To the Editor:
I have often said that I am proud to serve on the because I believe our members of both parties are for the most part sincerely working to serve the interests of the people we represent.
Because I have been so proud of this service, disheartened does not begin to express what I felt at the.
I attended budget related meetings of the Boards of Education, Selectmen and Finance starting in January 2012. I also attended (and took minutes at) special joint RTM committee meetings held for the first time this year, to gather information from Town Department Heads. I examined the proposed 2013 Town budget, through these meetings and on my own, and concluded for myself that this budget not only was sufficient to support the services the majority of my constituents need and want, but also took creative and fiscally sound steps to remedy some serious flaws in our financial foundation and build a more secure foundation ahead.
That was my position as we moved forward.
Other members reached a different conclusion. That is their right, and I will defend it. However as elected officials representing our constituents, our job was to debate those positions -- is the budget sound, or not?
The majority leadership skipped that step. They decided -- we have to reduce this budget. Their only question was, how? Their conclusion – cut the budget – was their starting point. Anyone on the other side of the larger argument, whether or not to cut, was obstructing their process. I understand that members of their own party had reservations, but felt unable to defy their leadership.
Whatever the leadership’s opinion, they had an obligation to respect the opinions of others. They did not. By characterizing disagreement as obstruction, they insisted on framing the discussion in their terms. They did a disservice to their own colleagues, and to our community.
I grew up in an environment where independent thought was not encouraged. It took me many years and much reflection to leave that environment. I cherish the ability to think for myself and to act on my own best judgment, and I am committed to protecting that right for others. What I witnessed at these meetings was deeply disturbing, and, I hope, a temporary deviation from our usually open and respectful exchange of views.
Unfortunately, it was a deviation with harmful consequences. Unable to summon support for cutting individual department budgets, the majority leadership instead succeeded in cutting our Town’s contingency fund, our safety net, our savings account, in a manner our Chief Fiscal Officer and the Chair of the Board of Finance advised was hazardous in the extreme.
We don’t know what impact this will have. Our rating with the credit agencies may be hurt, potentially costing taxpayers more dollars than we saved. If funds are needed for an emergency or for contractual agreements, The may be forced to take those funds from department budgets, which was the goal of the majority leadership. It may seek to raise the funds through bonds, costing taxpayers more in the long term. Or creative Town leaders may find other solutions, justifying our faith in their leadership.
The decision to raid our contingency fund was a rebuke to the Board of Finance, the officials we elected to steer our financial ship, and who have been working to build our reserves as, in their expert opinion, a prudent conservative long term strategy. It was a rebuke to our Chief Fiscal Officer, who, breaking his usual reserve, called the move “financial suicide.”
After the RTM meetings, civility reigned. I don’t know how deeply the fabric of our body was damaged. Much will depend on how willing -- and able -- we all are to speak our minds in the future. That is after all the founding principle of our democracy.
RTM District 5