Letter: In the interest of trust and transparency
To the Editor:
Trust and transparency are at the heart of every effective relationship, team and organization. That’s not just my opinion; the role of transparency and trust has been widely studied and proven to be a critical factor for group success. Beyond the studies, living proof of these values can be found in Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, who credits transparency as the cornerstone of Amazon’s culture. Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful hedge fund managers, attributes much of his success to a concept he calls “radical transparency.” Even the Dalai Lama advised about the critical importance of transparency, warning, “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”
Unfortunately, the leaders at the highest levels of Shelton government consider transparency nothing more than a "political buzzword" (Shelton Herald, 12/17/2019). While companies such as Google and Amazon can be held out as role models of trust and transparency, the city of Shelton could serve as a cautionary tale for those leaders who dismiss their importance. You don’t have to look far to see the warning of the Dalai Lama in action— the mayor’s budget announcement and the proposals of the Charter Revision Commission are two of the most recent examples.
Just a few years ago, the city had between $12 to $13 million in a surplus account. An audit revealed that the account had been depleted without any true accounting of where that money went. When questioned, the mayor resorted to his typical scapegoating of the education system, shirking accountability in favor of a false insistence that the Board of Education illegally spent the surplus. This is, of course, utter nonsense.
In fact, when the city disputed the schools’ rightful use of $3 million in special education excess cost funds in 2019, the state of Connecticut issued a letter to the city weighing in on the matter. That letter states: “the City should credit the revenue received from the state Special Education Excess Cost grant to the BOE’s special education expenditure account.” (A copy of that letter has been sent to the Herald for publication.) The city refused, opting to sue the BOE for the funds instead. During his recent budget announcement, Mayor Lauretti doubled down on the lie and blamed the BOE for spending the near entirety of the $12 million surplus.
Anyone skilled in basic math can see the flaws in that logic.
Also recently, the all-Republican Board of Aldermen appointed a commission to review and recommend changes to the city’s charter, which governs how the city is run. The appointed commission is comprised of four members of the mayor’s Republican party, as well as two “unaffiliated” members and one “Democrat” who the Shelton Democratic Town Committee has never heard of. Unsurprisingly, many of the recommended changes to the charter are aimed at eliminating fair and balanced representation and increasing the mayor’s strong hold on the boards and departments that are meant to serve as checks and balances on our local government.
Perhaps the most egregious is the commission’s proposition to abolish the Board of Apportionment and Taxation altogether, transferring sole budget power to the single-party Board of Aldermen.
The commission has also proposed shifting the balance of power on the Board of Education from a near-even political 5-4 split, to a heavily weighted 6-3. Such a split would allow a two-thirds majority party vote on all matters, effectively eliminating the voice of minority representation and the need to garner any consensus on important decisions.
I suppose that if leadership does not have the integrity or accountability of transparency, the logical alternative is to attempt to drive compliance by force, rather than by forging trust or collaboration. Our founding fathers saw the virtue in maintaining a system of checks and balances and I am immeasurably grateful that our Constitution isn’t up for revision every few years. My hope now is that the residents of Shelton will see - and reject - these charter revision proposals for the irony of what they truly are - a shamelessly transparent power-grab.