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New Westport Zoning Commission Off to Bumpy Start

WESTPORT, Conn. – Westport's newest Planning and Zoning Commission held its first public meeting Thursday night and already, there's a clear division amongst the new Republican majority and the Democrats.

Republicans Catherine Walsh, Chip Stephens, Jack Whittle and Al Gratrix — all of whom were elected for the first time this November — nominated each other for the top spots when the board began choosing its leaders. Democrats Ron Corwin (the outgoing chairman), Howard Lathrop and Nora Jinishian sat silent.

Walsh, who was first appointed to the commission in 2008, won her seat as chairman in a 4-to-3 vote. She, Whittle, Stephens and Gratrix voted in favor while Corwin, Lathrop and Jinishian abstained altogether. The commissioners voted the same when Whittle was appointed vice chairman, and Stephens as secretary.

Tensions then grew after Whittle proposed the commission forgo its usual route in appointing the alternate members. The commission typically interviews the alternate candidates in a public meeting, discusses nominations in an executive, or closed-door session, and then votes in another public meeting. Whittle suggested the commission just take the vote.

Because the Republican nominees — Tim Wetmore and Michael Krawiec — are former "well-known" commissioners, Walsh said she and the other Republican commissioners felt an executive session wasn't necessary.

"Had they been unknown [nominees], I would agree that we should go into executive session," Walsh said.

Although she further explained that it was within the rules to forgo the executive session, Corwin objected the idea.

"I think this is an unfortunate way to handle this," he said. "Although you say this would only be a one-time thing, I say precedents, once they're set, have momentum of their own. I just want to underline how unusual this is."

Lathrop agreed and said he would abstain from voting.

In the end, Wetmore and Krawiec were voted in as the Republican alternates. Although Corwin voiced his opposition to the procedural change, he voted in favor of their appointments.

Wetmore, who served on the commission from 2005 to 2007, won five votes. Jinishian, who said she didn't known Wetmore, and Lathrop abstained. Krawiec, who did not seek re-election this November after serving four years on the commission, won six votes. Lathrop abstained.

The Democrats did not present their alternate candidates during the meeting.

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