Silber: Oppose One-Party Government

Tony Silber
Tony Silber

The Trumbull Times this week published a terrific letter by outgoing Town Council member Greg Basbagill, where he said he’s leaving town politics because of overwhelming disfunction on the Town Council. He lamented how the local Republicans have gerrymandered the Council so that there are now only four districts, including a crazy “superdistrict,” with more population and more representatives than other districts.

Basbagill said a massive majority and essentially a one-party government is not good for Trumbull, and I agree. Trumbull needs a balanced government, where the outcomes of votes are not predetermined. That’s the way democracy is supposed to work. But the Republicans are bent on creating a one-party system (because it’s currently to their advantage) which invites unchecked abuses on the one side and hopeless resignation on the other. Neither serves Trumbull’s interests. 

That’s the Republican legacy. Democrats, on the other hand, gave Trumbull 30 years of prosperity and a Town Council that actually debated issues in a meaningful way.

Make no mistake: Trumbull will not be well served because of the ill-advised Republican scheme to reduce the Council from seven to four districts. 

There’s another aspect to this, probably even more fundamental. In Trumbull, we really don’t have a truly equal legislative branch of government. The Council is functionally closer to a board of directors, one where the directors are appointed by the executive.

This is not the fault of the people on the Council. It’s rooted in the structure of the government and in the election process. The lack of caring, the boredom, the arrogance—all of the things that Basbagill described—those are just symptoms of the challenge we face.

Council people are part-time volunteers. The executive is a professional. The Council doesn't really take independent initiatives. It generally only responds (and generally signs off on) the initiatives of the professional elected executive. The first selectman has all the resources at his disposal, including town lawyers, town professional staff and the ability to fully research an issue. Plus, he has political power that’s probably too decisive. In our electoral system, Council members are subordinate to the executive, and they get nominated and elected largely at the whim of the executive. 

We should all want a more equal legislative branch. We should want a Council where the lines are not so one-sided that actual debate is meaningless—and where researching and understanding the issues can be useless, because too many members are going to vote party line anyway. 

So we ought to look at things we might be able to do. Here are a few:

• Start with a more balanced legislature, and an immediate return to seven districts. That way, one or two independent-minded members can actually make a difference.

• Also look at staggered elections, where the Council members have more political independence.

• What about considering a full-time legislative director and a town attorney who is hired by and reports to the Council?

• Perhaps we should modify the Charter as well to strengthen the Council and expand its powers.

We certainly can start just by having a conversation about these things.

