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Variety Of Current, Past Officials Opposing Finance Board Elimination



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While both Legislative Council Chairman Jeff Capeci and 2021-22 Charter Revision Chair Andrew Buzzi advocated for Newtown voters to consider supporting the proposed Charter Revision eliminating the Board of Finance in a recent Newtown Bee webcast and front page report, a flurry of letters opposing the measure have also been received — particularly in this week’s Letter Hive.

It is important to note that while Capeci and Buzzi both provided information and advocacy in their official capacity, most if not all of the current and past town elected leaders who are against the measure appropriately did so including the caveat that they are articulating their personal positions on the issue, and not speaking on behalf of or representing any board or elected panel on which they may be currently serving.

It is rare for this newspaper to receive a “Letter Hive” submission from the First Selectman, but today The Bee is publishing a letter of opposition co-signed by three representing that top elected office. Current First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, his predecessor Pat Llodra, and one of hers, Herb Rosenthal (Dan’s father), came together offering, in part, the following perspective.

“As First Selectmen we have worked extensively with the BOF and do not agree with its removal and will be voting NO on Question 2,” the current and former officials submit.

“We agree that there are redundancies in the present government construct between the BOF and Legislative Council and given the number of meetings it requires the First Selectman to attend, it would be easy for us to say get rid of it,” they continue. “That being said, the gains that the town has made over the last two decades since the BOF was created are undeniable.”

Both Rosenthals and Llodra point out that Newtown’s bond rating has seen many upgrades to its present AAA rating from Standard and Poors, among other successes. The finance board has also seen and played a significant role in achieving multiple favorable outlooks as well as the second highest bond rating available from Moody’s, during the period when Newtown sought reviews from two of the world’s top three municipal bond rating agencies.

“This didn’t happen by accident; it came due to carefully crafted foundational policies and the shared commitment to follow them,” they said, referring to past and current finance board members.

Current finance board Chair John Madzula, along with each co-signing member of the current board — Chandravir Ahuja, vice chair, Steven Goodridge, Laura Miller, Sandy Roussas, and Erica Sullivan — wrote in The Bee’s October 21 edition, that the proposal “...is a short-sighted and counterproductive move that Newtown voters should reject in the upcoming November ballot referendum.”

“Over its history the BOF has worked together with the Board of Selectmen, Board of Education and the Legislative Council in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to recommend fiscally responsible budgets,” the officials stated. “We believe our history shows that a dedicated and independent Board of Finance, elected by and accountable to the voters, provides a significant impact to Newtown’s finances, and that its role should not be lumped in with the Legislative Council’s many other functions.”

Other BOF Veterans Opine

Current Borough of Newtown Burgess James Gaston, who previously chaired or served as vice chair of the Board of Finance, as well as an elected selectman, and a member of the most recent Charter Revision Commission — despite voting in favor of the revision in that capacity — has offered his more recent opposition to the proposal.

“The Board of Finance is efficient, and effective,” Gaston writes. “We have also heard that the creation of the Board of Finance was an anomaly created by uninformed Newtown voters who weren’t sure for what they were voting. I find such thought slightly jaded. I have the utmost faith in the Newtown voters that they knew exactly what they wanted.”

Gaston rightly notes that Newtown voters voted yes to an elected Board of Finance for its members to deal solely with the financial policies and budgets of the town.

“The voters also understood that financial matters are technical and dominated by focused monetary applications,” he continued. “Newtown voters voted for the Legislative Council to retain the final financial authority. In short, the Board of Finance does the financial heavy lifting work, and the Legislative Council does the democratic political work. Such a balance has worked well for the past 20+ years.”

A similar change of heart was detailed by Borough of Newtown Senior Burgess, former finance board member, and current Legislative Councilman Chris Gardner.

“Two weeks ago, I went on record at a LC Ordinance Committee meeting saying that I favored dissolving the BOF,” Gardner writes. “My opinion was narrowly focused on the redundancies of having two bodies (the BOF and LC) perform largely the same tasks, such as approving grants, managing the CIP, and scrutinizing town and education spending.”

