Moderator Defends RTM Against Attacks

This morning, “06880” posted “RTM 101: What It Is, And Does.” Commenters quickly weighed in, offering their views of our town’s non-partisan legislative body. 

Representative Town Meeting moderator Jeff Wieser responds:

Thanks to Nancy Kail for outlining the responsibilities of the RTM.

As the moderator, I have remained moderate when it comes to the opinions expressed over the past few months, and following her post. But I get angry when the RTM as a body is attacked, and this comment is well past due.

A small number of Westport residents has very publicly maligned the 82.8 % of the entire RTM body who did not agree with their opinion regarding petitions.

The RTM listened to over 5 hours of debate in committee and RTM meetings on the subject of public access to our monthly meetings.

We listened to supporting legal input from our town attorney (who in more than 20 years has served 2 Republican and 2 Democratic administrations in Westport, and is a former RTM deputy moderator) and our assistant town attorney (who has served the municipal legal needs of Westport for 6 years, and is a former RTM moderator).

And we listened to the petitioners.

With all that input, 29 of the 35 RTM members present agreed that our role is to act on matters that have been assigned to us under the Town Charter. Ironically, it was a petition by electors that led to the very discussion and decision that this group is criticizing.

20 electors certainly still have the ability to petition the RTM for matters on which the RTM is empowered to act. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible.

I am very proud of all the actions of the volunteer, non-partisan RTM. I hope that the vitriol applied to this group of 36 well-meaning, non-partisan legislators is recognized as exactly that: vitriol by a small vocal group of people angry that 82.8% of intelligent, responsible legislators — willing to look at all legal sides of an issue — disagreed with them.

Please vote tomorrow and know that all current RTM members, and all those willing to volunteer to serve, deserve your close attention.

20 responses to “Moderator Defends RTM Against Attacks

  1. Jeff
    I understand your frustration; but I think the “small loud group” has much more backing in the community than given credit. Going forward, I would like this question explored outside the bubble of town hall, and quickly.

    In District 9, only one of my reps sought my view on the petitions matter. Yes, my household is a group of only two, but my D9 neighbors corroborate the same to me. What, then, informed their votes on the matter?

    Two of my biggest concerns about the current-day RTM is the lack of interest to serve, as well as apathy on the part of the electorate. One third of the 9 RTM districts have unopposed races; another three have one challenger for the four seats. In short, two-thirds of the RTM incumbents generally have no opposition.

    This tells me one of the following:
    The electorate is satisfied with the current state;
    This electorate doesn’t care;
    The electorate isn’t paying attention.

    As for me, I wasn’t paying attention; heretofore I’ll be more engaged. I look forward to spending more time with the RTM.

    The RTM is a group of dedicated volunteers; yes they are. But that doesn’t always mean members are well informed, or engaged with their constituents. If so, make it more obvious.

    I expect my representatives to poll their district frequently for input on issues, yet many do not even respond to questions or comments received. The RTM provides an email system to contact our reps; I can assure you there is rarely a response to those emails.

    I challenge RTM members to “show and tell” the citizen views they receive at each monthly meeting. Communication works much better when it is two-way, not top down. And it involves listening.

    At the petitions vote, many on The RTM vowed to find a better way to bring bottom-up issues to the agenda. Get to it!

    See you soon!

  2. Jeff Wieser is one of the smartest, fairest and considerate people I know. He is what all public servants should be. We are so lucky to have him as our Moderator.

  3. I agree with Toni and Bob. I viewed the effort to allow electors to get items before the RTM as an effort, in part, to address the issue of “silos” in our Town government structure. I think, too often, elected officials and the bodies on which they serve focus only on the issues presented to them and then mostly on what those individuals and bodies believe to be in their purview. For me, this has many negatives, two of which are a reduction of dialogue on important matters and a failure to receive inputs from our thoughtful and intelligent elected officials outside of meetings of the bodies on which they serve.

  4. Balderdash ‼️
    Jeff thinking a “small number” shows how out of touch the moderator is with Westport.

    • Dumbest* people* but ok. Of all things you could have said and how you said it, you chose this? I hope you do not speak or treat your staff in such a way.

