WATERS: The Vote Against Schools – What Really Happened

After weeks of public outcry, Greenwich’s town legislature (the RTM) met last Monday and decided NOT to vote on a resolution about appropriately funding the public schools. Based on the two recorded votes, we know a majority supported the school funding resolution (officially called a “Sense of the Meeting Resolution” or SOMR). Yet still, it did not pass.

The vote to amend the education resolution received 55.9% support (119 Yes, 94 No, and 8 Abstentions, with 9 members not voting). The vote to allow the education resolution a straight up-or-down vote received 57.7% support (120 Yes, 88 No, and 1 Abstention, with 21 members not voting). Sounds like clear, majority support to listen to the public and support our schools, right?

Unfortunately, for at least the 3rd time this budget season, arcane parliamentary rules silenced the public. The second vote required a 2/3 (66.7%) majority to pass, ending up 19 votes shy of that threshold. Essentially, an 88 person minority was able to prevent the vote the public wanted.

So other than outlandish rules that prevent the majority from passing, what happened? When you look at the legislators and their votes, a simple truth emerges.

The Republican Town Committee (RTC) was strident: vote against the schools. 71 town legislators, almost exclusively RTC activists who in most cases have no children in the public schools, voted NO twice. The RTC executed a calling campaign last weekend to Republicans, telling them to vote NO so they could provide political cover to the Republican BET members who cut the school budget.

So residents can hold their elected officials to account, here are 22 people who voted NO twice:

Carl Carlson from downtown (District 1)
Dan Quigley from downtown (District 1), the RTC Chairman
Laura Gladstone from Belle Haven (District 2)
Paul Olmsted from Riverside (District 5)
Dan Ozizmir from Riverside (District 5)
Kim Fiorello from mid-country (District 7)
Lucia Jansen from mid-country (District 7)
Wynn McDaniel from mid-country (District 7)
Jill Capalbo from Cos Cob (District 8)
Randy Caravella from Cos Cob (District 8)
Irene Dietrich from Cos Cob (District 8)
Linda Moshier from Cos Cob (District 8)
Michael Brescia from Pemberwick (District 9)
Patti DeFelice from Pemberwick (District 9)
Carol Zarrilli from Glenville (District 9)
Natalie Adee from backcountry (District 10)
Brooks Harris from backcountry (District 10)
Jane Sprung from backcountry (District 10)
Richard Neuman from mid-country (District 11)
Kimberly Salib from mid-country (District 11)
Michael Spilo from mid-country (District 11)
Ryan Fazio from Riverside (District 12)

Remember these names in your neighborhood, you will see them again. In fact, you’ll see Fiorello and Fazio on the ballot this November. Don’t forget: they all voted against our public schools.

Those 22 legislators represent 25% of the NO votes. Who are they? All but one are sitting “members” of the Republican Town Committee (RTC), an elite group that oversees the local party and has been hijacked by the far right. The other (Fiorello) used to be a RTC “member” and continues to be aligned with it as she runs for State Representative.

We can shine a light on the other 49 who voted NO twice and it will show the same truth:

1) The RTC coordinated a partisan effort to vote against the schools. Think about this: each RTC member recruited 2-3 other (mostly) Republican town legislators to vote NO twice and there’s your 71. In at least two cases, a spouse was the recruit.

2) Very few of those who voted against the schools actually send their kids to the public schools. These people seem to believe the consequences to schools be damned, at least their kids won’t be impacted.

The RTC did a great job coordinating a campaign to stonewall the public. It did a great job supporting the RTC’s internal belief: if more residents send their kids to private school, property taxes can go even lower. In their mind, lower property taxes are not just a good thing, they’re the ONLY thing that matter. They’ve written letters on this topic for the past three months, almost always signed by the people above (plus some others not in the legislature).

Yet the RTC failed to represent the majority of Republicans and the majority of private school parents who understand the value of having strong public schools in our town.

Hopefully this sheds some light on why the town legislature failed to act, the majority public voice was ignored, and the legislature breached its tradition to act as a non-partisan body. The elite RTC voted against our schools and now wholly owns the consequences.

Glossary to Avoid Confusion
• RTC: Republican Town Committee, the elite leadership of the local Republican Party. Its 63 members are chosen by local party elites rather than registered voters. The RTC controls the nomination of Republican candidates for municipal elections. The town Democratic Party has a
similar structure with 100 voting members.
• Town Legislature (RTM or “Representative Town Meeting”): a 230-member legislature elected by residents across 12 districts in town every two years.
• Board of Estimate & Taxation (BET): the town finance board that controls town finances and budgets. It has 12 members elected by residents every two years
• For more detail on our town government, see A Guide to Greenwich Government

James Waters is a Greenwich native and resident with children in the public schools. He works at a private investment firm and served in the Bush Administration’s White House Office of Management and Budget and then as a US Navy SEAL officer.