Stamford Advocate

Finance board nominee pushes back

- By Angela Carella

STAMFORD — One of two Republican­s nominated to fill an open seat on the powerful Board of Finance — the nominee city representa­tives refused to interview — is fighting back.

Joshua Esses, a 2016 Harvard Law School graduate and attorney with a New York City firm, has written the members of the Board of Representa­tives to explain how they violated their rules of order when they voted against allowing him to appear before their Appointmen­ts Committee for an interview.

In a ninepage letter that cites case law to support his position, Esses demands an interview under the rules.

He asks “that a lawful process to fill the vacancy be followed,” Esses wrote.

It makes no difference that he was nominated by a single Republican representa­tive, and that the other nominee,

Frank Cerasoli, was nominated by the Board of Representa­tives’ Republican caucus, Esses wrote.

The rules are clear, he wrote. They say that any candidate nominated to fill a vacancy in a citywide office must be referred to the Board of

Representa­tives’ Appointmen­ts Committee for an interview, Esses wrote.

“This issue is no longer about whether I or Mr. Cerasoli should be the next member of the Board of Finance,” wrote Esses, 28, a newcomer to elected office. “Mr. Cerasoli is a decent man, a dedicated public servant, and I am confident he would do an admirable job as a member of the Board of Finance. This is about the integrity of our legislativ­e process, our democracy, and whether we live under the rule of law.”

Cerasoli, 55, is a former city representa­tive who nowsitsont­heBoardof Education. Cerasoli would have to resign from the school board if he is approved to fill the finance board seat that was vacated Dec. 1 by Sal Gabriele, who was halfway through his second term.

The remainder of Gabriele’s term must be filled by a Republican because he is a Republican.

Last week the Board of Representa­tives’ Steering Committee, which sets the meeting agendas, voted to advance Cerasoli for an interview but not Esses.

Board President Matt Quinones and other members said the Steering Committee has the authority to advance nominees for interviews, just as it may

“Mr. Cerasoli is a decent man, a dedicated public servant, and I am confident he would do an admirable job as a member of the Board of Finance. This is about the integrity of our legislativ­e process, our democracy, and whether we live under the rule of law.”

Joshua Esses’ letter to the Board of Representa­tives

approve or reject other proposed items.

Not so, wrote Esses, citing precedents such as DeMayo v. Quinn, a Meriden case that went before the state Supreme Court, andSlanev.TownofFair­field. No elected body can “waive its rules of order,” Esses wrote.

If the Steering Committee in fact had the authority to reject candidates for interviews, then the Democrats who dominate the committee could block all kinds of appointmen­ts, Esses wrote.

The rules, by mandating that all nominees be granted interviews, prevent an abuse of power by a handful of representa­tives on one committee, he wrote.

Quinones has responded to Esses’ letter. Quinones wrote to the board after he said he received inquiries from members “interested in pursuing the nomination of Joshua Esses to the Board of Finance.”

Quinones laid out the complicate­d processes by which the situation may be remedied.

Esses cannot be interviewe­d when the Appointmen­ts Committee meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, since the Steering Committee did not approve him. Cerasoli, though, is on Wednesday’s agenda.

Usually a representa­tive may move to suspend the rules and add something to an agenda, but that can’t happen Wednesday because the Appointmen­ts Committee meeting is special. Its members decided, likely because of the holidays, to move up its regular Dec. 30 meeting date. Now if members want to add Esses to their agenda, they must meet again on Dec. 30.

At that time a member may move to suspend the rules and, if the others approve, Esses can have his interview. Esses then can go on to be considered for confirmati­on when the full board meets on Jan. 6. Cerasoli is already set to be considered on Jan. 6. There’s another scenario. If the Appointmen­ts Committee does not meet

on Dec. 30, representa­tives may move to suspend the rules during their Jan. 6 full board meeting and hold a vote on Esses without his having been interviewe­d.

If representa­tives are uncomforta­ble doing that, they may hold the Esses nomination pending an interview, and hold the vote on Cerasoli, too.

The final kink: if representa­tives should decide to hold Esses but not Cerasoli, then a vote on Cerasoli’s nomination would move forward and, if approved, he would take the Board of Finance seat.

Then “the nomination of Mr. Esses would become moot,” Quinones wrote.

It’s a mess. It happened after Republican­s nominated two candidates instead of one.

The stakes for Stamford residents are high. The Board of Finance has only six members and they wield the power of the purse strings. They decide the tax rate, cut budgets, direct audits, set the contingenc­y fund and debt limit, approve special appropriat­ions and account transfers, and more.

Esses said in his letter it’s why he is fighting for the rules to be followed.

“The people of Stamford, each member of the Board of Representa­tives, and our democracy deserve no less,” he wrote.

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