New RTM Takes Oath, Re-Elects Moderator

By Bill Slocum
Contributing Editor

It was a night of new beginnings and familiar faces as the Representative Town Meeting swore in 60 new members Tuesday, and re-elected two people who have together presided over the town’s legislative body for the last 20 years.

Thomas Byrne and Joan Caldwell, first elected moderator and moderator pro tempore of the RTM in 1995, were re-elected without opposition. Byrne, only the sixth moderator in the RTM’s 83-year history, and the longest-tenured of any, expressed appreciation in a brief address.

“Let us be inspired by our shared love of this town, without regard to party,” Byrne urged.

Caldwell, first elected to the RTM in 1965, said after the meeting in the Central Middle School auditorium that she never tires of seeing a new RTM take shape.

“There are fresh faces, yet they’re asking some of the same questions they did 30-40 years ago,” she said. “They’re just approaching the solutions in a different way.”

Caldwell’s words were echoed by another returning member, Budget Overview Committee chair Lucia Jansen.

“It’s always exciting,” she said. “The new members bring vitality and fresh oxygen to the body.”

The RTM handled a number of routine items Tuesday night, including several appointments to town boards and a $165,000 appropriation for remediating a playing field on William Street in Byram.

The RTM also agreed to the terms of a settlement between the town and the Greenwich Housing Authority over loans connected to Parsonage Cottage, a town property managed by the Authority under a 99-year lease. The subject of much disagreement over the last four years, the matter was concluded by the RTM, with the exception of some fine-tuning to come from the town Law Department, in a 167-11 vote, with eight abstaining.

The item that stirred the longest discussion, and tightest vote margin, was an amendment to the RTM’s own rules. It creates a budget planning process that hews more closely with Board of Estimate and Taxation’s timetables and involves all of the RTM’s standing committees, rather than just the two with overt budgetary jurisdiction.

Some argued the new rules lack teeth, others said most of them should be treated as guidelines. In the end, the rule change passed by a vote of 119-47, with nine abstentions.

The idea for the amendment originated with three new members from last term; after the meeting Byrne called this an example of fresh thinking that continues to invigorate the body.

“The beautiful thing about our form of government is it gives someone like me, who came to the RTM after just three years in town, a meaningful vote on important issues,” Byrne said. “It is a check on the biggest problem facing government, which is special interests having a voice they don’t deserve. With 230 people, you can’t control an outcome unless you have persuasive arguments.”

Byrne said there are only four vacancies left on the 230-seat RTM, after an election which saw dozens more seats to fill than candidates to fill them. Over the first 75 years of the RTM, from 1933 to 2007, he noted the average number of new members every two-year term was 75.

Turnover, Byrne said, is a good thing. “You don’t have a small group of people controlling things,” he said.

Asked about the level of RTM enthusiasm today, Byrne described it as perhaps the best he’s seen, particularly in the work that goes on before each meeting when various RTM committees meet and deliberate over upcoming items. “The last month, in terms of getting emails from members, has been the busiest of my 20 years,” he said. “That to me is a good sign.”

The next Representative Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 14, at 8 p.m. at Central Middle School.

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