A view from Glen Hill: Where is the 'sense' in this?

There is certainly a role for strong advocacy for government-expenditure restraint, but there are sensible and not-so-sensible ways to pursue that objective.

“Sensible” is defined by Webster’s as “having or showing good sense or sound judgment; intelligent; reasonable; wise.” How do positions taken by “Sensible Wilton” square with that definition?

Most recently, “Sensible’s” efforts to have the renovation project re-voted truly misconstrue the applicable law. “Sensible” is not claiming a miscount or fraud at the voting booths. Rather, with respect to its charges before the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC), “Sensible” is claiming that certain alleged actions in the weeks before the vote were improper advocacy. Even if improper advocacy were found, the remedy lies in censure, including fines, addressed to the individuals who so acted. Re-voting is not an available remedy. As Joshua Foley of SEEC is quoted succinctly putting it: for elections in these circumstances, “there are no do-overs.”

Petitions under our town charter circulated in the past week aimed at requiring a re-vote are likewise of no avail. The petition process sought to be invoked under Town Charter Section C-9B (“The electors of the Town shall have the power of initiative to call a Special Town Meeting …”) applies, quite explicitly, under Section C-9B (1), to “any item or proposal permitted under Section C-6A (3) through (7),” very intentionally and specifically omitting Section C-6A (2) (“The authorization of bonds …”). The explicitness of this omission means that Section C-9B (4), to which “Sensible” refers, does not supersede it. The wisdom of that exclusion is evident given that re-voting bonding resolutions could create havoc in town contractual commitments and, among other very significant things, adversely impact our town’s bond rating. This reading is also consistent with Section C-33A which states, “The Board of Selectmen, and only the Board of Selectmen, shall have the power to propose the issuance of bonds to the Town Meeting.” Likewise, it is really hard to conceive, as “Sensible” also advances, that some residents “did not know there was a vote,” given the amount of press coverage leading up to the vote.

Moreover, where would a do-over — even if one were possible — leave our town? What it would necessarily do is delay the renovation project and thereby likely miss the very favorable current bond market and also drive up the price of the work (with current construction escalation running at 4.5% a year, that means a $2.25-million annual increase on a $50-million project), and miss dates for getting $6 million in state project-cost reimbursement.

In any event, does “Sensible” seriously want to redo the whole design process, further delaying by years the renovation of a school that everyone, including “Sensible’s” members, agrees is in desperate need? Does “Sensible” want to tear Miller-Driscoll down and build anew, as some opponents of the renovation project had advocated? If so, it is estimated to cost $75 million, and where would we educate our youngest students while the teardown and new build is accomplished? And what will happen to that $6 million of state reimbursement if one does tear down/new build (which the state does not encourage) instead of renovation?

Alternatively, does “Sensible” want to do the work piecemeal over time (a roof here, an HVAC system there …)?  If so, the result will be reduced efficiency and effectiveness and higher costs.

In fact, just how would “Sensible” improve upon what a skilled and dedicated building committee has worked through in careful detail such as to garner the unanimous support of all of our town oversight boards (Education, Select, and Finance) with the best interests of our young people in mind. It’s easy to criticize (“do it for $25 million!”), not so easy to come up with viable alternatives.

So is “Sensible” acting sensibly in fact? While its members are certainly legally entitled to initiate SEEC proceedings and to petition, even if the petitioning is of no legal effect (and even to file no fewer than 23 separate FOIA request filings directed to our town, as several of “Sensible’s” members have done), is it an exercise of good sense, sound judgment, wisdom, and intelligence to cause our town to incur significant legal and other expenses on such matters when “Sensible’s” professed overarching objective is to help our town reduce its costs?

What “Sensible” seems most able to accomplish is to drive up town litigation expenses even as its repeatedly negativistic, attacking conduct serves only to drive away good folks who might otherwise be willing to volunteer their services in town government. That certainly doesn’t sound very sensible. Indeed, what it really sounds like is sour grapes.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.