June 29, 2022

Griswold, Ward Vote to Appoint Colwell to Old Lyme EDC Against Recommendations of Commission Chair

OLD LYME — UPDATED June 15. We incorrectly quoted the number of votes by which Mona Colwell lost the Region 18 BOE election in our original article. We apologize for the error. The article has now been corrected. At Monday evening’s Old Lyme (OL) Board of Selectmen (BOS)’s Special Meeting in a somewhat unexpected move, both First Selectman Timothy Griswold (R) and Selectman Matthew Ward voted to appoint Mona Colwell to the OL Economic Development Commission (EDC). Incumbent EDC member Candace Fuchs, a Democrat, was not reappointed.

Both Ward and Colwell are unaffiliated but were endorsed by the Republicans in the Nov. 2021 election for, respectively, the board of selectmen and the Region 18 Board of Education (BOE). Ward was elected but Colwell failed in her bid for a BOE seat.

The board was considering which of three candidates to appoint to two open seats on the EDC. Fuchs was the incumbent for the position with the five-year-term ending Jan. 31, 2027. The other candidate, apart from Colwell, was Republican Wendy Russell.

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

The matter had been discussed at the previous BOS meeting on Jan. 18, but was tabled pending a request by Selectwoman Martha Shoemaker that, prior to any vote being taken on the candidates, Griswold should seek the opinion of the EDC Chair regarding whom she would like to see appointed.

Griswold concurred and duly asked EDC Chair Cheryl Poirier for her input regarding the appointments. Poirier responded saying by email, “[Fuchs] 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.” Regarding Russell, Poirier stated, “I believe Wendy could provide positive impact to the EDC … I encourage her appointment.”

David Rubino, a current member of the EDC, had also commented by email to the BOS on Colwell’s potential appointment, saying that he encouraged the BOS, “to reappoint Ms. Fuchs to the EDC.

When discussion began, Shoemaker made a motion to, “Reappoint Fuchs to a five-year term ending January 31st, 2027.” Ward seconded it but when Griswold called for a vote, Ward did not support it. Griswold also voted no, and so the motion failed.

The phone lines were not fully muted and both a shocked, “Wow” and separately, an expletive could be clearly heard.

Ward then made a motion to appoint Colwell to fill the open five-year term ending Jan. 31, 2024.

Shoemaker opened the discussion with a statement, saying, ” I believe as town leaders we are here to set a good example. A person’s character or personality traits should not be a topic of discussion at any town meetings.” She added that she felt the board of selectmen should not be perpetuating that type of behavior but rather doing their best to stop it.”

Shoemaker’s statement sparked an animated discussion as Ward set out to distance himself from Griswold’s comment in the previous meeting that Fuchs was “abrasive,” saying it was “inappropriate.” He continued that theme, however, saying he felt the email Rubino sent to the BOS was similarly inappropriate, as were comments made about Colwell in the November 2021 election.

In his email to the BOS, Rubino had called out Colwell’s outspoken position against COVID vaccinations and also her Tweet that “Those restaurants in Boston that have complied with the Boston mayor’s vaccine mandate should be “boycotted and bankrupted”.”

Ward asked, “Do I agree with everything she says?” then responded firmly to his own question, “No I don’t.” But he maintained Colwell has a right to her opinions and “Berating her in public is inappropriate. She is never going to want to volunteer for anything ever again.”

Shoemaker pointed out that there is a difference between Colwell’s opinions and facts, but moreover, the board has asked the opinion of the EDC Chair and now seemed ready to ignore it.

Griswold joined the discussion saying, “I think we should look at Mona … she has skills here. We have to give her a chance.”

Regarding any assumption that an incumbent has an automatic right to be re-elected, Griswold stated, “I don’t think you have a monopoly on a position.”

Griswold concluded, “I think having Mona on there would be a distinct asset.”

Griswold called for a vote: Ward supported the motion and Shoemaker voted against. Griswold used his vote to break the tie and thus pass the motion to appoint Colwell.