Tony Silber

dave wilsoon October 24, 2013 at 08:42 AM
Funny, the Dem's didn't care when tax and spend RAY was in charge, raising taxes and telling seniors they should move out of Trumbull if they couldn't afford to pay.
Diane Chiota October 24, 2013 at 10:27 AM
For so many years, the Democrats had total control over the Council and the office of 1st Selectman, but never once raised this issue of a lop-sided government. Take a look at Council minutes, prior to 2009. Most of the votes were 14 D vs. 7 R. But when the shoe is on the other foot, all you hear is whine.
Cindy Katske October 24, 2013 at 11:42 AM
But the Republicans have changed things so that rather than a 14-7 split on the Council, we can now have an even more lopsided 17-4 split, and the Board of Ed can be a lopsided 5-2 split, rather than the current 4-3 split. This can only make things worse. That was the real point of both Gregg Basbagill's letter as well as Tony Silber's. The Democrats could easily have accomplished the same thing while in the majority, but they did not. A strong system of checks and balances and a meaningful majority voice are essential to a solid, balanced government.
david pia October 24, 2013 at 11:56 AM
So, will Mr. Silber be voting to send some Republican's to Hartford and balance things out next year?
david pia October 24, 2013 at 11:57 AM
"The Republicans" did not make the Town Council 14-7, "The People" did
Thomas Tesoro October 24, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Cindy is absolutely correct. The Democrats had the opportunity to decimate the Republican Party but chose instead to preserve minority representation. Further, the Republican Town Council refused to allow the Democrats on the Board of Finance to have ANY alternate of their choice. They even refused a sensible compromise where there would be one Republican alternate, One Democratic Alternate and an Unaffiliated alternate chosen by the Firrst Selectman. Very sad. Finally when I asked the Republican members on the BOF where they were willing to compromise on the education budget the response was: "We are comfortable with the First Selectman's Budget". The Council was so comfortable that 6 members did not bother to even pick up their budget books but voted anyway. I wonder if Ms. Chiota would care to comment on that? The four District plan was dumb. No Republican Council member can offer any logical rationale for the action. Very sad. One Party government, by either Party, is bad. Tony Silber and Greag Basbagill are 100% correct.
Cindy Katske October 24, 2013 at 12:11 PM
David Pia, did "the Republicans" listen to the people who commented on the 4-district plan when they voted to present it to "the people"? There were 16 of "the people" who spoke at the public hearing on the 4-district plan, 15 of whom vehemently opposed it, and the 16th of whom is a Republican appointee who (not surprisingly) liked the plan. Therefore, the vast majority of public input was completely ignored by "the Republicans," who (except for one) did not even have the courtesy to articulate a single reason for voting for the plan despite being asked, no, begged to state their reasons. You know this to be true.
david pia October 24, 2013 at 12:45 PM
Mr. Tesoro and Ms. Katske - When you generalize with the term "The Republicans" - I spoke out against the 4 district plan, and voted against it. I also spoke out (you were all there) very strongly, against not allowing a Democrat to have an alternate position for an elected BOF member. While the alternate may have been someone I'd oppose on issues, I still felt it was not fair for a member of a party to not have an alternate if the elected VOLUNTEER could not make a meeting. When the Democrats were in control, one of them had told me how when they were in charge, they "let the Republicans talk" and then ram their agenda down the Republicans throats. The person went on to say - "That's politics, now it's the Republican's turn" So to be fair, it happens on both sides, personally I don't like when either side does it. But I will be honest and admit - it happens both ways.
Thomas Tesoro October 24, 2013 at 01:29 PM
Mr. Pia is correct, in both cases he did stand for balanced government and fairness and I thank him for it.
Thomas Tesoro October 24, 2013 at 01:33 PM
One other comment, I do not believe two wrongs make a right. David is right on one thing, if the people want an imbalanced government they will vote for it and then will suffer the consequences.
david pia October 24, 2013 at 01:34 PM
I like balanced government as well and agree with Mr. Tesoro
dave wilsoon October 24, 2013 at 01:40 PM
Funny how whiny the limousine liberals get when our taxes stabilize and corruption is halted in town. Leaves them less tax dollars to waste. They need to do what their leader Obama suggests - go win an election. Trouble is the people are done with the TAX and SPEND DEMS. Seniors and taxpayers showed RAY the door for a reason.
Tony Silber October 24, 2013 at 01:58 PM
Folks, why do we have to attack each other about this? I'm not whining at all. Why does it have to be about payback? If you focus on what I'm saying, I'm suggesting that even Democrats, when they come back to power (as they most certainly will, either in two weeks or sometime down the road) should possess LESS power. I'm saying that the interests of the town are better served when more meaningful voices are heard—and where one or two independent thinkers can change the outcome of a vote. How is that bad? Maybe at some point when some Democratic friend is the FS, those words will be waved in front of me, but what the heck. Participatory democracy is better than one-party rule.
Tony Silber October 24, 2013 at 02:07 PM
Also, it's not just about the political parties, it's about the Council having more independent authority. One party rule is bad, and so is having a single person who expects everyone else to follow in lockstep is as well. At the end of the day, there is no justification for creating a lopsided Town Council, which Tim Herbst and his enablers on the TC have done. You're not defending it effectively by saying someone else did it too.
