Dirk's Comments

Dirk's Comments

Postby Dirk » Mon Sep 03, 2012 2:20 am

Like everyone else, I appreciate all the hard work that was done by the Charter Review Commission. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they got it completely wrong.

I realize that's a bold statement to make but I am prepared to back it up with facts. Let me start with the August 29th LC meeting, which is available at http://www.newtown-ct.gov/public_documents/NewtownCT_WebDocs/videoarchivent. This video provides a great deal of key information and has been used to support many of the conclusions discussed below. Points made below that come from the video include the timestamps where they can be located on the video. I urge all voters to watch this video before November so they can come to their own conclusions. The proposed changes to the Charter will cause voters to lose certain rights they currently have including the right to vote on a complete budget package. This is important to voters so please take the time and see for yourself what these changes mean so you can make an educated vote in November!

Part 1 – Findings of the Commission:

Below is a summary of the findings of the Charter Review Commission. These findings of the commission are not disputed:

1) Budgets fail because the budget is ‘questionable’ or because there is a lack of transparency (1:05:00).

2) Bifurcating the budget does not decrease ‘voting events’ (1:19:00).

3) Bifurcating the budget does not improve voter turnout (1:22:50).

4) Advisory questions are not relevant or don’t tell us much (23:30).

5) Advisory questions don’t work (31:15).

6) Newtown had questions…they were a mixed bag (30:00)

7) In the 9 towns studied, only once in 85 votes was a budget too low (24:20).

8) Binding vs Non-Binding is the critical question (33:40). The commission talked to a lot of people about bifurcation but not about how to bifurcate (binding vs non-binding) this was not something that was typically brought up in discussions.

9) The critical thing you have to think about when you have a voter in the booth is ‘we want to get the budget passed’. Voter intent is secondary to getting the budget passed (36:00).

10) Per student costs are inline with other towns studied. However, we have the largest school system. (46:55)

11) Residents in Newtown carry 81.3% of the tax burden (28:45). Only town higher was Madison at 88% (18K residents).

12) High % of residential tax burden decreases the likelihood that a budget will pass (28:50).

13) Watertown turned around their process with improved communication: ‘it’s less about how the ballot is structured and more about the lead up to the ballot (27:43).

14) Cooperation (and communication) drives success (26:50).

15) ‘Work hard at collaboration because it’s clearly needed in this community’ (1:32:20).

16) In towns that are successful with getting budgets approved; communication was ‘early and strong’ (48:28).

17) Collaboration only works where there is trust (1:30:00).

18) Advisory questions are optional. Not built into the vote itself. (Not sure where this was located (probably in the explanation of the vote around 38:00)

19) Don’t want to confuse the voter when they’re in the ballot box (39:15).

20) Town budgets defeated 29% of the time and Education budgets are defeated 42% of the time. Therefore, education fails 45% more frequently than municipal on average (39:20).

21) Pros and Cons of a binding vote are as follows(41:10):
  • Con: A binding vote will make it more difficult for collaboration. Because with a non-binding vote both sides need to pass, it more likely to foster collaboration than a binding vote.
  • Pro: You have to vote again on something that may have already passed. As a taxpayer, if I’m comfortable with the budget than I want it done. From a LC perspective, I want to focus on the side that needs work.
  • ‘Noise goes down’.
22) LC cannot increase budget above requested amount even if voters want it increased (1:08:00).

23) Mitch B: ‘Because we can’t put money in it seems to me a conflict in it’s most basic form’ (1:15:00).


Part 2 – The Recommendation of the Commission:

Based on the findings of the Charter Review Commission I believe the decision to recommend a binding bifurcated budget with advisory questions is the wrong decision. Furthermore, this decision was made purely to ‘quiet the noise’ from the public and is not intended to address the real underlying problems. It focuses on the areas that the Commission’s own research shows are not effective while completely ignoring areas their research shows are the primary drivers of success system. As a result, the changes recommended by the commission will not have any meaningful benefit to voters. Below are the reasons why this is the wrong decision for Newtown:

1) The recommended charter revision does not address the real issues which are: poor communication between boards and with voters, lack of transparency, and inadequate collaboration between groups and the public. The recommendation of the Charter Review Commission is strictly designed to ‘bring the noise (from the pubic) down’ and to get the budget passed. It’s not designed to address voter intention. And it will not fix our problem.

All the findings of the commission show that splitting the budget doesn’t ensure there will be fewer votes. It doesn’t improve voter turnout and that questions aren’t helpful. There is nothing to show that making the vote binding has any impact other than to take the choice away from voters and get a budget passed even if it’s not what voters want. Our problem isn’t with the method we use to vote; it’s with getting public to buy in on the budget. People simply don’t trust the numbers (how many times have we heard the call for a ‘forensic audit’ in the last six months?). People don’t trust the numbers because they don’t understand the numbers. The fact that we have such a difficult time understanding the budget only highlights the problem our leaders have with effective communication. This is a problem with our leadership. It’s not a problem with voter’s ability to grasp the details of the budget as some of our leaders will have us believe. Also, remember the research shows that it’s not the amount of the amount of the tax burden that matters (Madison passes it’s budget easily every time), it’s also not a matter of binding vs non-binding (New Milford passes within two since 2004 and it’s non-binding). Again, the problem in our town is very poor communication by our elected officials and as a result, a lack of trust by the public in the government. Changing the process by which we vote will not fix this (although I recall at one point during the meeting someone was attempting to make the point that would happen because we needed it to happen. Wishing it to happen will not make it so. We need to remember the story about Watertown. At one point they had such a difficult time getting the budget to pass that the state was on the verge of stepping in. Ultimately, the reason they succeeded was not because of the voting process, but because of how they worked together and communicate effectively between themselves and with voters. This also goes to show that we can change. Remember also that findings show in many cases the towns that are successful are consistently successful and towns that are not successful are consistently unsuccessful. These two facts (that Watertown was able to change and that left unchecked towns don’t change) tells me that this will not change on it’s own. If we are going to fix the problem then we are going to have to face it head on. We need to admit we have a problem and resolve it.

Factors that make people skeptical of our government and our budgets include:
  • Cutting $1M from the BoE budget. If the budget was so off the mark why did it take until the second round of the vote to come out. Also, because there are such wild adjustments, how can voters be held to their votes in any particular referendum. Things just change too much.
  • The flip-flop as to what’s in the budget or not. For example, with FDK. One week we’re $500K short and the next week it’s on. How can people be expected to trust then numbers given those types of swings in the information they are given.
  • One of the ways people can get comfortable with the budget is to compare it with other towns. However, changes made to the budget last year make it impossible to compare our budget with other towns. Specifically, the change to include benefits dollars at the departmental level without any break out of these costs makes it impossible to compare our budget to other towns.
  • During the last election, everyone had a very difficult time understanding the budgets. Reports presented were incomplete and very poorly formatted making them difficult to understand even for people familiar with financial statements (the BoE adjustment schedules for example).
  • Information on the budget is not always easy to obtain or use. The Town info is on one website and the Education info is on another. And the budget guide isn’t on either site. All of the info is in PDF format so it’s not easy to use or analyze. Having reports available in spreadsheet format would be very helpful.

2) Inconsistent support for the budgets. During the last budget cycle, whenever a question on the town budget was raised it was addressed very quickly (not always answered but definitely addressed), usually by Pat herself. When the education budget was questioned, or even misrepresented, there was very little if anything said. The lack of support for the education budget by our elected officials does not instill confidence with the public. If our elected officials support the budget they need to say so. Someone needs to take ownership of each education budget. A budget without any supports is doomed to fail.

