Whether you agree or disagree with the outcome of the RTM's vote on this year's town budget, we should all be alarmed by the process (or perhaps strategy) taken to get there. Not only did the RTM leadership wait until the evening of the vote to propose a single specific change to the budget, but many of these changes were not identified until the wee hours of the morning, minutes before they were voted upon. This left no meaningful opportunity for public comment or debate.
This year's annual budget meeting started at 8 p.m. -- and only then was the first proposed change publicly revealed. Public comment was allowed on that item alone before it was voted upon after 11 p.m. Only after that already late vote, were additional proposed changes to the budget publicly revealed and voted upon, one proposal at a time, until the final vote was taken at 3 o'clock in the morning!
In years past, a meeting of this magnitude and length typically would have begun earlier or been continued the following night. Last year marked the first time the RTM leadership refused to publicly identify any possible changes to the budget prior to the night of the vote. This year they pushed the envelope even further, not only keeping those proposals out of the public light until the vote, but also forcing the public to stay well past midnight to even know what was being voted on, let alone offer "public" comment.
Republicans and Democrats alike should find these actions an appalling affront to our rights as citizens. Does our RTM really have such little respect for the views of the people they represent that they cannot even afford us a meaningful opportunity to know about and comment on specific proposals before a vote is taken? Or are they so arrogant as to think they had already researched all the issues behind the closed doors of their party caucus meetings, and that we, the people they represent, could not possibly have anything meaningful to add? A "well-researched" plan would have taken into account the views of all stakeholders, but you cannot know those views unless you ask.
As Fairfield celebrates its 375th birthday, I would urge our RTM leadership to take a step back and remember the principles upon which our democracy was founded. As elected officials, they should welcome -- not fear -- spirited public debates, and they should be willing to publicly vet their points of view before voting to impose them on us all. They should want to hear their constituents' views on specific budget proposals -- impacting how our tax dollars are spent -- before they cast their vote. And they should be humble enough to recognize that, absent an open and honest debate, they may not in fact have uncovered all the answers. As Fairfield taxpayers, we all deserve and should demand better of our representatives!