Karina Betfarhad
Karina Betfarhad

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The Transit Committee of the Representative Town Meeting on Tuesday voted to recommend Karina Betfarhad, a civil engineer and PTA leader, as a co-director for Westport Transit District.

The Transit District has been operating with only one director even though it’s required by the state to have two.

Betfarhad and Transit Committee member Sal Liccione, District 9, requested they be considered for the position.

The full RTM will ultimately make the appointment.

Sal Liccione. / Photo by Thane Grauel
Sal Liccione

The committee’s vote on a motion to recommend Betfarhad was 7-1, with Ross Burkhardt, District 3, opposed. Liccione abstained.

The Transit District contracts with the Norwalk Transit District for buses and drivers, and might soon have to decide whether it stays independent, or merge with another transit district. The state is pushing for consolidation.

Liccione insists on open-session interview

Committee Chairwoman Kristin Schneeman had planned on having committee members interview the two in executive session, without the public present, because they were discussing a personnel matter.

Liccione wrote to her requesting that his interview be held in open session, which was his choice under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The questions, Schneeman said, were assembled based on some asked by other public bodies when interviewing candidates for positions.

Claudia Shaum, District 5, asked why he was interested in being a transit director.

“I have the experience,” Liccione said. “I take public transit, I have been involved in involved in transit situations for a very long time.”

“I was on the citizen transit committee; I’ve helped homeless get buses …,” he said. “I know how to do a budget.”

“I think we need more public transit, not less,” he said in response to another question, stressing the needs of people who work in the downtown area.

“The businesses in the downtown area are crying for more public transit,” Liccione said.

He said he’d work well with Peter Gold, the only transit director at the moment (who is unpaid) and also a member of the Transit Committee; the neighboring transit districts, and the legislative delegation.

Burkhardt asked how he felt about the consolidating transit districts.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Liccione said. “I think we have to work together with the state and if we’re going to merge them we have to work as a team and not just in the silo of the town of Westport, which we love …”

Liccione appeared defensive when answering questions from Nancy Kail, District 9.

“OK, Nancy, you win,” he said at one point. “I see where this whole thing is going.”

Gold then asked a question and Liccione asked one back.

“You are a transit director aren’t you, Peter?” Liccione asked. “Are you allowed to ask these questions and have a vote?”

“Of course,” Gold replied. “I’m an RTM member.”

When members of the public who joined the Zoom meeting were moved to a virtual “waiting room” during Betfarhad’s executive session interview, Liccione was as well.

Gold, and RTM members not on the committee, were allowed to join the executive session.

After the meeting, Liccione questioned whether Gold should have voted for his co-director. Liccione also took issue with being excluded from the other candidate’s interview.

“She was allowed to hear my questions, but I wasn’t allowed to hear hers,” he told the Westport Journal.

The committee interviewed Liccione about 25 minutes. It appeared to interview Betfarhad about 50 minutes. What she was asked and how she responded is known only to those in the closed-door meeting.

Betfarhad did not speak during public portions of the meeting. But meeting materials state she moved to Westport 14 years ago.

“This unique position allows me to seamlessly integrate my professional experience, academic training, and commitment to serving the community of Westport,” Betfarhad wrote to the committee before her endorsement.

“I bring a deep understanding of the community’s needs and a genuine commitment to its well-being …,” she said.

“My involvement has been diverse … I am confident in my ability to contribute significantly to the Westport Transit District,” she concluded.

“I wish her good luck,” Liccione said of Betfarhad after the committee’s vote.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.