Earlier this year, Fairfield’s Board of Selectmen voted along party lines (two Republicans in favor, one Democrat opposed) to send a number of town charter revisions to the voters for approval on November 8 in one omnibus question for a single up or down vote.
The dissenting vote was cast because, at the important final stage of what was repeatedly billed as a highly inclusive process, the public was not allowed to weigh in on whether certain controversial changes should be presented to voters separately on the November ballot, or on how the effects of each proposed revision should be explained to voters.
Although there are a number of constructive technical and administrative changes, some voters who care about issues upon which they were denied a separate vote will now reject all of the changes.
And although there may be nothing in the proposed revisions they feel unacceptable, other voters should also reject all of the changes for three reasons: (a) because, despite the lack of any urgent need to do so, the public was dismissively denied its voice at the end of the process for no good reason; (b) because valid concerns were treated dismissively from the start regarding the impartiality of several charter commission members; and (c) because any constructive changes can wait until next time.
Sometimes, the “ends justify the means,” and sometimes, the “means” are actually far more important than the “ends.”
The voters of Fairfield have been given an opportunity — one might say, “a teachable moment” — to remind those who we elect to govern our town that we expect them, as a foundational principle of our civic culture, to apply the highest standards to the “means” they employ in office, which in this case means the integrity of the process itself.
The Board of Selectmen majority assumed there would not be enough voters who care about how things were done to vote down the charter revisions, and they may be right. But it would be an epic “teachable moment” for all current and future town leaders if the proposed revisions were rejected.
If you agree, please join others who believe that more transparency and accountability is indeed a good thing for Fairfield and vote “NO” in November.
Bud Morten lives in Fairfield.