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Letter: RTM Members Should Reflect Voters

RTM Member Cassandara Hegarty asks her fellow members to show more decorum at meetings, after another member was booed and hissed at when that member suggested that her colleagues more closely follow their constituents' opinions.

To the editor:

As an elected member of the , serving in my second year, I have seen first hand how our town's legislative process works—or doesn't. At January's RTM meeting, some of the behavior and comments of my fellow members hit a new low in my opinion.

As elected officials, it is our duty to maintain decorum which does not include booing and hissing at speakers at the podium or inappropriately chastising their opinions. As Americans we are entitled to free speech but as government officials, we should refrain from heckling. This practice might be encouraged in the Houses of Parliament but last time I checked we weren't in Great Britain.

Don't get me wrong, we are meant to disagree but not to disrespect. We especially look to our moderator to keep the order and direction of the meeting on target and to not politicize issues. The system failed us at the last meeting and as a town, with a 9 percent tax increase looming, we can't afford to be working against each other.  

In addition, during the meeting's uproar, one district member addressed the group by saying we "vote with our conscience." This couldn't be more of a misstatement. The Representative Town Meeting was established so that we could serve as the voice for our constituents and not our personal agendas. It is our job as legislators to fairly and adequately advocate for our townspeople. It seems as if some have lost sight of this.

At a time when Darien is facing a crisis in confidence, we need our leaders to guide us and not exclude the people from the political process. Debt is up. Property values down. Taxes are expected to rise (again). The education budgets will be scrutinized and foreign language will probably end up on the chopping block (again). New buildings will be extensively renovated and reinvented at a substantial cost (again), and frustrated residents who want safer walkways to schools, trains and parks will be denied (again).

The lack of unity in our legislature further erodes any confidence that remains. Last month's RTM meeting is a primary example of this polarization. We need to rethink our priorities, communicate with each other and make informed decisions that will be in the best interest of the residents—not ourselves. 

I encourage us all to reflect on our position and on our civic duty to preserve our town. District One in particular is hoping to hear more from our constituents in the coming weeks and we encourage others to do the same. 

Cassandra Hegarty

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Editor's note: Town Administrative Officer Karl Kilduff's (to $42.3 million), but that makes up about a third of all town spending (more than $9 million of it is school debt). The would increase education spending by 5.6 percent (to $80.6 million). When both proposals are combined, spending would increase 6.3 percent ($7.8 million) to a total of $122.9 million. Each proposal is subject to cuts from various boards.

There was an immediate, negative reaction from the floor when an RTM member indicated that her colleagues should each try to reflect their constituents' opinion on an issue.

As an aside, RTM Moderator Karen Armour noted the famous statements by 18th century British Member of Parliament Edmund Burke on that subject, but she couldn't remember the exact source. It was his "Speech to the Electors of Bristol," given on Nov. 3, 1774. Here's an excerpt of a relevant part, which reflects that Burke's opinion has some nuance to it, although it's said to be the most famous statement advocating the independence of legislators from their constituents:

"My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

"To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,--these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution."

Editor's note: This article was published originally at 5:57 a.m., Monday, Feb. 6. The time stamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Home page of Darien Patch.

Tony Imbimbo February 08, 2012 at 03:05 PM
John, the treatment of the DHS student was the thing that really drove home the point, to me, that we can now expect a level of rudeness among some members in the RTM, even towards people we should be most welcoming and most hospitable to. Even you agree that the behavior was "inexcusable," even if you don't think it was a "new low." (We've actually been worse than "inexcusable"?) Anyway, I think we can do better. Having watched Board of Ed meetings and meetings of other Boards and Commissions, it's obvious that people can make their points, listen to speakers, etc., without being rude. That should be the model that the RTM aspires to. Don't you think? Also, the letter never said anything about partisanship. Read it again.
John Sini February 08, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Tony, please read Ms. Keith's comments above re: partisanship, that's what I was referring to.
sebastian dangerfield February 08, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Just so I understand , Ms hegarty, 80% plus of the American Public wanted war with Iraq in early 2003. You would have voted for war? And would be comfortable with that decision, because it was the will of the people? Or, is the quote "vote with your conscious--" actually way more than a religious decision.
sebastian dangerfield February 09, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Cassandra--sorry but I need to ask again The iraq war --80%+ of americans were in favor of going to war. You say the rtm needs to put aside their personal beliefs and vote what the people want. Are you then saying you would vote for the war? People in Darien in general do not want affordable housing as it adds to the tax bills. Yet you were a big proponent and voted for those in town that want affordable housing. Right.? I think what you are trying to say here is that the referendum showed , of those who voted, a majority were in favor of halting the shuffle. So now you are trying to translate that fact into an all encompassing approach. am I right? or on some issues should people vote their conscience? Their researched, and educated idea of what is right and wrong? Leading and voting by the polls is in my opinion a very weak approach to responsible government. I can tell you with near certainty -the town's people do not want an 18 million dollar police station. In fact Id be willing to bet that over 75% of the town feels that way---yet its happening---
sebastian dangerfield February 10, 2012 at 09:55 AM
More than happy to continue to ask....after all, you indicated an interest to hear what people's concerns are.....so odd that you choose to go silent when asked a question pertaining to your views... The vast majority of the public wanted to go to war with Iraq. Would you have voted for going to war with Iraq? Prior to the referendum, the voting public signaled clearly that they supported Republican candidates, by voting them in with well more than 2/3 of the vote. Would this obvious majority swayed you to opt for the republican backed shuffle? When determining how to vote, do you contact roughly twice as many republicans as would be required to get a sense of the true demographical makeup? Or do you rely on the DTC to help sway your votes and consider them to be relatively reprsentative of the community? Can you give us solid examples, Casandra of where the DTC platform stipulated voting one way, and you voted another, given your research into what the community wanted? Or better yet, have you been on the winning side of every vote you cast? Based on your silence and the way you craft your comments, Im betting that you are demanding other people do , what you , yourself , do not. But again--you support opening up dialog and being respectful. Im asking respectful questions-that directly pertain to your argument. Is respect only about not hissing? Or is ignoring people, in your view, polite? Thanks.

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