A View From Glen Hill: The sky is not falling

I read my grandson Jack the story of Henny Penny (aka Chicken Little) recently. As you’ll probably recall, Henny Penny goes around among her fellow animals crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” and causing quite a stir. It turns out, however, that what Henny Penny had mistaken for Armageddon was simply a falling acorn hitting her head. Henny Penny winds up apologizing to her fellow animals for creating such an unfounded ruckus.

I thought of the Henny Penny story last week when I read the decision by the State Election Enforcement Commission on the charges made by “Sensible Wilton” and its fellow travelers. I say “fellow travelers” because the only members of “Sensible” identified by name in the complaint “Sensible” filed earlier this month in Stamford Superior Court are Alex Ruskewich and Curtis Noel. As we all recall, these folks loudly proclaimed the existence of gross and egregious election law violations by Bill Brennan, Dick Dubow, Bruce Hampson, Karen Birck, John Kalamarides, and other town officials, and those claims are repeated in no fewer than five pages of that court complaint.

What did the Election Enforcement Commission find, unanimously, after they thoroughly investigated those charges? Simply that there were no violations by town officials or by our town itself — all of those claims were dismissed — and only one violation by any individual. That violation was by Miller-Driscoll’s principal in an announcement following a parents’ night, and that yielded no fine of her but just a caution as to a section of the election law that is so new this was the first complaint ever raised under it. Given the circumstances and the context, a consent order involving no fine or other civil penalty was deemed appropriate. Contrast this very sensible result with “Sensible’s” overweening charges.
With respect to other “Sensible” inaccuracies, “Sensible’s” June 1 press release regarding its suit states in part, “As we have consistently stated throughout this debate, Sensible Wilton believes that immediate repairs should be made to various components of the MD school building, including the roof, HVAC, and electrical systems, and Sensible Wilton agrees that sprinklers and fire alarm systems need to be installed as well. It is likely that mold and asbestos remediation will be needed too. Claims that Sensible Wilton ‘just wants to fix the roof and HVAC’ are completely untrue.”
Contrast the last sentence of this “Sensible” press release with the letter to the editor of “Sensible’s” president that appeared in this newspaper’s Jan. 15, 2015 issue.   There he stated, “improvements are needed at Miller-Driscoll but should be concentrated on items that are needed now for student health/safety: roof and HVAC.”   How soon “Sensible” forgets what it has previously asserted. In fact, to judge from its press release, “Sensible’s” latest “to-do” list for Miller-Driscoll is incrementally growing ever closer to the scope of the rebuilding project as approved by our voters!
Maybe “Sensible’s” revised “to-do” list reflects its late-blooming appreciation of the fact that this rebuild is a lot bigger project than it had anticipated. What it fails to mention is that sending this project back to the drawing boards will add to the costs of the project at a time when construction costs are rising 4% annually, not to mention delay by years a critically needed rebuild for our kids and jeopardize $6 million in state subsidies.
We know that residents come out in droves when they feel that something is amiss. I saw that dramatically firsthand on June 4, 1996, as Bob Russell describes in his outstanding book, Wilton, Connecticut, when the largest town meeting in Wilton history was held following budget rejection by voters at the initial town meeting that spring. Some 2,328 voters filled our high school’s huge field house to overflowing “to ensure that no budget cuts would be made from the floor” (p. 474). The budget passed.
Otherwise, residents apparently forget to vote (notwithstanding extensive press coverage) or think they have better things to do. Our Town Charter addresses this sad reality by wisely putting in a minimum threshold (15% of eligible voters) before an annual town vote in the negative can prevail (though bonding resolutions always go by simple majority, however few the voters).
However, nowadays every town vote is on the line since there is a determined minority who views everything in town government as a “glass half empty” and will gladly cut programs and services willy-nilly if given the chance. And that would be a very sad result indeed.