The sound of silence

To the Editor:

The time since the Representative Town Meeting on May 5, has been for myself characterized by a host of thoughts and sentiment including confusion, anger, frustration, questions and the gathering of information in an attempt to understand what has happened here.

Of course, as the legislative town body, the RTM is within its rights to create and enact laws for Fairfield. For that there is no refute. However, the process and manner in which certain members of the current RTM were allowed to behave in enacting reductions to the municipal budget as presented to them by the Board of Finance is to me, quite plainly, unacceptable.

The manner in which the last two weeks were handled by the majority members of the RTM represents to me a tyranny of the masses and an abuse of power over the people, even if it was done within the law. We can all look into history to see plenty of actions taken by leaders that at the time were lawful, yet unjust. Lawful, yet unconstitutional. We work on the evolution of a discrimination-free society within ourselves and our government based upon the premise that all men are created equal and that the people have the right to abolish any form of government that is destructive to our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Liberty is defined as freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control. The Republican side of the RTM controlled the information that was to be presented to the floor on May 5. They controlled the time and place of the dissemination of that information to the full RTM membership and to the public. It is in the exercise of that control that I feel my liberty was intruded upon by binding me and my tax dollars to legislation of which I had no knowledge about prior to the fact, nor input given by me to my representatives so that they may best represent me. To me that is taxation without representation. I don’t know, maybe the Boston Tea Party had another message that I missed. The whole point of that is to have representation by our elected officials before taxation can occur. There was zero representation in the vote other than those that knew the information beforehand. How could one represent what one did not know? I recognize that from one perspective it may have been done in this way to avoid chaos over the numbers. However, in the attempt to avoid chaos over the numbers, chaos and outrage regarding the process has resulted in its place. I would much rather be arguing over numbers than have leadership that feels transparency is something to avoid to maintain control over its citizens. An “us versus them” mentality leads to the worst events we know of in history and anything but solutions that we can accept in good conscious. Anyone who calls for divisiveness in thought or action is a person who isn’t for one people.

The Town Charter reads: ARTICLE XI Standards of Conduct § 11.1. Declaration of policy.

“… RTM members, … shall demonstrate by their example the highest standards of ethical conduct, to the end that the public may justifiably have trust and confidence in the integrity of government. As agents of public purpose, they shall hold their offices or positions for the benefit of the public, shall recognize that the public interest is their primary concern, and shall faithfully discharge the duties of their offices regardless of personal considerations.”

Do we feel this is what was upheld by a majority of our RTM members? I asked my District 3 representatives to meet with us during that week. They did not. I sent my representatives letters. Respond, they did not. The sound of their silence speaks volumes to me. I spoke to two of them a few hours before the vote only when all was said and done in caucus. I have spoken to RTM members inside and outside of Fairfield. I have read other town charters and learned of different ways for our government to be organized and run. I did this to make sure I was informed as much as possible before coming to a judgment. The town charter itself has permitted a process to occur that in and of itself led to mistrust and a lack of confidence in the integrity of government, at least for me. In fact, of the eight towns left in the state to use the RTM format, Fairfield is the only one that allows a super majority over the minority to occur. I have read the other charters. Greenwich, Darien and Westport all hold to a non-partisan RTM format. The others have a majority control built in to avoid a super majority. Not one other town out of 169 in Connecticut is allowing for this to happen. We are.

Our ancestors and founding Fathers did not schlep across the ocean blue in protest of an oppressive government to have it be alive and well in Fairfield, Conn., in the year 2014. In my opinion, a government that suppresses the public’s voice is oppressive. A government which doesn’t present proposed legislation to the public in a timely manner as to allow for public input on that legislation is oppressive. A government that votes on legislation at 2:45 in the morning out of sight of its residents is oppressive and rife with arrogance. Government leaders that do not respond to the call of their citizenship for answers to their questions is oppressive. It is one that in unacceptable to me, intolerable to me, and the town charter which allows for it be done as such is, in my opinion, equally as guilty, just as oppressive and simply gives credibility to an incredulous, outdated and inequitable process.

The Declaration of Independence includes the following statement: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

It is our responsibility to change it. Much finger pointing is happening on all sides, including myself. “It’s the Republicans’ fault.” “It’s the Democrats’ fault.” “It’s the taxpayer groups’ fault.” “It’s the other town bodies’ fault.” “It’s the First Selectman’s fault.” “The parents have unrealistic expectations for spending on education.” Everyone is entitled to their perspective, however I might suggest that while we continue to point fingers at everyone but at ourselves all will remain as is. Until the people of Fairfield are willing to organize and rise above political party and come together to take action to change it themselves we will simply continue to get what we got. The sound of silence will simply continue unless the Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated voices of Fairfield unite in mission to institute new government for Fairfield built upon the foundations of transparency, diplomacy and a vision of process that creates far greater trust, peace and unity than the one we have now. I believe it is a vision most of us already share. I hope it is one that we can collectively take action on to create.

 

Jennifer Jacobsen

District 3

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