Despite unseasonal spring snow on Saturday, March 21 and cold temps on Sunday, March 22, as well as a low likelihood of weekend pedestrian traffic at Comstock Community Center, Sensible Wilton had what they said was a very successful effort gathering signatures on their new petition effort. Their new petition asks the town to hold another Special Town Meeting to reconsider the Miller-Driscoll Renovation in a different way.
Specifically, the Sensible Wilton petition wants town voters to consider creating the following ordinance:
The resolution appropriating and authorizing bonds in the amount of $50,022,000 for planning, design, construction, renovation, equipping and furnishing of the Miller-Driscoll School and related costs is hereby repealed; provided, however, that the Town will pay all legal obligations to third parties, lawfully incurred, including any arising from bonds or contracts already made and entered into by the Town prior to such repeal.
Wilton’s Board of Selectmen rejected Sensible Wilton‘s first petition which called for a revote on the Miller-Driscoll renovation bonding question. The group had gathered close to 1,100 petition signatures, but town officials turned down the revote request, citing legal standing in deciding that no further action should be taken.
The group’s president, Alex Ruskewich, says that this time, rather than question the legitimacy of the vote based on it being a bond question, Sensible Wilton wants to repeal the resolution outright. Instead of asking for a revote, they’re asking for a new vote.
“We’ve had an attorney who has volunteered to work with us. He has looked at the town charter and he feels this is the appropriate approach. In the town charter you have a section which says the legislative body of the town is the Town Meeting, and the electors participate in the town meeting. The last time, they did not allow us to go forward with a revote because they said you can’t do a revote related to a bond issues. We’re not asking for a revote. We’re asking for a Town Meeting where both the proponents and the opponents can get up and present their arguments. And at that point, let the town vote on whether they think it’s appropriate,” he says.
Ruskewich was very pleased with how many residents were seeking out the chance to sign this new petition effort, and he said the flow of supporters had been steady. For almost three-quarters of an hour that GOOD Morning Wilton observed the group standing outside Comstock, approximately a dozen different people arrived at the spot to sign the petition, with one bringing a sheet already filled with 10 signatures that he’d collected on his own.
The group had publicized their plan to collect signatures at Comstock on both weekend days from 11 a.m.-2 p.m..
“We have a lot of people coming by. They’re just driving up and asking to sign. We didn’t know if we’d get a lot of people today, on a Sunday, because not everyone reads the paper and knows that we’re here. But as you can see…” Ruskewich said of the turnout. “I got here a little before 10 a.m. and within five minutes I had people coming by, and it wasn’t even the announced time.”
He said that close to 100 people signed the petition on Saturday alone. “We’re not looking for a thousand this time. We’re looking for a number that would allow us to submit the petition according to the town charter.” Ruskewich said that number is somewhere around 260 valid signatures. “We hope to get more than that.”
Should the petition be accepted and deemed legal under the charter by the BoS, Sensible Wilton hopes to have another Town Meeting called–one that would, they say, be more fair and even, including both proponents and opponents represented on stage in front of voters.
“We would have people that would present our position and they can present their position again, and we try to argue it in front of the town. Not just three-minute blurbs that we get cut off with. The person who made the motion for [meeting] closure was a member of the building committee. And our moderator [Stephen Hudspeth] has basically been in the press severely against us. I would ask this time for an impartial moderator,” Ruskewich charged.
*Editor’s note: Steven Hudspeth’s comment responding to this quote and accusation from Sensible Wilton appears at the bottom of this article. In addition, he has a letter to the editor about this second petition appearing in GOOD Morning Wilton today.
“Wide Ranging” Community Support
Ruskewich said the group is finding support from many Wilton residents who want to lend their professional expertise. First on that list is the attorney who advised the group on this new approach after reviewing the town charter. “We would rather do it on a better legal footing. He has given us an analysis.” However, Ruskewich declined to give the lawyer’s name, saying the man didn’t want to yet step forward.
“He will appear. He happens to be a Wilton resident with children in the school,” Ruskewich said.
But he cited other professionals in town who should be asked to take part in assessing the project’s scope and cost estimates, including architect Mohammed Ayoub who works on large municipal projects including schools and hospitals and who questioned the high cost of the project at the Selectmen’s public hearing on Feb. 17. “I’m going to try to meet with him this week,” Ruskewich said.
He said he’s hearing support from other residents. “We had another fellow who came by yesterday, he’s a professional engineer. He’s saying this is unrealistic, the amount of money that’s being spent on a renovation.”
Among the residents who made it a point to come to Comstock in order to sign the petition on Sunday were Wilton residents Christina and Woodson Duncan. They both became more aware–and critical–of town issues after being active in the opposition to the lighting plan for the proposed Middlebrook School turf field.
“When I got into the lighting issue and began to understand how the town is not functioning well, it made me realize I really have to pay attention to what’s going on. I feel like this whole thing was done incorrectly. So I want to support these people who are working to shine some light and make things better in town,” Christina said.
Her husband, Woodson, was also unhappy with town officials. “I think the town ignores the residents and has an agenda to really keep the town in the dark. They have an agenda that doesn’t take the citizens into consideration at all. It seems the last thing they want is any input from the citizens.
Several of the signers expressed their thanks directly to Ruskewich and other members of Sensible Wilton who manned the table. Lorna Lyle was one such resident who told the men she was grateful for their activism, and said she was unhappy with the way the first vote went, and felt it was important to come out to sign the petition because the charter didn’t allow for a revote.
