A town meeting was held on December 12th. The controversial item on the agenda was the purchase of 69 Killingworth Turnpike (aka the historic “Yellow House”) to be used as part of the new high school site. I was nominated to “Moderate” the meeting along with the First Selectman. Mr. Fritz was elected as he almost always is at these meeting. That’s fine, I don’t need the job. But it’s appalling to me that few see any problem and support this selection. Although the school was the issue at hand, I have to emphasize that the issue raised here about Moderating has nothing to do with the school. The standards I will describe below, apply to every town meeting, no matter how trivial the issue may seem.
The first selectman is the town leader and chief politician on the most political of boards, The Board of Selectmen. He routinely takes positions on issues and leads the charge, trying to sell his position. That is not a criticism; it’s his job to take positions. I’d be worried if he did not take positions. But a Moderator he should not be. The definition of Moderator is “one who arbitrates, “one who presides over a meeting”, “a mediator”, etc. Implicit in this is that the Moderator is neutral, impartial and fair, or acts that way. Mr. Fritz is an unabashed new Morgan proponent as is his right. My concern is that the school be authorized properly along with any other issue to come before a Town Meeting.
As Moderator, Mr. Fritz routinely cheer leads his cause, pontificates, buttresses this cause by answering questions, tries to influence the discussion to support the outcome he wants and at times has shut down the opposition or belittles them, feigning humor. He was even heard to say to one resident at the December 12th town meeting, “I don’t want to hear anything else out of you”. This statement was over heard by several attendees including two reporters. Remarks of this nature are intemperate, even if the two have crossed swords previously. These are not the actions of a neutral party. A Moderator runs the meeting, period and does not involve himself in the discussion. Neither is it proper for a Moderator to make motions. If the first selectman wants to advocate, make motions, answer questions or “testify” to facts as he believes them to be, he should sit in the audience like the rest of us. This is not only common sense for obvious reasons, but is required by standard parliamentary procedure.
The Charter guides us on this issue. Section 4-2 Procedure; Moderator states in part: “A Moderator shall be elected and all business conducted in the manner provided by the General Statutes, as amended, except as otherwise provided in this Charter. CT General Statute, Title 7, Chapter 90, Section 7-7 quoted in part provides as follows; Sec. 7-7. Conduct of meeting of municipal corporations. ------. “All towns, when lawfully assembled for any purpose other than the election of town officers, and all societies and other municipal corporations when lawfully assembled, shall choose a moderator to preside at such meetings, unless otherwise provided by law; and, except as otherwise provided by law, all questions arising in such meetings shall be decided in accordance with standard parliamentary practice,” --------. Certainly, Robert’s Rules of Order is the universally accepted standard parliamentary practice referred to which bars the conduct noted above. In fact these rules require that a Moderator wishing to be involved in the discussion must relinquish the chair until the matter is “disposed of” (aka voted on).
I attended a subsequent Board of Selectmen meeting on December 19th and made a few brief remarks about the need for cleaning up town meeting procedures. Good governance requires this be done – again it’s not about any specific issue. Any project or expenditure must stand on its’ own merits. It its’ worthy, it will be approved. At this BOS meeting Mr. Fritz did seem to be getting on board with regard to the need for a Parliamentarian at meetings where controversial issues will be decided upon. With regard to giving up being Moderator, no position was given.
I offered myself as an alternative at the Dec. 12th meeting who would have done nothing to influence outcome. Some may not want to believe that, but it’s the truth. All would be allowed to speak in turn, of course including the first selectman, as long as anyone had something relevant to say. No matter what, you should have a choice. A Moderator who advocates for one side or the other is a poor choice no matter what side you are on. If you don’t see the problem now, you will when you are on the other side of an issue that Mr. Fritz is ramming through. The end does not justify the means. If that becomes the norm in Clinton, our government will no longer serve the people.
-- Phil Sengle