The Nov. 25 RTM meeting was a bitter disappointment to anyone interested in good government in Fairfield. The Republican majority leader showed that caucus control is more important than taking a stand on important issues.
When approval for the Penfield Pavilion repair committee was raised, majority leader Bateson announced that he was unhappy with the brief time members had to review materials about the committee. (Some information packets were received late the same day as the vote, and they were incomplete.) Some Republicans had serious concerns about the Penfield project and wanted to delay voting, but Bateson said his caucus is "under control." The vote for the Penfield committee was taken, and a poorly conceived project was approved. The RTM should have delayed voting until it was comfortable with the "charge" that guides the committee.
The charge for the Penfield repair is similar to one issued for the previous repair project committee. That project ended in Penfield's current state of disrepair. Two members of the new committee were members of that failed committee. They could not explain what went wrong last time, but they are back to try again. No objection from Bateson. The charge gives the committee broad authority to rebuild Penfield Pavilion without preset parameters for timelines, cost-benefit analysis, lines of authority, presentation of meaningful options,or coordination with town departments. It also minimizes the priority of neighborhood flood prevention. No matter. Bateson has Republicans under control.
Some RTM members are frustrated that they often receive last minute information on important matters from First Selectman Tetreau, as happened with Penfield. The RTM is then forced to vote without adequate time to study the issues. Regulating the flow of information appears to be Tetreau's strategy to get his agenda through the RTM. When asked how much has already been spent on Penfield, Tetreau said he did not know. No objection from Bateson. Tetreau got his vote without having to answer.
It is not surprising that increasing numbers of Fairfield voters identify themselves as Independents. Leaders of the political parties give inadequate attention to substantive issues. Tetreau is said to have told Democrats after the November election that the next election cycle starts now. Perhaps that is why he appointed the former Democratic Town Committee chair to the Penfield committee.
Republicans in Fairfield say they take a strong position against tax increases. Without greater scrutiny of expenditures, it is disingenuous to complain about the mill rate. That rate is partly determined by the cost of projects like the Penfield one that Bateson agreed to pass with no scrutiny and no analysis. Tax discipline must be enforced throughout the year by carefully reviewing expenditures. That won't happen while Bateson focuses on caucus control and Tetreau stage manages information flow.
Our representatives need to rise above party politics and cozy business as usual. They must prioritize the real interests of constituents.
One positive did occur at the RTM meeting. The first female moderator was elected. Congratulations, Mary McCullough.