Wed 25 Jun 2008
I broke my silence at this evening’s Town Council meeting.
All throughout the Spring I’ve tried to ignore the Council’s accumulating messes. It was difficult.
The Mayor and Council acting “shocked” by the financial predicament we’re in – something I’ve been forecasting for the last 4 years. More “shock” that the drought has real impacts on the community’s growth and well-being. Greater “shock” that gas hit $4 a gallon, the housing market slumped, credit is tightening and many of the other underpinnings of a successful, sustainable community are lacking.
I’ve tried these last 5 years to get them to move on the obvious deficiencies but….
Anyway, the recent mountain of excuses that some of them have spewed about why our Town is ill-prepared and the ascendancy of political gamesmanship over good – transparent, accountable and HONEST – governance was just too much to keep quiet any longer.
Here were my prepared remarks:
The criticism the Council has heard surrounding their attempt to extended health benefits seems to fall into two basic areas: one, it is another example of the current Council’s fiscal irresponsibility and two, the impropriety – really, the sneaky fashion – that the extension was introduced: burying it on the consent agenda – introducing it at an end-of-term meeting – a meeting with plenty of distracting issues – omitting previous public discussion or disclosure.
As you are well aware of, I’ve been pushing for greater transparency and accountability in our local governmental process which is why I think a number of citizens have contacted me to discuss both of these issues.
First – let us be absolutely clear.
While the Council has said that putting forward a self-serving policy with no public oversight was a “mistake” – the papers and radio are full of their abject apologies – let us recognize that while it definitely was a “mistake” it was not – in any fashion – an accident.
Tonight, I’d like to focus on this unfortunate continuation of a troubling trend – a growing use of political gamesmanship by some of the longest serving of the Council to deflect public attention from questionable or controversial issues. What may be excellent strategy to the benefit of a few is terrible public policy.
I’m sure the more experienced of our Council are counting on public concern about this issue to abate over the summer – that is part of the strategy. I’m sure that those that have said it will have little political impact on their re-election are quite correct.
We have seen tempests like the awarding of a no-bid contract to Member Strom’s campaign treasurer blow over. We have seen public outcry over the Mayor’s request to remove term limits from his office quiet quickly. Public concern about the Mayor and Council’s recent handling of the possible conflict of interest that one of the Councilmember’s family had involving RAM Development – the Town’s partner in the fiscally irresponsible Lot #5 project – seem to dissipate rapidly.
Over the many years I have observed this Council, I have noticed more and more of late – a willingness to cut ethical corners, to delay or deny public awareness of problems – to drag their feet on practical, needed improvements increasing transparency in the political process.
Yes, it is easier to cut those corners, to delay bad news – as many of you did when you borrowed from the Town’s rainy day funds, drained our much needed fiscal reserves and put our bond rating in jeopardy.
The pattern these last 4 years has been to deny the known fiscal impact of the bonds, to trivialize the financial jeopardy the Lot #5 boondoggle puts our Town in, to pretend that the cost-overruns on the Town Operations center or the foreseeable increase of gas to $4 a gallon and many other obvious trends were not going to affect this community.
Now we’ve seen the culmination of these self-inflicted “mistakes” in this year’s tax increase. Yet, as another example of the same type of political gamesmanship that brought us the health insurance debacle, the Mayor and others on the Council continue to claim this year’s increase is an aberration – knowing fully well that more bad news is on the horizon.
The measure of ones character, they say, is how you behave when no one is paying attention. I’d add that it is also a measure of ones political character if you not only talk about greater transparency in the political process but actually support it with policy changes.
What to do, then? The majority of this Council accepted the recommendations of the now defunct Technology Advisory board on opening the governmental process – shedding more light in greater detail of our Town’s operations. Stop dragging your feet and implement those recommendations.
As I’ve been asking for the last 5 years, deliver a complete and accurate agenda 7 days prior to a business meeting. No movement on zoning or budgetary items requiring modification within those seven days. Stop burying unpopular items – like the health insurance issue – in parts of the agenda that few rarely review. Don’t mix creation of zoning districts with far-reaching affects in with zoning modifications for a particular project – like you did with Greenbridge – something, by the way, Councilmember Thorpe agreed with.
Overall, you should take the summer to think about what kind of political character you wish to be remembered for. Are you going to take the easy way out – continue your growing reliance of political trickery to the public’s detriment – or are you going to push to make your job more difficult – require and respond to greater public oversight?
I tried to keep it less than 3 minutes as I didn’t want Jim Ward – who had already sternly lectured the citizenry about keeping it short – to give me hell for going 19 seconds too long.
I had to shorten my remarks – not sure how they came out. I’ll post the video when it’s available.