3) ‘Going from a unitary budget to a split budget is a big decision’ (45:30). The issue of splitting the budget is a big deal and we should not be rushed into it even if that means it’s not on the ballot in November. Even though the commission spent 200 hours on this project there are many key items they did not consider. Until we are able to review all the items that need to be considered we should not bring this to the ballot. By putting this revision to voters before considering all aspects of the change the Commission is promoting a ‘Half-Baked’ proposal. Below are some of the items that need to be considered before a charter revision is sent to voters:
  • How to handle debt service since it only resides on the town side of the budget
  • What happens if voters chose to increase the budget to an amount greater that was originally requested. As Mitch Bolinsky says ‘Because we can’t put money in it seems to me a conflict in it’s most basic form’.
  • Did not consider other alternatives to limiting the number referendums. This was addressed in answer to Kathy F’s question (1:06:25).
  • LC Members (George F.) passed on discussing any of his adjustments because of the rushed deadline.
4) Decisions were based on flawed logic:
  • Putting the need to pass the budget before the need to understand voter intent is inherently wrong. Period. If voter intent isn’t at the heart of democracy then I don’t know what is.
  • The decision to have a binding vote (which, per the commission, is the critical question - 33:40) was based in part on the fact that one person from Simsbury and one person from New Milford who ‘talked the commissions ear off’ in favor of a binding vote (48:30). These are only 2 people out of 28 towns in Ct. that have split budgets. This is hardly a scientific sample that any statistical test will support.
  • The decision on a binding vs non-binding vote was based on the assumption that there is no reason a voter would ever want to reconsider a vote once it’s passed (41:10). This logic is flawed because it fails to take into consideration that things change. For example, the simple fact that $1M was cut from education and nothing was cut from the town side took most residents by surprise and, because it’s such a large amount, may leave many people reconsidering their initial vote. To hold voters to this vote is a far greater miscarriage of justice that having them restate their wishes at a future referendum.
  • The commission talked to a lot of people who told them they wanted the budget split but didn’t say how. This should be a clear indication to the commission that most people are not considering everything they need to when it comes to bifurcation. By the commission’s own findings, bifurcation is a big decision for a town and how it’s done, binding vs non-binding, is critical. The fact that this was not mentioned in discussions with the public should be a clear indication that it’s not being considered by most people. In my opinion the Commission has a responsibility to ensure people understand what bifurcation means and not just assume they don’t care or it’s not relevant.
  • We’re basing a lot on the opinion of two individuals. These people tell us we shouldn’t worry about education not passing. At no point during the meeting were their specific comments discussed other than to say they think a binding vote is the way to go and that we don’t have anything to worry about with regards to education passing. However, simple math tells us that if the education budget is 45% more likely to fail (considering town fails 29% of the time and Education 42% of the time) and that the very high percentage of funding that’s carried by residential taxpayers increases the likelihood a budget will fail, then we may need more appropriate support than two talkative BoE members.
5) Based on the commission’s findings the usefulness of advisory questions are marginal at best. By making the questions optional further reduces their usefulness very likely making them worthless for their intended purpose. The ballot should have been structured so the questions are part of the vote and are mandatory. To do anything else takes what has already been determined to be pretty useless and basically make it worthless. This is one of the factors that makes it clear to me that the intent of the questions is not to capture useful information with which to adjust the vote as much as it is to ‘Reduce Noise’ as the commission put it.

Part 3 – Our Leaders Perspectives

Before moving on to suggest how best to proceed I need to point out items a couple of items that I found troubling that came up during the meeting. I strongly suggest to voters that they watch the video and draw their own conclusions.

First, Pat Llorda’s comments at about 1:32:20…

“From the perspective of the front office, I would like to remind you those of us that work in the office collaborate very, very well. That falls apart once that enters the government. When we (Pat L, Ron B. and Bob T.) get together we collaborate very effectively as long as we’re in our own space. It’s when we get influenced or buffeted by others outside (problems arise), that’s a problem that we all have to recognize. The problem is not the people that are in the offices. The problem is elsewhere.” Ms. Llodra goes on to say there are “equally as many people working to dismantle” collaboration. “Everyone has to pitch in and be behind us.” They need to ‘Push back equally hard.’

First of all, the fact that $1M was cut from education after the first referendum this year confirms that this is simply not true and there is very poor collaboration between the boards (the public isn’t even involved at that point). Also, as the commission pointed out, towns that have trouble, consistently have trouble and towns that get it right usually always get it right. Based on everything presented it looks like we’re in the former group. We shouldn’t expect it’s going to change simply changing the way we vote.

Second, as the commission pointed out, taxpayers have a huge stake in paying the bills of the town. We naturally have questions. If the objective is to get the budget passed then our leaders need to be prepared to clearly and completely answer taxpayers questions. The failure of our First Selectman to recognize there is a problem or to take overall responsibility is very troubling leaving serious questions about her leadership abilities. It’s very obvious that ‘the buck stops here’ does not appear to apply in this town.

The next item that threw up a red flag for me was Kathy F’s question at about 1:06:00 where she asks if the commission considered limiting the number of referendums. In her words ‘once you get to three then something else happens’. I would ask Kathy to please explain her comments. Is she thinking three strikes and the public loses their right to vote? It’s not clear to me that’s what she means so if she can you please her explain comments it would be appreciated.


Part 4 – A more effect resolution to our problem

The reasons above are just some of the reasons why I would not have recommended a change to our voting process. To me a more appropriate course of action than a mad rush to get this on the ballot in November would have been to address the actual problems with something that could actually help. The voters of Newtown certainly deserve nothing less.

The primary reason why budgets fail is because of ‘questionable’ budgets or because there is a lack of transparency - 1:05:00). This tells me we need an ongoing process to go through the budgets. Doing it once a year just isn’t cutting it. In the business world we have monthly close meeting at which time we review progress to date, where we are relative to our budget, and what changes in the budget are expected for the remainder of the fiscal year. I expect that if we had quarterly public meetings with the financial managers take everyone through a close as described above that it would have a much more significant impact than any change to the voting process in getting voter buy in on the budgets.

Business managers also need to prepare adequate information (including a comprehensive budget package), that’s easy to understand, for voters and public officials and all information should be in one convenient place. Business managers should also anticipate questions that will be raised by others.

It was pointed out at about 1:30:00 I believe that Madison has a very good process and that they share one business manager. Having a single source for financial information may be something that we may want to explore as well. I expect this would help make the information for each side of the budget more consistent.

I apologize for the length of this note. However, I thought if I was going to start off with by saying the Commission and the LC got it wrong then I’d better show how I came to that conclusion.

I just want to point out that I’m not a political person. I could care less about Democrates or Republicans. However, this is my hometown and I care very deeply about what happens to it. I care that things get done correctly. For me, the last straw was losing the O-O’s. Add to that the fact we are just finishing a huge expansion project on the high school and now we’re already talking about closing an elementary school because of declining enrollment. We pinch pennies on education but we pay a premium of over $76K a year on road salt. This stuff just doesn’t make sense people. Who is driving this ship. And now we’re being asked to give up the right to consider a complete budget. It may not sound like a lot now but the first time we’re stuck and our elected officials just look at us and say ‘sorry, our hands are tied’ it’ll be too late. That was exactly what happened a year ago with the O-O’s. Don’t let this happen people. Vote this down in November. Just look at the findings of the Commission yourself and see everything this change won’t resolve. That alone should be enough to stop this from going through. Remember, this change is about getting a budget to pass. It’s not about what voters want.

This town deserves better solution than one designed to only to ensure ‘the noise goes down’ We deserve a solution that will fix the problem and not pass the buck.

One final point, there is a great deal of information on bifurcation available on the web. As I was going thru it I found it very difficult to keep everything organized. To help me keep track of all the various articles and data sources I set up a small website to store everything. Everyone is welcome to it. Here is the link: viewforum.php?f=13. I believe I’ve included the source references (links) for all articles. Information on the charter revision is grouped into three categories, stories that relate to what we’re doing now, stories that relate to what we did in 2010 and stories that relate to general bifurcation info and what been done in neighboring towns. If anyone is interested please feel free to use whatever you want. Also feel free to add anything I may have missed.

Thanks again for listening to this long explanation.
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Dirk
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Discussion from AIN Post

Postby Dirk » Sat Sep 08, 2012 12:18 am

Below is the discussion from the AIN Post:


Kevin Fitzgerald I am pleased that the Council has supported this Commission's recommendations. I would have preferred to see it as "non-binding" only because that would provide officials with greater flexibility and far more options to follow through on the voters instructions without one "yet-to-be-aproved" budget suffering at the expense of the "approved and locked-in" budget. I think officials will come to regret that they will not be able to make the constructive choices that the "non-binding" model would afford them. Maybe it would have been better to have the Board of Finance decide on the Commission's recommendation?

The ever-changing nature of our budgets will only mean that with this "binding" decision, the dynamics of the "lock-in" budget that finds $200K-$500K (for example) in savings or is hit with that much in new costs (after it was approved) will have to be adjusted or corrected through other actions later in the year. Meanwhile, as the other "yet-to-be-approved" budget continues to get beaten up in referendums, Council members can do little to else but watch.

It is what it is. I thank the Charter Change Commission members for their work. This is a 180-degree change in direction from the previous effort and finally, voters will be heard and their preference recorded.

