Hines Sight / No summer respite from sizzling local politics
Here's a distressing thought: School starts in 20 days. If you're like me, you're saying to yourself right about now, "Where did the summer go?"
Except for the week of hot and humid (more like unbearable) weather in July, the season has been nearly perfect.
But before long, we will be immersed in the issues -- both silly and serious -- that begin when the new school year starts.
Did you know there's a municipal election this year? Probably not, since thinking about candidates and their platforms are the farthest things from your mind while you vacation or spend time at Fairfield's beaches.
Nonetheless, the candidates already have announced and been endorsed by their respective parties. There's no race for first selectman in November; that happens in 2015. But there are other elected positions that wield a lot of power -- some far more than the chief elected official. Seats are up on the boards of Finance, Education and Assessment Appeals; Town Plan and Zoning Commission; Zoning Board of Appeals; registrar of voters; and the all-important Representative Town Meeting.
While you were sipping a pina colada or watching your kids careen down a water slide, there was a bit of mayhem going on here at home with the townwide redistricting. Not school redistricting (you can breathe now), but voting district reconfiguring.
I don't profess to understand all of it, but Fairfield Citizen reporter Genny Reilly wrote a good, comprehensive article, "In wake of court ruling, RTM searches for path past redistricting imbroglio," that explains it better than I could. The article can be found on the paper's website, www.fairfieldcitizenonline.com.
Essentially, Superior Court Judge Mary E. Sommer issued the injunction in mid-July against the redistricting plan, which was adopted in May by the RTM's Republicans, who hold the majority. The plan would have reduced the RTM from 10 districts and 50 members to eight districts and 40 members. She ruled that the plan had been adopted illegally because it was not been recommended by the RTM's Redistricting Committee, which is required under the town's charter.
The political parties now have had to scramble to find candidates for 10 districts instead of eight. And there's no way a new plan can be adopted before the November election. It took the previous committee more than a year to get to the point it did -- and the members were at what has been referred to as "an impasse" most of the way.
The panel membership was equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, and everyone was jockeying for position, with each side wanting a greater number of districts in its favor. And nobody seemed to agree on anything. Actually, their behavior was embarrassing.
The RTM now has 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats, three districts are all Republican and three all Democratic. The rest of the 10 districts are a mix of both parties.
At this point, it is unlikely a new committee and new plan can be worked out. To begin with, the RTM is on hiatus until September.
But any calls for a reconvening of the same committee should be stopped right away. The members couldn't work together the first time, so what makes anyone think a second time would be any different?
The only sensible alternative now is to wait until after the November election to appoint and charge a new committee.
I haven't always agreed with RTM member Ann Stamler, D-6, (and probably neither she with me), but she said it best. She told the Citizen that the time has come "to stop blaming and start listening; take a collective breath, stop casting aspersions on each other, and instead sincerely seek to arrive at a redistricting plan that is fair to all voters -- Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated."
Makes perfect sense to me. After all, it is and should be about the voters.
Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com. She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.