The real power in Woodbridge is held by the First Selectman through a useful but devastatingly undemocratic provision of the Town Charter, Article V, sec. 5-3b.
(a) The First Selectman shall be the chief administrative and executive officer to the Town.
(b) The First Selectman shall be a full voting and participating member of the Board of Selectmen. He shall also have the power to break a tie vote of the Board of Selectmen. He shall preside at meetings of the Board of Selectmen, when present.
This provision allows the First Selectman, and any subsequent First Selectman, to control virtually every vote by the Board. At present the two members of the First Selectman’s own party vote in lock step with her, and 5-3b gives her the fourth vote. The republican members of the Board might just as well phone in their votes, as demonstrated by this year’s appointments to commissions. All open seats were filled along strict party lines with the First Selectman casting the tie-breaking vote.
It amounts to a one party rule, with no checks and balances, except for an arduous and protracted petition system by Town residents. This is reminiscent of other “democracies” where two party rule is non- existent for the expedience and convenience of those in power. After the elections in Woodbridge, the First Selectman has complete control for two years.
We see the manifestation of this power in the lack of public input at public meetings where no public comment is allowed. We see it in executive sessions where decisions are hidden from public view, and we see it in the management of information where it takes real digging to get at the truth. Fortunately, there is no lack of shovels in Woodbridge.
The First Selectman’s office ignores input from residents with whom she does not agree. Why shouldn’t she, when V5-3b gives her unfettered power. She ignores her razor-thin 56 vote margin in the general election. Her statement, “It doesn’t matter how much you win by, but only that you’ve won” is absolutely correct under V 5-3b.
Is this America where differences of opinion are discussed and debated, and compromises are hammered out? Is this Connecticut, where the direct democracy of the Town Meeting is supposed to direct public policy? Or is this an entirely different entity, where you are expected to pay your taxes and shut your mouth?
We rely on tremendous personal integrity and restraint of power by those elected to office. Sadly, it is a quality that we need to see more of in our town. Rescinding Article V sec. 5-3b would help.
David A. Lorber M.D.