Op-Ed: Former Shelton school board, A&T chair blasts revisions as mayoral power grab

Mark Holden

Mark Holden

Contributed photo

To the Editor:

I am a lifelong Republican. My first involvement in politics was helping Ronald Reagan in the Connecticut primary in 1980. I’m a former vice chairman of the Shelton RTC. Over the years, I’ve donated thousands of dollars of printing to the SRTC, and I donated thousands of dollars of printing to Dan Debicella’s congressional campaign. I was elected as a Republican to the Board of Apportionment and Taxation three times, and the Board of Education four times.

The charter revision you’re being asked to vote for is a wholesale consolidation of power in the hands of our mayor. It is deeply flawed, and if you care about accountability and low taxes, you should vote against it.

This is the first attempt to revise our charter since a former assistant finance director embezzled about $1 million. This charter revision should have included a provision requiring “fresh eyes” to audit our books on a periodic basis. Why? The theft occurred over several years, and the city auditor never noticed funds were missing. We’ve been using the same guy since before the embezzlement was discovered — in fact when he went to work at a different firm, we followed him to ensure he would continue to audit our books. Why on Earth would you go out of your way to keep using the same guy after he missed a discrepancy of $1 million?

Eliminating the Board of Apportionment and Taxation would mean just nine elected officials will be involved in setting and managing our budget — the mayor and Board of Aldermen. For the last couple of terms, every one of those people has belonged to the same party. The current mayor has demanded and gotten considerable influence over who the Republican candidates for alderman will be. Most well-managed towns have a Board of Finance, or Apportionment and Taxation. They usually are the fiscal authority.

The claim Republicans and Democrats select who will serve doesn’t hold water. At least two members of the Citizens United party served with me on A&T. Unaffiliated people can run too. A&T ensured people from more than one party were involved in our budget process.

The claim the revision will improve voter choice for the BoE is silly. Republicans and Democrats have often run more candidates than they could elect. In the last three elections, Republicans ran eight, five and nine people for a maximum of five offices. That averages 7.333. If charter revision passes they could only run (and elect) six.

The technology committee is a carrot designed to attract the votes of parents who are desperate for their students to have access to the kind of technology just about every other district in our area has. We had a technology committee many years ago, and it served its purpose.

Today, the BoE technology department is painfully aware of what they need to try to catch up with our neighbors. The aldermen claim they need the borrowing limit raised in order to meet the technology needs of the schools. If we’re going to replace 1/4 of our computers every year, why would we borrow money to do it? It’s like taking out loans to buy groceries.

The proposed makeup of the committee gives the BoE the authority to appoint just 1/3 of the members of the committee, yet the BoE is our primary user of technology. I am concerned the committee could decide to buy products that are poorly suited to BoE needs. The mayor and aldermen would still control funding. Let education professionals decide how to best use whatever funds are available. Our track record for student achievement, with one of the lowest education budgets in the state, shows our BoE has a history of making good decisions. As a reminder — over the last 13 years, the city budget grew 50 percent faster than the education budget.

After 29 years in office, our mayor is bored, and trying to grab more power to make things interesting again. If charter revision passes, there will be fewer checks and balances. You will have fewer choices at the polls, we’ll have even more spot zoning, the purchase of needed technology for students may be decided based on reasons other than what is the best choice for educational needs. Your property values will go down, and your taxes will increase.

Choose good government. Just say no to this charter revision.