LETTER: Partisan D10 RTM “Slate” Divides Our Community

Letter to the editor submitted by Joanna Swomley. The views expressed in this editorial are personal and are not intended to represent or speak on behalf of the RTM or any of its committees.

As a current member of RTM District 10, I can say that since the last election D10 has been a beacon of collegiality, respect and non-partisan collaboration. For example, we all came together this past term to support a 24/7 fire station for our part of town. The non-partisan nature of the RTM benefits us all. It allows us to put party politics aside and come together to tackle and solve issues that are not Democrat or Republican. They are just “issues.”

I was thus saddened to see not just partisanship, but an extremist version of partisanship, creep into the D10 RTM election. Eight (8) candidates, six (6) of them new, are running as a “slate” on an extremist, absolutist platform that benefits no one.  (Oct 16, 2019 LETTER: Rebuilding Greenwich Schools Requires Better Financial and Operating Controls)

Notably absent from this list are the remainder of D10 RTM members, 16 people from both parties who hold fiscally conservative and fiscally responsible values, and who have engaged in positive dialogue, working to build up our community rather than to divide it along ideological and partisan lines. While I am thankful that most of our district members did not join their effort, I am troubled by the message this recent letter sends to D10 voters.

All of us in RTM D10 — and I daresay most Town residents — are committed to fiscal responsibility and strong financial controls over major expenditures. It is insulting to suggest otherwise

In citing certain cost overruns, which of course are to be avoided wherever possible, the writers fail to acknowledge that the RTM does not manage the construction process. Nor do they mention, for example, that the largest, the MISA overrun, occurred in large part because toxic fields were identified during construction and had to be remediated. Nowhere does the slate of eight identify what they could or would have done to prevent these overruns. Certainly we can all agree that projects can and should be carefully managed, but these individuals do not say how or why they are any better able to manage them than the rest of the candidates running.

Greenwich school facilities lag behind those in Westchester and many of our peers in CT (more on that below). Both political parties agree that infrastructure repairs and upgrades are necessary. So the question becomes how to pay for them. Most of us believe that we must consider all options. To refuse to do so is financially irresponsible.

The slate of eight refuses to consider financing options — and commits exclusively to pay as you go. Of course, pay as you go may at times be the most costly option and actually result in higher taxes. As any home mortgage owner knows, there may be times when financing a project makes more economic sense — with less impact on the mill rate — than paying for it all at once. Paying for it all at once can also saddle seniors while paying over time evenly distributes the cost over the life of the project among those who use it. Indeed, under Republican leadership, Greenwich already uses debt to finance sewers and Nathaniel Witherell. I for one would prefer to have as RTM members individuals without a pre-determined ideology looking at all the facts and making a decision on the merits of financing particular projects (or not) depending on what is best for the town at the time.

Home prices in D10 have plummeted. Many of us can’t sell or have lost money on a sale. My husband and I at one point event tried to interest Armonk brokers in trying to sell a prior home on the CT-NY border. They told us the Greenwich schools paled in comparison to Armonk’s and their buyers wanted Armonk schools, not Greenwich’s, even though the taxes are substantially higher there. I often hear about families deciding to bypass Greenwich in favor or Westport or New Canaan — all of which have substantially higher mill rates than Greenwich — because our schools are less attractive. Fixing our schools and other infrastructure will actually make our homes more attractive and increase our property values. How we are going to pay for infrastructure should be the result of economic analysis and debate when the specific line items arise — and not be predetermined by ideology.

Finally, having eight members of one party running as a slate sets a very bad precedent for a body that has heretofore at least attempted to be non-partisan. Slates do not appear to be keeping with the spirit of the RTM.

Joanna Swomley

The views expressed in this editorial are personal and are not intended to represent or speak on behalf of the RTM or any of its committees.

The deadline to submit a letter to the editor regarding candidates in the Nov 5 municipal election is Tuesday Oct 29 at 5pm.