GOLDRICK: BET Republicans have starved our town and our schools of proper funding for decades

Sean Goldrick served four years as a Democratic member of the BET. He’s lived in Riverside for 26 years

In his recent oped, (Drake: The Real State of Our Town Infrastructure March 4, 2023) BET Republican Bill Drake wrote, “Does the (Republican-controlled) BET appropriate enough money to maintain our town’s infrastructure?”  He replied, “The answer is yes.”  He then took credit for his fellow BET Republicans for a long list of capital projects the BET funded.  In fact, Drake’s claims are so blatantly dishonest as to be positively Putinesque.  Far from appropriating enough money to “maintain” Greenwich’s infrastructure, the truth is that BET Republicans have starved our town of necessary maintenance and blocked the construction of new facilities for decades.

Drake boasts that BET Republicans “fully renovated” Hamilton Avenue School in 2006.  He neglects to point out that Hamilton Avenue School had to be completely torn down, and a new school built, because BET Republicans failed to allocate sufficient funds to perform simple, timely maintenance of the school, failing to repair a badly leaking roof, which caused water to seep into walls, creating a massive mold infestation that forced the school’s complete teardown.  

Drake takes credit for the “beautiful new” Byram Pool.  The truth, however, is that for years, Greenwich’s only public pool was a dirty, miserable, poorly maintained facility in Byram, which BET Republicans did nothing to replace.  Upon taking my seat on the BET in 2012, I began to fight for a new municipal pool Greenwich could be proud of.  I surveyed other towns in our region which had recently created municipal pools, examined their financing, and their popular support.  I especially focused on New Canaan’s superb Waveney pool, and authored a detailed report that I distributed to BET members, including then-Republican BET Chairman Mike Mason.  Mason’s reaction?  “If people want a pool like New Canaan’s, they can move to New Canaan.”  But I kept fighting for the new pool, as did the Junior League of Greenwich, which pledged to support a new pool by raising funds for a portion of construction costs.  In the end, strong public support shamed Mason, Drake, and other BET Republicans into abandoning their opposition.  By no means do the BET Republicans deserve “credit” for the pool they strongly opposed.

In an act of shocking hypocrisy, Drake credits BET Republicans for the “extraordinary Greenwich High Performing Arts Center/MISA.”  In fact, Republican elected officials, including BET Republicans, strenuously opposed building that new performing arts center for years.  Indeed, when the project came before the BET for a final vote, every BET Republican voted “no.”  I and my fellow BET Democrats all voted “yes.” The BET Republicans then held an illegal closed-door meeting with then-BOE chairman, Leslie Moriarty, reportedly forcing her to agree to sharply cut future BOE maintenance funding requests in return for approving MISA.  The BET Republicans then reversed themselves and approved MISA, but at the cost of short-changing school maintenance for years thereafter.

And let’s not forget the BET Republicans’ attempts to defund our library system.  When I took my seat on the BET, Republicans were actively pushing a plan to dramatically slash funding for the Greenwich library system, forcing the libraries to raise private funds to cover operating costs, including the purchase of books.  I fought back against their defunding plan for months.  And succeeded.  In retribution, BET Republicans refused to grant me any committee assignments for my second term.  Nevertheless, I will always be proud of my role in blocking the GOP’s efforts to defund our town libraries.

And consider Drake’s false claim of credit for Nathaniel Witherell’s $23 million “Project Renew,” which BET Republicans had nothing to do with.  The truth is that the project was jump started by Democratic governor Dannel Malloy, who, in his first act as governor in 2011, approved a Certificate of Need for the project, creating the necessary funding through sharply higher Medicare reimbursement rates for Witherell.  Drake also leaves out the fact that GOP first selectman Fred Camillo and BET Republicans are attempting to sell off Nathaniel Witherall to a for-profit entity with an ugly record of exploitation, a sale he and the Greenwich GOP are attempting to justify by pushing grossly misleading numbers about Witherell’s finances.

Drake credits Republicans for funding a new Eastern Greenwich Civic Center. In fact, the civic center had originally been the rec center for factory workers at the old Electrolux factory in Old Greenwich.  Built nearly a century ago, the town purchased it back in1956.  BET Republicans let that facility deteriorate for nearly seventy years, ignoring the demands of Greenwich residents to replace it with a new civic center, and fix its miserable playing fields.  The new facility fits the GOP’s pattern of shortchanging residents: its footprint will be no bigger than the nearly century-old facility it replaces.  And in keeping with Republican first selectman Fred Camillo’s abysmal environmental record in the Connecticut legislature, the new facility will not be a green building, nor feature any energy-saving technology.  Also, the playing fields are not being fixed.

To understand just how shocking Drake’s claim is that the Republican “BET appropriates sufficient funds to maintain our town’s infrastructure,” consider North Mianus School, which Drake left off his list.  Two years ago, a heavy plaster ceiling collapsed in a classroom, smashing the sprinkler pipes below it, and causing major flooding in the school.  Many students had to be transferred to a facility in Stamford for nearly a year until the damage was repaired.  Thankfully, the ceiling collapsed during a vacation week, so no children were killed.  And consider Central Middle School.  A year ago, during an inspection of the school, the town’s engineering consultant found conditions there so dangerous that it declared the school, “Dangerous and Unsafe for Human Occupancy.”  The school was immediately closed for fear that the building could literally collapse at any moment.  The walls and steel supports are now buttressed to keep them from falling.  We were again fortunate that no children died. But, once again, the entire school needs  to be torn down.  

Further, fully 80% of Greenwich schools are out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  A lawsuit against the town resulted in the BOE’s entering into a consent decree with the federal government requiring the town to make its schools ADA-compliant.  Instead, the Republican-controlled BET is again dragging its feet, delaying funding for ADA compliance at Old Greenwich School, and risking new federal action against the town.

Far from “appropriating enough money to maintain our town’s infrastructure,” the truth is that BET Republicans have starved our town and our schools of proper funding for decades, resulting in Hamilton Avenue’s having to be torn down, Central Middle School’s deteriorating to the point it’s deemed “Unsafe for Human Occupancy,” the collapse of the ceiling at North Mianus School, which could have killed school children, and the continued refusal to allocate funds to make our schools ADA-compliant.  The truth is that BET Republicans had to be shamed into building a new municipal pool, opposed the construction of a new performing arts center, attempted to defund our libraries, and in so many other ways are guilty of unforgivable neglect and incompetence in the management of our town assets.

It’s time for the people of Greenwich to put the blame for these failures right where they belong: at the feet of the BET Republicans.  And vote them all out come November.