June 29, 2022

Appointments to Old Lyme EDC Tabled After Absence of Input from Commission Identified, One Candidate Described as ‘Abrasive’; Discussion to be Continued at Tonight’s BOS Meeting

Emails Sent by EDC Member Rubino, EDC Chair Poirier in Response to Comments at BOS Meeting Printed in Full Below

Old Lyme First Selectman Timothy Griswold (File photo)

OLD LYME — At their last meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, the three members of the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen (BOS) were running systematically through the annual round of appointments and reappointments to town boards and commissions when the question of whom to appoint to the Old Lyme Economic Development Commission (EDC) arose.

The normally uncontroversial process was halted by a variety of searching questions and unexpected comments, and ended up being tabled for the next BOS meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 7, at 5:30 p.m. .

There was some confusion in the meeting initially about the details of the terms available and the number of candidates applying for them. After a short discussion, Selectwoman Martha Shoemaker (D) summed up the situation saying, “Basically, we have to pick among the three [names] for two spots.”

First Selectman Timothy Griswold (R) confirmed that the five-year term of incumbent Candace Fuchs ended Jan. 31, 2022 and that there was a vacancy ending Jan. 31, 2024. This latter opening had been created by Edie Twining’s resignation.

After further discussion, it became clear that Fuchs was seeking reappointment, but two other people had submitted applications for appointment also, namely Mona Colwell (U) and Wendy Russell (R).

Colwell states in her application to serve on the EDC that she has, “Been very active as a volunteer in numerous capacities for the Region 18 School District,” and, “Worked as a small business promoter for over twenty years.” Colwell run unsuccessfully for a seat on the Region 18 Board of Education in November 2021.

In her application, Russell notes she is a Regional Director of Sales and Marketing for the Waterford Hotel Group and has been appointed to numerous boards related to tourism.

Shoemaker then made a motion to, “Reappoint Fuchs to a five-year term ending January 31st, 2027, and to appoint Wendy Russell to fill the open five-year term ending January 31st, 2024.” Shoemaker stated she was supporting Russell’s appointment, “due to her (Russell’s) extensive background in [Eastern] Chamber tourism and the Mystic Coastal Council,” which Shoemaker said would be, ” … useful as we move forward with economic development.”

Selectman Matthew Ward seconded the motion.

Griswold agreed regarding Russell’s appointment saying, “I think Wendy has good strengths,” but indicated he supported Colwell for the second vacancy saying, “Personally, I think Mona would be a good candidate for the other seat simply because she has been very interested in school matters and having some new blood on there would be a help.”

He continued, “I think, candidly, Candace can be a bit abrasive at times.”

Shoemaker pointed out that, “Some of these applications came in just a day or two ago,” and “Normally you’d talk to the chair of the [EDC] committee” to solicit their opinions. She asked pointedly, “Has anyone had the opportunity to talk to the chair of the EDC?”

Griswold replied, “I personally have not.”

Shoemaker then proposed that nothing further should happen until that conversation had taken place, saying that the EDC, “Should be able to pick the people they want for their team,” noting, “… there’s a lot going on [in terms of the commission’s work.]”

Griswold countered, “It’s our decision [regarding who is appointed] in the end,” with which Shoemaker concurred.

Shoemaker then proposed the motion should be tabled to the next meeting stressing, ” … so long as you [Griswold] check in with the chair [of the EDC]” before that meeting.

Griswold agreed to do that, Ward seconded the motion to table the matter and the meeting continued to the next item of business.

On Friday, we received a copy of an email from David Rubino, which he had sent to the Old Lyme BOS regarding the potential appointment of Colwell to the EDC. Rubino, a Democrat, is a member of the EDC and ran unsuccessfully against State Rep Devin Carney (R-23rd) in November 2020.

Today we received a copy of an email from Cheryl Poirier, also addressed to the BOS, which details her response as chair of the EDC to the proposed candidates.

