Jennifer Aniskovich was not reappointed to the Board of Finance Wednesday night after claims that she politicized the board—- the same concerns that almost kept her from being appointed to fill a vacancy on that board two years ago.
The Board of Selectmen (BOS) voted 2-1 against the reappointment of Aniskovich, a Republican, to serve a three year term. First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos and Second Selectman Andy Campbell voted no. Third Selectman James Cosgrove—the sole Republican on the board—voted in her favor.
“The Board of Finance (BOF) has become politicized,” Campbell said. “There are numerous ramifications and things happening as a result of the board politicizing…Quite frankly, the only variable in the last couple of years has been her.”
The attempt to appoint Aniskovich to the BOF in September 2010 set off a political firestorm. Then Third Selectman John Opie, a Republican, attempted to nominate her three times, but his motions failed to gain a second from DaRos or Second Selectman Fran Walsh. Click here to read about that meeting.
However, she was approved the following month when Walsh and Opie voted in her favor, and DaRos abstained from voting. Walsh initially said he feared Aniskovich would politicize the BOF, which is typically comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans. However, Walsh changed his mind after meeting with her prior to the October meeting. Click here to read about that meeting.
Aniskovich, the former head of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, is the wife of former state Sen. William Aniskovich, and is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Virginia School of Law. She also served for a short time as executive director at the St. Thomas More Center in New Haven.
Campbell said many of the BOF’s critical decisions in recent months were “kicked over” to a tie-breaking vote by the first selectman. “ I view that as not only historically significant… but I view it as an abdication of duty by the board to have the selectman break a tie… The fact that this is rather unprecedented is noteworthy.”
He said one example of political fallout occurred when the BOF argued about giving raises to unaffiliated town hall department heads and their deputies. “Their job salaries were played with in a political way during the process and the upshot of that is they voted to unionize.”
Campbell read part of a letter written by Frank Twohill, minority leader of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in regard to the recent BOF meetings. The letter from Twohill was from a Republican newsletter and it read in part: “These ties had to be broken by DaRos. The fact that he voted on the side of more spending is extremely important, as the onus of responsibility falls exactly where it should: on the First Selectman.” As it turned out small raises for these employees would have been far less than permanent union contracts will soon require.
“The fact that it’s been politicized and bragged about, that it’s gotten to this point in Branford ….is not a good trend for the town,” Campbell said.
Cosgrove said it would be wrong to take Aniskovich off the board because of something that someone else wrote. “I’m not calling you a fool, but that thought process is foolish,” Cosgrove told Campbell.
Peter Black,(pictured) a Republican member of the RTM, also said Aniskovich should not be penalized for something Twohill said. “Sometimes you give us more credit for more organization and conspiracy than I think we’re capable of,” Black said.
“Jennifer is one voice,” Black said. “Sometimes she gets some support [on the BOF], sometimes she gets all six members, sometimes it might be three, or one or just herself.”
Opie, who did not run for reelection during the last campaign, took Campbell to task over his allegations. “You’re all worried about politicizing the Board of Finance. What do you think this is doing?” he asked.
“What kind of message does this send? This tells anybody who’s going to be your next appointee, ‘You either vote exactly the way we tell you to or you’re not going to be on the board anymore,’” Opie alleged.
“This woman is one of the brightest people you have on that board,” Opie (pictured) said. “And she does a great job. She has a more conservative point of view, and this isn’t Republican versus Democrat necessarily, it’s conservative versus more liberal policies.”
At one point Opie and Black left the meeting to confer in the hallway. They returned some minutes later.
Susan Cosgrove Barnes, who is Cosgrove’s aunt, said she agreed with statements made by Opie and Black. “Mrs. Aniskovich has brought a fresh viewpoint to the Board of Finance,” she said. “If you refuse to reappoint this woman because she’s raised questions and made people take a look at something… I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think she’s done a superb job at raising issues.”
“It’s not about the disagreement [on issues],” Campbell said. “It’s about political parties bragging about the disagreement as though it was a good set-up job.”
Following the vote, Campbell made a motion to appoint Kurt Schwanfelder, a Republican, to the finance board, at which point Barnes walked out of the meeting. (Opie and Schwanfelder were running mates in the first selectman’s race in 2007 but subsequently had a falling out.)
Cosgrove said Schwanfelder could handle the job and is very well qualified. “But I can’t vote in favor of him,” he said. “This position belongs to Jennifer Aniskovich. There is no logical reason given why she should not serve.”
Opie then asked that the Republican Town Committee (RTC) be allowed to make another recommendation before the BOS votes on the issue. The RTC previously approved Aniskovich for reappointment.
“I think that should be something to consider,” Cosgrove concurred, asking that the motion regarding Schwanfelder be withdrawn. He said the BOF appointment could be put on the agenda for the next BOS meeting in two weeks.
“I respect the Democratic Town Committee (DTC) recommendation and process and I ask for the same consideration,” Cosgrove said.
Campbell agreed to withdraw his motion and postpone a vote until the next meeting. Withdrawing the motion did not mean the Schwanfelder nomination was dead, DaRos told the Eagle afterwards.
Earlier in the evening, Jeff Vailette was unanimously reappointed to a three year term on the BOF. Cosgrove said he may not agree with Vailette at times, but that he respected the DTC recommendation process.
Putting Schwanfelder’s name into nomination was not an unprecedented move. When Aniskovich won the RTC nomination in 2010, she did so by one vote. The RTC’s only other contender was Schwanfelder, a former Republican leader of the RTM, where he served for 22 years. Schwanfelder was subsequently appointed to the Police Commission in 2011. Click here to read a story about that decision.