I expect this recommendation will pass overwhelmingly in November, in time for next budget season. Note to all interest groups....should one or both of these two budgets fail at the first referendum, it's safe to assume that the Legislative Council will unanimously support the majority opinion (too low or too high). So if you care enough about how one or both are funded, put your energies into the initial budget preparation process.

Encourage collaboration, partnership, transparency and communication. Write to elected officials at each stage of the budget review process. Don't wait for the Public Hearings. And then show up to vote and bring five people with you. Let's get a good budget that we can pass on the first try. Because after that, it's Majority Rules.
August 30 at 12:27pm

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Mary Ann Jacob I can understand your concerns, however making the vote binding for me personally is what changed me from a no to a yes on this issue. I was not comfortable reversing or tampering with the voters decision on a passed budget. I also think that the new BOE transfer policy will alleviate many concerns about savings that are found after a budget passes. As for extra costs, it will be the same as it is now once a budget is passed. Voters will need to understand that if the municipal budget passes and the BOE fails and the advisory questions indicate an increase is what is wanted then the only option will be to increase taxation since revenue and savings is part of the BOS budget and can't be touched.

Finally i completely agree with your comments about collaboration. We heard from the CRC that this process does not increase voter turnout or reduce referenda in and of itself. The difference is made in towns where the collaboration and expectations are clear and up front.
August 30 at 2:43pm

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Dirk Pitt This is very disappointing…just seems to be par for the course around here lately.

I find it very presumptuous of our leaders to assume that just because we vote the way we do given one set of facts means we’ll do the same given another. That’s our decision to make not theirs.

Mary Ann, not sure how you consider letting voters confirm their wishes and vote on the entire budget as ‘reversing or tampering with the voters decision’? Isn’t the greater risk and likelihood here that our vote will taken out of context when applied to a different set of facts, weeks or even months later? If we still approve of the budget then we’ll confirm it at the next vote. Again, this has always been our decision to make and it shouldn’t be taken away from us now.

The reasons given to support a binding vote are very weak at best if not completely wrong. They certainly do not justify having our right to vote on an entire budget taken away from us.

This is another case in town where voters lose.

It’s also troubling to learn that our LC members support taking this important right away from voters under the pretext of not ‘reversing or tampering with the voters decision’. I only hope voters consider the words of Thomas Jefferson before voting in November: “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” A non-binding bifurcated budget would have been an ideal solution with no real downside. Now, it’s just a squandered opportunity. If this is approved, we may come to deeply regret a binding budget.
August 30 at 10:59pm

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Mary Ann Jacob Dirk, please don't take my comments to represent any other members of the council. I only speak for myself. The same could be said for the current situation regarding a passed budget. Facts can change and you might vote differently today than you did the last five times. The voters need to speak on Election Day by showing up at the polls to either approve or reject this proposal.
August 31 at 6:26am

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Dirk Pitt I absolutely agree that voters should speak on election day. However, you’re asking voters to speak on an incomplete picture. For example, when voters cast their first vote they don’t know what items are on the table to be cut should a budget fail or what the magnitude of the cuts may be. Specifically, let’s say the town budget passed the first time around and the education budget does not. Once the town budget passes then every single item in the town budget takes precedence over any item in the education budget. So, as we scrimp to find a few dollars here and there that can be cut from the education budget, people are very likely not to feel the same way about our over paying for road salt to the tune of $70-$80K a year the way we currently do. Also, if this were the case this year we never would have had the $200K capital money added to education when we did because that budget would have been locked down in the town budget.

The fact of the matter is that the budget in this town is a moving target. When we vote the first time (or any other time for that matter) there is no understand of what the priorities are or what items are on the table to be cut from the budget. There is no way that a voter can know what the impact of a failed budget may be. If you’re going to hold voters to their first vote then they need to clearly understand what that vote means in terms of what will be cut at every future referendum should a budget fail and they need to know it at the time they cast their vote. I think we both know that will never happen.

Again, what I’m asking for is nothing more that what I currently have. Your recommendation will cause voters to have this right stolen right from under their noses. To paint this in any other light is simply misleading voters.
August 31 at 9:38am

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Mary Ann Jacob I haven't painted it anyway, just presented the out one of the vote and my personal reason for how I voted in favor of it.
August 31 at 9:51am

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Dirk Pitt Mary Ann, you’re painting it as if you’re standing up for the voters by not ‘reversing or tampering with the voters decision’ when the fact of the matter is you’re recommending a process that will result in voters losing an important right. A process that will very likely result in voters having to live with something they don’t want…Just like we’re all having to do right now with All Star.
August 31 at 10:22am

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Michelle Embree Ku Dirk, I understand the reasoning behind not wanting a binding budget - that there are lots of moving parts which change as the budget season progresses and by taking out one part of the big machine, you make it more difficult to repair the whole machine by only being able to work on the other half. And I agree that that is a drawback to the binding split budget. But I’m not sure I understand what right you think the voters are losing.
August 31 at 11:56am

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Dirk Pitt Hi Michelle, Right now every time I vote I have the right to consider whether I believe the Town budget is reasonable, whether I believe the Education budget is reasonable and lastly, whether I believe the over all budget is reasonable. This is a right all voters have with the existing charter. With the proposed Charter Revision voters lose this right. Again, this is important because things change. The entire process of adjusting the budget itself causes new information to come to light that likely wasn’t available when we cast our original vote. How can voters make an educated vote when we have no idea what it will ultimately mean as it’s taken out of context weeks or months after it was originally cast?

The objective of this process was to provide the LC with information so they are better able to adjust the budget. A non-binding solution does exactly that. A binding solution goes too far and infringes on voters rights.
August 31 at 12:24pm

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Mary Ann Jacob I don't mean to "paint" something one way or the other. I listened to the pros and cons and came down on the other side of the issue. There are a variety of opinions on the subject, some folks feel the exact opposite way you do. I'm clear we disagree.
August 31 at 12:31pm

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Dirk Pitt Hi Mary Ann, Please share the pros and cons you based your vote on. I expect there’s probably a lot more to it than just not wanting to ‘reverse or tamper with the voters decision’
August 31 at 12:45pm

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Dirk Pitt Also, Mary Ann, it’s very clear that we disagree on whether binding vs non-binding is most appropriate. However, it’s indisputable that voters lose their right to chose with the solution you recommend. It’s just that you’re okay with that and I’m not.
August 31 at 12:59pm

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Mary Ann Jacob I felt to reverse the approved vote would be wrong. I did not support bifurcation the last go around because it was presented as a non binding option.

The commissioners who spoke made it clear that in the towns they researched, bifurcation and/or advisory questions in and of themselves did not improve voter turnout, or reduce the number of referendums. The towns that had the lowest number of referendums were towns that had the best collaboration and communication from the very start of the budget process. To that end, the council chair already announced his plans to have a collaborative meeting between all boards involved in this process in the next month to begin that process. We need to set expectations, communicate early and often and work together towards a common goal of passing the budget on the first try. If we don't, this change provides information previously not available for the council to consider when voting to make changes.
August 31 at 1:16pm

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Dirk Pitt That's it? That's the only thing you based your vote on? Didn't you give any consideration how it would effect voter’s rights or that it will likely put taxpayers in a position where their votes will be used out of the context in which they were cast and against their will? I expected that this issue would have been given more consideration than ‘because I felt it was wrong’.
August 31 at 1:16pm

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Michelle Embree Ku O.K. I think I see your point, Dirk – that once one of the budgets passes, you will no longer have the ability to vote on it as a part of the whole budget. BUT you will have gained the ability to have more say on the first referendum than you ever had in the past. And for the budget that does fail, you, as a voter, will have more of a voice in what you want done with it. What will be more limiting, is what the LC can do in response to the failed vote. It is a trade-off - one that, I understand, you do not want to make.

I was not in favor of a binding vote. However, I can see the issues with a non-binding vote. As Mary Ann points out, there is the issue of voters feeling that their vote wasn’t adhered to. There is also the problem of people voting “no” on one side of the budget in hopes that the reduction in that side will be used to increase the other budget. In all of our research of other towns, we consistently heard concerns about people “gaming” the vote. So, that was an important consideration.

