MILFORD - The Republican members of the Planning and Zoning Board walked out of a Jan. 4 meeting before it started, disputing the authority of Chair Susan Shaw, D-4, to start the meeting.

Shaw has been chair of the board for the last year. An election for the chair position was the first item of business for the meeting. The board consists of five Republicans and five Democrats.

How the impasse will be resolved has not been determined, though both parties claimed they want to get back to Planning and Zoning Board business.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Richard Smith said their intention was for Shaw to call the Jan. 4 meeting to order, then hand over the reins to City Planner David Sulkis to hold the election.

Republicans walked out of the meeting because "attending would have allowed Susan Shaw to claim she was still the chair despite the fact that her term had expired," according to Republican Town Chairman Tom Jagodzinski.

They did not make a public announcement about why they left at the time, Jagodzinski said. There were several residents in attendance who had business planned before the zoning board, no applications were discussed. The meeting was immediately adjourned.

Member Robert Dickman, R-2, claimed in a statement that Shaw "hijacked" the process and described her move to start the meeting as a "self-serving ploy."

Shaw said that she was performing her duty as incumbent chair and welcomes an election.

"A chair remains until a replacement is voted on," she said.

Since 2005, City Planner David Sulkis has called the first meeting of the year to order, which has been immediately followed by election of a new chair, according to past PZB meeting minutes.

However, from 1981 to 2004, the incumbent chair, or vice chair if there was no incumbent, called the meeting to order, followed by election of a new chair.

Because of this, Smith said Shaw acted within her rights to start the meeting.

"We have the letter of the law and procedure on our side," he said.

He added that Republicans are attempting to derail the process because in the event of a tie vote—a likelihood considering the 50-50 split- Shaw would remain chair.

PZB member Greg Vetter, R-1, said Shaw's departure from the "long-standing practice" of having the city planner start the meeting and gave the Republicans "no choice but to leave in protest."

City Attorney Winthrop Smith issued a legal opinion last month stating that the PZB chair position is only for one year. The opinion cited the PZB handbook and custom during recent years to elect a chair for one year.

But Richard Smith disagreed, saying that the city's ordinances do not stipulate the one-year term, and disputed the city attorney's power to issue opinions on independent city boards. He cited a document from former city attorney Marilyn Lipton, who wrote that she would not offer a legal opinion that would "interfere with the autonomous function of boards and commissions within this community."

He also questioned Winthrop Smith's neutrality, as he had served as Republican town chairman.

Winthrop Smith did not return calls seeking comment.

There is one thing the two parties agree on: at the next board meeting, they will have to vote on a new chair.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is for Thursday, Jan. 20. Currently there is no special meeting scheduled to resolve the matter.