Major Charter Revisions Wrong for Brookfield
by Bob Belden and Matt Grimes
As we sat down to write this piece together, we reflected on the various First Selectmen of Brookfield over the years. Over a period of 10, 20, 30 years, they have been good leaders and town administrators. While they may have differed in priorities and had different issues facing them, each shared two important traits – to be responsive to the needs of the town residents who entrusted them with the job, and to make sure Brookfield remain the pleasant New England town that we all call home.
Brookfield, like over 100 other Connecticut towns, currently has a Town Meeting form of government run by an elected chief executive. You may ask….why is that important? Let’s explore. First, the leaders of our town government are residents, too, and are elected directly by their peers every two years. The voters get a big say; the person elected must be responsive to their constituents or be faced with certain defeat at the next election. Second, we are a government of volunteers, not bureaucrats. Our boards and commissions are filled with people we know from down the street. They all work together, debate together, and make decisions together. They have to live with one another. Take our Board of Selectmen – being comprised of three people, they can act quickly and decisively, not get tied up in the “politics” of larger bodies you read about in the press. Finally, the voters in Brookfield have a big input on the big decisions. While some might at times get tired of going to the voting booth or a town meeting, it is wonderful that the important decisions are left to us, not others.
It is a fitting approach to government for a town like Brookfield.
On November 6th, Brookfield is faced with a question of changing our form of government. It is proposed that we bring in a hired Town Manager to run the town, albeit under the policy guidance of the Board of Selectmen. It is also proposed that we increase the size of the Board of Selectmen to five. We oppose these changes for many reasons, but above all, they don’t fit with the tone and character of our town. There is simply no compelling reason to toss out our current form of government which has worked well for our town for so many years in exchange for a government with a hired manager under a multi-year contract, another layer of government, and a larger Board of Selectmen. What Brookfield has now works for us, the voters and residents of our town.
As former chairmen of Brookfield’s Board of Education and Board of Finance, we have seen firsthand how our government works. It works well. While the arguments for bringing in a Town Manager for accreditation and professionalism may sound appealing on the surface, we are faced with the questions of “at what cost?” and “why?” Not only would the cost of running our town increase by close to $200,000, but we would start to lose something of value. The Town Manager would not necessarily be a resident of Brookfield and would be accountable only to the Selectmen, not to the voters. This change, if affirmed by the voters, would increase the bureaucracy at Town Hall. An overwhelming majority of Brookfield citizens who attended the public hearings on this proposal were opposed to these changes and their comments were, sadly, ignored.
Regarding the change from a three to a five member Board of Selectmen, Brookfield residents have overwhelmingly voted twice to defeat this very same proposal. Brookfield’s three-member Board of Selectmen has served Brookfield well over the years. No situation has been so severe that it compels increasing the size and cost of government, particularly when voters have made it clear they are quite comfortable with what we have.
We appreciate the many hours put in by the CRC members. As said before, they are our neighbors and fellow Brookfielders. However, on balance, Brookfield loses more than it gains if these changes are made. As a town, we have benefitted from capable, caring – and elected by the people – chief executives, and we would like to see that continue. As Ronald Reagan said “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear.” It is time to draw the line in Brookfield. Please vote against charter questions 1, 2, 3 and 8 on November 6th.