RTM Moderator: Gardeners Will Have Their Say — Later

As the Long Lots Elementary School project moves forward, a group of residents want their voices heard by the Representative Town Meeting.

That will happen, moderator Jeff Wieser says.

But not by petition.

On Tuesday, Lou Weinberg — chair of the Westport Community Gardens, which may be forced to move if a new baseball diamond is built on its current location — submitted a petition signed by 37 electors to the Town Clerk.

It requested a chance to present to the RTM “the history and current status of the Westport Community Gardens and Town Preserve.”

Citing “the largest capital expenditure in Westport’s history,” the petitioners said: “We believe it is incumbent upon the RTM members to have a full understanding of the consequences of a project of this magnitude.”

Wieser — who as moderator decides the monthly agenda — said in an email to the 36 RTM members yesterday:

You will see that this petition is asking for time at an upcoming RTM meeting to present an update on the history and current status of the Westport  Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve. This request is very similar to the one delivered this summer by the citizens concerned with the path of the Parker Harding discussions.

As I did in deciding that the presentation previously requested was not an issue within the RTM’s purview, I have decided not to bring this new petition to the RTM. Since that earlier stance, which was supported by the Town Attorney, we have had long and public conversations about how to review such requests by electors. In a subsequent petition meant to clarify how that should occur,  82% of the RTM has voted that discretion in this regard is appropriate.

I am alerting you to this decision so that you are aware and, if you object, to remind the RTM that the body has a clear – and welcomed – opportunity to overrule my decision within the confines of the next meeting.

I also point out that we will most probably be considering $1,000,000+ funding at November’s meeting for the design of the new school. There will be ample opportunity at that meeting and at many, many more public meetings for proponents of the gardens to comment on the situation.

I think all are aware that as a gardener at my beloved plot #146, I am not indifferent to the outcome of this debate. But as moderator I will continue to be moderate; to stay away from the fray and let the town’s process, which is a very good process, run its course.

I don’t wish to start a debate. If you have comments or objections, please communicate individually with me or others.


37 responses to “RTM Moderator: Gardeners Will Have Their Say — Later

  1. Once again, the voices of Westporters are silenced. This is what it looks like to have rights taken away. It happens slowly, then quickly they are gone.

    • I think calling for civility in the wake of the turmoil generated by myriad flubbed initiatives is sort of like my telling family members to “CALM DOWN” when I have screwed things up. How does telling people to calm down work for you, reader? (It’s their fault that they are agitated???!!!)

      Similarly, were I to tell my family members that we weren’t going to entertain any discussion that upset the family equilibrium, I wouldn’t get very far.

      And if I twisted words in order to accrue more power to me at their expense, I’d probably get tossed out of the boat.

      Let’s get back to the rules and elect those that do, too. Let’s jettison the patronizers and those who want to silence the malcontents. Let’s recognize the legitimacy of laws so Westport can once again be a happy family of equals.

  2. It’s a bad system where one person, supported by a bespoke legal opinion, has the authority to decide what comes to the floor at the RTM. Congress has the same problem. In the case of the RTM however, the Orwellian notion that the word “shall” means “may” distorts the language of the Town Charter. But in the words of “the civil rights anthem, “We may overcome someday”

    • Hi Larry! Isn’t “bespoke legal opinion” kind of redundant? Aren’t they all, pretty much by definition?

  3. Disgraceful. And, to add insult to injury, word has apparently gone out to our elected folk that they should commence each public meeting with a lecture about the need for what is being characterized as “civility”. Of course, what is really desired is silence, conformity and, ultimately, complacency. As was pointed out by a resident in a meeting last night, when you take away residents’ right to be heard, there’s a likelihood that their concern will express itself as frustration.

  4. This is perplexing. How can one individual wield this type of power? Time for a “remove Jeff Wieser” campaign. Really, who does he think he is. He was elected to represent the people in our government, not to shield our government from the people. If the town attorney is involved, they too need to go.

