We were reminded last night that serving on the RTM is an honor. The people in town elected us to represent their best interests and all 50 of us making up the body truly have their best interests in mind.
On the other hand, we’re also 50 individuals who uniquely see the world and our place in it. As a result, when we try and do right by the town, we don’t always agree on how to accomplish that. Sadly, a lot of it can be ascribed to ideologies under the Democratic and Republican banners. There are times, though; people at our meeting seem to put allegiance to those banners ahead of their allegiance to the town’s interests.
The partisan spirit was well in evidence last night. We began with the election of Moderator and Deputy Moderator and candidates from both parties were nominated. In a futile waste of time, the vote went as expected, 26 Democrats voted for Joel Green, 23 Republicans voted for Brian LeClerc and so on.
It also reared up when the body took up the Eminent Domain Ordinance. By this point, we had tidily whipped through items 5-11 by at least agreeing on the basic business and putting it all on the consent calendar, allowing us to vote for all seven items in one fell swoop.
Jamie Millington wrote the Ordinance in response to last year’s Supreme Court decision, stemming from a case in New London. As with many towns, the idea here was put a rule on the books to prevent the town from seizing private property in favor of commercial development. In our town, such seizure would come before the RTM so one of the arguments made during the deliberations these last two months is that even if we approve the Ordinance, we could merely repeal it whenever it suited the body.
Ordinances in our town have two months of Committee and RTM meetings for review and comment. Last month, when it became clear the lawyers in our congregation thought the language could be tightened and others had some doubts that it was merely a “feel good” measure, our caucus decided to suggest it be referred to a special committee or directed to the Legislation & Administration committee. I volunteered to make the motion, thinking my own team would close ranks behind me. Didn’t happen and it got shot down.
This month, at caucus, there was even more concern over the language. One of our lawyers saw that the Ordinance was in response to Connecticut State Statutes for Blighted Properties not Personal Properties. As written, Jamie’s Ordinance was addressed the wrong concern entirely. While a technical error, it spoke to the need for more careful scrutiny.
Doug Jones, our Majority Leader, managed to get everyone rallied behind the suggestion for a special committee to review this from top to bottom. No one wanted it dead, but everyone wanted it right. This time, someone else could try the motion.
Sure enough, we got to the topic and, to be certain everyone remained of one mind, we called a caucus. Sounded like everyone still believed in the ordinance, in principal, and would support the motion.
We filed back in and Julie DeMarco got up and made her motion. In the course of proposing the sub-committee, with a 60 day mandate, she got a promise from our First Selectman that no property was in danger for the next two months (and much longer). She also had Dick Saxl, the Town Attorney, to read from a letter from a lawyer well versed in Eminent Domain, who found “holes” in the Ordinance as written. The debate grew hot pretty quickly. Jamie spoke first and insisted we’ve had five months since he first distributed the Ordinance for consideration so now was not the time to go nitpicking. He said there was urgency to getting this passed and there should be no delay. In fact, the Republicans who spoke had the theme of “pass it now, we’ll fix it later”.
Last month I said, we needed to get this done right and to take the time necessary. I’ve come to live with these words coming back to me in my own sub-committee and still think that’s the best way to govern. Jamie’s intent is fine, but to insist we pass something that was clearly flawed, is wrong-headed.
The motion passed and as you might expect, it went exactly along party lines 26-23. So, a sub-committee is being assembled today and in January the town will hear back on the topic.
We finally adjourned, no one feeling happy about the way the night went. Sure, some things got accomplished, but the tension in the room was uncomfortable and few Republicans were visible during our “socialable soda” afterwards.
Before going for a soda, though, my own sub-committee met, in the hopes of passing our three Ordinances. We got through two of them without a problem. The third, though, proved a sticking point. Paul Fattibene, who has been terrific in fine tuning our language and intent, got high marks for a last minute draft of one ordinance. He also tried to clean up the final one and got stuck in a procedural morass that we created. As a result, we wrestled with our intent and realized we needed more information before acting. So, 2 out of 3, as Meatloaf sings, ain’t bad. The third should be settled next month and our work will be done.
Five of us, 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans, managed to come together, hash through the issues and come up with things we think will benefit the town. It gave me some hope that the larger body might manage to do the same if it could only remember to put the town and its citizens first, and then party ideologies.