Several BET Dems call for caucus leader’s resignation

FI-greenwich-town-sealClaiming they have lost confidence in his abilities to lead, three members of the Democratic caucus on the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) are calling on longtime member Bill Finger to step down as the caucus’s leader.

Mr. Finger is not being asked to resign as a member of the BET, to which he was re-elected earlier this month, but he comes under heavy criticism from sitting BET members Randall Huffman and Sean Goldrick as well as John Blankley, who will soon be sworn in as an official member of the finance board, in two letters the three of them have written. In the letters, both of which were obtained by the Post, they say Mr. Finger acted improperly by introducing a proposal for charter change during a BET meeting without consulting them first.

At the BET’s Nov. 18 meeting, to the surprise of many top Democrats who spoke to the Post, Mr. Finger introduced a proposal that would increase terms on the BET and retain the split of six Democrats and six Republicans but would also allow for the party to put forth more candidates than seats, a system similar to what the Board of Education has. Mr. Finger said he believed this would open up elections by providing more choice to the voters while retaining the even party representation.

However, this was unpopular with several members of the caucus who said it would give Greenwich Republican voters the chance to essentially pick and choose which Democrats they wanted on the board.

“Charter change is a very significant matter for the governance of our town, and the way you have handled this has been irresponsible and arrogant,” a letter jointly signed by Mr. Huffman, Mr. Goldrick and Mr. Blankley states, adding that to introduce it without first bringing the matter before the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee was “simply inexcusable.”

They also accuse Mr. Finger of not informing the full caucus of his intentions until five minutes before the Nov. 18 BET meeting began and that the vote he called for “glossed over” his “true intentions.”

“Proper caucus procedure would require distribution of a draft and lengthy debate on such an important matter,” the letter states. “Unfortunately all of these actions and inactions are consistent with the recent failure on your part to consult with all the caucus members on a number of issues. For these and other reasons we believe you no longer have the credibility to continue as chairman of the caucus.”

Mr. Huffman also wrote a letter to Mr. Finger as an individual, urging him to resign as the caucus chairman. In the letter, he speaks about the confusion surrounding what, if anything, was going to be introduced at the Nov. 18 meeting to deal with charter reform and said there was not clear communication with the caucus.

“You did not notify the BET Democratic caucus that you intended to make a sweeping proposal to change the rules governing the election of members of the BET until just minutes before the start of the BET meeting,” Mr. Huffman wrote. “It was not clear even then what your draft consisted of in detail. I did not receive any indication prior to the caucus, but at least some of us had no advance notice. Furthermore we had not received the draft nor understood you intent to introduce it prior to our caucus or the BET meeting. To spring a full draft proposal on us in that manner was both improper and unnecessary.”

Mr. Huffman added that he believed this was “consistent with recent failures” on Mr. Finger’s part to consult with caucus members, calling it “duplicitous and indefensible.”

The letter from the three men also asks that Mr. Finger’s proposal be withdrawn and that no proposal be put forward unless it’s part of a full review of the town’s electoral process and governmental structure. They also said that any change should first receive vetting and approval from the DTC.

But while their call for Mr. Finger’s resignation from caucus leadership has gone public, it’s unclear just how much support it has. Mr. Blankley will not be sworn in for six more weeks, meaning Mr. Goldrick and Mr. Huffman make up only one-third of the six-person Democratic caucus.

When reached for comment by the Post, Mr. Finger said that “most of the statements [in the letters] are inaccurate” about the Nov. 18 meeting and noted that there would be a vote on the caucus chairman in six weeks when the new BET term begins. In the meantime, he said, he does not plan on resigning.

“If the caucus were to meet and have a vote on who they want to chair it, then they can do that and I would abide by that vote,” Mr. Finger said.

Mr. Finger pointed to an op-ed piece that was published recently in the Greenwich Time written by himself and BET Democrats Jeff Ramer, Mary Lee Kiernan and Robert Brady. In the piece, they write that the charter change proposal would result in more competitive elections and they were hopeful that the full BET would consider it. They suggested that this year’s election, where Democrats mounted a campaign based around long-term borrowing to pay for capital projects, had been a big benefit to the town and they wanted to see more without unbalancing the board to give Republicans the advantage, citing the similarity of this proposal to one in 2004 that BET Democrats were all in favor of.

“One need only see how this year’s BOE election process fostered more voter choice and more thoughtful dialogue about the merits of the various candidates’ ideas and qualifications to know that this proposal for the BET has merit,” Mr. Finger and the others wrote. “The result will be more competitive elections while still retaining the benefit of a balanced board in which no political party can select a majority of the members. The ultimate beneficiaries of this structure will be Greenwich voters.”

Speaking to the Post, Ms. Kiernan rejected the allegation that Mr. Finger sprung the proposal on the caucus and denied there was bad communication from him.

“The accusations are false,” Ms. Kiernan said. “Bill Finger is an excellent caucus leader.”

Mr. Brady, who is leaving the board at the end of the year, seconded that, saying he did not believe there was any reason for Mr. Finger to have to resign.

“I hope he will remain on the job for another term,” Mr. Brady said.

This is not the first dispute within the caucus about direction for the BET Democrats, but it’s the first one to really go so public. Mr. Huffman and Mr. Goldrick have been advocates of pushing BET Democrats to be more aggressive in calling for increased long-term borrowing and opposition to Republican spending plans, which they have said are unnecessary austerity measures. Last year, Democrats on the budget committee, led by Mr. Finger, opposed plans to have a lower than typical mill rate increase, and eventually there was a compromise with BET Republicans that adopted several of the Democratic views.

Last summer, Democrats nominated Mr. Blankley for the BET and also considered Democratic Town Chairman Frank Farricker, who has publicly stated views consistent with those of Mr. Goldrick and Mr. Huffman, as had Mr. Blankley. That would have set up a situation where seven Democrats would have sought six spots, paving the way for a DTC vote that could have seen Mr. Farricker and Mr. Finger battling it out for one of the spots. Ultimately, though, Mr. Farricker, saying it was in the interest of party unity, did not pursue his candidacy.

 

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