  5. Shall does not mean shall and some peoples matters matter more than other peoples matters. That was the conclusion The RTM 29 reached at their Oct 3rd meeting and now, barely 3 weeks later, we are experiencing the inevitable results of that horrid vote. This is what it looks like when peoples rights are stripped from them. Tragic.

    John F. Suggs

  6. Mr. Weizer
    Do I understand that
    —if …. the application for an 8-24 is not made to the Planning and Zoning Commission until December …
    — then… the RTM will not be acting on a disbursement of funds for said matter at its November meeting?

    Please let the RTM have a conversation about this multi-faceted issue. I implore the “RTM 66.6%” to call for a special meeting now to overrule this decision.

    The word civil has become quite the mantra for several town leaders of late. The meaning of this word is “of the citizen or community.” It is tied to the word “civic.”

    Have a conversation with your constituents. It is the civil thing to do.

  7. Bill Strittmatter

    Given how strongly people feel about the RTMs actions, why isn’t anyone suing the town/RTM to force them to obey the town charter? There is at least one attorney (and probably more) that seems to be upset about this and presumably available to get it started on a pro-bono basis. Or set up a go-fund-me page.

    It’s not like you can really vote the RTM out of office (at least this year) since most are running unopposed and no one has bothered to start write-in campaigns to try to influence the outcome.

    • Bill, there is hope. At least there are 12 challengers for 36 RTM seats this year. So we can in fact vote at least some of the bums out if we really want to, particularly in a relatively small town where every vote really can count, *if cast properly*. See my post further down….

  8. Another town “technocrat” spewing nonsense. If these people tried to pull this stunt in the business world they’d be fired.


  10. Lord Acton was right….

  11. Hi Iain. I meant “bespoke” to mean made to order, and In this case it was more of a brief than an opinion

  12. I support saving the gardens. Two comments on Jeff Wieser’s statement. First, he references the Town Attorney. I am pretty sure the Town Attorney, Ira Boom, not Eileen Flug who has recused herself, did not judge the decision of Jeff, only his right to make it. Second, no vote on the ballfield will take place until the P&Z has acted on the 8-24 Report. Jen Tooker says she expects the P&Z to act in December. In addition and crucially, the RTM needs to separate the votes on the ballfield and the school by having two separate votes. Two votes is the fair way to allow democracy to work.

  13. Is it time to eliminate the RTM and reinstitute the original town meeting which many Connecticut towns still embrace thereby allowing all citizens to attend and have a voice?
    After all abuse of authority and outright neglect demands removal.

    • Michael Calise is a Westport treasure and we would all be lucky to have him on P&Z come November.

      As much as I like your idea Michael I assume such a step would require an RTM vote?

      If so…good luck with THAT!

  14. As the old proverb says… “The dogs bark but the caravan moves on…”

    This is how Westport’s Municipal Government operates, from top to bottom.

    Folks are told they will have their “say” in public meetings but in practice what does that mean?

    It means we receive 2-3 minutes of “Public Comment” each, often cut off entirely when there are many more speakers in line after, say half an hour or an hour. So we are forced to talk fast and make our point about pre-baked processes complex issues we were never involved in from the beginning, and then we are accused of being uncivil.

    The fix is in from top to bottom…there is no back and forth with town officials and no debate with the public – nobody with decision-making authority (whether elected or appointed) has to explain their point of view when questioned, and letters and emails to Town Hall largely go ignored and unanswered.

    Now you cannot even petition the RTM for an agenda item unless the moderator decides it’s ok with them – one person, from one district among nine in a town of twenty-eight thousand people who is elected to represent a constituency of around three thousand people. No debate, just a pat on the head and then told to “run along.” Is that democracy?

    Whatever your point of view of the numerous big issues confronting Westport are today, (and there are reasonable people on both sides of each,) remember that even if you are presently indifferent, that if you live here long enough you will experience the same frustration others are feeling now. There won’t be any respite then that allows you to be heard either. It will be interesting to see whether there is any pushback as town debt spirals over the next few years and property taxes inevitably rise – many folks will be forced to sell their homes, further depressing property values and on and on.

