Council Doesn't Buy It -Effort To Alter Fairfield Hills Authority Falls Flat
Council Doesnât Buy It â
Effort To Alter Fairfield Hills Authority Falls Flat
By Kendra Bobowick
The idea died in deliberations.
As midnight approached on October 1, two Legislative Council members met a prevailing resistance to entertain their proposed amendments to the Fairfield Hills Authority ordinance. A show of hands made clear that the topic would not reach a subcommittee for discussion.
As the small faction of the Legislative Council pushed ideas to revisit the Fairfield Hills Authorityâs structure, ensuing discussions before the full council contradicted their arguments.
Before the council even reached item 3, âDiscussion concerning the Fairfield Hills Authority Ordinance,â authority Chairman Robert Geckle defended his once ad-hoc committee that became an authority under state legislation.
Citing âfalse premisesâ and ârogue notions,â Mr Geckle argued against the proposed changes as submitted by junior council members Po Murray and Gary Davis â two newly elected Independent Party of Newtown representatives. The proposalâs two main pitches suggested: âAll activities at Fairfield Hills should be undertaken per requirements of the town charter and current town processesâ¦the Fairfield Hills Authority members should be electedâ¦â The proposal asserts, âThe current appointment process for the authority discourages anyone who does not share the view of the authority and the Board of Selectmen from being appointedâ¦â
Mr Geckle was angry. â[To say] the authority dismisses people who donât agree with the authority is erroneous,â he said. Defending the members of the authority, he described those who comprised the group charged to carry out the master plan of development for the townâs purchase of the more than 186 acres of land on the site of the former state psychiatric hospital. Beginning his list, he stated, âWe have a CPA with extremely strong financial skills, a professional engineer, a power generation expert, and architect,â he said.
He defended their appointments. âThere are a lot of talented people,â he said, noting it was the reason for their appointments by the selectmen. âNone of these individuals want to be elected.â Very clearly, he explained why. âTheyâre not politicians, they donât want the election process.â Mr Geckle cast doubt on the election process. âItâs highly unlikely youâll get such diversity with elections.â Frustration straining his words, he said, âItâs a false premise that weâll get more support if weâre elected.â
Addressing the proposalâs first point to push the authorityâs activities under the town charter, he again defended what the members of his board have been doing since the town voted to appropriate roughly $21 million to purchase and revive the sprawling campus into a hub of business and public activity.
Directly to the point, he said, âWe are executing the master plan.â Making a distinction that he felt placed the scrutiny of the authority where it ought to be, he said, âAny controversy is over the master plan; it has nothing to do with the authority.â
He argued points of real estate, points of power over a budget, and eventually criticized the proposal saying, âThere are so many problems it would make it impossible to operate the campus.â
Also adding his remarks to the record during the public comment period was resident and Independent Party member Bruce Walczak who insisted, âWhatâs the harm in reviewingâ the authority and the ordinance establishing the body? He said, âLet the subcommittee take a look and see if they recommend changes and not be afraid of that process.â
Soon, council membersâ arguments wore out any appeals to send Ms Murrayâs and Mr Davisâs proposals to the subcommittee.
Getting to The Point
Beginning what would be more than an hour of deliberation over Fairfield Hills, council members first debated whether to initially send the proposal to subcommittee or seek the councilâs consensus, proving a âgeneral interest by council members,â Mr Rodgers said. An eventual council vote would follow to refer the topic to subcommittee. Mr Davis, and soon member Chris Lyddy believed that the subcommittee should have the first crack.
Volleying on that point, member Joseph DiCandido changed the conversation abruptly.
âWhy are we looking to change the Fairfield Hills Authority itself and not the master plan?â He then made his own accusations, challenging the reasons behind Mr Davisâs and Ms Murrayâs proposal. He noted âunderlying currents,â asking, âIsnât the real beef with the master plan?â
Mr Davis then stressed that money was being spent in ways not detailed in the plan, and that the Board of Selectmen âhad the power to do thatâ beyond what had been specified in the $21 bond issue. Underlining this concern, he said, âWeâre moving forward with a number of costsâ¦â His bottom line? âI think the public needs to see weâre taking the property seriously.â
Making her case for ordinance revision, Ms Murray noted a problem for her, saying, âWeâre taking the people out of the equation.â She also is concerned with funds recently appropriated by selectmen to resolve parking problems and include the Newtown Youth Academy in the parking project. At that point, she said, again, the appropriation âtook the people out of the process.â
Mr DiCandido quickly asserted that the public had not been left out of the process. âAre you aware the public voted for the $21 million? You donât seem to believe those people had the intelligence to make that decision at that time.â
âThe whole point is the process,â Mr Davis replied.
Ms Murray insisted that as it is now, the ordinance gives the selectmen the right to appropriate money âwithout going through a town process.â
After hearing the debate, council members eventually distilled their thoughts into a decision. Pat Llodra was not convinced by the proposal. She said, âUnless I can weigh the arguments Iâd not be inclined to send this to subcommitteeâ¦I see no compelling evidence.â
Joe Hemingway agreed. âIâm not convinced eitherâ¦â he said. Jeff Capeci was also not swayed that the ordinance establishing the authority is circumventing the charter. In short, âTheyâre just executing the master plan.â
Casting back to the November elections where Fairfield Hills was a divisive topic, Mr Capeci said, âI think you guys have issues about where the money is going and there are ways to address that. It has nothing to do with the authority. I wonât support this going to subcommittee.â
John Aurelia weighed in. âBy making this an elected body, weâre creating partisanship,â he said. Currently the authority acts without obligation to a party, the Independent Party included. Right now the authority is picked by the selectmen he said, âNot political people with a political agenda.â
Chris Lyddy supported sending the topic to the subcommittee, asking, âLet them be the litmus testâ¦I have faith in the subcommittee.â
Jan Brookes also could find no compelling reason to support Mr Davisâs and Ms Murrayâs proposal. She referred to the parking problems that prompted the selectmen to appropriate roughly $3 million in funds, noting, âI donât see that one example as evidence of a problem.â Are there underlying issues? âI see this as a sticking point for a minority in town,â she said.
Mr DiCandido aired doubts, saying, âI get the sense that weâre trying to tie the hands of the authority for reasons that are not clear.â He said he hears âan underlying tone to take money from Fairfield Hills and put it toward something else and when I see something like this [proposal] I feel an underlying motive.â
Mr Rodgers questioned the integrity of potentially altering the ordinance establishing the authority, saying, âThe Legislature did this specifically so the authority could work outside our charter. We would be undoing that.â