There really isn’t a perfect answer. If there was, all towns would be using it. I am certain each commissioner would have come up with a different plan, because we each had different points of view and had different ways of weighing the costs and benefits of the various solutions. However, the process that led to the Commission’s recommendation was a fair, politically balanced, well-researched effort. On the whole, I think that the recommendation will help provide clarity in a process that has been in want of detail. I understand that you are saying that the most important element for you has been lost – that the tradeoff is not worth it for you. For others, the balance will tip the other way.

For clarity: I served on the Charter Revision Commission and these are my views only.
August 31 at 3:50pm

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Dirk Pitt Mary Ann, My comment above was based on your original unedited comment. Let's just hope voters take the time to understand what it means to them and that they will be giving up their right to chose.
August 31 at 1:37pm

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Mary Ann Jacob Sorry, I hit send on my phone before I completed my thought. Michelle did a better job than I did of explaining some of the other issues. Thanks Michelle. We do need to get a good level of detail out to the public so when they arrive at the polls they can make a well informed vote.
August 31 at 1:45pm

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Kevin Fitzgerald In my opinion, reversing, over-riding and tampering with voter's decisions has been going on for as long as I can remember. Voting in fear of further cuts is one example. And just this past Spring, when Council members manufactured reasons to cut the Education request by $1 million and then ignored the feedback they asked for, they were over-riding and tampering with our votes. This is why taxpayers insisted on a new referendum model. We insisted that we be given a voice.

While a "Binding" referendum model is not perfect, it's the split budget and advisory questions that are most important. If we have to change "Binding" to "Non-Binding" next time around, there's no reason we can't make that happen too. But let's be sure to pass the current proposal in November and then build from that.

I think that the decision to recommend "binding" rather than "non-binding" comes from a lack of leadership and accountability regarding the budget process. Fearing that voters would feel their vote is being tampered with when in fact it is not tampered with suggests a level of acceptance by town and school officials that they will not be able to properly communicate and defend the rules of the referendum. With the "Non-Binding" model, as long as voters understand that NO budgets pass unless they both pass at the same referendum, then those voters will act accordingly. Yes, voters might be upset when at a referendum, they vote to support both budgets and then learn that evening that one of the budgets did not receive enough votes to "pass". Yes, no one likes multiple referendums, but clearly no votes are being reversed or tampered with. In fact, that vote, while maybe in the minority for that one budget that "failed", will play a second role because that same voter answered the Advisory Questions which will provide Council members with instructions on how to prepare the next versions of both budgets. Imagine that. No more guessing. So in fact, that vote carries more weight than it used to.

Personally, I think "binding" is more likely to make voters feel their vote is "tampered with". Here is an example... .At the first referendum one of the two budgets passes and is therefore "locked in" while the other budget continues on to multiple referendums. Then, between referendum #1 and #2, as typically happens, we learn that the "locked in" budget has found $300K in reduced insurance costs, or we find out about an "unknown" account with $400K that we weren't aware of before. But even the Council can't do anything about it because that budget is "locked".

Now, as a taxpayer who supported that budget, I might want to change my mind because $300K may be the difference between having Full Day Kindergarten, keeping the pools open or continuing to support town programs that are helpful but not critical. These "extra" funds might be better spent elsewhere or better yet, returned to the taxpayers. That "locked-in" budget is no longer the budget I helped to pass just a few weeks earlier. Now I am beginning to feel that my vote is being tampered with.
Let's try the "binding" model and see how it goes.
August 31 at 2:07pm

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Dirk Pitt Michelle, I agree with your comments in the first paragraph and would also add that everything said applies to a non-binding vote as well. Said another way, we accomplish everything there without giving up our right to chose.

Regarding people that feel their vote wasn’t adhered to…First of all we should not consider it to be two budgets. In the eyes of the State of Connecticut it’s one budget. The only reason we need to split it up is so we can count votes. By making the vote binding we’re creating a distinction that doesn’t exist today and that can have other negative effects in town. For one, it will only serve to foster a contentious relationship between the two sides of the budgets and their supporters and will hinder efforts to collaborate between the two sides. It’s one budget. If the overall budget fails then all parts fail. It’s the whole that matters. Secondly, people are free to continue to support a portion of the budget if they wish. They are not losing that right. If everyone still supports the budget it will pass again. Lastly, there is a very real if not likely chance that people’s votes will be taken out of context. That the information they based their vote on changed between when the half passes and when the budget is ultimately approved. The argument that their vote wasn’t adhered to just doesn’t outweigh the negatives associated with making the vote binding.

Regarding gaming the system. We need to remember the overall objective. It was to assist the LC in making adjustments. It was not for voters to give up their right to choose. A non-binding solution will do exactly that. If there are issues with people gaming the system then the issues should be addressed or the abandoned. Taking away our right to choose should not be on the table at all. As I said in other posts: this is a LC issue. I’m very happy to provide the information they need to make their adjustments but absolutely not at the cost of losing my rights. One last point here about gaming the system…while a non-binding vote may lead to the scenario you describe, doesn’t a binding vote just lead people to reject both sides of the budget if they only have an issue with one side to keep the overall tax rates from going up?

As you said, there is no ideal solution. However, voter’s rights should not be what on the table here. If the object was to provide voters with a clearer voice than that could have easily been accomplished with a non-binding vote. Instead the voter loses again.
August 31 at 2:29pm

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Dirk Pitt Kevin, I agree with all your points except that we pass this revision and lose our right to choose. I suspect it will be much more difficult getting that right back once it's gone than it will be to pass a non-binding version while we have the right to choose. After all, we're not asking for anything now that we don't already have.
August 31 at 2:48pm · Like
Kevin Fitzgerald Certainly can't argue with that Dirk. I'm think I'm pretty happy that despite the uphill battle, Newtown's taxpayers, with the help of an effective Charter Review Commission, have been able to drive this change in just two years. But you are right. Maybe I'm not seeing the forest for the trees. Am I settling for "good enough"?
August 31 at 3:26pm

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Michelle Embree Ku I think that each of us may have to settle for "good enough." It's a compromise. If we each stick hard and fast to our own idea of what is best, I don't know that we will get anywhere. I was trying to make that point when I said that "I am certain each commissioner would have come up with a different plan, because we each had different points of view and had different ways of weighing the costs and benefits of the various solutions." The commission did not agree on any of the major issues: binding, bifurcation or advisory questions. Yet the proposed revisions were unanimously passed. I can't speak for the other members, but I felt that the issues had been vetted and this was one of many solutions that not only could work but would also help the budget process.
August 31 at 3:46pm

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Brian Leidlein One question, was it necessary to put the entire proposal to vote as a single package, or could each piece be added to the ballot as a question for the voters to decide. For example: 1. Do you want the budget bifurcated? 2. If the budget is bifurcated, should votes be binding on each, or only when both sides pass? 3. Should advisory questions be added? Just curious
September 1 at 8:32am

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Dirk Pitt We shouldn’t have to settle when it entails voters losing control of their vote.

Below are a few observations from the 8/29 LC meeting. These are the findings of the Charter Review Commission and the points in the video where they can be found:

23:30 – Questions not relevant…don’t provide a lot of info
24:20 – Only once in 85 votes was a budget too low
30:00 – Newtown had questions…they were a mixed bag
26:50 – Cooperation (and communication) drives success

Based on the findings of the Charter Revision Commission noted above there isn’t a lot to be gained by adding advisory questions. The bigger issue is that voters will lose their right to consider and vote on a complete budget package if the charter is revised. This is an important factor that has not been given adequate consideration. These days we are all too familiar with the saying ‘you don’t know what you have until it gone’. My concern is that we’re going to end up regretting this change and that once it’s gone it’s going to be very difficult to get it back. So we should not settle by accepting this revision. We should reject this change to the charter. The upside is very limited and in no way worth the downside risk.

The findings of the commission show that the most significant factor in getting voters to support a budget is with cooperation between the boards and administration and with communication with the voters. We should be focusing on these areas rather than amending the charter.

At about 1:32:00 into the meeting Pat Llodra makes the following comments regarding collaboration:

“We collaborate effectively as long as we’re in our own space…that falls apart once it enters the government…the problem is not the people that are in the offices; the problem is elsewhere”.