    I’m astonished how we ended up here – I have a clue as to why but I don’t want to be accused of being “uncivil…”

  15. If the ability to *effectively* petition the RTM, that is, without leaving it to the whim of a single moderator, is important to you, more effective than suing it might be to VOTE in 12 days FOR the few RTMs who themselves voted on 10/3 to protect that right, and AGAINST those who opposed it.

    The five running RTMs who voted to preserve the right are:
    District 1: Mandell (Milwe also voted for, but is not running)
    (do ask Jaffe & Bloom the challengers, their stance)
    District 2: Falk
    (do ask Levy, the challenger, their stance)
    District 3: Burkhardt
    (sadly, noncompetitive with all incumbents, but you can make a point)
    District 4: No one.
    (sadly noncompetitive but with one guaranteed newbie)
    (Hayes, new newbie, should at least be asked their stance)
    (And of course this is Weiser’s, the RTM Moderator’s, district)
    (and you can make a point)
    District 5: No One.
    (sadly, noncompetitive with all incumbents)
    (sorry District 5)
    District 6: No One. At least this one’s quite competitive
    (do ask Sarelli, Rosenwaks & D’Onofrio Jr. their stance)
    District 7: Lautenberg.
    (sadly noncompetitive with no challengers, but you can make a point)
    District 8: No One.
    (sadly noncompetitive but with one guaranteed newbie)
    (Benmosche, new newbie, should at least be asked their stance)
    (and you can make a point)
    District 9: Liccione. Surprisingly competitive.
    (do ask Enslin, Johnson, Suggs & Halperin, the challengers, their stance)

    Keep in mind that if you really really like a candidate over all the others, your vote’s impact is magnified by only voting for them. Conversely, if you really really dislike a candidate over all the others, your vote’s impact is magnified by only voting for all the others. Wikipedia has a whole article on Strategic Voting.

    CT Trivia: Until 2020, the CT ballot for multi-seat offices was worded:
    “Vote for Any Four” (or however many seats were open).
    The CT SOTS got at least one letter suggesting this could lead to the misconception that voting for less than that would render your vote invalid.
    Since 2021, the wording is of course:
    “Vote for Up to Four”.
    Now we really should update the current:
    “Vote for One” (yes this is a thing this year)
    which really sounds authoritarian…

    Ken Stamm

    • Thanks Ken. Yes, my district, District 9, is competitive, and with 2 incumbents part of the RTM29, the choices are obvious. My votes, FWIW, will be for the below 4 that are supportive of the citizens’ unencumbered right to petition the RTM

      Sal Liccione
      Doug Enslin
      Jennifer Johnson
      John Suggs

    • Ken, this is a fascinating analysis. We need a similar strategic voting analysis for BOE. That race confounds me. What are the options if there is no appeal in either the Dem or GOP tickets? Cast just one vote for the independent?

    • I Iooked up the results of the 2021 elections – The current moderator received 420 votes!

      That is the sole person who is deciding whether or not you can petition your “Representative” Town Meeting…

      He came in second in his district (4) – losing to Andrew Colabella by one vote.

      Democracy at its finest folks…Not…

    • Hi Ken,
      I am proud to state my campaign positions.

      I support preserving Parker Harding Plaza, downtown businesses, Westport Schools, the Long Lots Community Gardens, and the Westport Open Initiative. I am non-partisan and will promote civility and practical solutions to local challenges within the Westport community.

      Specifically related to the Long Lots Elementary/Long Lots Community Garden I believe the school should be built and the gardens saved. The synthetic turf baseball field is the obstacle to a solution which the community can embrace and be proud of. There are other fields and sites in town which can be improved and made more productive with the funds earmarked for a Long Lots baseball field. This field will NOT be used by the students of Long Lots during school hours and is of zero benefit to the students of Long Lots. In addition what we is not being looked at closer is the likelihood of greater flooding in the surrounding neighborhoods due to the loss of the garden and construction of new school.