Ward made a second motion to appoint Wendy Russell, a Republican, to the open five-year term ending Jan. 31, 2027. Both Ward and Shoemaker supported the motion, which duly passed.

Asked Tuesday for her opinion on the decision to appoint Colwell, Poirier told LymeLine by email , “I provided the board of selectmen the reasons why Candace Fuchs was a collaborative, productive EDC member that deserved reappointment. I am disappointed that my input did not weigh more heavily in Tim and Matt’s choice.”

She continued in a positive vein, “Now my focus as EDC Chair is keeping the commission moving forward with new initiatives we have started such as a ribbon-cutting program, the new ExploreOldLyme.com website, and the Shoreline Gateway Committee, which the board of selectmen approved last night.”

Responding to the same question on Tuesday regarding Colwell’s appointment, Shoemaker said by phone, “I am disappointed that we took the time to ask a [commission] chairman for their recommendation and then did not follow hat recommendation.”

We also messaged a similar question to Griswold but had not received a reply by press time.

Editor’s Note: Visit this link to read our previous article: 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 This article includes the full text of both Poirier and Rubino’s emails mentioned above, and also generated additional comments

Comments

  1. Thomas D. Gotowka says

    My reaction is “Holy Cow”! That said, I feel very strongly that this was an unfortunate action taken by Messrs. Griswold and Ward. Such decisions do not bode well for our community.
    Ms. Colwell’s history of disseminating the erroneous and the unacceptable is very scary.
    I disagree with Mr. Ward’s contention, which was also cited earlier this week in a “New London Day” article, that Mr. Rubino acted in an inappropriate manner when he shared social media posts made by Ms. Colwell.

  2. There was even more political gerrymandering by Griswold and Ward that night. Jim Lampos’ application for Zoning, alternate, was not even discussed. This was the case despite Jim’s many years of active participation on town improvement projects and his previous experience as an alternate member of the ZBA. This is a loss for our community. Thank you for your service, Jim.

  3. Kim Thompson says

    No wonder there’s a scarcity of volunteers for commissions and committees, one risks being labeled as abrasive by town leadership for having opinions. Women with opinions beware! Are the male members of commissions being held to the same standard? I don’t think so!

  4. John Stratton says

    The Economic Development Commission has worked in a nonpartisan/apolitical manner for many years; I believe it is wholly inappropriate, and unhelpful, for Commission members to tout their “social” opinions as though they are somehow facts, placing ideology over economic pragmatics. Their personal arguments displace discussion (and news coverage) on economic issues that will shape the town for years to come. All Commission members serve as volunteers at the behest of the Selectmen/Women. There are numerous other opportunities to help the town if one choose to do so.

  5. Bill Fitzgerald says

    Griswold and Ward are really showing that they care more about settling political scores than governing.

    If we’re looking at reasons for a lack of growth in the town, we should look at this mindset as one of the barriers.

    And yes – the sexism and double standard of the first selectman abrasively passing judgement on a town volunteer needs some attention.

    It’s very easy and convenient to try and dismiss valid criticism by going after the way it was delivered. This is such a common and dishonest tactic it has a name: tone policing.

    We need to stop ducking valid and real issues, and we need to stop responding to informed criticisms with tone policing.

  6. Charlotte Scot says

    When a person runs for office in a small town (like Old Lyme) and loses by 1000 votes. The people of the community have rendered an opinion that should be considered more carefully.

  7. Jonnie Marks says

    I do not know the stories and situations behind Colwell’s appointment, but her opposition to vaccinations against Covid clearly demonstrates she cannot be trusted to fairly evaluate information and come to fact-based conclusions. This cannot be good for our beautiful town and its future.

  8. Susan Erickson says

    I am appalled at the behavior shown by Griswold & Ward. The voters expect leaders to work with whomever is elected. There are excellent reasons voters wanted the democrat to win. Stop this nonsense.

  9. Jonathan B. Wilder says

    This is why more people do not get involved in local politics.Very sad.