The July 10 edition of the News From Town Hall email is a textbook example of “caveat lector,” let the reader beware. What reads as a generally positive piece citing lots of activity on several issues wilts in the spotlight of scrutiny and fact checking.
The opening paragraph states very matter-of-factly “at this week’s Board of Selectmen meeting the Board voted on an agreement between the Amity Woodbridge Historical Society (AWHS) and the Town of Woodbridge through 2030. This will allow the society to accept a major state grant.” The fact is it takes two sides to come to an agreement and the First Selectman did not reveal the full story. While the Historical Society will gladly accept the three-year extension of its original Agreement, the State’s Good to Great grant is not at all guaranteed because of the First Selectman’s additional actions. She simply usurped, in her charge for the new Oversight Committee, many of the responsibilities and powers assigned to the Historical Society for the past 45 years of managing the Darling property and being “THE” Agent for the Town. This current state is unworkable according the Historical Society’s Board.
The situation between the Town and the Historical Society has been a completely unnecessary bone of contention from the start. The unfortunate battle has been going on for over a year, has cost the Society tens of thousands of dollars fighting the attempted recasting of their agreement with the town, has generated hard feelings among many in the Town (well beyond the AWHS Board members) and has culminated in the Town creating an oversight committee that strips the authority of the Society in an obvious power grab by our local Town government. And for what? The point is that for the News from Town Hall to imply the situation is resolved so that the Historical Society is now able to move forward with the project funded by a major State grant as a result is wrong as wrong can be. There is no true settlement. There is a superfluous new committee that eviscerates the Society’s Agency at the property and without it, the State may still not award them the grant. Caveat lector.
Later in the July 10 communication there is information about the newly formed 2030 Task Force, with the stated goal of “work[ing] on ways to grow our Grand List and make sure our Town continues into the future remaining fiscally stable.” Sounds nice, but here’s the rub. Further in the piece one charge, “seek ways to lower taxes,” is pure lip service. We just went through the setting of the next Town budget and had a golden opportunity to reduce our mill rate and set a course to overhaul how and where we spend our tax dollars. The Board of Selectmen-appointed Board of Finance missed that boat completely, with our First Selectman’s apparent support since she participates in BOF meetings. Our mill rate went up. Only due to our property values declining did the actual tax bill for two-thirds of us go down. So, for there to be an implication from the First Selectman that there is a genuine interest to lower taxes (by reducing the mill rate, not gutting our home values) is rhetoric. The fact is our mill rate has risen every year under this administration, demonstrating zero results in lowering taxes. So, this task is now in the hands of an unelected committee? Caveat lector.
Another consequence of reading the July 10 communication carefully is exposing the dormant issue of the golf course. This is the biggest issue in Woodbridge and every administration since the property’s purchase has failed to figure out what to do about it. The newly formed 2030 Task Force is asked to “take a look at…diversity (in) our housing stock and…possibly making recommendations to our zoning regulations.” We are a town of predominantly single-family homes. Diversity in this context means higher density housing. And what is the biggest obstacle in the minds of many Woodbridge residents to selling the golf course for high density housing? The requirement to change the zoning to allow such development. Peel back one layer of this onion and you can see the single-minded, perpetual idea that the golf course has to be developed with dense housing as clear as day. Caveat lector.
An essential part of our ability to assure good-quality, representative government is the opportunity for public comment at meetings that are conducted in public. While our Charter-established Boards and Commissions have requirements for public meetings and public comment, the committees the First Selectman has announced do not seem to have the same requirements. The same can be said for the ill-conceived historical society oversight committee. The point is the creation of these committees sets the table for selected people to make decisions about the future of Woodbridge without being compelled to hear from residents and get our views on such critical issues. It smacks of elitism. The Board of Selectmen, specifically the Democrat majority that makes all the rules today, was elected to do what is now being “out-sourced” to these committees in many respects. If the majority can’t do the job they were elected to do, then we need to elect people who are willing and can.
By Chuck Pyne, WRTC Chairman