What has Wilton come to?

Thursday night the Board of Selectmen had a four-hour raucous special meeting to hear the public on the Miller-Driscoll project.  At about 11 p.m. the board voted, three to two, to authorize Bill Brennan to sign six (of 22) critical trade contracts for the Miller-Driscoll School project. Opponents present and 40% of the board were determined to delay or hoped to kill the project. In the aggregate, the responsible low bids received were more than $3 million below estimates.

What has this town come to?

In 2001 we completed a $61-million program renovating and expanding Middlebrook, Cider Mill, and the high school, including construction of the Clune Center. The many projects were done on time, within budget, led by dedicated volunteers, and without a single FOI request, lawsuit, or appeal to the State Election Enforcement Commission.

Does that mean there was no opposition? No way!

Votes were heavily contested, some were not successful, but ultimately all projects were approved, some by narrow margins.  Did the opponents claim all was unfair? No! Did they file frivolous FOI claims and expensive SEEC objections? No! Did they sue in Superior Court? No!

Did they cost the town at least $200,000 in legal fees? No, they accepted the results of the votes!

It is different now. It seems we have turned into a town where those who lose in the democratic way automatically claim foul.

Why the opposition to authorizing Bill Brennan’s signing the contracts and ensuring the project moves ahead on schedule? I have several possible explanations, none of them worthy of the Town I am so fond of.

Is it because there is a real chance to build consensus? Well, on July 20 I spent a wonderful day at Stamford Superior Court listening to Sensible Wilton’s arguments versus the town. Since then, there had been time to build consensus. Mr. Kaelin and other continuing and newly elected selectmen had a chance to convince voters while campaigning that the project is a good one.  From the tenor of Thursday’s meeting, that opportunity was missed. If consensus is not present today, it is unlikely to develop in the 10 or 30 days of delay proposed by those who voted no.

Is it political? I note that the two co-chairs of the building committee are Democrats. Is our delightful town now mirroring the national mood, where anything a Democrat proposes is automatically suspect for the Republicans? I certainly hope not.

Is it a desire to kill the project, or to delay it beyond recognition?  That certainly is the thrust of Sensible Wilton and its supporters.

Now, a short delay will cause scrambling, unnecessary angina, time delay and some extra cost. A longer delay will cost more. A still longer delay will cause the project to be rebid, delay the renovation for at least a year, and cost much, much more. And killing the project, the goal of Sensible Wilton, will cost in the millions. There is $6 million committed to date. Damages may be mitigated, but they can not be brought down to an acceptable level.

If the project is killed or substantially delayed, the roof will still leak, cold wind and snow will still come through the drafty windows, and the air conditioners will still be too noisy. It will be a sad result for the town I have called home for 41years.

Sixty percent of the board did the right thing Thursday night. It is my fervent hope they will be joined by the other 40% at their Nov. 16 meeting to authorize the remaining 16 contracts needed to move ahead. Otherwise, the project will go into deep freeze and the school will remain leaky, drafty and noisy.
Paul Hannah
Former first selectman