Editorial: Mistakes: 101
Did you see the unscheduled fireworks at Town Hall earlier this week? We’re talking about members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) who put on quite a display for all to see. The normally staid members put on a performance that reminded us of lessons we all should have learned in kindergarten, namely, how to handle mistakes.
The contentious remarks, raised voices, and inability to allow for an open honest debate concerned the election two years ago when Democratic members won enough votes to be able to choose the BET Chair. Their success in that election was due in large part to the strategy and astronomical amount of money provided by former Democratic Town Committee chair and BET candidate Tony Turner which also benefited the five other Democratic candidates.
The state of Connecticut has worked hard to ensure political campaigns are transparent, so that voters understand clearly where campaign funds come from and how they are spent. The state has also put laws in place for the purpose of preventing businesses and individuals from influencing elections by pouring money into elections without limits; how campaigns raise money, how much can be raised, and how it is spent.
According to the state, Mr. Turner, a business which he controlled, and his campaign spent $343,500 on events, mailings, and other campaign activities which supported all six Democratic candidates and which incorrectly stated that they were paid for by all six candidates. As a result, Mr. Turner was fined by the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC). His treasurer was also fined, and in an unusual step, his five fellow Democratic BET candidates were each fined $1,000. This marks one of the largest series of fines assessed by the SEEC in Connecticut history.
Democratic BET members claimed complete lack of knowledge of Mr. Turner’s activities and blamed everything on Mr. Turner. It was hard not to recognize the excessive nature of the Democratic BET campaign two years ago. The signs, invitations, post cards, canvassers, and parties were quite literally everywhere. Claiming lack of knowledge or being misled does seem to ring hollow. Apparently, Mr. Turner feels so as well and claims to have emails that prove he was clearly communicating his efforts.
As far as the State is concerned, this issue has been adjudicated and fines paid. However, we are still left with questions including a lack of transparency about what occurred and a feeling of a young person’s game of not it. Since the BET is the most powerful elected board in Town, it is vital that voters not only have faith that the members are acting professionally and with transparency, but that they are also qualified enough for the job of managing the town’s significant financial resources with an acumen that would also make them capable of understanding the campaign finance laws that are in place to ensure they are elected fairly.
To date, only Democratic member Beth Krumeich has openly, graciously and, we feel, accurately assessed the situation when she said that she didn’t carry out the review of the laws and statutes that apply and question them and that she should have. We applaud Beth for her honest appraisal.
For their part, the Republicans proposed a resolution establishing a bipartisan committee to look into the incident. Initially, it appeared as though Jill Oberlander (BET Chair and democratic candidate for First Selectman) supported bringing the resolution forward for a vote.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, however, Ms. Oberlander allegedly threatened a female Republican member of the board in an attempt to avoid having the resolution brought forward at all. Ms. Oberlander disputes this, saying it was a friendly warning. The meeting itself was marked by yelling, threats, and accusations. None of this is appropriate for this board.
The final 7-5 vote in favor of the resolution and investigation was made possible when Democratic member Tony Turner voted with all six republicans. And well he should have if what he claims is true. Since the SEEC rulings, Mr. Turner has been painted as a sole perpetrator and he believes an investigation will show that is not the case.
We all make mistakes. In fact, mistakes are one of the primary ways that human beings learn. Mistakes are important, vital, even good when there is a lesson learned. The important part is not the mistake, it is how you handle it afterwards. Shouting as loudly as you can “he did it” is not handling it well.
In the end, the Greenwich BET election of 2017 will be marred with violations that have been record breaking in their scope. We can still move forward together as a community if we are honest about what really happened.