This is the first of Peter Gold’s regular reports on the Representative Town Meeting’s monthly sessions. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.
October’s RTM meeting was one of the longest on record. It began at 7:30 p.m. yesterday, and ended at 2 a.m. this morning.
Six of the 7 agenda items were disposed of quickly. The last item — a 2-page sense of the meeting resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, and asking the town to help combat it — led to 5 hours of debate.
The final version was adopted unanimously (28-0). It says:
The Westport RTM condemns racism in all its forms and hereby commits to actively working toward combating racism and valuing all people as deserving of equitable treatment. We see the world around us and recognize racism as a crisis, having negative effects on the public health, welfare and lives of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). Racism diminishes us all. Therefore, we ask the Town of Westport to commit to continue work already begun, and we ask the Town of Westport to develop means to evaluate our community’s progress in the areas of racial equity and justice.
All RTM members spoke out against racism, while acknowledging it exists in Westport.
A primary area of discussion focused on whether or not the resolution should be limited to condemning racism, or if it should be expanded to condemn sexism and all other forms of discrimination as well.
While many RTM members felt that expanding the resolution diluted its impact by taking the focus off racism, many others felt that all forms of discrimination, including sexism, anti-Semitism and discrimination against LGBT people are equally reprehensible, and should be condemned too.
Other areas of concern involved the appropriateness and accuracy of several of the “whereas” clauses in the original resolution; whether or not the original resolution was too “partisan,” “political,” or otherwise beyond the scope of the RTM’s powers; and the feeling that the original wording was a one-size-fits-all resolution adopted by many other towns, instead of being tailored to Westport and expressing Westport’s values and concerns.
Many RTM members spoke eloquently and passionately on both sides of these and other issues. The full debate will be posted on the town website.
The other votes were also unanimous, and straightforward:
- Ratification of the Conservation Commission’s approval of bridge replacements for the Cavalry Road and Bayberry Lane Extension bridges over the Saugatuck River (work begins in the spring, and will last 6-8 months).
- Approval of $310,000 for new lights at the Greens Farms Elementary School softball field; replacement of the 30-year-old lights with new LED lights will save the town approximately $185,000 over the next 25 years in electricity and maintenance costs.
- Approval of $150,000 for an uninterruptable power supply for Town Hall and the Parks and Recreation Department. Town Hall had 3 major power failures leading to IT problems in the last 5 years — most recently during Isaias. The new power supply will provide “clean” power.
- Approval of $349,000 for several Public Works Department requests, including designing a replacement for underground fuel and storage tanks with above-ground tanks to address environmental concerns and meet state requirements; replacing garage doors at the Public Works Center and old, non-functional doors at the transfer station to improve safety and security, meet state requirements, reduce maintenance expenses and improve efficiency in storms; upgrading the waste oil storage shed to meet state spill standards, and replacing an aging truck and excavators.