I would ask our First Selectman to reconsider. If the objective is to gain public support for the budget then the place to start is with improved communication with the public. There is a very large portion of the town’s tax burden on the shoulders of residents. I believe it was mentioned during the meeting that over 80% of the town’s funding is provided by residents and that it was the second highest of all the towns that the Commission looked at. With such a stake in the town finances residents are naturally concerned with all budget items and will continue to have difficult question on those items. Our leaders need to go beyond their ‘space’ and clearly communicate with the public. And remember, communication involves listening to the public as wells as supporting your points. Until the communication issue is addressed it won’t matter how we change the way we vote.

http://www.newtown-ct.gov/public_docume ... oarchivent
September 1 at 9:36am

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Michelle Embree Ku Good question, Brian. That came up during the LC meeting on August 29. You can watch the discussion: Pat Llodra raised this issue at about 1:45:00 and the discussion begins at about 1:47:00. I will add to the LC's discussion that the Charter Revision Commission had the advantage of being able to consider all of the parts as they related to each other and the different scenarios that might occur under different combinations of solutions. If you send the individual parts out to the voters, they will not have the opportunity to do that. I think Pat Llodra sums it up when she relates the issue to a charter revision that took place about 10 years ago where the questions were related but voted on separately, and they ended up with a “scrambled egg.” There is one other reason that I can think of for not splitting the questions - it would require a big effort to educate the public about the different issues. Many people I speak to are not clear about the differences between advisory questions, bifurcation and binding (not to mention the part about eliminating the Town Meeting from the budget process). Educating the public would definitely be a good thing, but in order to make sure that everyone who votes in the presidential election also understands what the individual issues on advisory question, binding and bifurcation are would take a huge effort.
(my views only - not that of the commission)
September 1 at 10:35am

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Michelle Embree Ku Dirk, you are absolutely right about the most significant factor being cooperation. For me, the most profound and clear realization that came from all of our research was that the only way that our budget is going to pass is for everyone to work together to make it happen. That was not a part of our charge, but my hope is that that is the most influential finding that comes from this commission. It is much easier to say than live it – I know. If you watch Jim Ritchie in the August 29, LC meeting (at about 1:30:00), he shares his experience working with the town of Madison. He says that it takes trust, and trust takes time. It won’t be easy, but I think we all must take responsibility for developing that trust. We have to start by taking responsibility for our own actions. When conversations on social media degenerate into personal attacks and non-factual content (presented as fact), we, the voters aren’t helping our town. And by waiting until the budget fails to learn about the budget and join the conversation about what the budget should look like, we are not doing our town leaders any favors. Nobody should hold false hope that by changing our voting process, we are going to solve our budget issues. It's going to take effort on everyone's part to make the conversation more productive and less destructive.
(my views only)
September 1 at 10:36am

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Michelle Embree Ku I also agree with you, Dirk, that there needs to be better communication with the public about the budget.
September 1 at 10:58am

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Kinga Czirjak Walsh So we are back to the basic issue (IMO) of communication. Is there a plan in place to educate the voters on the Charter Revision vote in November and all its elements and their impact? Many in town don't know what this is, why it is happening, why it is important, the impact, etc. The Bee or The Patch should not be the only means of explanation, IMO. Many could go to the polls and skip the question or vote Yes or No but not really understand either. Any help on understanding the plan is appreciated!
September 2 at 7:50am

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Mary Ann Jacob Kinga, we did talk about the need for a plan at our council meeting, but one is not in place today. I agree, voters need to be educated. Thoughts from the group on how that could be done?
September 2 at 9:53am

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John Godin Personally, I would be more than willing to help inform the voters of Newtown either in an open round robin forum or by developing a document to answer Frequently Asked Questions about the Charter Revision process, etc. Technically, the work of the most recent Charter Revision Commission has been completed as the charge was addressed and a report was completed. I can't speak for the other commissioners but I think some would willing to help out if there was a specific ask from the LC.
September 2 at 12:18pm

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Kevin Fitzgerald still reading your comments Dirk. But I will say I heard about the "quiet the noise" statement from others and now that i understand the context in which it was meant, you're right. That's not why taxpayers pushed the Council to convene another Charter Review Commission. I'm disappointed to learn about that. But I'll read on....
September 3 at 7:02pm

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Michelle Embree Ku Dirk, I appreciate your taking the time to really delve into the issues and analyze them. Most importantly, you identified what I think is the key point - passing a budget requires cooperation and that is where we need to focus.

However, that point was not part of our charge. And while it was tempting (for me and perhaps others) to say “leave everything as is and let’s work on cooperation,” that is neither what we were charged with nor is it what the public is asking for. The voters that I heard from fairly consistently said that they wanted something to change in the way that we vote on the budget. Additionally, many Legislative Council members indicated that they want more information to help them determine how to respond to a failed referendum. I felt that people deserved to have a proposal to vote on. If they decide after reviewing all of the information, as you have, that the benefits are not worth the costs/risks, I am fine with that. And hopefully, we move on as a town, knowing that we explored the possibilities and that we need to address our budget concerns in a different way.

As I see it, the main voting issue in Newtown is determining the intent of the “no” vote. Therefore, the most important element, I believe, is the inclusion of advisory questions on the ballot, as I don’t think that there is any other way to address the specific issue that we face in Newtown. That is why I voted for the proposal that we sent forward. And while it does not seem likely that the “no” votes will be enough to indicate that the budget should be increased (based on the research), it is interesting that the one town that did vote for an increase out of 85 referenda, was Newtown. Additionally, I think that it is important to know whether the people who are voting “no” with the intent to increase the budget are in the minority or the majority. Otherwise, we are all guessing, and it breeds animosity. I agree with you – advisory questions do not come highly recommended by town officials. But how else do you address the specific issue that we have?

One last point, I am surprised to see the phrase “quiet the noise” being pulled out and highlighted - whatever that means. I don’t ever recall our discussions ever mentioning (explicitly or implicitly) quieting of voter input (I think that is what you are assuming “noise” means?).

One more last point - these are my thoughts and not those of the charter revision commission.
September 3 at 10:35pm

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Dirk Pitt Hi Michelle,

There are several places where it’s mentioned. If you watch from about 39:50 during the discussion of failure rates…at 40:35 the term ‘Noise’ is used referring to the 2/3s of the voters that don’t use the services of the BoE:

“Town side budgets failed 29% of the time and education budgets failed 42% of the time and it’s probably consistent with some of the 'noise' you’d hear regarding a BoE budget but let’s put this in perspective…this doesn’t surprise me because when 2/3s of the town’s unitary budget is with the Board of Ed when the majority of the town residents don’t use the services budget, this doesn’t surprise me.”

Also during the discussion of binding vs non-binding at about 42:06:

“…if I was a Legislative council person, putting on the other hat, I don’t want to deal with something I know has passed. Let me focus what I need to work on and that way the noise goes down”

The context of the word is clear based on what was said.

I understand addressing the real issue we have with budgets was not in the scope of what the Commission was tasked to do. I guess that’s not surprising. However, as I said in my last post, ‘I care that things get done correctly’. So, please excuse me when I say I don’t really care that this was within the scope of what the commission was tasked to do or not. As a taxpayer that cares about this town, my hometown, I want the PROBLEM fixed. I do not want some half-baked solution that won’t do a damn thing to fix the problem but is the only option available to the Committee given the scope of the project they’ve been tasked with. An option we all know going in 1) does not address the real issues and 2) Doesn’t work.

Given the scope of the commission’s authority, the right thing for the commission to have done would have been to just be clear that this is not the optimal solution. If we need change for the sake of change then it should have never been a binding option. Making it binding is very wrong for many reasons. If the real objective was to understand the no vote that could have easily been done with a non-binding vote. Also, by making the questions optional, we’re effectively taking a solution that research says is not useful and very likely making it worthless. Not that it really matters anyway…after all, only once in 89 times was a budget too low!

It strikes me as a little ironic in the statement above “Let me focus what I need to work on and that way the noise goes down”…By making the vote binding, what’s left to work on? All options are off the table at that point. It’s either cut the budget or raise taxes. That’s it. No $200K from capital. No flexibility. The decision to make it binding was very ill conceived. There are so many reasons not to make the vote binding while the only positive is ‘voters don’t need to think about that side of the budget again’. What a load of crap. I’d love to see the decision matrix used to make that decision!

No…the right thing for the Commission to have done would have been to come right out and spell it out on the record. Tell the LC members that of all the people they talk to no one is considering the impact of making the vote binding vs not binding and that is a problem. That was one of the Commission’s findings after all. Don’t voters need to understand the impact of making the vote binding v non-binding considering it’s as ‘critical’ a factor as the Commission’s findings show.

It’s pretty clear to me we have problems. For starts we have a First Selectman that thinks everything is fine ‘in her space’…the $1M hit to the BoE budget not withstanding.

