Sausage Spectators

Government works best, should it indeed work at all, when it works under the watchful eyes of those whom it represents. Forget the old adage about legislation being like making sausage. You do, in fact, want to see it being done. And Fairfield County Council, suddenly, has a lot of people wanting to see how their sausage is made. So many, in fact, that Council has a hospitality problem on its hands.

As if they needed one more thing to worry about.

First, let it be said of the throngs of Fairfield County citizens who have, over the last several months, developed an interest in real, participatory government: It’s about time. Governments are responsible to the citizens they represent, but the citizens are responsible for their government. You, the voters, have put them in place. Over and over again, in the case of much of Fairfield County Council. It is your responsibility to keep an eye on them once they are sworn in. Pushing a button or pulling a lever every two to four years is only really participating at the most perfunctory level.

Ah, but there’s nothing quite like the word “pornography” to get people involved in their local government. That dirty little word has torn the lid off a pressure cooker of pent-up frustrations and now the pot is boiling over. The public is suddenly plugged in and meeting after meeting is standing room only, with overflow squeezed into an auxiliary room down the hall where they can hear – but not see – the sausage casings being stuffed with hot talk that has evolved from mere speculation about naughty pictures floating in and out of the former Administrator’s email account to a whole laundry list of concerns and complaints. Meetings that once drew fewer people than a Spinal Tap cover band now look more like Kennedy Airport in 1964 on the day the Beatles landed.

Except these fans aren’t quite so happy.

The crowds that spill out of Council chambers are clamoring for answers about LOST funds. They are asking for some assurances about spending accountability. They are demanding that Council members reimburse taxpayers for years of collecting tuition money and payouts in lieu of health insurance premiums. And, as of Monday night, some are even calling for the resignation of the Chairman and other Council members. And Council is faced with the daunting task of where to put them all.

After a lengthy debate Monday that flirted with the absurd, Council almost did the right thing. Almost. A motion to move their meetings to a larger venue on a three-month trial basis was narrowly defeated, with Council opting to relocate meetings on a case-by-case basis only.

Almost the right thing.

We have, in the past, scolded the Fairfield County School Board for their previous practice of holding monthly meetings at a different venue each month. That practice, it seemed to us then, was but a thinly veiled effort to dodge public scrutiny, leading the media and the public on a monthly goose chase across this vast county searching for where the School Board would be next. It was like the “Where’s Waldo?” of local government. While we maintain that that is still an undesirable policy, it is not quite the same thing we had hoped County Council would have voted for Monday night.

The crowds are not getting any smaller for County Council, and Council has a duty to accommodate the public in its effort to participate in what should be a participatory government. While there is no need for Council to send us on a snipe hunt all over the county twice a month, a single larger venue is absolutely necessary. The School District has volunteered its facilities and Council would be wise to take them up on it while they can still conceivably fit everyone into an indoor venue. In a month’s time, Council may very well have to reserve the football stadium.