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    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    Stonington finance board candidate loses seat despite winning by 352 votes

    Stonington ― A candidate who won election to the Board of Finance despite being criticized for their social media posts in 2020 about police will not be seated after a review of state law and the town charter.

    Despite receiving 353 more votes than the nearest Republican candidate, David Brown, Democrat Farrah Garland, who was accused of anti-police bias, cannot be seated on the board due to minority party representation rules in the town charter.

    According to the charter, which aligns with state statute, Brown, who received 2,698 votes to Garland’s 3,051, must be seated in Garland’s place.

    Minority party representation is intended to allow minority parties to have a voice in municipal government by limiting the number of members from a single party that can serve on a town board or commission.

    On a seven-member body such as the finance board, the charter limits membership to five members from a single party. Garland’s win would have meant six members of the board were Democrats, and due to the requirements, Brown, the highest vote-getter among the Republican candidates, will take the seat.

    State law on minority party representation was initially passed in 1959. At the time, debate was singularly supportive of the idea that representation was necessary and functioned as a watchdog providing checks on a majority party.

    Case law at the state and federal levels have upheld the law, which has been challenged on several grounds including violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. State courts also found the law to be constitutional, saying it provided proportional representation and gave minority parties representation.

    In response to Nov. 6 communication from Republican Town Committee Chairman Glenn Frishman, Town Clerk Sally Duplice reached out to the Secretary of State’s office for guidance on Frishman’s claim that current finance board member Chris Johnson, an Independent, counted as a Democrat for purposes of minority party representation.

    Frishman argued that because Johnson was endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee for his seat in 2021 and appeared on the ballot only as a Democratic candidate, he was ostensibly a Democrat when it came to the election of three new members according to the town charter.

    According to emails provided by Duplice, Mark Severance, an elections officer with the Secretary of the State’s office, wrote on Nov. 7 that staff attorneys agreed with Frishman’s assertion that Johnson counted as a Democrat despite his party affiliation, and that minority party representation requirements would mean that only two of the three available seats on the finance board could go to Democrats.

    According to a Nov. 9 email, Town Attorney Jeffrey Londrigan concurred that Johnson was considered a Democrat for the purposes of ensuring minority representation.

    In addition to Johnson, the other Democratic members of the board include Chairman Timothy O’Brien, Michael Fauerbach, Deborah Norman, who won reelection to her seat, and newly elected member William Sternberg.

    Unaffiliated member Lynn Young and newly elected Brown comprise the minority party representation on the board.

    Young was endorsed by the Republican and Democratic Town Committees in 2021 and appeared as a candidate of both parties. Young is considered unaffiliated for purposes of determining minority party representation as state statute refers only to “solely-endorsed” candidates like Johnson.

    Editor’s note: This version corrects the current Board of Finance members to include Michael Fauerbach.

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