      Never coming to Nomade again.

      • Susan ! I don’t care if you ever came to nômade or ever come to nômade again… spell check for dumbest.
        My very loud necessary voice is not going to be stopped by whether or not YOU choose to eat in a restaurant I have invested in.
        Oh and by the way you are welcome for nômade.

        I literally do not engage in politics to have ppl like you try to shut me up or censor me.
        So as it stands Wieser is a disgrace !!!!
        An unmitigated outrageous disgrace.
        As are the RTM29
        And as for my restaurant which your petty petty mind had to include in politics..
        please ghost it. I literally do not care.

    • The level of rudeness and lack of decorum from people on this and the original post is shocking. I’m surprised you’re letting this continue Dan.

      • Bert S. Twombly

        Hi Deb,
        You ask a very salient question. However, If Dan gets caught censoring he loses his non-profit status, the IRS comes calling and it’s a one-way ticket to Danbury.

        • Bert S. Twombly

          Obviously, my oblique reference to the federal pen at “Dan”bury went right over the head of the Wetspot intelligentsia. When Gerry The K retired sardonicism stopped being taught as a second language.

  5. Help me understand, Jeff or any Representative (particularly District 9)… in March 2022 the Westport RTM passed a resolution supporting Ukraine; in June 2022 the Westport RTM passed a resolution supporting Roe v Wade. Since I’ve lived in Westport the RTM has passed resolutions condemning foreign wars, supporting or opposing national policies, etc.

    How is the RTM’s decision to have the moderator and town attorney vet and gatekeep what can be petitioned consistent with its charge and history?

    • I may have appeared to be asking a rhetorical question, however I wasn’t. Let me reframe my concern into a simpler question:

      Was the town attorney consulted as to whether the following request from two RTM member was within the purview of the Westport RTM?

      “ 9. To take such action as the meeting may determine, upon the request of at least two RTM members, to adopt a sense of the meeting resolution asserting that Westport supports the constitutional rights and principles established in Roe v. Wade and opposes the elimination of those rights by any subsequent Supreme Court decision.” Minutes of RTM meeting 6/7/22

      If “yes” what was the rationale? If “no” why not—and why was the town attorney brought in for the recent case?

  6. I do not doubt you and 29 representatives acted in good faith and relied upon a recent legal opinion by the town’s attorneys to support your decisions. I think that opinion is seriously flawed both on public policy grounds and explicitly on Westport’s Town Code.

    Our Founders established a government that turned persons who were previously subjects of a ruling elite into citizens. A legitimate government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed”. We should guard these rights, even in local government proceedings. That right to be heard by our elected representatives was enshrined in the Town Code provision that the “Moderator…shall place on the agenda of the Representative Town Meeting such matters as…20 electors of the Town may request by written notice….”

    The Connecticut General Statutes state that “words and phrases shall be construed according to the commonly approved usage of the language”. Westport’s Planning and Zoning regulations built on this concept by stating “Words not specifically defined herein shall be used as defined in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary no more that 5 years old. The most recent Webster’s (1999) states the word shall used in laws, regulations or directives is mandatory.

    Finally, Section 1-2 of the general provisions governing the Westport Code of Ordinances states in part:
    “Shall The term ‘shall’ is to be construed as being mandatory.”

  7. Jeff,
    It is unseemly to time your “break silence” moment to the brink of the election in this manner. I’m confident that you are aware of the 75 feet rule regarding signage endorsements, yet today at the eleventh hour you stake your post within arms length of the electorate in an attempt to put your thumb on the scale for the candidates you prefer. How is that fairness?

    Instead of “getting angry” that so many Town residents have been “attacking” the RTM (your perception), the more appropriate reaction should be to understand the reasons why. No one is attacking the “RTM”; they are angry over the “process” the “procedures”, and the “decisions” that has been made absent valid representation of the interests of those whom they are sworn to serve. You and the other RTM29 are the poster children of this egregious failure.

    Being the instigator of much of the rancor, I’m certain it is difficult for you to hear, and even harder for you to separate and reflect upon. It’s so important that you do so – but your myopic view is preventing this.

