Setting the Agenda

With the final race for Fairfield County Council heading for a protest, the tremors from last week’s election results do not appear to have completely died down. It is difficult – as it should be – to overturn or order a new election, so regardless of the merits of that protest, the odds are long that there will be any further shakeup of our County Council.

The shakeup we are certain of should be monumental enough, however, with or without a new Councilman in District 3. It should be – but there are no guarantees. Something there is about seats of power that somehow turn reformers into offenders virtually overnight. The public should never delude itself by thinking “It can’t get worse.”

It almost always can. Watchdogs should remain ever vigilant, because it ain’t a New Day in Fairfield yet.

But this particular class of freshmen, the class we know for sure will be sworn in in January, has promise, of that there can be no doubt. It has the energy and idealism of youth, it has business acumen and it has some gray hairs of experience.

As the November Revolutionaries await their turn in the County hot seat we would like to offer our modest assistance in the preparation of their agenda of reform. They may take our suggestions or leave them; our feelings will only hurt a little and only for a little while. Consider this our early Christmas Wish List.

• Your predecessors have left you with a brand new, mostly vacant, industrial park on Peach Road. Continue, please, to pursue an aggressive policy for filling that up. Broadening that policy to include retirement communities and the timber industry is fine, but not at the exclusion of manufacturing. There is no rule of which we are aware that says you cannot do both.

• Use a scalpel, not a broad-axe. There may indeed be some places in the budget where fat could be trimmed, where money could be spent more efficiently; but austerity can ultimately be an economy killer.

• Abolish annual Council salaries and pay by the meeting. If a Council member cannot attend a meeting, they really should not, within reasonable limits, get paid. Council’s policy should set a fixed number of paid absences, beyond which a member should not be paid.

• Mileage reimbursement to and from regular meetings seems perfectly reasonable, but doing away with it would seem equally as reasonable. Special meetings, emergency meetings and training functions, however, are a different matter.

• Limit travel. Hit the highway only for the most absolutely necessary training and certification events. If it is actually a better deal to stay in a 5-star resort, enjoy yourself. Just remember, the first time you lay your head down in anything other than a Motel 6 you’re going to have to answer a lot of questions everyone has grown tired of hearing over the last 18 months.

• Council members shouldn’t be allowed to just get up and walk out of meetings without being excused by the Chairman. That policy is, in fact, very likely already in place. It would be nice to see it enforced for a change.

• Council members should also be required to cast a vote, loud and clear, on each issue. Roberts Rules of Order, under which this Council ostensibly operates, demands it.

• You will be voting for a new Chairman and Vice Chairman. Please consider an open vote, a show of hands. We cannot think of any other board or council that casts these votes in secret. Secret ballots mean a secretive Council.

• It’s not a bad idea to change your auditing firm every three or four years. Not because your last auditor was a crook, but because it’s just a good idea. It keeps people from getting too chummy with one another and ensures everything is strictly business, while also ensuring a firm doesn’t simply give you a good grade simply in order to keep his job for the following year.

• Act out of reason and logic, not spite. Funneling jobs, contracts and advertising away from a company that provides better, more reliable and less expensive service just because they stepped on your toes is not being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. When you’re doing business, do business. Leave hurt feelings out of it.

• Study the FOIA. The Freedom of Information Act is your friend. Ask your local newspaper editor for a copy. He will happily provide. Invite your local Press Association out for an FOIA workshop. If you feed them, they will surely come.

• Include the Media. We are not your enemy. Each Council member receives an information packet prior to each meeting. Producing an additional copy for the Press would take a lot of the mystery out of what you do. And we would thank you. We might even bake you cookies next Christmas.