Current lease policy works

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FI-EditorialAs the back and forth between the Board of Selectmen and the Representative Town Meeting over town lease policy continues, this much is becoming clear: The RTM is demanding a solution to a problem that does not exist.

At the heart of the issue is the demand from a group of RTM members that the town have a policy locked down on how to deal with town leases, arrangements by which town property is given to groups for far below market value and sometimes even as low as $1 a year. According to First Selectman Peter Tesei, the town does have a policy, and that’s to examine each lease on a case-by-case basis, making a determination based on the circumstances of each individual lease.

That doesn’t go nearly far enough, though, for a number of RTM members, and now the lease of property from the town to the Mianus River Boat and Yacht Club is in flux while the RTM’s Finance and Legislative and Rules committees give it the once-over and a new committee comes up with a policy on leases to give to a Board of Selectmen that probably isn’t going to want to hear it.

It’s a needless delay to what should be a no-brainer of a lease approval. For all the talk in Greenwich and nationwide about making government more efficient, this is an extra level of bureaucracy and, frankly, a waste of time and effort that has left club members in an unfair situation of having to wait without resolution while parts of the RTM and the selectmen hash out who has the authority on lease approvals.

Why is a universal policy on leases even needed? That’s never been made clear. The selectmen, in full consultation with the town’s legal department, have acted carefully and thoughtfully with the town’s best interests at heart. Reviewing town leases is a good idea to insure there are no under-the-table deals with people or groups that don’t need them, but such a mechanism is already in place. The selectmen approve a lease and then send it to the RTM for a vote. Why is this no longer sufficient?

The approach Mr. Tesei and Selectmen Dave Theis and Drew Marzullo have taken is working fine. Leases should not be handled with a one-size-fits-all approach. They are all different, with each organization serving a different purpose in town. These are groups like Abilis, the Arch Street Teen Center, Greenwich Adult Day Care, the Garden Education Center, the Greenwich Arts Council, and the Mianus River Boat and Yacht Club. They have tremendous civic value and are part of what makes Greenwich a special community.

Mr. Marzullo said he believes this is all about money, and Town Administrator John Crary said he had been told by members of the Finance Committee that these organizations should be generating revenue for the town. Has the nickel-and-dime mentality that has been so apparent at budget time spread to the lease discussion? That would be extremely disappointing. Should Greenwich turn its back on civic responsibility and thriving community partnerships to pad the bottom line? Absolutely not.

None of this was brought up last year when Abilis received a much-deserved huge show of support from the RTM. A cynical mind might wonder if perhaps taking this stand on the yacht club was a calculated move by members because the backlash would be less severe than had they tried this stunt with Abilis. And now the process gives every sign of dragging on.

The good news is that members of the new RTM committee are going in with open minds and are good, responsible members of the body, but this is a needless time-waster. The task is vast and will take significant time. In the meantime, members of the yacht club are left in limbo waiting for certain parts of the RTM to end the grandstanding.

Groups like the yacht club deserve better than this, and it’s time to settle this with a process already in place.

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