    And honesty matters. Case in point: You are here declaring:
    “20 electors certainly still have the ability to petition the RTM for matters on which the RTM is empowered to act. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible.” THIS is the irresponsible statement because it intentionally diverts from the underlying issue: The RTM29 has intentionally censored the public’s right to unfettered expression AND your assertion avoids the “uncomfortable truth” that the RTM has a long tradition of discussing matters well beyond the RTM’s jurisdiction. Now YOU want the power to censor and to decide which matters get attention.

    In addition, you forget to mention the YOU ALSO pilfered the power to decide the TIMING of when even RTM jurisdictional issues can get discussed. Given the RTM’s broad investigatory powers over virtually every aspect of Town governance, in concert with its ability to refer ANY matter to one of the numerous RTM oversight committees as it desires, this control is not only unnecessary, it’s pure censorship: Censorship to not only decide what gets discussed, but when. It is a way of guaranteeing even jurisdictional issues do not get discussed in a fashion sufficiently timely to have genuine impact.

    That you still do not comprehend this is beyond possible. What are you and the RTM29 really so afraid of? No petition has ever brought “frivolous” issues to the RTM.

    Pandering to your RTM29 is beneath the office of the RTM moderator. You are better than this. The residents have the right, the obligation, to reflect their discontent…and when they feel ignored, it can get “vitriolic”. YOU own some of this response.

    AND your current defense of your inappropriate action simply doubles down on what the residents find so repugnant. Don’t your comprehend this?

    The reliance upon the Town Attorney for a “one-person’s opinion” for such consequential decisions as an assault upon the Town Charter’s provision guaranteeing resident right to petition their representatives in an unfiltered manner is irresponsible. It is NOT a reasonable defense, and you even offering it absent a opposing viewpoint reiterates your blindness to this. You should have sought other opinion prior to making this determination. Fairness understands the importance of this.

    Obtaining resident endorsement prior to taking such action that limits resident’s ability to petition their representatives should have occurred – but it didn’t; even worse your RTM 29 does not even understand its importance as they have declared it to be unnecessary.

    Instead of this “puff piece”, you should be apologizing to Westport’s residents for having made mistakes. Simple. It happens. Everyone makes mistakes. Just apologize and reverse course.

  8. If it pleases you King Jeff Wieser:

    Respectfully I ask you to understand that when you strip away the public’s basic and long standing right to petition their government please don”t feign surprise and clutch your pearls when folks push back, often stridently. Who can blame them and who will strip away their First Amendment rights?

    On the Westport29…Why now? Does it have to do with the Tooker administration’s sink into opacity time and again? Hopefully a new administration will eventually provide transparency. By shining sunlight we can have a civil debate even if we don’t agree.

    May I propose a compromise? At the start of every RTM members vote on whether to hear any lawfully submitted petition at the next meeting on the agenda – that way we have everyone on the record on each issue and the public can see who wants to hear matters important to them.

    That wiould make for a more educated public come Election Day.

    Still too much transparency? Thought so…

  9. My simple question for Jeff would be Why we didn’t ask for a legal opinion from the State rather from a town attorney who works at the privilege of the First Selectwoman, who is pushing the agendas about which citizens of Westport are concerned?

    Honestly, your behavior is what is bringing discredit to RTM, and I hope that you have the decency to step down from the Moderator role after the election.

  10. Jeff is under the first select woman’s hand. Not thumb hand. He does not speak for his constituents. In fact he speaks against them
    Jeff is a disaster. In an uncontested district.. so you are stuck with him.

  11. Jeff is quite literally full of sh$&

  12. I think it is only proper that this issue be kicked up to the state level as it can have a chilling effect for many municipalities in Connecticut. I think this is a huge infringement on our 1st amendment and access to our RTM. If someone takes the time to petition for an issue to be heard, it “shall” be the duty of the RTM to listen to it. This idea that frivolous issues will be brought forward is silly. If the RTM can vote on resolutions that are national issues….truly having little to do with “town” issues then they can have the obligation to hear a petition that pertains to town issues that has garnered 20 signatures.

What do you think? Please comment! Remember: All commenters must use full, real names!