Crying foul, residents push for referendum on softball field
Published 6:45 am, Thursday, July 8, 2010
Residents crying "Foul ball!" on a recent Representative Town Meeting (RTM) decision are trying to force a town-wide referendum to reverse it.
Last week, the legislative body -- in a 22 to 20 vote -- approved bonding $350,000 to construct a softball field, parking spaces, restrooms and related infrastructure at the Parsells property at 520 Hoydens Hill Lane. Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller explained that, given the historically low interest rates now, the amount bonded would cost the median household in Fairfield 92.5 cents per year over the next 15 years.
Now, a loose affiliation of fiscal conservatives, environmentalists, Hoydens Hill residents and others are hustling to undo that vote.
Their time is short. To secure the referendum, the groups need to turn in 1,766 signatures -- representing 5 percent of this town's registered voters -- to the town clerk's office by 4:30 p.m. on Monday, July 12, according to Town Clerk Betsy Browne.
The petition process began when Kirk Manley, of Hoydens Hill Lane, came to the clerk's office last week, Browne said. The clerk's office drew up the petition based on Manley's claims. Since then, RTM members Kathryn Braun, R-8, and Liz Hoffman, R-8, have joined the petition front, as have members of the grassroots group "We the People," which has pushed for 0 percent tax increases in recent years.
If the groups are successful, then the petition will go before the Board of Selectmen to determine a referendum date. Several people involved with the petition told the Fairfield Citizen they would prefer the referendum take place during the primary elections on Aug. 10.
And what if the town voted to approve the project anyway?
"If the town voted for it then, then that's fair," Braun conceded.
Recent history has not been friendly to referendum attempts. Last year, RTM member Martha Brooks spearheaded a petition to reduce $2.1 million from the Board of Education budget. We the People threw its weight behind that petition as well. The petition fell about 600 signatures short of the 1,833 necessary names then, according to Fairfield Citizen archives.
Specifically, the petition accuses the Republican-heavy RTM of being fiscally irresponsible at a time when many Fairfield residents are "hurting financially." It calls the softball-field project "nonessential" and claims that the majority of residents don't want the project.
"This referendum seeks to allow the majority of Fairfield's taxpayers' voices to be heard," the petition states.
The petition then calls for the RTM to establish a policy for members to abstain from voting on issues that conflict with their personal interests. It states that at least four RTM members voted for the project last week, even as they're involved with private organizations such as the Little League -- either as league officials, coaches or umpires, the petition states -- which will benefit directly from the taxpayer funds.
"That is bad government," the petition states.
Asked why she's pushing for the referendum, Hoffman said she's received 77 e-mails from residents regarding the project -- 55 in opposition, 22 in favor. As a representative of the town's 8th district, she said, she lives far from the Parsells property -- about 4.5 miles, according to online maps. She's received e-mails from her district constituents and from other residents, she said.
"This is not a NIMBY (`"not in my backyard") issue, it's a whole town issue," she said. "I got so many e-mails saying no more bonding, no more tax increases. And you can say it's only 90 cents a year for residents, but you can say that for like 100 things. And at what point do you stop?"
Braun said the petition-pushers hope to collect 2,000 names. Only registered voters from Fairfield actually count, but other people will likely sign it. Braun conceded that that's a challenging sum to collect by Monday, especially as many residents vacation during early July.
"But it's a heat-wave week, so you've got to go wherever the people are," she said Tuesday morning, sitting in her 1212 Post Road law office.
Outside, the sun scorched the air toward 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
"People are probably going to the beach," she said. "I'm going to my office, which is air-conditioned."
Since Friday, she's turned her office's conference room into a sort of anti-softball field campaign center. She has a map of the Parsells property lying on the conference table, amid stacks of photographs of the property. The pictures, she says, depict a "stunning, beautiful meadow habitat."
"I'm an avid environmentalist," she added.
Beside the map and pictures lays a copy of the petition. As of Tuesday morning, only five people had signed the form. Braun said that a "steady stream" of people had been stopping by since Saturday, however, picking up extra forms and heading into town to collect signatures.
As she spoke, one man arrived to do just that. He asked not to be named, but described himself as a "disappointed Democrat" who's worked with We the People in the past. He first read of the petition on an e-mail from the grassroots group.
"This is an austerity time for everyone," the man said. He placed himself in the "concerned taxpayer" category outlined by Braun. "I used to laugh when I heard people complaining of taxing and spending," he said. "Now I don't laugh anymore, at least at the local level."
Because many petition forms are circulating around town, Braun said it's impossible to know how many names have so far been collected.
A copy of the petition can be found at http://nomorebonding.blogspot.com/