Add hawk

I’m a regular citizen. I love my town, I love my town’s school system. I hate arbitrarily high taxes, and I hate wasting time and money. Like most people, I have ideas on how things in my town could be improved. But I’m not an elected official, or a personal friend of the mayor, and I don’t have access to giant billboards I can place all over town in the dead of night. How can my voice be heard?

Well, according to Town Councilman Pete Bass, I can be part of an ad-hoc committee!

What’s that?
It’s unclear if anyone knows for sure. (I didn’t even know what “ad hoc” meant. It’s latin for "For this". It means (according to the online dictionary) “a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and which cannot be adapted to other purposes. Common examples are organizations, committees, and commissions created …. for a specific task.” This committee is tasked with saving the town and school – and tax-paying citizens – money.)

Here is what the Housatonic Times reported back in May of this year:
  • Town Councilman Pete Bass says the committee would “study issues related to short- and long-terspending and revenue and to try to identify potential savings.
  • New Milford attorney Randall DiBella… said such an ad-hoc committee could make “suggestions” but could “not have a binding edict” for various boards and commissions in town.
  • Town Council member Ray O’Brien said that, in addition to long-range goals, the ad-hoc committee should look at the short term, indicating that it would help if, by the next budget cycle, the school board could provide more detailed information to the Town Council on “how much electricity they are using by building and how much oil they are using by building.”
  • (This is disturbing: will the focus of the committee be to scrutinize the Board of Education? “I think we’re trying to micro-manage the Board of Education,” [Councilwoman Mary Jane] Lundgren said.)
  • Not so! “My motivation has nothing to with micro-managing the Board of Education,” Mr. Bass countered. “We all need to communicate together and come up with ideas and solutions,” he said. “It brings everyone together to study things in a think-tank manner.”
  • Mr. Bass and some of his colleagues indicated the committee should consist of members of the Town Council, the Board of Finance, the Board of Education, financial officials for the town and the school district and members of the public, particularly those who work in finance-related areas…. Mr. Esposito and Town Council member Cecilia Buck-Taylor said the committee would benefit from having members who work as financial professionals.

Here is what has been decided since then:

  • The official name of the committee is the Advisory Committee for Efficiency and Cost Savings Ad Hoc.
  • Input from the public is welcome, as is out-of-the-box thinking. Fresh ideas. New perspectives. In fact, even though the committee consists of 6 elected officials and one appointee, the mayor could “just as easily” have picked you, or me, or any other budget-minded citizen. Or someone with financial expertise. (But she didn’t.) (But the public is welcome and encouraged to think outside the box.) (And I’m just glad no one said “ruffle some feathers.”)
  • The committee membership consists of members of the Board of Education (chairwoman Wendy Faulenbach, Thomas McSherry, Alexandra Thomas), the Town Council (Peter Bass, Cecelia Buck-Taylor, MaryJane Lundgren), and 1 hand-picked mayoral BFF – newly-minted Board of Finance member (Beth Falder). (So much for all that financial expertise.)
  • The official political affiliation of these members is: 3 Republicans (Bass, Buck-Taylor, Faulenbach), 2 Democrats (Lundgren, McSherry), 1 New Milford First-er (Thomas), and 1 unaffiliated New Milford citizen (Falder).
  • (I could also say, the committee is made up of 2 men and 5 women, or look up everyone’s birth dates or astrological signs, but I think I’ve digressed enough).
  • The committee will disband on New Year’s Eve, before the spring budget smack-down begins. (Which, I am told, is the beauty part of it, because no one has “territory” staked out before budget season. Honest…)
Is this making sense to anyone yet? 7 people, 4 months, 0 boxes. 1 transforming set of ideas. Leading to … peace and harmony? An economic miracle? (Or more of the same “town council is good, board of education is bad!” nonsense?) I’m a bit confused. And, frankly, skeptical.

