position.

Nevertheless, D’Amico and Smith voted to appoint Levine without further discussion.

After the meeting, Smith said Levine was the most qualified candidate for the position.

“He’s overqualified,” Smith said.

Smith said the Board of Selectman has the power to appoint whoever it chooses, as long as that nominee is registered as a Democrat or unaffiliated voter.

“I don’t view those positions as Democrat or Republican. I view it as the right person for the job,” Smith said.

Levine was registered as a Republican in Beacon Falls from 1979 to 1995, and again from 2000 to 2003. He previously served as chair of the Board of Finance, on the Board of Selectman, Board of Education, and as town treasurer. Although he held most of those positions as a Republican, former Democrat First Selectman Susan Cable appointed Levine to fill a Democratic vacancy for his first term on the Board of Finance. He was also a former chair of the Republican Town Committee, though Levine said he hasn’t been involved with the committee for years.

Levine currently works as a business manager for Amity Regional School District 5 where he manages a $43 million budget. He has also worked as chief financial officer in a bank. He received a number of state awards for his business acumen and holds a masters degree in accounting.

Levine was originally nominated as the Republican candidate for the Board of Finance in the November election, but he dropped out of the race after six weeks, leaving the Republican slot open.

Levine said he left the campaign because he didn’t like the politics.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be on the Board of Finance. I just found that the campaign wasn’t my cup of tea.”

Levine said he is qualified for the position and excited to work for Beacon Falls.

“My interest in being on the Board of Finance is strictly to do what’s right for Beacon Falls,” Levine said.

Levine said he has always voted independently and gets along with people from both parties.

“I don’t start looking at people weather they have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ on their forehead,” Levine said.

Democrats did not question Levine’s qualifications, but they didn’t question the motives for his appointment.

“I am extremely disappointed with the Board of Selectmen,” Bielik said.

Having previously served on the Board of Finance, Bielik said both he and Smith knew the importance of having equal representation on one of the town’s most important boards.

“Whether they are party-affiliated or undeclared there are still leanings that go along with each individual that’s appointed to any of the boards here in this town,” Bielik said.

Bielik accused Smith of skewing the constitution of the board by appointing somebody who was originally a member of the election ticket for the opposition party.

“It absolutely goes against every precedent for appointments in the history of this town. … I strongly, strongly object in the most unequivocal terms to politicizing the Board of Finance in such a blatant manner,” Bielik said.

Grace agreed with that assessment.

“Though it might not be illegal what he’s done, it certainly is unethical,” Grace said.

This is the second time the Democrats’ efforts to appoint their choice of nominee to the Board of Finance have been frustrated. Bielik previously nominated former Democrat Selectman Art Daigle to fill the Board of Finance position Bielik left vacant when he joined the Board of Selectman. The motion received no second.

Bielik than made a motion to appoint Democrat Jim Huck to fill the vacancy, which was unanimously approved.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post stated the two Republican selectmen voted to appoint Huk to the vacant seat.)

In another controversial move, Smith did not put forward former Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Kevin McDuffie for reappointment to the commission.

Instead, the board appointed Domenic Setaro, who is unaffiliated, to the commission.

McDuffie said Smith had asked him whether he was interested in continuing on the commission. McDuffie said he discussed his interest with Smith several times and was lead to believe he would be reappointed. However, Smith said McDuffie never submitted a formal letter seeking reappointment. McDuffie said, in the past, he never had to submit a formal letter and Smith never requested one. McDuffie said he asked Smith whether there was any problem and Smith told him there was not.

“He said, ‘You’re all set,’” McDuffie said.

McDuffie felt Smith deceived him about the reappointment, and then wouldn’t answer any of his calls.

“I have no issues with him. I have no issues with anybody in town, but I think the first selectman has an agenda,” McDuffie said.

In a letter, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission asked Smith why he effectively “fired” the commission’s chair and asked him to reconsider McDuffie’s appointment.

“I do not want to see our town destroyed board by board,” Planning and Zoning Commissioner Patricia Hinmen wrote in the letter.

Smith did not respond to the letter, but said after the meeting that he did not reappoint McDuffie because he wanted to get some new blood on the board.

“He’s the best Planning and Zoning chair this town has ever had,” said Jack Betkoski, vice-chair of the Economic Development Commission, about McDuffie. “He’s a huge loss to the town of Beacon Falls.”

The Board of Selectman formally thanked McDuffie for his service.

Smith later appointed Democrat and former Selectman Domenic Sorrentino to the Economic Development Committee, and Democrat Lars Edgren to the Code of Ethics Board, saying the nominations prove that his decisions were not partisan. However, Democrats said the positions were not equal.

“Appointing one in no way mitigates the action that was taken on the other,” Bielik said.