Editor's Note: City Attorney Brigham Smith tells Middletown Patch that Planning and Zoning Commissioner Carl Chisem has resigned from the board. "In the research that I had done so far into the issue," Smith said, "I did not encounter an outright prohibition on serving in both capacities."
In an email to Middletown Patch, Chisem wrote, "Last night I was fulfilling my obligations to the public by sitting on the commission since I hadn't yet resigned. I have since resigned as of Nov. 14, 2013, so that I can fulfill my duties as common councilman."
In a bizarre turn of events, a former planning and zoning commissioner refused to give up his seat Wednesday despite being elected to common council.
To the surprise of other commissioners, Democrat Carl R. Chisem, who was sworn in as a member of Middletown's common council Tuesday, also claimed his seat on planning and zoning. Chisem, 51, told those gathered that his term on the zoning board runs until 2015.
His maneuver prevented the planning board meeting from taking place, including the election of Democrat Stephen Devoto as chair. During the election, Republican Commissioner Molly Salafia said, candidates had discussed who might be installed as officers, including herself as vice chair.
"It was just chaos," Salafia said of Wednesday's events.
Within 20 minutes, the meeting was adjourned for lack of quorum after the three Republicans, including newly elected commissioners Jeremy Clark and Robert Simpson, left council chambers.
Chisem hadn't returned emails and calls by press time.
Town Clerk Linda Bettencourt said when she learned of the evening's proceedings, she immediately informed the city attorney's office. "It's an issue Brig will have to handle whether it pertains to the charter or state statute. Brig is aware of it and he will be handling it."
Chisem replaced zoning commissioner Michael Johnson in May after he stepped down after moving to West Hartford.
He has served on the Middletown zoning board of appeals, Harbor Park agency, citizens advisory committee, planning and zoning commission, the mayor's task force on efficiency in government and the Veterans Memorial Park Renovation committee.
Salafia said members felt that since common councilors receive a monetary stipend for their service and a number of issues and duties of both commissions overlap that any decisions made that evening could be contested.
"For the public's best interest, if anything had been approved or disapproved, it could jeopardize an application," she said.
Also on the night's agenda were two lot re-subdivisions on Crystal Lake Road and Country Club and Massa Tom roads.
"I apologized profusely to the applicant," Salafia said. "I feel really badly that we had to push the meeting back."
Devoto agreed. "There was tremendous concern that any vote we took with him as a seated commissioner would be subject to a lawsuit."
Devoto won the Sept. 10 Democratic primary after he failed to garner enough votes to earn his party's support. His victory bumped longtime commissioner and former chair Dan Russo and candidate Robert Simpson from the ballot.
"I support Stephen for chair and the other two Republicans do, too," Salafia said, adding she thinks alternate, Democrat Beth Emery, should be sworn in as a full member of the commission.
Devoto agreed that he considers Emery is next in rotation for a seat on the planning board.
"I think she's a great person, she's very knowledgeable, and has filled in tremendously in the past," Salafia said.
Meanwhile, commissioners await the city attorney's decision on the matter.
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