Both emails are reprinted verbatim in their entirety below.

Dear Board of Selectmen:

My name is Dave Rubino.  I purchased my home in Old Lyme in 2016, and I am the owner of a law office on Halls Road.  I am the father of two children in the Region 18 public school system.  I am also on the Economic Development Commission which is why I write. 

I listened to the discussion at last month’s Board of Selectmen meeting regarding the vacant or potentially vacant seats on our commission, and as a member of the EDC I thought it would be helpful to the Board of Selectmen if I weighed in.

I joined the EDC about two years ago because the economic health and well-being of our town is of particular importance to me. As a business owner, homeowner, and father, I, like many of us, am interested in ensuring that Old Lyme remains an economically sustainable community while maintaining the obvious charms which have drawn many of us to the town.

One of the things I really enjoy about being a member of the EDC is that it has been largely, if not wholly, apolitical.  We have membership from both sides of the aisle, but we all share a common goal – to provide fact-based and quantifiable guidance to this Board about which economic ideas are in the town’s best interest.  The Board rarely has disagreements, and when and if we do they are discussed respectfully and thoughtfully.

I was surprised, therefore, that Mr. Griswold suggested that he was not inclined to reappoint Candace Fuchs to the EDC (who he himself voted onto the commission) because he finds her “abrasive”.   Whatever personal experience Mr. Griswold may have in that regard is certainly not reflective of any interactions I have noticed on the EDC.  To the contrary, I would describe Candace as somewhat reserved.  She generally volunteers to serve as notetaker and creates the minutes almost every month.

That said, I concede that elections have consequences.  This Board has every legal right to appoint whomever it chooses to the EDC.  One would hope, however, that said appointment would be made with the best interests of the town in mind.  That is why Mr. Griswold’s suggestion to replace Ms. Fuchs with former Board of Education candidate Mona Colwell is of particular concern.  If abrasiveness is a criteria for disapproving a nomination, I would suggest that Cowell’s public statements – many of which have been widely publicized in local media – are facially disqualifying.  Her Twitter and Facebook accounts include dozens of posts hypothesizing that the pandemic is a manufactured ploy to depopulate the planet and usher in a new world order via a “great reset” designed to control humanity.  She makes regular social media statements analogizing mask and vaccine mandates to the Nazi holocaust – going so far as to refer to masks as “yellow stars” used to identify the unvaccinated.  I cannot speak for the Jewish community of Old Lyme but I would suspect that many people might find equating the inconvenience of wearing a mask into a grocery store to being herded into concentration camps for execution at least as “abrasive” as anything Mr. Griswold has heard from Ms. Fuchs. (She [Colwell] notably also re-tweets that people should “Take action.  Legal and otherwise” against those supporting vaccines in a post that depicts public hangings of doctors at Nuremburg.) Leaving aside the ridiculousness of this constant refrain, one must also consider that her views have economic consequences.  She has, for example, tweeted that those restaurants in Boston that have complied with the Boston mayor’s vaccine mandate should be “boycotted and bankrupted”.  Appointing a candidate to the EDC who supports boycotting and bankrupting small businesses that comply with the law simply cannot be in the town’s best interests.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that in addition to the above, your proposed appointee has likewise posted at least one statement that is so racially offensive it made headlines and formed the basis of dismissing a firefighter in a Republican controlled rural South Carolina town.  Her tweet, which even the reddest of states found crossed a line, states, “Black Privilege: The ability to break every law in the country yet still remain the victim.”  https://www.wistv.com/2020/07/17/georgetown-county-firefighter-fired-after-making-racially-insensitive-violent-posts/?outputType=apps

So there can be no question that this Board’s vote will necessarily take into consideration these public statements, I am attaching a small sampling of them hereto.  By any interpretation, knowingly moving forward with this candidate would amount to an endorsement of these dangerous and divisive views.  The Old Lyme I have grown to love just doesn’t look like this. 

