By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — The Civilian Review Board — the independent body created last year to address citizen complaints about police, fire and emergency medical personnel — still officially has no members, so the panel it will replace will take up a recently filed grievance.

The review board ordinance, approved last November by the Representative Town Meeting after several years of often acrimonious debate, establishes a five-member board with two members and an alternate chosen by the first select person, two selected by the RTM and one chosen by TEAM Westport, the town’s multicultural advocacy committee.

Only First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker has chosen her appointees for the board — although their identities have not been publicly disclosed — and the RTM is expected to vote on its choices within the next month, RTM Moderator Jeff Wieser said this week.

“We’re working on it … The [RTM] Public Protection Committee is meeting on that this month,” Wieser said. “We will reach out for applications, then the Public Protection Committee will identify two recommended nominees, then the RTM will vote on it.”

Harold Bailey Jr., the TEAM Westport chairman — also the chairman of the pre-existing Citizen Review Panel — has thrown his hat into the ring for TEAM’s seat on the new board. TEAM members will hold a nominating and voting process for its nominee soon, he said at TEAM’s meeting this week.

Old panel still officially on the books

Meanwhile, before the new independent board can officially act, the old Citizen Review Panel — which serves at the first selectperson’s pleasure — will address any complaints until new board members are installed and trained, according to Selectwoman Andrea Moore. 

There have not been any complaints filed against emergency-services personnel for several months, Bailey said, but a new one was recently received so the Civilian Review Panel will consider it within the next few weeks.

Moore and fellow Selectwoman Candice Savin, as members of the old panel, will review the recent complaint, but their role will end after the new board is convened.

That’s because the body was reconfigured last fall after concerns were lodged that the first selectperson had wielded too much authority over the group by appointing the majority of its members, and that the other selectpersons could have conflicts of interest if a review board decision were appealed to the full Board of Selectmen.

The two other members of the panel, appointed by the RTM, currently are Teresa Fabi, a former New York City prosecutor, and Michael Guthman, a former RTM member.

Long, bumpy road to approval

The new Civilian Review Board will not have subpoena power, an authority the Police Department strongly opposed, but will have input in the process of hiring emergency services personnel, according to Bailey.

The Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services agency are also under the board’s purview.

“The RTM has codified it in such a way that the rules cannot be changed,” Bailey said. “It’s an ongoing entity, as opposed to panel which comes and goes on the whims of the first selectperson.”

It took several years to develop and refine the role of the new board, and several versions of the plan were rejected along the way.

Although the new board’s composition was approved last fall, it will probably take until the end of the summer to get all five members appointed and trained, Wieser said.

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.