  16. Jeff, how can you vote on $1,000,000 design funding before P&Z hears and makes recommendations on an 8-24?

    • There certainly is confusion as to the series of events leading up to all these approvals . My earlier suggestion that we will “most probably” vote on the design elements of the BOE was perhaps aggressive. It arose from the current agenda of the Nov. 1 Board of Finance meeting which still has that request as an agenda item. As you know, the RTM will vote on a BOF – approval within a short timeframe of that approval, which now could be deferred. We are guided by the BOF, despite the actions of the P&Z, which could create a different layer of review.

  17. Once again, RTM Moderator Jeff Wieser shows us who he gets his orders from, and how hypocritical he sounds when he says: “I think all are aware that as a gardener at my beloved plot #146, I am not indifferent to the outcome of this debate. But as moderator I will continue to be moderate; to stay away from the fray”…..
    If Wieser really 💖 his plot #146 in the Community Garden, his would not be a “bespoke legal opinion”, as so well described by Larry Weisman.

    • Carolanne, Jeff is being consistent regardless of the petitioned matter. He is not being hypocritical. Needs to be said. I just disagree with his position on what the Town Charter means.

      • Well said John. I agree all the RTM 29 were misguided by the failed interpretation of the word “shall”. Ridiculous analogies used to argue the points were made by several. Lou Mall clearly lost his ball with his interpretation was ridiculous. His point was that anyone could petition full of frivolous issues to the RTM…comparing it to “Are the Yankees better than the Red Sox or Westport should declare war on Weston.” Seriously?
        Anyone, who gathers 20 fellow resident to sign a petition “shall” be permitted to bring forward an issue for the RTM to hear. Not sure when this misguided interpretation of the charter took effect….but we truly are living in Bizzaro world these days.
        It appears that these interpretations will be left to the CT Courts to decide. This certainly will have an impact on a whole lot of other municipalities across Connecticut.

  18. Ken, you forgot one option: “Vote for None.” I live in District 5.

  19. The next meeting that calls for “civility” should see everyone picking up their belongings and walking out the door. Demanding on their way out a postponement.

    When someone has been kicked around enough, abused, neglected, denied their basic rights etc they eventually get angry. They raise their voice. They get mad. They might even yell.

    Then they are controlled, gas lighted, ignored, minimized, by being told “ to be civil”.
    That admonishment in itself, and everything it reflects, is the utter opposite of civility.

  20. John McCarthy,
    Consistency is not a virtue when it comprises a pattern of authoritarianism and poor decision-making. I think this closes the door participatory governance.
    Wouldn’t you think?

  21. Jeff, The BOF should not have the LLSBC again on their Nov 1 agenda until they go for an 8-24. To have another BOF hearing at meeting before the 8-24 is heard is incorrect. By circumventing the CGS 8-24 the town is inviting a lawsuit. (I’m sure you have noticed that at least one attorney has been monitoring everything). The Boards and Commissions need to stop all hearings until the 8-24 recommendation is made. The outcome of an 8-24 cannot be predicted and a two-week delay in going before the BOF will not change the timeline for completion of the school.

    Any other project on that property is a separate matter and requires its own 8-24.

    I understand your point above regarding the limitations of the RTM.

  22. The date October 3, 2023 (as well as October 2nd) might be forgotten, however the impact of what occurred will not.

    Using the strawman absurdity of not trusting the intelligence of Westport’s electorate to never petition the RTM to “Demand Declaration of War on Weston”, to debate “Popcorn”, to extol “Nazism” or debate “The Superiority of Rival Baseball Teams” (this is not hyperbole – they are their stated concerns), the now infamous RTM 29 were determined to strip YOU of YOUR ONLY guaranteed ability to have YOUR concerns heard at an official Town forum.

