Guest column / Tetreau: Two options to resolve RTM districts impasse
Updated 6:57 pm, Thursday, August 1, 2013
What does RTM redistricting mean to you?
Districts are divisions of a municipality for the purpose of voting. Representative Town Meeting districts are the way Fairfield chooses the members of our RTM, the people in your neighborhood who have the final say on our town's budget -- how much you, the taxpayer, will spend each year on our schools, our libraries, for paving roads and traffic safety.
The state of Connecticut requires certain municipalities like ours to redraw its district lines following the federal census every 10 years, to account for population shifts and ensure that all people remain well represented -- basically keeping to "one man, one vote."
Remote as this sounds, redistricting has been a subject of fierce fights, as parties try to attain power through how voters are grouped.
Precisely to avoid this, in 2006 a Fairfield Charter Revision Committee enshrined in our charter a process to ensure no party could unfairly control the process of redistricting. The charter states that the RTM must appoint a committee of an equal number of members from each party, and that the committee must propose a plan to the RTM.
Simply put, last year our RTM appointed a six-member redistricting committee and began the state-mandated process of reviewing and adjusting for population shifts. After a year of unsuccessful attempts by the committee to agree upon a plan, the Republican majority on the RTM passed a redistricting ordinance in May over the objections of the Democratic minority.
In June, a lawsuit was filed by a Fairfield voter stating that the RTM did not follow the rules of our charter during this redistricting process and that the ordinance disenfranchised voters.
Last week, the court issued a temporary injunction, ruling that both the process and ordinance were flawed and that the town must act as if the ordinance was never passed.
What this means for the moment is that for the 2013 municipal election, you will vote in the same neighborhood district that you did last year. The town will operate with 10 RTM voting districts, each electing five members to our RTM, until further action by the court.
What am I doing about this? As first selectman, I am reaching out to RTM leaders on both sides of the aisle to work together to pass a valid ordinance.
This ordinance should outline a redistricting plan that is balanced and fair to all -- Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters -- a group that represents the largest segment of our voter base.
This important issue shouldn't have to be decided in the courts. Responsible elected officials can and must work together for the good of everyone.
I propose two options.
First, rather than focus on what cannot be agreed on, focus on what can be agreed on. If that is only changing the district lines to balance population shifts, let's only do that. If we can agree on changing the number of RTM members, then let's also consider that option. If that is all we can agree on, let's proceed with those agreements.
As a second option, I ask the RTM Redistricting Committee to consider agreeing to binding arbitration. Let's find an arbitrator to help facilitate the agreement process.
Either of these options will most likely be less expensive, divisive and harmful to our town than continuing on in the courts. Both get the RTM back to working together as a single body for the good of Fairfield.
Michael Tetreau is the first selectman of Fairfield.