Letter: It’s About Respect
Two weeks ago, the Greenwich Sentinel editors asked the question “What is going on with the BET?” Good question. The answer has a theme: respect. Respect for the law, respect for our Board and respect for the voter.
Half our Board violated the election law in the 2017 election. Basically, one member made substantial campaign expenditures, which was within his right. A good portion of his spending benefited his party’s other five candidates, who unfortunately didn’t report this financial assistance. Failing to report this assistance is a violation of Connecticut’s laws governing election spending. The State Elections Enforcement Commission in Hartford investigated this campaign spending and the candidates’ disclosures. The investigation was lengthy, lasting about 18 months. Recently, all the candidates agreed with the Commission’s conclusion that they did violate the law. All of them paid fines to the State.
How is this a matter for our Board of Estimate and Taxation? As a Board, we are more than simply twelve individuals. Under law, the Board is a legal person on its own, just like a corporation is a legal person separate from its shareholders. To carry out our duties properly, we must earn and retain the public’s confidence in our financial statements and in our compliance with law. Every one of us twelve would affirm there is simply no other way. Our Board has a duty to preserve its public integrity.
So, when half the Board is unfortunately found to be in violation of the law, the Board has two choices: take action or stay silent. Let’s consider the stay-silent option. Imagine if all twelve of the members were found to be in violation of election statutes. If the Board were to take no action, the message to voters here in Greenwich would be this: although your entire Board broke the law, you can forget it. It has no significance and deserves no mention by the Board. Who would recommend such a weak, evasive response?
Today’s actual case is the same. Should today’s Board be silent when half its members violated the law in the last election? Silence and inaction are not consistent with respect for the Board and the voter. The Board must take public action in some way. That means the Board must consider and vote to adopt some resolution or motion on these matters. A majority of the Board voted on September 23 to instruct the Chair to form a committee to do this. However, the Chair has not carried out these instructions. Unfortunately, this controversy will continue a bit longer.
What about the timing? Should the Board act before the election or after? If the Board finds no infractions, the voters deserves this information before they cast their votes for these candidates who are on the ballot November 5. On the other hand, if the Board takes note of violations of law by these members, the voters are equally entitled to know. If the Board were to postpone its action, that would have the effect of indicating to the voters that the Board doesn’t see fit to inform you in a timely manner. On September 23, the Board acted to respect the voters’ authority and their right to make an informed, timely decision.
The members who found themselves in violation of the law are good people who volunteer to serve the Town. This matter should not be seen as personal criticism. It is not about them. It’s about the Board which has important rights and duties separate from those of any member. The Board has a duty to act and to confirm its respect for the law. It has a duty to enforce its own standards here in Greenwich, separate from findings in Hartford. And it has a duty to respect the voters.
It is unfortunate that this matter has not been closed by now, as the majority wished. Some of the members have tried to accept responsibility. These efforts are courageous and deserve support. A successful conclusion of this matter should include the acknowledgement that even inadvertent violations of law are not consistent with respect for the Board’s high responsibilities. And that acknowledgement should bring forgiveness and reconciliation.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said “Forgiving and being reconciled… are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye… in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing.”
By Bill Drake is one of the six Republican members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET).