James Waters: Time to Put the Charter Change Zombies Away

Submitted by James Waters, Nov 15, 2017. Mr. Waters was born and raised in Greenwich, is the Chairman of the Serve America Movement and Chief of Staff of Compass Partners Advisors.

Halloween isn’t quite over in Greenwich. Two weeks after trick or treating and one week after a monumental election, we still have a few zombies lingering in our town: the charter change crowd.

Last night (Tuesday, Nov 14) I attended the charter change committee hearing at Central Middle School and wasn’t impressed.

First, committee leadership was lacking: the group’s leader disrespected elected officials and rolled his eyes at residents, unable to accept that people don’t like his agenda. Second, a few far right Republicans want to ignore the voters who spoke last week. The good news Tuesday night was that charter change opponents outnumbered proponents by a factor of at least 15:1.

Here are five facts about last week’s election:

1) The Republican Town Committee put “charter change” on the ballot by making it a litmus test for Board of Education (BOE) candidates. RTC Chair Stephen Walko confirmed this when he told the Greenwich Time that Peter Bernstein was not endorsed because of his opposition to charter change. Instead the RTC endorsed Jason Auerbach and Peter Sherr, who strongly support charter change and made it a central component of their campaigns. Their opponents Bernstein, Meghan Olsson and Kathleen Stowe all strongly opposed it. Charter change was on the ballot.

2) Last week’s election outcome happened because of a cross-partisan coalition created to defeat “charter change” and candidates who support it. SAM’s local members were quietly in the center of that coalition. We got involved in October once we understood the far right’s motive to use “charter change” to politicize the board and force its agenda through the BOE.

3) This cross-partisan coalition swung more than 2,000 votes for or against each candidate last week. People joined across party lines and it resulted in the following: Peter Tesei nearly lost his job after a landslide victory two years ago, the BET swung to the Democrats, and BOE candidates who oppose charter change received overwhelming support. Without these 2,000 votes, it would have been a normal party-line vote.

4) Before this year, the only person in town who ever got more votes than Peter Tesei was Carmella Budkins. In Tesei’s sixth election, FIVE people beat him: Bernstein, Budkins, Olsson, Stowe, and John Toner. SAM supported each of the five – Republicans and Democrats alike – but not Tesei because of his support for the charter change agenda and endorsement of Auerbach and Sherr.

5) Last week 38,289 votes were cast for BOE candidates: 25,430 votes against charter change and 12,859 for it. That’s 66.4% to 33.6%. Said a different way, for every vote for charter change, there were 2 votes against it.

Everything above is a fact. Let’s imagine a fictional scenario where Sherr and Auerbach had won rather than coming in 4th and last place, respectively, and that Tesei earned another landslide. They would now say “the voters gave us a mandate on charter change.” Since the reality is far different, they now claim that it wasn’t on the ballot at all: “nothing to see here folks.”

Fortunately, there’s a clear way out for our First Selectman. Before the holidays, regardless of his charter change committee, Tesei should declare victory for our town and our schools through last week’s election outcome – and encourage us to move forward on solving problems rather than pushing this agenda.

He would be above the fray and reconnected with residents, not beholden to any party or an agenda created in a dark room by people who are out of touch with our town. He would be primed to return to landslide victories in two years’ time.

If Tesei is as smart as I’ve heard, this is a no-brainer.

If he instead follows the bad advice to ignore last week’s voters, I would suggest he ask the charter change committee to put together a budget for the cost of continuing to spend peoples’ time and town resources on a dead issue.

Halloween is over. It’s time to put a stake in this zombie and put it out of its misery. It’s time to focus on our kids.

James Waters was born and raised in Greenwich, is the Chairman of the Serve America Movement and Chief of Staff of Compass Partners Advisors.