Last Night at the RTM

I haven’t spoken much of late regarding my RTM and special committee work but last night, our three ordinances faced the public for the first time and it was an…interesting…experience.

As regulars here know, I’ve chaired a special RTM committee since the end of July, examining recommendations from Fairfield’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, and determining if any ordinances should be written. Over the Fall, we spoke to department heads and did research, and came to the conclusion we needed three ordinances to help the town preserve its historic and scenic character.

At much the same time, citizens began to galvanize their forces and suddenly two new entities were born – Fairfielders Protecting Land and Neighborhoods (FPLAN) and the Forestry Committee. They attended several of our meetings and showed a deep passion for the subjects at hand.

Earlier this month, the three ordinances made it out of committee and onto the February agenda. Once they ordinances went public, FPLAN got busy. Since they didn’t get everything they wanted, they made certain to talk to the local press, wrote carefully coordinated letters to the editor and made an all out effort to declare two of the three ordinances good starts but deeply flawed. Anyone reading the papers would think this was a major concern for the entire town and I have to admire their organization and commitment. As a representative from District 8, I heard from exactly no one in my district on any of the ordinances.

Two weeks ago, the standing committees got a chance to discuss and question the ordinances. The overwhelmingly negative reaction they received caught me by surprise. On the one hand, the passionate few felt we hadn’t gone far enough while the majority opinion among my fellow elected representatives seemed to be that we went too far, trampling on homeowners’ rights and interfering with their property.

Between my brethren’s reaction on the one hand, and the letters to the editor on the other, I have to admit, I was feeling a little beat up although, at no point did I feel these were personal attacks. The committee did what it thought best, and it was found wanting by all.

So, last night, we got through the agenda pretty quickly. I had told Deb, I figured they’d take up the ordinances around 9:30. We got to them at 9:05 or so and we debated the three until we adjourned around 10:20. Bottom line: all three are going back to the special committee for some more work.

After we heard committee reports on the Demolition Delay, I took the mike and did a brief overview for one and all about our committee’s efforts and what we had hoped to accomplish. Then, one by one, we tackled each of three. Along the way though, it seems the ardor against them cooled a lot as RTM comments were largely seeking clarification in definitions, intent and wording. None spoke out against them, none saying they were unnecessary. This heartened me.

When the public spoke, sure enough, the same passionate few spoke up. Only two non- FPLAN people spoke up. One was interesting because he practically accused the citizens’ group and the RTM of meeting in secret, unaware that each and every meeting had to be properly noticed per Connecticut law. He just didn’t see the listings. And again, no one spoke against them, but wanted them strengthened, in some cases urging us to go beyond the limits of Connecticut law because passion trumped research.

Over the weekend the FPLAN people hand delivered a well-prepared packet of information on each ordinance, reprints of their letters to the editor, related articles and other Connecticut laws for comparison. They get credit for that. On the other hand, their fluorescent summary sheet, handed out last night, ended with a call for a non-partisan committee which everyone on our committee took personally. Although FPLAN insisted they would say that about any committee and included it to be comprehensive, it remained clear they aimed it at us and finally, after all the comments, I was angered, annoyed and a little bit hurt. I held my tongue though, and never addressed that paragraph – a fellow committee member did go on the record to object – and kept the level of debate high.

(Somewhere during the debate, Deb turned up to see the discussion. This was her first attendance at a meeting and I was pleased to have some friendly support in the back rows.)

We’re now trying to search for dates to hold our next meeting which is complicated because starting tomorrow night, the town enters Budget Season as the hearings for the town and education side begin and last all March (it’s Fairfield’s version of March Madness without the betting pool). We’ll be sitting down and trying to figure out how best to address the comments from both sides and tweak the existing ordinances into something we can pass and help the town as a whole.

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