    To pejoritively and falsely assert that 20+ petitioning residents would want to agendaize such issues was not only insulting, it was downright fascist. What do you think they were really afraid of?

    This was the final step in totally controlling the Town agenda, and thereby controlling the electorate. These RTM29 who violated their sworn duty to uphold ALL provision of the Town Charter, and in so doing breach their responsibility to represent ALL constituent’s concerns without censorship, should hold their head in shame, apologize, and reverse this patronizing decision.

    However they will not. Instead these 29 will double down, asserting insipid rationalizations because they cannot permit uncomfortable conversation and dissent to possibly derail predetermined objectives. Sad, but true.

    What the RTM29 perpetrated was a gang rape followed by theft initiated by the RTM moderator, enabled by the Town Attorney and overseen by the First Select-person. Without your consent your pants were removed while YOUR right to be properly represented and heard where it might actually matter, was stolen.

    It is APPROPRIATE for those who are so violated to cry out and complain. Admonishing them to be quiet is what is “uncivil”. Intentionally mischaracterizing electorate anger, frustration and objection in order to silence the dissent is a strategy that is “uncivil”. Censorship in any form is what’s “uncivil”.

    Those RTM29 and other Town official perpetrators are now claiming a false victimhood by intentionally portraying resident passion and anger as being “rudeness” – a well known “uncivil” blueprint designed to squelch dissention. The antithesis of democracy.

    The reason this has, and continues to occur with impunity, is their reliance upon the electorate being both myopic and apathetic. Unfortunately, that has generally proven reliable.

    Perhaps the urbanization of small Town values and character, the urbanization of private homes and public spaces, and the urbanization of Town Hall leadership, further drives and enables this to occur.
    Election day is soon upon us. The RTM29 should be replaced by those sworn to actually represent constituent rights, and uphold the Town Charter as written – even with it being 74 years old.

    This election will prove whether the electorate is paying attention to this most critical of all issues, or if it actually doesn’t care that they have been thusly raped and assaulted.

  23. I understand and appreciate your analysis and argument… The root cause may, however, simply be a desire to cloak multiple failures to judge, conceive, organize, and execute necessary governmental activities. There’s nothing stronger than the desire to project one’s failures onto the people that call them out.

  24. Robert Harrington

    I understand the anger but I think Jeff Wieser’s commitment to the garden is very clear.

    I think some of the early emails and discussions between Town of Westport, PRC and LLSBC shortly after the LLSBC was formed point to a route for the garden that I think was determined long ago by some. I understand the anger and frustration here.

    I think the 11th hour shift in recommendation to pushing the Community Gardens to Barons South is another big problem.

    However, I would also encourage people to read the comments by Cathy Walsh who makes some very clear comments.

    “The BOF should not have the LLSBC again on their Nov 1 agenda until they go for an 8-24. To have another BOF hearing at meeting before the 8-24 is heard is incorrect”.

    We need the 8-24 recommendation to be made.

    “Any other project on that property is a separate matter and requires its own 8-24”

    I have been very vocal about the gardens – and will continue to do so – but I think all eyes need to turn to the P&Z

  25. Tom Crisper
    Forget the gardeners. What about the taxpayers in one of the highest taxing towns around? There is no bigger issue than government that disrespects its tax paying citizens by colluding and hiding huge pork barrel projects behind the proposal for a grossly expensive school. What about $100 million for a school in one of the most resourced school systems in the land. In a town where the majority of the population is over the age of 50. In a town that pays for mandatory school buses that parents refuse to use, instead creating dangerous traffic jams every morning and afternoon by driving their kids to school. What about the privilege of pay-to-play sports teams that are sucking up every inch of open space in a town that has none? What about a government that seemingly does not get that there is a need to preserve green space to give us clean air to breathe. Are these bigger better issues? Get out your check book and your inhaler, Mr. Crisper. Things are getting real in Westport.

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