Residents question appointments to housing commission
By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
East Windsor - posted Tue., Nov. 20, 2012
Residents of East Windsor’s Park Hill housing complex recently questioned whether the appointment of a town official to the East Windsor Housing Authority Commission was legal. Some members of the board, along with residents, believed that Marie DeSousa’s position on the Board of Finance, Volunteer Incentive Committee, and Shared Services Committee may cause a conflict of interest with her role on the housing commission.
In a letter from East Windsor Housing Authority attorney Elliot J. Lane to the town of East Windsor, he asked for a legal decision on the appointment from Town Attorney Joshua Hawks-Ladds, citing a Connecticut General Statute stating, “No commissioner of an authority may hold any public office in the municipality for which authority is created.”
Hawks-Ladd found that DeSousa’s appointment as a commissioner of the housing authority, “vacated her position on the Board of Finance by operation of law,” citing a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling from Magie versus Stoddard that said two offices cannot be held by the same person at the same time; the acceptance of the latter office vacates the former office. In cooperation with the legal opinion, DeSousa sent in her letter of resignation to Board of Finance Chairman Jason Bowsza on Nov. 16. She was sworn into the position at Town Hall on Nov. 19 to complete the final month of the vacant seat on the housing commission.
Members of the Park Hill complex were happy with the prompt ruling from Hawks-Ladds and the immediate action taken by DeSousa. Resident Commissioner Pauline Legassie said, “I’ve known Marie DeSousa for years and years, and way back when, when I needed help, she was right there. She knows how to handle herself; I think she is going to be a real asset to the board.”
Residents of the housing complex, alongside Housing Director Jennifer DiMauro, presented a letter to the Board of Selectmen on Dec. 20, 2011, asking for a legal opinion on the appointment of a town employee as a commissioner. Elizabeth Burns serves as the director of human services and as the municipal agent for the elderly, and some residents believed it may be a conflict of interest because she is a paid town employee and Burns may have clients who are residents that the commission may be taking action against.
The letter from Lane to Hawks-Ladds cited the Connecticut General Statute, stating, “No commissioner of an authority may hold any public office in the municipality for which authority is created.” He followed with the case of the New York Times versus Sullivan, which discussed who can be a public official. Lane later stated that in Rosenblatt versus Baer the court found that a non-elected official “among the hierarchy of government employees who have or appear to have substantial responsibility for, or control over, the conduct of public affairs” was a public official within the meaning of Sullivan.
At the meeting, the Board of Selectmen interpreted that the statute is for elected officials, not town employees. The board noted they have had problems filling spots on boards and commissions and felt Burns would be well suited for the commission, having worked well for the town and being the only one to volunteer for the position. The board also noted that the letter did not say the appointment violates any statutes, rather it is an interpretation, and would stand by their decision until the housing authority commission attorney said otherwise.
Residents of the community are unhappy that they have not heard a legal opinion from Hawks-Ladds in regard to the appointment of Burns. “I just have a negative feeling the way Burns’ appointment was pushed on us and with the tone that it was pushed on us when we clearly voiced what our feeling was,” said resident Cherie Martyn. “It feels like some of these people are possibly being appointed to be burrs in the saddle.”