Montville - More than two months after the chairman of the Democratic Town Committee filed a complaint accusing four town councilors of violating state open meeting laws, the two sides may be headed for a hearing next week before the state Freedom of Information Commission.
The four councilors, Howard "Russ" Beetham, Ellen Hillman, Donna Jacobson and Dana McFee, are accused of holding an illegal caucus in May.
Todd Pomazon filed a complaint with the FOIC in which he said the four councilors showed that they illegally caucused by releasing a joint email statement detailing more than $300,000 in suggested cuts to the town's budget. A caucus is a quorum, or majority, of a board or council.
The four councilors sent a letter of explanation to Pomazon in which they said the Secretary of the State's office told them in 2009 that they had the right to caucus. On Tuesday, both Jacobson and McFee reiterated that there was no malicious intent.
Rather, it was a misunderstanding caused by the Secretary of the State's office. Jacobson's party affiliation was the root of the problem.
Jacobson ran for the Town Council in 2009 as a Democrat, but she was cross-endorsed by the Independence for Montville and Republican parties and was seated on the council as a Republican because of state minority representation rules.
That meant, according to FOIC rules, that she had to file paperwork with the Town Clerk to caucus with Beetham, Hillman and McFee. Now Jacobson said she is waiting for Pomazon's decision.
Pomazon said Tuesday that he is still deciding how to proceed. Thomas A. Hennick, a public education officer with the FOIC and the mediator assigned to the case, said he is waiting to see if the hearing, scheduled for Oct. 27, may be avoided.
"I am still hopeful that it will be resolved," Hennick said.
Hennick also met with town officials Monday night for a seminar on Freedom of Information law. He said the meeting was also used to try to bring the two sides toward a resolution on the complaint.
"We've tried to work within the boundaries of mediation. As of (Monday) night, that did not work," Jacobson said. "It would be good (to avoid the hearing) because that's more money that doesn't need to be expended."
Jacobson was referring to attorney fees that may be spent in the event of a hearing. McFee also said that he was concerned the hearing would mean more unnecessary legal fees.
"We're not claiming that they're not right," McFee said. "We're saying we followed the interpretation that we were told."