David Rafferty: The board that doesn’t deserve our vote
“Stable and predictable.” It’s a reassuring phrase that rolls gently off the tongue. Comforting, like Wilford Brimley selling you oatmeal. In a time when our climate wants to punish us, and North Korean threats sound all too dangerously familiar, “stable and predictable” is our happy place.
It’s also the mantra of our Board of Estimate and Taxation. The BET was in the news again this week because, well, because seven safe and predictable Republican identical clones had to get narrowed down to six via primary before the November election. And if I thought you knew the details I’d spare you, but since there were more Vote For Me lawn signs posted in Greenwich than actual voters (1,942 voters vs. about a million lawn signs), here’s what happened.
At the Republican nominating convention in July three sitting BET members were told their services would no longer be required. Unfazed and aggrieved, one ousted candidate did the unthinkable. She challenged the system, campaigned and earned enough petition signatures to force this primary. Hooray for democracy! With a real contest scheduled for September (as compared to the phony coronations we go through in November), each Republican would have a golden opportunity to break from the pack and show some original thinking. While remaining stable and predictable, of course.
So in addition to the predictable flowering of those political lawn signs, an open forum was held where through rigorous questioning each candidate would articulate why they were the best man or woman for the job. Attended by a friendly gathering of close friends and family, plus a clutch of select BET Democrats, RTM members and concerned citizens, the candidates forum was more mutual admiration than free exchange of contrasting ideas.
As previously reported, the candidates “agree more than disagree,” and each offered their endorsement of “increasing efficiency,” keeping taxes low and warding off the evil perils of long-term debt. If you were looking for bold, groundbreaking ideas, you came to the wrong place. Let’s listen to some of the words and phrasing used by the candidates during the campaign as they worked hard to differentiate themselves, but not too much.
We must be efficient with our tax dollars. Continue our careful spending practices. Prioritize keeping the mill rate low. Keep taxes stable and predictable. Public/private partnerships must be embraced. Be careful Greenwichites. “Public/private” is often shorthand for privatization of services, which is great if you like charter schools, private gyms over community centers and outsourcing. One of my personal favorites though, is how we must balance public demand for “wanted” projects and services with the desire to keep taxes at an “acceptable” level. Of course we should. Only remember, the BET starts with tax rates first and backs what we need and want into their arbitrary and inflexible pigeon holes. Would you pay more in taxes if it meant getting more projects and services you “wanted”? You might, but you’ll never get the chance to discuss it because the BET, in it’s drive to be stable and predictable, won’t even consider the idea.
Now all this stable conservative “Kumbaya” might be reassuring if only it wasn’t for one colossal screw-up that I’ll call The Great Retirement Board Fiasco. For more than a decade the town’s Retirement Board bungled and mismanaged its investments and with the complicity of the BET, managed to hide and distract this fact from the public. In a nutshell, according to people in and around the BET at the time, both the Retirement Board and the BET have cost Greenwich taxpayers millions of dollars that shouldn’t have had to be spent. To paraphrase “Casablanca’s” Capt. Renault, these candidates — including the Republican incumbents — were shocked, shocked to find this gross incompetence going on right under their noses.
So this Fiasco cost you, me and the town millions and predictably, all the candidates can do is congratulate themselves for finally and hopefully, shutting the barn door a decade after the horses got out. Republicans have been in charge of the BET throughout this decade and last Tuesday, only 15 percent of eligible voters thought enough of these candidates to come out and vote. Let’s be unpredictable in November and don’t vote for them either.
David Rafferty is a Greenwich resident.