We have a government that has no trouble picking off voters rights… when we speak up they consider it ‘noise’. This time we may be losing the ability to vote on the overall budget…what next, limiting the number of times the budget can be put to the vote? Is the public going to get three strikes and we’re out?

It’s clear to me that the shortcomings of our government are being blamed on the taxpayers. Because they can not effectively cooperate internally or communicate externally, voters are going to lose their choice just to get a budget passed.

Like I said…it’s a complete load of crap…I only hope other people recognize it as well before it’s too late.
September 4 at 12:48am

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Mary Ann Jacob Dirk, do any of the quotes about "noise" come from elected officials? Personally, I feel making the vote binding keeps the power in the taxpayers hands. Every single person, with the exception of you (and it sounds like Kevin may support this your theory as well) that I have heard from was appalled at the idea of their vote being overturned. I think that comes from this issue of what does no mean... I believe most people think no means too high, and it's those people who don't want their vote changed. Your argument completely ignores anyone who thinks the vote is too high period. Your perspective does make sense for the no its too low vote because having funds available to take from somewhere else is important. Is suppose the outcome of this suggested charter change might reflect those ideologies.
September 4 at 6:46am

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Mary Ann Jacob BTW, I have always respected your posts and thoughtful comments, but have resisted till now responding to your four part post because it degenerates into personal attacks and the "because I don't agree, the leadership sucks" agenda. All of us did what we thought would best respond to the voters loud requests, call it noise if you'd like....I though it was interesting when interviewing candidates for this commission. Every single one supported a change. Very different from 2010 when we interviewed candidates for that commission.
September 4 at 6:53am

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Dirk Pitt Hi Mary Ann,

The quote that came from elected officials that I keep getting stuck on came from Pat and I assume is what you’re referring to as a personal attack. Here is what I said:

Before moving on to suggest how best to proceed I need to point out items a couple of items that I found troubling that came up during the meeting. I strongly suggest to voters that they watch the video and draw their own conclusions.

First, Pat Llorda’s comments at about 1:32:20…

“From the perspective of the front office, I would like to remind you those of us that work in the office collaborate very, very well. That falls apart once that enters the government. When we (Pat L, Ron B. and Bob T.) get together we collaborate very effectively as long as we’re in our own space. It’s when we get influenced or buffeted by others outside (problems arise), that’s a problem that we all have to recognize. The problem is not the people that are in the offices. The problem is elsewhere.” Ms. Llodra goes on to say there are “equally as many people working to dismantle” collaboration. “Everyone has to pitch in and be behind us.” They need to ‘Push back equally hard.’

Maybe Ms. Llodra can explain specifically what she means by elsewhere and where she believes the problems are. Also, I’d be very interested to know who the people are that are working to dismantle collaboration and what, specifically are they doing to cause the problems.

Also, I was very clear to tell people to watch the video for themselves and draw their own conclusions. Hardly what I would call a personal attach regardless how you’re trying to spin it now.

Below is an example of some of the communication I’ve had with Pat, this past year during the budget cycle regarding Road Salt. Consider the exchange below from June 20:

• Patricia Llodra Reagrding the question from Dirk Pitt about salt. We have approx 2500 tons of salt and salt/sand mix in our stockpile. The 'avergae' winter calls for about $4200 tons of salt alone. We need to purchase an additioanl 1700 tons of salt just to have what we have 'averaged' over the past few winters. We learned from the severe winter of 2010 to not get caught short of salt/sand that is essential for public safety during bad weather.
June 20 at 2:31pm

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Dirk Pitt Thanks again for your reply Pat. I was looking at the info you provided and it just seems like I'm missing something.

For example, if we currently have 2500 tons of sand/salt mix on hand then we would have used about 3100 tons last year or about $250K worth of salt which seems very high to me considering how little bad weather we had last winter.

Below is how I’m looking at this:

2,500 Total Sand/Salt Mix on Hand
50/50 Sand/Salt Mix Ratio
--------
1,250 Total Salt Remaining
$79.88 Salt Price per Ton
--------
$99,850 Value of Salt Remaining
$350,000 Total Spent on Salt Last Year
--------
$250,150 Total Salt Used Last Year
======
June 20 at 2:59pm · Like

Dirk Pitt ...Hit enter too soon...This does not take into consideration any material in stock at the beginning of the year which would increase the amount of material used last year. I also, don't know the actual amount of salt on hand now that's in the sand/salt mix so I just used a 50/50 split. I would think the actual mix includes more sand than salt so this is probably a conservative estimate. In any event, even if the 2500 tons on hand was all salt it would still mean that we used $150K worth of salt last year which still seems high.
June 20 at 3:06pm

This was a valid question that I did not receive any response on it. And, since this was posted I was able to confirm that through the state plan to buy salt at the state rate we would save about $76K a year based on the average amount of salt we use per Pat. This is what was in my mind when I read Ms Llodra’s comments about ‘pushing back’ and problems arising out side of her space. This is what I think about when I think of when the topic of communication issues arises. This is not a personal attack. I have nothing against Ms Llodra. I voted for her. I wish her and all our elected officials the best success. However, that support has it’s limits and certainly does not include keeping my eyes closed and my mouth shut. After the stunt that was pulled last year with the O-Os I am paying more attention because I don’t want to lose something else.

Again, I encourage all voters to watch the video themselves and draw their own conclusions. I’ve notes all the locations in the video where my points come from. However, I encourage people to watch the entire video so nothing is taken out of context. THIS IS NO PERSONAL ATTACK.

Lastly, this ‘theory’ that I support is not a theory it’s fact. A theory is a guess. So, for example, when the commission used the comments of two talkative BoE members from Simsbury and New Milford to mean that Binding is a better alternative, that is a theory. To say that voters will be losing a right that they currently have is a fact. There is a big difference.
September 4 at 8:57am

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Dirk Pitt One more point...I don't think Kevin and I agree on this topic. I believe he is for splitting the budget at all cost while I'm not. I completely support a non-binding solution because it does no harm but not a binding solution given what that could mean. I mean really, how can you recommend holding voters to their vote when the LC is making $1M adjustments that are not anticipated by voters. That's just wrong!
September 4 at 8:20am · Like

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Kevin Fitzgerald Mary Ann, as you and I have discussed before, I have a very different experience with how people responded to the idea of a "non-binding" referendum model. If they supported a budget that "passed" and had to be revisited in a second referendum because the other budget had "failed", no one described feeling "overturned" because they understood that the rules of a "non-binding" referendum require that both budgets must pass in the same referendum. In that scenario, a vote CANNOT be overturned. Yes, they might be disappointed, but no one ever considered their vote as being "overturned". In fact, they recognized that it would make them strive to be more flexible where thay might otherwise have strong opinions about the other budget.

However, I could see how, IF that voter goes into the ballot box without a clue about how the referendum works, then yes, they might feel their vote has been overturned. But regardless of which referendum model Newtown has in place, it comes down to educating the public. If a voter knows the rules, they will not feel "overturned." Or, they might still "FEEL" overturned, but their vote has NOT been overturned, and that's what matters most.

I think the risk of feeling overturned that you describe is just as likely, if not more so, with the "binding" model, if a voter supports and passes one budget but not the other and as referendums continue for the yet-to-be-passed budget that voter learns that the already "passed and locked" budget has found $300K in savings or new information reports that it will incur $300K in new costs (and therefore has to cut elsewhere), then that budget is now very different than the one he passed and which town officials can no longer modify.

But you've been vocal about your opinion since 2010 as I have been about mine, so we'll agree to disagree. But I just want to stress that neither model allows town officials to OVERTURN a vote, EVER. And therefore, choosing a referendum model should be based on the assumption that voters will be educated about those rules when they enter the ballot box.
September 4 at 8:30am

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Dirk Pitt Mary Ann, I’ve been thinking about you’re comment regarding leadership sucks…First of all I just want to be clear with everyone that my experience is very limited. I did not pay attention to anything really prior to the BoE accepting the All Star contract last year. Also, my understanding of what’s happened since is limited to only a few items. So I’m very sure there are a lot of areas where the service provided by our elected officials is outstanding. As I said, I voted for Pat last November (I would have voted for you too if you were in my district and still would regardless of this one item). I thought Pat did an excellent job of handling both of our power outage incidents last year. I also believe everyone tries really hard to do the right thing. For example, I thought the BoE tried extremely hard to please everyone with the Education budget a few months ago. I don’t think everything was handled perfectly but that isn’t to say it was for the lack of trying or goodwill by the BoE.

