Fairfield RTM debates forming subcommittee on metro center
Published 1:06 am, Friday, February 12, 2010
David Becker is a newly elected member of the town's Representative Town Meeting (RTM). While campaigning last fall -- and frequently since last November's election -- he's faced questions about the Fairfield Metro Center project that he feels unprepared to answer.
And that bugs him.
"I want to understand all the documents and get a handle on everything now, for the constituents," he said. "If an amended agreement comes before the RTM, which it might, I don't want to find myself backpedaling, trying to understand the current agreement. I want to do the work now to make sure I'm as well informed and as thorough as possible."
According to Becker (R-1), the relevant documents -- the various contracts, the minutes of meetings, the lease agreements and certain memorandums -- are publicly available. But they haven't been synthesized and funneled into a comprehensive package for members of the RTM and residents.
Becker wants to change that. Last week, he co-sponsored a resolution with Kathryn Braun (R-8) -- another newly elected member -- that's on the agenda for the Feb. 22 RTM meeting. The resolution calls for the creation of a special subcommittee "to review and assess status and possible modification of the three-party agreement" -- between the town, the state and the private developer, Blackrock Realty LLC, which the RTM approved in Feb. 2003 -- "and to make further report and recommendations to the RTM."
The subcommittee would include five members representing both political parties, Becker said. But the idea has drawn fire from town officials and RTM members.
Some question the scope of the subcommittee's power. Some question the motives behind it. Some questioned its timing and some portray it as superfluous.
On Monday, the plan hit two stumbling blocks. Early in the day, the town attorney's office issued a two-page rejoinder that challenged the subcommittee's legal standing. The letter stated that, as proposed, it would "impinge upon the charter powers of the first selectman and the Board of Selectmen. It is our opinion that the RTM cannot properly establish a committee for the purposes proposed."
That night, three of the five RTM committees discussed and voted on the proposal. Two groups shot it down. The legislation and administration committee voted 6--2 against it. The finance committee voted 3--0 against it. And the public works subcommittee voted 4--3 in favor, according to Cristin McCarthy Vahey, (D-6), Democratic majority leader.
Next Wednesday, the two other subcommittees -- education and recreation, public health and safety -- will discuss the resolution.
Becker, however, is not dismayed. The language in the resolution is a work in progress, he said. The committee, as he envisions it, would not investigate. It would resemble a "study group" or a "work group," -- a common practice for many boards.
"You break out into a smaller group to do the research and let them be the group that's primarily focusing on a particular project," he said. "It doesn't limit any other members from doing research on their own, and this is not an investigative committee by any means."
The town attorneys' letter misinterpreted the intent of the resolution, Becker said, which may have frazzled some RTM members into opposition.
Said First Selectman Ken Flatto, "I have always tried to offer the RTM a full set of information reports and have already conducted two full status reports and information sessions in the last 10 months regarding the situation with the train station."
He went on: "I'll give another report [on Feb. 22]. I think the notion of giving the RTM information is important. And I do support giving them the information that is publicly available. It's not my place to suggest to the RTM the best way to receive the information."
McCarthy Vahey expressed sympathy with Becker's desire for more information, but she questioned his plan for acquiring it.
"I certainly appreciate the first selectman coming before us. But if there are people who are looking for more and maybe different answers, this is not the ideal way to go about preparing the RTM for any potential vote. And furthermore, it's not the practice, as a body, to set up subcommittees for items that aren't before us necessarily."
According to James Millington, the RTM majority leader (R-9), the discussions for the new committee came before Flatto agreed to give a new presentation on the Metro Center. The substance of that report could sway the need for such a committee. Additionally, if the wording of the resolution needs to be changed -- to shape it as a means to procure information, not modify the contract -- it will be modified.
"Whatever happens from today forward, we're going to have to make sure everything's on an accelerated course," Millington said. "The platforms are in; the bridge is nearly complete; we just have to see this through to completion in a timely manner."
Added Becker: "Basically, I want to have as much information as I can, and I want everyone else to have as much information as they can too. A well-informed citizenry, call me crazy, but that betters everyone."