Here’s what I don’t get:

  • How transparent will these meetings be? (Hint: posting the meeting minutes in the town Clerk’s office will not meet my definition of “transparent.” How about a special section in the Spectrum, or a web page linked to the town website?)
  • How much public participation will actually be allowed? (Please, please, please let it be more than a “public participation” moment between the pledge of allegiance and the real business, where the public is admonished for breathing too loudly). Are members of the public going to actually serve on the committee? (Doubtful. Especially if they’re not deficit hawks. Maybe I should brush up my power point skills and come wearing a suit)
  • Will members of the public be allowed to vote on committee proposals? (Good God, let’s hope so! Otherwise, what’s the point?)
  • How will ideas be presented, discussed, decided upon? (“Save us money!” is a tall order when faced with a $90m budget servicing 30,000 people. And there are many legal and contractual considerations that must be abided, even if they may appear “costly.”)
  • What is the scope of these meetings? (Will everyone sit down with a copy of the town and school budget and reenact that wonderful budget meeting scene from “Dave”? Or will people spend an hour or two bashing tax-and-spend liberalism and tisk-tisk the wastrel youth of today?) I assume the committee will break down into several sub-committees, who will conduct research and present findings to the group. Maybe this is where Joe Citizen can get involved more directly.
  • How will ideas be evaluated? (Because I’m pretty sure we’ll here “Get rid of the libraries!” and “Don’t let people take their pensions and retire out of state!”, neither of which is legal, practical, or even desirable.) It’s tough to be both “inclusive” and “realistic.” (And “non-partisan.” But I digress again.)
  • What will the committee do with these ideas? (Beyond writing up a report and presenting it to … actually, I don’t even know to whom, exactly.) Will any governing body (say, the Board of Ed or the Town Council) have to implement any of these ideas?
  • What, exactly, is the point of this committee? Councilman Bass suggested at the July 12th Town Council meeting, that the committee would serve as a liaison between the BoE and the TC (and perhaps the BoF too). But the mayor corrected that statement, saying the committee to provide advice and assistance to the BoE (and other committees!), but that the BoE and the TC are not required to take their advice.
  • When will this committee actually meet? The inaugural meeting has been rescheduled twice. It’s currently slated to happen August 12, 7pm, in the Loretta Brickley Room of the Town Hall. (Will it change again? Will it be prominently displayed on the town website?)
  • Will this really be anything more than a “let’s slap the Board of Education around and ignore anything troubling about the Town side of the budget”? I’m hoping so, but I have my doubts. (Are you a betting reader?)
In any case, I am intrigued. I’ve thrown away my box (the better to think outside of it) and shook myself up and gathered my brain clouds for a storm of ideas. I’m ready to share them at the maiden meeting, August 12th (or not, if they reschedule it again). I’m hopeful that we will all transcend party and bureaucratic standing and turf wars and petty grudges and do something meaningful. I’m hopeful that the (reasonably sane) public will actually be welcomed and heeded. And I’m hopeful that, come January, the committee will have a positive impact on the budget process. (It could happen.)

But, just in case, I’ll also start a billboard fund.


CT Fair and Balanced said...

Great stuff! IMHO, this committee is to put the political heat on others, so the Republican Mayor and Republican dominated Town Council don't have to claim ownership of any "painful cuts." They have had years to come up with their own ideas, but always seem to come up with nothing specific.

Whenever you have a Mayor who's been in office for 7 years, and Town Council members who've been in office for 30, 12, and a few more at nearly 10 years, and they can't deliver any specific ideas, it's because they are trying to keep the heat off of themselves. They are a joke.

Connecticut Man1 said...

I knew that giving you two a bit of space to write about the issues would be a good thing!

Great post Gimlet Eyes, detailed and very well thought out.

As far as being a joke? I have no doubt that some of them are more interested in just kind of staying there in charge and that is what they are working for. But, and to be fair, there are probably some that do have the interests of the town at heart.

But for those that may actually still have the interests of the town at heart: It does not mean they have the right solutions, or any at all for that matter.

When I have solutions I try to give them.

But sometimes a Blog post is about looking at what is wrong, identifying a problem or potential ones, as this one does on a very important matter.

A lot to think on after reading this.