WEISBROD: BET is Being Used to Conduct a “Show Trial”

Letter to the editor from Democratic BET member David Weisbrod

Six Republicans and one Democrat are seeking to “investigate” campaign finance filing errors made by the Democrats in 2017.

They do this knowing that the State Election Enforcement Commission (SEEC), after more than a year of examination has concluded a thorough investigation, with its findings reported in great detail and publicly available on their website:

I do not seek to dwell on much of what has been reported already in the press – that the SEEC concluded that the five Democrats for whom a new investigation is now being sought by our Republican colleagues made an “accidental violation” and were each assessed a $1,000 fine.

For my part, I acknowledge and sincerely regret our filing mistake.
I do not seek to dwell on the reason we made the error which was that in the words of the SEEC, we “relied in good faith upon Mr. [Tony] Turner’s representation that he properly consulted the SEEC compliance attorneys and crafted a plan that had been reviewed and approved by the SEEC”.

I do not seek to dwell on the fact that Mr. Turner was fined $52,000 with his campaign Treasurer fined an additional $15,000. Nor do I seek to dwell on Mr. Turner’s decision to refute the outcome of the SEEC investigation and to take his grievances to our Town, allying himself with Republican office seekers to stir a pot of trouble that is of his own making.

What I do want to express is a sadness that the BET, whose mission under Section 1 of the Town Charter is the “proper administration of the financial affairs of the Town” is being used in a partisan way, the effect of which is to undermine the trust and good faith that members need to have to best serve the Town.

The adage that there is no such thing as a Republican or Democratic pothole has been my mantra and the financial affairs of the Town are best handled by reasonable discourse, a conversation founded on collaboration, a community whose members are committed to finding or building a shared ground on which all can stand. When that community is under assault from within, sound governance is the first fatality. In order for a deliberative body such as the BET to function and to attract high quality volunteers, members must work together to solve the real financial problems facing Greenwich taxpayers.

Using the BET to conduct a show trial violates the norms of our Town, the good faith and trust that are necessary for a democracy to function. Potential volunteers – especially capable people who value their time and want to contribute their expertise in an environment free of smearing and headline grabbing – will be turned off by such disruptive tactics.

If the BET Democratic campaign finance errors made in 2017 are viewed adversely by the community, the worst outcome will be that they will contribute to the loss of an election.

Democracy requires political parties to know how to lose. Violating norms driven by a fear of losing has far more damaging consequences. It creates a divisive community where the important tasks of government are sacrificed, it damages our democracy itself.

There is a reason Connecticut state law assigns campaign finance matters to the SEEC; a town finance board does not have the requisite expertise, training, independence, budget, rigor and oversight that resides in the SEEC.

In any event, a motion was passed at our September meeting for the BET to pursue a new investigation. Our Chair wisely determined that since the majority of current BET members are seeking reelection, they are therefore conflicted. This should be obvious.

Ms. Oberlander assembled a blue-ribbon commission consisting of four well known, highly regarded, civic minded Greenwich residents who have dedicated themselves to service to the Town of Greenwich. For the Republicans to reject this sensible solution can only mean that their purpose is not to ensure “public integrity” but rather to extract maximum embarrassment against fellow volunteers with whom they have worked for many years and whose integrity has met the highest standards in their professional careers and in their volunteer work for the Town of Greenwich.

So here we are. The BET Republican motion, ill intended though it may be, must be acted upon. An “investigation” from within will be launched. Our Republican colleagues have shared little insight as to how such investigation would be done, what the cost to Greenwich taxpayers would be, what powers the BET would need to assert to compel testimony, etc.

Is it not still possible for this body to come to its senses and act in a manner that tradition, collaboration and time-honored Greenwich norms would expect from us?

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