He said he felt then, that the current structure of top elected offices “bogs down our government and results in more meetings, drawing out deliberations and creating inefficiencies.”

“But being open-minded, I have continued to speak to numerous people about the BOF question, including fellow elected officials, town employees, voters, and those whose opinions I really value,” Gardner states in his letter. “I have carefully weighed all sides and concluded it is in Newtown’s best interests to keep the BOF.”

Roussas, who previously served as finance board chair, who also served on the Legislative Council, and who recently returned to fill an open seat on the finance board reiterated this week that she is also voting NO on the Charter proposal to eliminate the elected panel.

“While the BOF is a political board, its actions historically have been bipartisan — even when one party maintained a political majority over the other. It is a board where Rs and Ds review budgets with one goal in mind — continued financial security and responsible spending of tax dollars,” Roussas writes. “A BOF is needed to continue working on long-term projections of capital needs, budget forecasts and policy work.”

Sullivan also wrote individually this week, submitting: “The taxpayers of Newtown deserve fiscal oversight at the highest degree, especially as necessary expenditures and costs continue to rise. Maintaining an elected body, independent from the LC, dedicated to our town’s financial affairs, offers the kind of detailed oversight and operating rigor critical to evaluating and controlling town spending and borrowing.

Sullivan also points out “the value of an elected, dedicated and independent BOF as a part of [Newtown’s] budgetary review processes, is that it independently examines and challenges budget and spending requests submitted by town departments as well as the Board of Education in a public meeting format and makes well-informed recommendations to the LC regarding such requests.”

In the October 21 edition, former finance board member Ned Simpson points out that if the elimination measure passes, “The CRC chair and some LC members say there will be an appointed financial advisory group established by town ordinance as an alternative to the (elected) BoF. First this isn’t what’s being voted on. Question 2 eliminates the BoF. It does not compel LC to pass an ordinance or do anything related to the void elimination of BoF would create.”

Independent Party of Connecticut leader, former Newtown Police Commissioner, and candidate for US Congress Bruce Walczak believes the elimination of the finance board is a bad idea, contending, “The budget will get less scrutiny. The voters will have less opportunity to provide their input with the elimination of the BOF. There has not been one suggestion that this will save the taxpayers money. Nor will it reduce the mil rate.”

Proponents’ Opinions Recognized

Conversely, in the October 21 “Letter Hive,” letters supporting the elimination of the finance board were offered individually by Legislative Council Ordinance Committee Chair Ryan Knapp, and Council member Michelle Embree Ku. Those letters, available for review at newtownbee.com under the “Opinion” tag, were followed by a note this week from former council Chairman Paul Lundquist, whose panel appointed and charged the latest Charter commission.

Lundquist defends the elimination proposal, offering his reasoning which states in part: ...the BOF should be removed from its duplicative role and be reconstituted as an appointed commission focused on writing/reviewing and recommending policy, and potentially providing recommendations on the long-term debt and financial planning for the town.”

For this evolution to take place, Lundquist says “the BOF should first be eliminated from the Charter — for now.”

“Vote Yes on Question #2. For practical implementation it is cleaner and more efficient to first eliminate the BOF from the Charter.” Lundquist adds, “Following the conclusion of this current election term, the LC could then establish a newly appointed Finance Committee/Commission. This is a “next step” beyond the Charter action, but it is based on positive intent and tangible action.”

And in this edition, Buzzi (former Charter Commission Chairman) in part, offers: “Our most contentious issue, the vote to eliminate the Board of Finance, was passed 6-1. The Commissioners concluded that an appointed body recommending fiscal policy would be better chosen by the Legislative Council through ordinance than ordained by a Charter Revision Commission.”

Newtown Bee readers are reminded that if they wish to offer letters of advocacy for or against the Charter Revisions, or any other Election Day related advocacy, the submissions must be limited to 300 words or less, and must not extend any points that might require rebuttal.

Editor John Voket can be reached at john@thebee.com.

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