However, as hard as everyone works, and I know everyone wants what’s best for the town, it doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t made. As I said, I’ve only followed a few items in town in any detail…the O-Os, the last voting process and the charter are a few that I’ve looked at. In all three of those cases I feel there has been a failure of leadership.

If we all can just recognize where the problem lies then we can put the appropriate plan into place to address the problem. The findings of the Committee clearly state what matters most in the case of getting a budget approved and it’s not the voting process. The recommended charter revision fails to address the real problem and proposes a solution that it’s own research shows won’t do much good and does infringe on voters right to vote on a complete budget. If we’re going to do this then lets address the real issue. The voters don’t deserve any less than that.
September 4 at 12:38pm

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Dirk Pitt Mary Ann, Still considering your comments regarding leadership. Specifically, the comment ‘I though it was interesting when interviewing candidates for this commission. Every single one supported a change’.

I kept thinking there was quote that applied but couldn’t put my finger on it and then it finally came to me (old age I guess).

It’s a funny little poem with a valid point at the end.

PROGRAMMER'S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
'Twas the night before implementation and all through the house,
not a program was working not even a browse.
The programmers hung by their tubes in despair,
with hopes that a miracle would soon be there.
The users were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of inquiries danced in their heads.
When out in the machine room there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a super programmer (with a six-pack of beer).
His resume glowed with experience so rare,
he turned out great code with a bit-pusher's flair.
More rapid than eagles, his programs they came,
On update! on add! on inquiry! on delete!
on batch jobs! on closing! on functions complete!
His eyes were glazed-over, fingers nimble and lean,
from weekends and nights in front of a screen.
A wink of his eye, and a twitch of his head,
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
turning specs into code; then turned with a jerk;
And laying his finger upon the "ENTER" key,
the systems came up and worked perfectly.
The updates updated; the deletes, they deleted;
the inquiries inquired, and closings completed.
He tested each whistle, and tested each bell,
with nary an abend, and all had gone well.
The system was finished, the tests were concluded.
The users' last changes were even included.
And the user exclaimed with a snarl and a taunt,
"It's just what I asked for, but not what I want!"

A good leader understands exactly what asked for and delivers exactly what’s needed!
September 4 at 3:02pm

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Kinga Czirjak Walsh Well said Dirk in both of these posts! Educating the resident as to what is happening, what is the impact of a vote one way or the other is crucial. Communication. Who is spearheading the effort for this? Appears many think it is a good idea but who is leading the charge?
Wednesday at 6:45am · Like
Mary Ann Jacob I have spoken to chairman Capeci about several ideas that have been forwarded to me. I will bring up during the communications portion of our council meeting this evening.
Wednesday at 8:08am

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Dirk Pitt Thank you Mary Ann. Is there any way to fix the binding problem as well so voters don't end up being the ones that lose out?
Wednesday at 9:30am

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Dirk Pitt It seems to me having the Commission create a decision matrix for the Binding / Non-Binding options would be an appropriate solution and would help everyone to more clearly understand what the options are and how much each option is weighted. It will help improve everyone's understanding of the issue and ensure they are aware of all the issues...something the Commission's research indicates may not be the case. At least this is a more objective way to reach this decision vs what's been done to date.
Wednesday at 9:57am

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Mary Ann Jacob The council has already held a public hearing and voted to pass the recommendation to the voters. One person spoke at the public hearing which was noticed in the Bee. Next step is to approve the final language tonight that will appear on the ballot, send it to the state for approval and then print the ballots.
Wednesday at 11:52am

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Dirk Pitt Very unfortunate for voters…Even for the guy that asked the question since it was never answered…Jeff, next time you try to handle a question over the phone just give the phone to the person asking the question so whosever on the other end can hear it… or just let another LC member answer it!

Again, a binding vote is very unfortunate for all voters…The problem we have getting the budget to pass is no fault of the voters. It’s entirely a problem with our government to collaborate internally and communicate externally. There is simply no buy in from the public on the budget. Yet the solution that’s recommended only tramples voter’s rights by eliminating their right to consider all factors before making their decision just to get the budget passed. As the commission pointed out, concern for voter’s intentions (e.g. getting it right) is secondary to getting a budget passed and this approach is specifically designed to reduce the number of referendums by taking away peoples choice. This problem is not of the peoples making yet they are the ones penalized by the recommended solution.

So this time around we lose the ability to consider a complete budget package…what’s next, limiting the number of referendum? Is the ultimate plan three strikes and the public is out? This is exactly how people lose their liberties…one little piece at a time.
Wednesday at 12:35pm

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Mary Ann Jacob The guy on the phone was a council member away on business attempting to participate in the meeting. I am not aware of any grand plan like you are suggesting.
Wednesday at 1:17pm

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Dirk Pitt Mary Ann, I realize Paul was on the phone...I was only pointing out that the one person that spoke asked a question that was not answered because Paul couldn’t hear it. Had the person asking the question been handed the phone (rather than Jeff holding it), Paul would have been able to hear the question and respond. Instead the person’s question went unanswered. Not sure why Paul was the only board member to be able to answer the question…I would have thought another member would have been able to step in and respond as well.

Regarding a limit on the number of referendums…You make it sound like that’s an unreasonable conclusion for a tax payer to come to. However, at 1:06:25 of the meeting Kathy specifically raises the issue. Why was this raised and where is the LC going with it? The two issues are certainly related and I hardly think it’s unreasonable for a taxpayer to question if the next shoe to drop will be three strikes and we’re out!
Wednesday at 2:25pm

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Michelle Embree Ku It's not that everyone was looking to Paul to answer a question. Jeff was just trying to determine whether it would be feasible for Paul to attend the meeting by phone. Paul was not able to hear what was being said. So, Jeff thanked him for trying to be there and indicated that he didn't think it would work.
As for limiting the number of referenda, there are towns that do so. If you are opposed to that idea, then you should make sure that you make that known to the next charter revision commission.
Wednesday at 2:54pm

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Mary Ann Jacob I don't think its unreasonable conclusion, I was just pointing out there is not a plan to strip voters of their liberties. Many towns not only limit refernda, some dont even put budgets to the vote at all, not something i personally think Newtowners would ever support! Michelle is correct regarding the phone call, council rules allow for a member to participate only if they can hear and be heard by all. The gentleman in the audience asked about why the advisory questions proposed asked IFC the budget was too low instead of asking if it was too high I believe? While public participation is not a vehicle for back and forth conversation, I felt we addressed his question as we discussed the rational for how the commission recomended how question was posed while speaking with commission members.
Wednesday at 3:15pm

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Paul Lundquist Hi Dirk, I was about to address your point about me calling in, but I see Michelle answered very clearly. She’s exactly right. When Jeff asked if I could hear the question, he wasn’t looking for an answer – he was just checking to see if I could hear, and if I could continue on and participate in the meeting. Obviously, I couldn’t and I didn’t. I don’t think anyone was depending on me to actually answer his question at that moment. It was a public hearing, which aren’t really intended to be question-answer sessions (I think Jeff made that comment too). It was actually a question only the Charter Revision Commission could have answered (not me or any other LC member). I believe his question was addressed later in the meeting (around 36:50 and 55:30).

Maybe more important is your concern with the use of the word “Noise” to describe voters’ intent. It can sound dismissive and a bit insulting. But I know this was not what they meant. John Godin (CRC Chair) first mentions the term (around 31:30). John is a market researcher, as am I, and this is a very common term to refer to information that's ambiguous or unexplained within the data. So the intent of the bifurcation and advisory questions is to help explain the “noise” in the data relating to whether a budget is too high or too low on the town side or boe side. No offense intended, I’m sure!

