Odd RTM Meeting

As RTM meetings go, last night ventured into some bizarre territory.

At 8 p.m. we had our annual budget meeting. Since March, there have been over a dozen hearings and meetings to dissect the $200+ million town budget (which includes the schools) so last night was merely the final vote. At our April 23 meeting, we were asked to announce which, if any, cuts were to be proposed since the RTM is only allowed to cut not add or change.

OK, our majority leader, Doug Jones, scrutinized the budget and found about $160,000 that could be cut from a particular education budget line. Since the Board and Superintendent fight for every nickel, he began chatting up the usual suspects to find out what sort of fight he’d have for proposing such a cut. It appeared that they’d be willing to negotiate but not swallow the complete $160k. So, Doug did some questioning from the floor and then said he’d likely be back on May 7 to ask for a $60k cut.

Last night we begin the meeting and the first thing we discovered is that the town can’t do math. As worded, the budget before us had sloppy math that, when corrected, saved us a few hundred grand, lowering the budget – at least on paper. Nothing like being embarrassed in public.

and the Minority Leader, Brian LeClerc, got to the mike first. He said some complimentary things but then raised an old topic, which had been more or less hashed to death at the committee meetings, but insisted on exploring this since, after all, it’s an election year and any prodding of the Democratic First Selectman is always an opportunity not to be missed.

After we heard the same answers as we had before, Doug got up and made his suggestion. Sure enough, our Superintendent stood and said that while $64k seemed like a piddling amount, they needed every nickel. I presumed it was show on her side especially since they usually find a few hundred grand to return to us at the end of each budget year. Somehow, though, Doug’s proposal went down in flames as even members of his own party abandoned him, which was a rather public slap in the face and one I was not at all happy about.

After that, the budget, corrected numbers in place, sailed through. Our meeting adjourned at 8:45 p.m.

Not so fast, though. Without even five minutes for a bathroom break, we began a special meeting, called by the First Selectman to hear for the first time, an ordinance that would designate a street a Historic District. We had a presentation on the area a few months previous and this was the final step. We got an overview from the assistant town attorney followed by comments from the newly elected chair of the District Commission.

Once we saw the map, saw pictures of the house and noted how red faced some of the audience was, we knew something was up. On one side of the street, one house managed to get itself carved out of the proposal for unknown reasons. The house is an older one, beautifully maintained and certainly worthy of inclusion. On the opposite side of the street was a 60 year old home on a large plot that few would consider historic but was included in the plan. The red faced man turned out to be the owner, who didn’t want his home included, didn’t like how the other guy got out of it and how the whole process stunk. Further questioning revealed that this had been defeated ten years ago and it took this long to get the neighbors to vote for recognition. The designated area was to also include the Southport train station buildings but those were owned by the state and operated by the Parking Authority but no one got their two cents as to whether or not they supported this.

Member after member of the RTM got up and questioned things as the flustered chair tried her best to answer the questions as positively as possible. I sympathized with her since after all, I got hammered not that long ago.

As time wore on, members of the RTM began to drift out, which was unusual. The amount of cross chatter was more than usual and our normally unflappable Moderator seemed to be losing his cool as members neglected to use the mike and tried to ask questions from their seats. We as a whole, were not behaving as properly as we should have.

Finally, the public got their say and we heard plenty on both sides of the issue. However, in the end, we still had no idea how one house got carved out and why or how the newer house got trapped. Worse, this special meeting irked members of the RTM, feeling this didn’t merit the special meeting status and could have gone on the normal May agenda. By doing it this way, we heard it for the first time last night, get to discuss it at next week’s Standing Committee meetings and then vote on it at the following week’s RTM meeting (a week early thanks to Memorial Day).

We adjourned at 10:15, much later than anyone anticipated. A rather odd night and one that did not sit well with me.