Happy 60th!

Hadley Rose’s re-election this week as RTM moderator shined a light on 1 of the town’s most important — and often overlooked — bodies.

The Representative Town Meeting — 1 of the few such governmental organizations left in the state — is 60 years old this year.  In 1949 it replaced the even older and quainter New England “Town Meeting” concept.  Westport was growing quickly, and needed a nimbler, smoother means of governing itself.

In the 6 decades since, several RTM votes have impacted Westport phenomenally. 

In 1960 the body authorized $1.9 million to buy the 191-acre Longshore Beach and Country Club.

Nine years later the RTM approved $220,000 to buy Cockenoe Island from the United Illuminating Company — preventing it becoming a nuclear power plant.  (A referendum bid to overturn the decision failed.)

In the years since, the RTM has debated land purchases including Allen’s Clam House on Hillspoint Road; the Baron’s property (now Winslow Park), and more of his land on South Compo; Gorham Island, and Hall-Brooke on Long Lots Road.

Some of those purchases were approved; others were not.  All generated controversy — and greater attendance than usual at RTM meetings.

The RTM is in the news each year when it debates — sometimes routinely, often raucously — the education budget.

In 1972 the RTM made the New York Times, with a 17-15 vote demanding an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam.  In 1982, the RTM voted 24-2 (with 7 abstentions) in favor of a nuclear arms freeze.

But most meetings are taken up with mundane matters:  health and human services, information technology, the library, parks and recreation, public protection and transit issues.

And, oh yeah, a townwide ban on plastic bags.

From its start, the RTM has been non-partisan.  A host of party activists have served, on both sides of the aisle.  Their names — Aasen, Arcudi, Belaga, Ezzes — read like a who’s who of Westport politicians.  But all ultimately had the best interest of their town at heart.

Hadley Rose is the latest in a long list of distinguished moderators.  Giants who preceded him included Allen Raymond, Herb Baldwin, Ralph Sheffer and Gordon Joseloff.

The 60th anniversary gift is diamonds.  But the 36 RTM members don’t want anything like that.  They’d be glad if you knew the names of your 4 district representatives.

That’s easy.  Just click here.

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