TASC List: What scares us now

Halloween is a great time to reflect on the things that used to frighten us, and how they may have changed. In the past, ugly and ghoulish creatures appeared at our doorstep, dripping blood and gore. Animalistic types howled from the ends of our driveways, and crept out from behind the bushes. Pirates and Frankenstein monsters threatened us with home invasion, or worse. But that was then.

Now what really scares us is the doctor who says the test results require an immediate visit to a specialist; the boss who calls us in to say the downsizing task force has completed its work, and our job is eliminated; the young man who comes to take our daughter to the dance and advises that he’s “a very careful driver” — no need to worry — and peels away in a cloud of dust and tire particles. These things are major reasons for concern.

But here’s another group of items that should scare all of us in Wilton, right now, and in the future. This list contains a few of them often found throughout Fairfield County, and beyond. Ponder them carefully.

1) Cases of fraudulent appropriations and expenditures by townwide departments and operations; no control systems to identify or deter; no independent audits or examinations.

2) Failure to extinguish projects and programs that have reached end of life and/or are no longer productive — but remain in budget requirements year after year.

3) A system that encourages inflated budget items that are non-essential, but are included in order to withstand and offset the eventual pruning by financial authorities. (Ask high, settle low.)

4) Unwillingness to adopt best policies, best practices, and most cost-effective procedures from the volumes of existing published material documenting peer experiences.

5) “Must have” project spending without real taxpayer benefit aimed primarily at keeping up with surrounding communities or jurisdictions.

6) No voter approval or accounting for projects that consume resources but are labeled “zero cost.”

7) Monies spent but disconnected from outcomes (e.g., student scores, or “quality education”) — so nobody knows what actually works.

8) Bidding violations and limited quotes that lead to loss, abuse, and misuse of resources.

9) Lack of a comprehensive technology plan resulting in piecewise and partial solutions.

10) Employment of consultants when community volunteers can satisfy needs.

11) “Citizens lose sense of ownership of public schools and educators lose sight of democracy’s role in education” (Kettering Foundation).

Such concerns and variations are found at state and federal levels. Recommendations, handbooks and manuals exist for solutions. Books, studies, and reports (even grand jury investigations) document the widespread nature of the problems. They flourish because some governing boards and administrators have failed to adopt prevention policies, useful suggestions, and remedies.

If you believe some of these are real and worrisome, you can voice your opinion at public forums, or join the voluntary groups and committees seeking resolution, improvement, and action. Certainly this group invites your views and welcomes your participation.

Just as on a Halloween evening the light of a full moon can dispel the ghosts and goblins, so also can the exposure to the sunlight of accountability, transparency, and control remove the dangers of inadequate processes and procedures, when they are aided by citizen involvement.

TASC (Toward a Stronger Community) is an independent citizens group seeking collaborative initiatives aimed at effectiveness, process improvement, and quality assurance across all town and school operations to produce increased value and contained cost.