Taking outdated traditions on faith is no way to run a town

Frank Farricker Greenwich VoicesGreenwich is a very faith-based enterprise. For example, our BET, or at least a tie-breaker’s worth of our BET, believes that our town fathers back in 1930 brought forward with them the great faith of “pay as you go.”

Like all cults, this one begins with a simple and correct premise, that you shouldn’t spend more than you have. The problem lies in the fact that the era when this wisdom was brought forth is a lot different than 2014, thus exposing a number of contradictions that have to be addressed through a number of leaps of faith. They carry a number of different names, like “modified pay as you go,” or “modest and predictable tax increases,” seemingly reasonable and correct but ultimately just feel-good patches to keep the underlying dogma from tumbling off its tottering foundation, justifying fiscally irresponsible decisions costing us millions it its name.

Good work in pursuit of a bad outcome makes little sense, yet that is how our town finances are run.

Down the hill at Havemeyer, our schools administration wrestles with a lot of attacks on educational faith in Greenwich. The key tenet: neighborhood schools. Again, it’s a grand idea that our kids walk to school and may know their neighbors. However, what neighborhood schools really mean to many is a soft form of redlining aimed at keeping New Lebanon, Glenville, Hamilton Avenue and Western Middle School people on their side of the line.

It couldn’t have been more apparent when a local blogger mischievously published a proposed 2007 map proposing students from the Club Road area of Riverside be bused to New Lebanon. While a half-hour bus ride is not at all optimal, the school board wasn’t even considering that change. Nonetheless, the anxiety of the specter of this particular challenge to the faith had to be placated, even if a good part of it may have been rooted in a number of “-isms” rather than education.

The fact is, that until we have leadership in Greenwich — of any kind — we will continue to spend poorly, devolve our assets and spend millions of our tax dollars on consultants and lawyers because our current government at all levels will do anything, anything at all, instead of make a critical or difficult but necessary decision.

Some of it is resistance to change. The religion of “pay as you go” is very strong with the tiebreaker faction of the BET. Some of it is structural, as there is absolutely no accountability for anyone at the ballot box other than the first selectman at any level. Some of it is fearful: Our town advisers and leaders seem more concerned with threatened lawsuits than a principled stand on any issue or conversely more afraid of a wholly non-representative individual or small group causing a ruckus than the commission or department they represent.

But, whatever it is, the taxpayers are the ones with decaying sewers, endless land use timeframes, plummeting belief in the value of public education, and a lack of belief that anything can at all be done at all.

In the meantime, our town leaders preach the civic religion of Greenwich — this mishmash of reverence for times past, melded with an adoption of anything that has been enacted since as somehow eternal — as a substitute for the real responsibility of leading. We should take this opportunity to create the key changes that insure our future is as positive as the future our parents left to us.

We should hope our grandchildren treat the changes we should make now with the same reverence that we seem to hold for our past. And, hopefully, we would have taught them well enough to boldly chart their own path, to confront our challenges in a town that does not look like the one of 1930, not pretend they don’t exist, admire the past but remember we live in the present.

 

Frank Farricker is the chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee but the opinions presented here are his own.

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