I give a ton of credit to this commission and their effort. I respect their disagreements along the way, but also the process as a whole that got them to their final recommendation. Dirk, you’ve laid out some solid rationale to support your opinion here. I hope that when the next CRC is being put together to take up related issues (many of which you touch upon), you will consider lending your voice in a more official capacity.
Wednesday at 5:08pm

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George Ferguson Yes Dirk Pitt of Arlington VA, and the pages of numerous novels, please come out and play with us. Your thoughtful commentary and willingness to dig deep for information and insight will make you a valuable player here in the Newtown scene.
Wednesday at 6:36pm

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John Godin Hi everyone, my apologies for not responding to Dirk's point earlier. I looked at one replay of my presentation the day after it was posted (before a lot of these posts came out) and I just tried to find my mention of the word "noise" at the 31:30 mark. I couldn't find it. I do remember using the word. Here's the context, the word "noise" is definitely one used in Market Research. Sometimes the statement "lurking variable" is used and both terms / words describe factors that aren't identifiable in your research that may be causing a specific survey result. That being said, I may have also been referring to all the "noise" or discussion that we heard during the last budget referendum season where some residents wanted a 0% tax increase while others were in support of more money in the BoE budget. Either way, if it was a poor choice of words and I offended anyone my apologies. Dirk, I appreciate your interest in this topic and your passion and commitment to looking at the research the Commission reviewed. I'm very proud of the work the commission did, the decisions we made, and the people I had the pleasure of working with.
Wednesday at 8:16pm

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Dirk Pitt Hi Michelle, Mary Ann, Paul, George, John, Thank you all for your replies. I do appreciate it very much. I know you don’t have to listen to me and I do want you to know I appreciate it. As I said above, I also appreciate the contributions of the committee members. Please don’t misunderstand my comments. I just don’t think the choice to make the vote binding was the right move. I think I’ve stated my case pretty well. I’d also like you to know I had no preconceived notions about how this should work when I started looking into what the best option for us would be. I reached my conclusions because I felt the non-binding option left control in the hands of the voters, met all the objectives for providing information to the LC so they could base their adjustments on what voters want and lastly because it left them with the most options available to them to make adjustments.

Regarding the questions that was presented to Paul…it occurred at about 4 minutes I believe so if anyone is interested they can check it for themselves…I’m a novice with all this. I’m not familiar with all the procedure that goes along with the LC meetings. To me it appeared the question was asked…It was put to Paul who wasn’t able to hear and the question and it ended up not being answered at that point. I can’t say if it answered later…I believe you when you say it was so let’s just leave it at that.

John, the references made to noise were as follows:

There are several places where it’s mentioned. If you watch from about 39:50 during the discussion of failure rates…at 40:35 the term ‘Noise’ is used referring to the 2/3s of the voters that don’t use the services of the BoE:

“Town side budgets failed 29% of the time and education budgets failed 42% of the time and it’s probably consistent with some of the 'noise' you’d hear regarding a BoE budget but let’s put this in perspective…this doesn’t surprise me because when 2/3s of the town’s unitary budget is with the Board of Ed when the majority of the town residents don’t use the services budget, this doesn’t surprise me.”

Also during the discussion of binding vs non-binding at about 42:06:

“…if I was a Legislative council person, putting on the other hat, I don’t want to deal with something I know has passed. Let me focus what I need to work on and that way the noise goes down”

For me, the bigger issue than the noise was the following comment made at about 36:10:

“The critical thing you have to think about when you have a voter in the booth is, we want to know about intent, but we want to get a budget passed.” For you, voter intent is secondary to getting the budget passed. I disagree with you there. The most important thing in this whole process is doing what the majority of voters want. Everything should be secondary to that. Not the other way around.

I’ve made all my points above so I’ll spare you from hearing them again. However, I ask one thing. Please see the decision matrix I set up for a Binding vs Non-Binding vote.

It’s an Excel spreadsheet and is located here: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=116

There are two sheets in the spreadsheet. One I filled out and another that is blank. Take a look and please complete the blank form with how you view each item. This will defineately help me and I'm sure others as well understand your thinking on this issue. Only enter data in the blue cells and in the comments section where there is space to explain the logic for your selection. There are only six factors and the two options. I tried to keep the factors to the things that are most critical to the decision and so the items did not overlap. Please let me know what you think or feel free to modify as you like. You can email them to me (at dirkpitt04@gmail.com) or add a comment to the link above and attach it there. Again, I think it would be very helpful for everyone to see this so than can be thinking about what matters most to them when they vote in November.

Everyone is welcome to download it and see how it works out for them. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or have any trouble.

Here is the image of the form as I completed it. As you can see all my responses were pretty conservative. This is an honest attempt to come to the best decision. One thing you should know about me is that I do change my mind, So if someone can convince me with a compelling argument why a binding vote is better for voters I’m all ears and will certainly jump on that bandwagon.

http://cl.ly/image/3W1S3R3u3t1U

Thanks again for listening.

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Jodie Siwik Why not add a 3rd question: #3) If either side fails to pass do you want this part to become "non-binding". It's upsetting to have your vote second guessed after the fact.
Thursday at 7:58am

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Jodie Siwik ‎Dirk where can I find the statistics to verify that "the majority of the town residents don’t use the (BOE) services budget"? I have always wondered about that.
Thursday at 8:03am

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Kevin Fitzgerald Dirk makes some great points here. Unfortunately, in my opinion, regardless of what recommendations the Commission provided and the Council agreed to, the change will pass overwhelmingly in November because voters want something different period.

The difference of "Binding" vs. "Non-Binding" will be lost on most taxpayers if they haven't been paying close attention. Wiith hindsight being 20/20, it may have been appropriate to consider the Binding question from the perspective of the voter and not the town official.

Two years ago, I recommended that the research by the (previous) Commission should include standing in front of the supermarkets in other towns (with split budgets) and polling those residents rather than simply calling other town officials and asking their opinion. To Dirk's point, this change is about what the voters are asking for (a total spending package we can support), not what works best for officials (get a budget passed).
Thursday at 9:20am

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Michelle Embree Ku Adding a question about binding on the ballot would certainly add an interesting twist, Jodie.
Dirk, personally, I am not interested in selling the charter revisions. As you and others have pointed out, there are costs and benefits. I think it is more important that everyone is as well-informed as you are to allow them to make the choice. If I thought the revisions would solve our budget issues, I might be more passionate about it. But, as I've said, this is going to provide a tool, and the real work is going to be in keeping the tone of the discourse respectful and useful.
Your matrix is a great tool to evaluate the binding vs non-binding question. I would then plug that result into a matrix that includes advisory questions and bifurcation, since those are the other components of the package.
Kevin, a poll of citizens in other towns would be interesting. Great idea. We need a Quinnipiac student to work on all of the research that could be done.
Thursday at 10:19am

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Dirk Pitt Hi Jodie, The percentage of people that use BoE services came from the findings of the Commission. I believe it was somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes. Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to look it up right now. If I look at another timestamp I think my head will explode.

Regarding having your vote second guessed…Not sure if you ever played backgammon or not, however, in back gammon double sixes is usually the best roll a player can get. However, when the spot you need is covered by the other player you can’t use the roll. In my mind having one side of the budget pass but the referendum fail is like rolling double sixes and not being able to use it.

Also, consider this scenario with facts similar to what we just went thru few months ago:

1) We have the initial vote. The Town Budget passes (by 12 votes) and the education budget fails (by 100 votes).

2) The LC cuts the education budget by $1M

3) During the lead up to the next vote the following information comes to light:

- We are putting $400K into the General Fund as savings to improve our credit score.

- That the town can save $75K if they buy their road salt from the state.

- That an estimate that was used for a portion of education expenses has turned out to be understated and will cost more than expected.

- The cuts being made to the education budget make it obvious there is no low hanging fruit to be had and that to make the cuts being proposed will mean cutting critical services.

What is the greater miscarriage of justice…Holding the voter to their original voter (made before all the other information came to light) or asking them at the next vote if they still feel the same way.

For me the choice is clear.
Thursday at 10:51am

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Karen C Pierce ‎"I though it was interesting when interviewing candidates for this commission. Every single one supported a change. Very different from 2010 when we interviewed candidates for that commission." thought that process was executive session...at least that's what I was told
Thursday at 7:36pm

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Michelle Embree Ku Jodie, I have often wondered how the % of families with children in public schools is determined. I have heard the round figure of 1/3 cited many times. I think there are several ways to figure out how many families use the public schools – all with different results. But I think that it is clear that the number is less than 50%. According to this site http://www.clrsearch.com/Newtown_Demographics/CT/
about 20% of Newtown's residents are enrolled in public school. If you can figure out how to use it, the more reliable source would be the Census Bureau http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav ... ndex.xhtml. Wikipedia says 44.7% of households in Newtown had children under the age of 18 living with them in the 2010 census. It doesn't indicate how many of those attended public school, though.
Thursday at 7:52pm

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Jodie Siwik Thank you for the info. Hopefully next year the budget proposals will be clearer and easier to understand prior to the referendum and all of the options (plan A,B & C) laid out in advance.
Thursday at 8:54pm

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