I encourage you to reappoint Ms. Fuchs to the EDC and fill the remaining vacant slot with the third applicant, Ms. Wendy Russell.  Ms. Russell’s background and experience would be an asset to the board, and she would be a welcome addition.

The following is the text of the email from Cheryl Poirier.

Greetings Tim, Martha, and Matt:

Thank you for seeking my input on the Economic Development Commission appointments.

As you know, we have an open seat on the EDC due to Edie Twining stepping down from the Commission in the Fall.

Wendy Russell (R), has applied for this appointment. I have been familiar with Wendy’s BOS appointment to the State’s Eastern Regional Tourism District (ERTD). The ERTD is an important entity for our Old Lyme tourism attractions such as the Florence Griswold Museum and Lyme Art Association, as it creates and manages tourism grants, as well as promotes Eastern CT tourism assets to travel magazines, etc.

I spoke with Wendy via Zoom last week and we discussed the contributions she could make to the EDC, including keeping the commissioners up to date on economy-enhancing opportunities available to municipalities and their tourism assets. 

I believe Wendy could provide positive impact to the EDC. She attended the Feburary 2nd EDC meeting as a member of the public. I encourage her appointment.

Candace Fuchs (D) is up for reappointment. Candace has been a productive and reliable member of the EDC. She currently takes our minutes, which she does in a timely fashion. Candace has been the only commissioner to volunteer to take minutes. When commissioners are asked to complete tasks such as reaching out to area businesspersons for website content, Candace completes her assignments (often before others) in a timely and complete manner. She has also written an article for our new website. She is a strong advocate for the EDC working in alignment with the recommendations outlined in the Town’s 2020 POCD. She has been a very responsible and needed contributor to the EDC. I support her reappointment.

Mona Colwell (U) has also applied for appointment to the EDC; she also attended last evening’s EDC meeting. 

I would be disappointed if Candace were not reappointed, as she makes important contributions to the EDC in meeting its goals. I appreciate any opportunity to minimize disruption to the EDC’s productivity.

The EDC is a bipartisan commission that currently works together quite amicably and effectively. The current commissioners’ values — regardless of political affiliation — are in alignment with the charge of the EDC to support economic investment and revitalization of existing businesses while attracting new commerce and cultural opportunities. We support encouraging visitors from across the region to frequent our restaurants, shops, and other attractions. We encourage newcomers to purchase homes or start a new business here, thereby becoming part of our wonderful community. 

Thank you.

Comments

  1. As a recent EDC member I had the opportunity to work with Candace Fuchs. She is very professional and brings a consistent energy to the commission. If I had been able to maintain the ability to contribute equally to the many commissions and boards I had signed up for I would have continued my membership on the EDC commission. I certainly did not anticipate the removal of such a productive volunteer as Candace in the wake of my stepping down. I would urge the selectmen to recognize the value Candace brings to this cohesive group and welcome Wendy Russell onto the commission.

  2. Thomas D. Gotowka says

    I was glad to see that Lymeline had covered this EDC issue. We have certainly had more than our fair share of scrutiny in “The Day” over the past few years,
    I think that what we’re seeing here is some public fallout from the intersection of bad judgment with good old-fashioned patronage. I think that Ms. Colwell’s history of promulgating the erroneous and the unacceptable speaks for itself and has already been well-documented by others.

  3. Margaret O'Shea says

    Reappoint Candace Fuchs and appoint Wendy Russell…..the decision is obvious.

  4. Kim Thompson says

    Interesting that Mona speaks about encouraging newcomers to purchase homes in town. I encourage you to listen to her comment in this recording of the BOE meeting on January 26th around 1H 51M 50Sec https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKBrFVf-c14&t=5444s
    She encourages the schools to “bump up class sizes” and maybe the new people who are causing increased enrollment will “go back where they came from”. doesn’t seem very encouraging of newcomers to me.