“There was insufficient notice for the [September] referendum to begin with. As an almost 21-year Wilton resident, I feel this is excessive for renovation, not-new construction. Yes, my daughter who is now a college freshman, who attended Wilton schools K-9, did benefit from the excellent school system here. And yes, it does keep up the property value to have an excellent school system. But it just seems like there are too many excesses here and many unanswered questions about the construction process and the question now of bloated enrollment forecasts that really need to be answered. This process was conduced unfairly and really needs to be addressed,” she said.
Group says New Information Comes to Light
Ruskewich says his group has uncovered additional information that they believe demonstrates the project is too ambitious and costly.
“I didn’t realize that the education enrollment projects are as dramatic as they are. From the Prowda report, by 2018 there’s going to be 200 students less in Miller-Driscoll. Why are we going through the oldest building if we’re going to have 10 classrooms free, because of that projection?” Ruskewich asserts, adding that he believes surrounding towns are also showing evidence of projected declines in student enrollment.
He states that such data should call the project into question.
“We don’t understand why we’re going ahead with the project, and that’s why we’re asking to go through and do a better analysis.”
He also points to what he says is a lack of transparency on the part of the town officials.
“We’ve never seen any financial analysis–a discounted cash flow or anything of the project, never seen anything like that. The bids and everything. You have a construction project where the benefits are coming in the future and you’re going to be spending money now. In a financial analysis you have to understand what you get for those benefits. Those are things we’re concerned with,” Ruskewich says.
However he does credit the town for committing to post recorded video of all future meetings of the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee on the town’s website.
UPDATE Mar. 23, 2:30 P.M.: Hudspeth added the following comment:
My objective in all of my Miller-Driscoll writing and other public comment is simply to see that there is a public dialogue maintained and advanced. “Sensible Wilton” is well-organized and admirable in their members’ ability to organize themselves for action and to be constantly in the press. The “silent majority” of rank-and-file Wilton residents who I believe want the build to go forward as planned don’t have such a well-organized structure to express their position. It’s much more ad hoc for them, I believe, in part because they have no need to take specific action, such as petitioning for something, but rather just want to see the build move forward. At times, though, one sees the tip of that large, in my view, otherwise silent majority, as reflected, for example, in Rick Kenneally’s beautifully written letter that you published a month or so ago and those half-dozen very thoughtful and well-written letters occupying most of the same page 9A of The Bulletin’s Feb. 12th issue that held Gail Moskow’s letter – and, of course, in all of those who came forward to speak at the BoS meeting on the first petition and whose statements you reflected so comprehensively in GOOD Morning Wilton.
Bias to me says an unwillingness even to consider the other person’s viewpoint or a failure to reflect it fairly or to let the other person be heard or to respect the humanity of the other person. I believe that by that definition I have been very unbiased. If I have something critical to say about a position, I limit my comments to that position and not directed ad hominem to the person, and I always strive where possible to quote, at least briefly given space constraints, the person’s exact words to which I am responding so that readers can see what the person has himself or herself actually said on the point. So that is my objective, and I hope I live up to it. The short response to Alex is that public disagreement is not itself bias but instead is a key part of the democratic process. I’d be most sorry if there were no disagreement and people simply paid no attention to things political locally. That would be truly sad and would reflect a bias of indifference that is really destructive long-term. Thankfully, that is not Wilton, though 9% (and lower) town voting rates — and even 17% on the Miller-Driscoll bonding in September – definitely need to change drastically upwards!
*ORIGINAL POST: Steve Hudspeth responds: “My response is very consistent with what Gail Moskow wrote in a letter published by The Wilton Bulletin in its Feb. 12th issue (on p. 9A) under the headline, ‘Meeting Fairly Run.’ In it, Gail said among other things, ‘…Mr. Hudspeth enforced on all speakers the rule announced at the start of the meeting (and the same rule that has applied to all town meetings): three minutes a person maximum to allow others time to speak, with those who were not able to conclude their remarks in three minutes [afforded] the opportunity to return to the mike only after everyone else who wanted to speak had had a chance to be heard – and provided, as happened, that a successful closure vote had not occurred before then. If anyone has doubt, he/she should see the video of the meeting.’
“After noting that I had written a week before the meeting a column entitled, “A ‘Yes’ Vote is the Way to Go,” Gail wrote the following: ‘I daresay everyone at that meeting had views, and probably pretty strong ones, on the subject of the sole issue under consideration: the Miller-Driscoll project. Thus, there was almost no chance that a completely impartial voice would have been found anyway.’ She concluded by saying, ‘It’s hard to imagine a more ethical or fairly run meeting, but if [anyone] thinks a different moderator should moderate future town meetings, he should feel free to do what any of us could have done that night [of the town vote in September]: offer his own nomination for moderator and let those present decide by their vote who should actually moderate.’
“Gail’s letter says it all very well. I would add only that I don’t expect that there will be a town meeting in response to this or any other Miller-Driscoll project petition that ‘Sensible Wilton’ may offer. I also know for sure that I have not been asked if I would be willing to have my name put up in nomination as moderator for any such hypothetical ‘Sensible Wilton’-petition-related meeting, and I would cross that bridge only if it comes, as I fully expect that it will not.”
I have an issue with the way you made this statement “Wilton’s Board of Selectmen rejected Sensible Wilton‘s first petition which called for a revote on the Miller-Driscoll renovation bonding question.” BOS neither rejected or accepted the petition. This implies a vote. On advice of town council they determined, after public hearing, that they didn’t have authority under town charter or state law to authorize a new vote. THEY DID NOT REJECT THE PETITION!!!
Steve, It has become obvious that you are far too personally and emotionally involved in the M-D issue to serve in any position requiring you to be impartial. Also, referencing Gail Moskow as your supporter is disingenuous since she too has been so partisan on the issue. If I were you, I would recuse myself from any further official role related to the M-D issue.
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