By John Schwing

WESTPORT — TEAM Westport, which recently came under fire from two local residents who contend its membership violates town charter provisions, will be partially restructured in response to the complaint.

In a letter dated Feb. 15 to lawyer Vincent Marino — representing residents Zack Alcyone and Camilo Riano, who filed the complaint — First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker said that going forward that no more than 50 percent of TEAM’s appointed members can be from a single political party, and that all residents of the committee must be electors in Westport.

Alcyone and Riano, in their Jan. 31 complaint, threatened to file a legal challenge if their concerns were not addressed.

Marino, contacted late Thursday morning, said he had not yet discussed Tooker’s statement with Alcyone and Riano, and “out of fairness” to them, did not want to comment until he had consulted them.

Bailey: TEAM Westport’s mission unchanged

TEAM Westport Chairman Harold Bailey, reached for comment Thursday afternoon, said that the first selectwoman’s planned changes “would not inhibit its mission one iota.”

He said that TEAM remains committed to moving forward with “full force” to help realize the issues cited in the town’s “Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity” adopted last October.

His committee, Bailey pointed out, is not the only of the town’s appointed advisory groups likely to be affected by Tooker’s recommendations on minority-party representation and residency.

He noted that TEAM, which currently has 14 members, over the years at some times has had more members and at other times fewer, so that it has flexibility in accommodating the new membership guidelines.

He also noted the group was initially established to address its mission in both Westport and Weston, so it routinely has included non-residents among its members, although the focus in recent years has been solely on Westport.

As for a timeframe for implementing membership changes, Bailey said, “When the first selectwoman says it will happen, it will happen.”

Political affiliation, residency provisions to be applied

TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport is an appointed committee of 14 volunteers whose mission is to promote multiculturalism and diversity in town.

As TEAM Westport’s membership is currently comprised, 11 of the committee’s 14 members, including Bailey, its longtime leader, are identified by the letter writers as registered Democrats, and at least two members are not town residents.

Tooker, citing a legal opinion from the Town Attorney’s Office, said because TEAM Westport is an “advisory” committee, “the membership is not in violation of the Town Charter provisions regarding term limits and the removal of any member who ceases to be a Westport voter,” which the complainants, however, contend are issues that also need to be addressed.

The Town Attorney’s Office justified its rejection of those claims, because the town “has long interpreted Chapter 3 [of the Town Charter] according to its plain language, meaning that it applies to appointed ‘Boards and Commissions,’ but not to appointed committees, task forces, teams, etc. Therefore, the town’s advisory committees and similar appointed advisory groups may include members who are not subject to term limits or residency requirements.”

TEAM Westport was established in 2005 by the Representative Town Meeting as an advisory committee. As such, Town Attorney Ira Bloom writes in a letter to Tooker, the complainants’ call for its actions to be considered “void” is irrelevant since TEAM can take no actions that are binding on any town officials or body.

Tooker: “Slightly amended” membership rules needed

Tooker said she is “confident we have the knowledge and expertise among our residents here in Westport to fulfill the slightly amended membership requirements, and that TEAM Westport will continue to serve our community in its advisory role in creating a more welcoming, multicultural Westport.”

TEAM Westport “mission” defended

The first selectwoman, echoing comments she made at a Feb. 3 TEAM meeting after the controversy erupted, defended the committee’s “mission.”

“First and foremost,” she wrote to Marino, “the work of TEAM Westport is important to the future of our community by helping to ensure that everyone – residents, employees, business owners and visitors alike – feels that they belong and are welcome here.

“The Town of Westport thrives on the volunteer efforts of numerous people, including members of TEAM Westport, who generously give of their talent and time. I am so grateful for our appointed board, commission and committee members who help make Westport the best place to live, work and play,” Tooker wrote.