Heeding some public comments on its planned approach, the Board of Selectmen intends to survey the voters who cast a referendum ballot earlier this month to learn why they didn’t — or did — support funding a third artificial turf field in Wilton.
Following a narrow defeat of the board’s proposal to bond $1.935 million for the field at Allen’s Meadow by a vote of 1,298 to 1,249, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice drafted a survey aimed at learning why those who had voted against it did so.
“Do we want to explore the idea of an alternative proposal?” she asked the board at its meeting Tuesday night, May 16, specifically for building an artificial turf field at another location.
In a memo on Monday, May 15, Vanderslice said in order to help them decide she requested that the town registrars provide demographic data on those who voted at the meeting. She also wrote that she has met with leadership from the Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation (WARF), but did not publicly share any details.
“The vote stands, (but) I believe it’s a good idea for us to have some discussion,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.
To explain her idea of learning more about why voters who opposed the field voted as they did, Vanderslice cited the $50-million renovation project at Miller-Driscoll School, which passed by only 27 votes in 2014.
“It resulted in a lot of hard feelings, a lot of problems … I had to deal with that fallout for a couple of years,” she said.
Vanderslice believes that cost was the primary reason people voted against the bond for the field.
“The level of taxation in town is usually the number one concern,” she said. “Most people feel their taxes are too high.”
She stated that getting confirmation or clarity on that question could guide decisions to propose another location for an artificial turf field, which would likely be more costly.
More than one member of the public expressed concern about largely targeting the voters who were against the proposal.
“Identifying a group, the ‘No’ voters, as being the object of the survey, really looks bad,” resident Kelly Morron said. “I mean, it looks bad, it sounds bad, and it feels bad for the people who voted against it.”
“No one says that fields aren’t important,” she said, but noted that equal attention should be given to getting details from the people who voted ‘Yes’ on their decision-making process.
“I truly believe that you really ought to focus as much on why people voted for it as against it,” she said.
Vanderslice agreed that it would make sense to expand the survey.
“We should probably do the exact same thing,” she said of people who voted in favor of the field, giving them a range of survey options for their reasons and a chance to state more than just one reason.
Resident Sarah Curtis also spoke to the sensitivity of many people with regard to stating their opinions publicly, as well as some level of apprehension people have, feeling that the BOS is not listening to them.
“I’m not certain the board really appreciates how terrified parents are of speaking openly at the Annual Town Meeting, or really how scared they would be to be in an open forum discussion and actually talk about how they might not have voted for something,” she said. “And I can’t underscore that enough.”
Board members supported the idea of the survey, though they weren’t in consensus as to why they believed the vote fell as it did.
“I would kind of like to understand more the reasons why the people who voted against it, voted against it,” Selectman Joshua Cole said, including thoughts on cost, location, and feelings about artificial turf in general.
“These are things that I think I would want to know in … making a decision of whether we want to pursue it somewhere else,” he said.
Selectman Ross Tartell said that, artificial turf aside, there appears to be wide consensus that more fields are needed.
“The fact that we need playing fields is indisputable to me,” he said, adding, “We need to make that investment.”
Vanderslice pointed out the expense of natural grass fields and indicated that people wouldn’t want to invest that additional money.
Selectman Basam Nabulsi said he wasn’t sure if it was in the board’s purview to keep moving forward with investigating whether the town wants an artificial field somewhere else.
“In terms of looking forward, I’m not feeling like the Board of Selectmen is the right forum for doing the fact-finding and due diligence on these issues,” he said.
Vanderslice said that since the BOS made the bonding request, it was their place to follow up.
“I think it’s incumbent on us as the people that put it on the ballot to get some further information …Since we put it up, we supported it, we put it on the ballot, we should at least try to do the first phase of it,” she said.
Vanderslice said she would have Sarah Gioffre, coordinator of community affairs, draft a more detailed survey per the board’s discussion, and share an online template with members before Memorial Day.
If the board has no concerns about it, Vanderslice said it would be distributed to those who had voted earlier this month via the SurveyMonkey website.