And the New Term Begins

This could be a very long term.

Last night the newly elected RTM meet for the first time, which involved a fair amount of house keeping plus the normal agenda. At our Democratic caucus, we confirmed the people we wanted to see chair, vice chair and act as secretary for the five committees. Given the 26-24 split, only one of the four committees would have a majority, the others would be 5-5 ties. It was presumed, based on a similar incident in 1997 that the Committee on Committees would break any ties and with the Democrats in control there, things would be fine.

Our presumed Moderator, Joel Green, did a fine job explaining the nuances of the process to one and all, especially the newcomers.

We then filed into the meeting room and got things started. The room was packed more than usual since parents for one of the middle schools were in attendance to lend support to a forthcoming finance issue. After Ken Flatto, our First Selectman, got things started he took nominations for moderator. Sure enough, we put Joel Green, the Republicans put up Brian LeClerc, a longtime member and one-time moderator. Imagine our surprise when Joel won 26-24. And so our time got wasted with the obvious.

Joel did a well-practiced job of reviewing state and local statutes regarding our rules of conduct, sprinkled with his personal hopes that the body would remain a thoughtful group, whose opinions would be aired in an atmosphere where we recognized that all sit here to do what we feel is best for the town.

We then took nominations for members to the Committee on Committees. We put up three names, they put up two names. We voted. Then took a recess while they met to confirm the members who would serve on each committee. No sooner did they walk in and announce the member assignments than a political caucus was called. So, the bewildered audience watched as we all filed back out of the room.

Inside our classroom, our Majority Leader broke the bad news that Mr. LeClerc had decided to throw a monkey wrench into our plans. He decided the 1997 way of breaking committee ties was wrong, the rules governing the RTM did not specifically address how ties should be broken and was determined to use Robert’s Rules of Order to strangle the process.

Unless the Republicans got something. And so was the tone set for the term.

In the end, the Republicans were told they could put forth names for Vice Chair of the four committees in question. Democrats would control Chair and Secretary. As you can imagine, this did not sit well with the body. Personally, I was disappointed to lose a shot at Vice Chair for Finance, especially since I missed out on a seat on Education & Recreation in favor of this. On the other hand, I sided with my colleagues who feel we’ll get poked in the eye by the olive branch that was offered.

After the political caucus ended, we filed back in, and were immediately recessed to break into our new committee assignments so the choreographed election of officers could be played out. Finance has many returning members, and I have nothing but respect for Peter Ambrose, a veteran, who got the Vice Chair slot. I’m hoping that at least in our one committee, things can remain collegial.

Once more we trooped in, sat down, and each Chair announced the officers of the committee. Joel the, did a wise thing, given that 38% of the RTM were new faces. He had each of us get up, announce our district and ourselves. Once the 50 members completed that, the ex-officio members, such as our Selectmen and Board of Finance members, also introduced themselves.

With that done, we got back to the agenda. This included a report on the current construction at Tomlinson Middle School, which was running over budget. The goal was to give us an idea of the scope of the project and to prepare us for next month’s vote on the funding request. We also got a report on the current cell tower situation in town since next month we’ll also need to vote on a new contract with Cingular/ATT. Wisely, our First Selectman noted the forthcoming consolidation in carriers and secured a deal that financially benefited the town, although he got excoriated for it at the time.

And by 10:20 or so, we were adjourned.

By 10:30, the Democrats were drinking at the Angus while the Republicans drank down the road at the Bear & Grill. It’s become a tradition to go out and unwind after these events and it certainly gave me a chance to get to know my colleagues a wee bit better. One was fit to be tied since her committee meeting didn’t quite go as scripted while another lamented that we should all be drinking in the same place to help break down the ever-hardening line between town Democrats and Republicans.

He has a point and one worth exploring, especially next month during these times of good tidings. There was a real sense last night that the younger, new faces on the Republican side of the aisle, coupled with the veterans who smell blood, are going to put everything in a political light rather than determine what’s best for the community. That would be a real shame since we’ve had so much go right for the town the least few years, slowing that down for ideological reasons would be wasteful.

4 comments

  • Andy Holman

    You must be very patient to deal with all this politics. Kudos for putting up with it and trying to do right by your town.

  • debgrnbrgr

    I feel compelled to comment on this point, both as Bob’s wife and as a fellow Fairfielder. Unfortunately, the party in power at any given time has tried to rule the town as a fiefdom, rather than a representative democracy. Yes, the Democrats currently hold a majority, but it’s slim. Several of the districts have a huge Republican majority. In my mind, rather than offering a token olive branch, there should be some real cooperation going on. This attitude starts at the top of our town government and flows down.

    I’m hoping for the best, but I’m beginning to dread the next two years.

  • I think the drinking at the same tavern idea is a HUGE bit of brilliance. You can’t hate a guy you’re friends with. I caught Lawrence O’Donnell on last night’s Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (btw, he’s kicking Conan O’Brien’s ass these days) and he said the most difficult thing he had to do was meet politically active folks in public, because all the really active Democrats hated Republicans, all the really active Republicans hated Democrats — and he doesn’t hate either side.

    It’s amazing, though, isn’t it — at an office, you can work side-by-side on a task with someone who voted completely differently than you, and get the task done, and done well. Why can’t elected officials do that?

  • Michael A. Burstein

    Reading your posts makes me glad I’m an elected TM in Brookline and not Fairfield. A lot of what you do is done by our appointed Advisory Commitee and Selectmen throughout the year. If TMs here had todo what you do, I might not have time to fulfill my duties.

    I hope you had a chance to read my own report from this fall’s Town Meeting. We had some interesting insults exchanged.