Kristy Ludlam Waizenegger October 24, 2013 at 02:39 PM
It's lopsided no matter what and I don't think that's a bad thing. How is 14 - 7 much different that what it could potentially be after this election? Anyway, you can bet if the dems ever get their majority back, they will go right back to jamming everything down the republicans throats. No, it's not about pay back, it's just the way it is. And as for the comment about about the claim that people who spoke at the public hearing were not listened to, I think it's safe to say that all those people were recruited to speak - it was like a staged production.
Thomas Tesoro October 24, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Does that include the League of Women voters who spoke against it. Sadly, the Council to this very day cannot articulate ONE logical reason for their actions. Sadder still that 6 members of the Council could not be bothered to pick up thier budget books but voted anyway. Maybe they would like to come here and explain that. In American History one sees the wisdom of checks and balances. The reason for the change was simple, the Republicans cannot defend their actions so they want no opposition. I know Vicki Tesoro worked very hard to offer a balanced 7district plan. It was not even considered. Mr. London claimed the 7 District plan was "gerrymandered". When asked where he saw that he said...nothing. Tony Scinto said the plan was dead on arrival. Not because of its merits but because a particular Trumbull citizen he does not like worked on it. Both gentlemen are running for re-election and if elected again you can expect more of the same. Elected officials unable to articulate a reason for their actions. Elected officials failing to do their home work on the budget but voting anyway, elected officials unable to offer any supporting evidence for bald faced assertions and finally elected officials putting their personal dislikes as reasons not to discuss important matters. This is what you get with one Party rule. if you like it vote for more of it.
Richard W. White October 24, 2013 at 05:20 PM
"Recruited to speak and scripted" Wow -- I put a lot of time into my statement and handouts that I prepared for the committee and to have them so trivially dismissed is a bit insulting. My comments focused on why it would be impossible for a 4 member minority to fill each of the standing sub-committees and any ad-hoc committees of the town council, something you consider to be "not much different". I had technical concerns as well, but shared them directly with the engineering department and registrar's staff. They didn't find them to be "recruited scripted". I spend way too much time on my public statements, I provide a printed copy with my contact information, and I am available for any follow up questions. Twice in the last year, my public statements have been ruled "out-of-order" or "not germane" by two different republican chairmen. You might not like what I have to say in a public hearing, but you can at least give me the benefit of the doubt that I'm presenting my own material and that I know what I'm talking about.
Richard W. White October 24, 2013 at 05:27 PM
How is a 17-4 Town Council different? There are four standing committees of the town council, each with six members and three alternates. The minority would have to provide two members and one alternate to each of these committees. In addition, at any given time, there are various ad-hoc committees, building committees, tri-board working groups, etc. A 17-4 Town Council will result in the minority party not being able to participate fully in town council meetings. They might as well not show up. Kristy -- in your opinion, who provided the majority of the numerous cleanup edits and fixes in charter revision and redistricting? Did having a TRTC controlled process result in a clean result?
Thomas Tesoro October 24, 2013 at 05:29 PM
I think we can see from Ms. Chiota's comments and others that this was all about "getting even" with real or perceived slights of the past. This is what you get with one Party rule, no matter the Party. As the pendulum swings, each side exacts retribution on the other. At no time are the people considered. There are people up at Booth Hill who used to walk to the polls now they drive to St. Joe's. Why? Is this any way to run a small Town government? If you like this kind of thing, vote for it but don't be surprised at the consequences.
Tony Silber October 24, 2013 at 07:14 PM
Kristy, it's not "just the way it is." It's new starting this year—for the first time in 29 or 30 years. Mr. Herbst is always running down Bridgeport, saying it's in the clutches of self-interested political forces. But if that's true, isn't it largely because Bridgeport is a one-party city? Is that rerally what we want in Trumbull? I say no.
Mark E Smith October 24, 2013 at 07:23 PM
Minority representation takes people right of free speech away by not allowing them to have the governement they want. Why is Minority representation NOT used in ANY form of government in the U.S.? Because it does not allow the voters to allow the government they want. Why give a party that the voters want out a minimum of 19% of the power? This is the minimum amount of power for not being wanted by the voters....Again, why isn't minority representation used in ANY other part of our State or Federal government?
Cindy Katske October 24, 2013 at 07:32 PM
Kristy, I find it shocking and offensive that you would suggest that the members of the public who spoke against the 4-district plan were "recruited" and "staged." That is outrageous! I know of no such plan, although I followed the redistricting process from the start and attended almost all of the meetings surrounding it. I had never met or heard of several of the speakers, and I had no idea who would show up or speak. It almost sounds paranoid for anyone to suggest that when a relatively large number of people show up to speak out against a measure, it must be because they were in cahoots. Maybe there's no hope for the parties working together if that's the kind of thinking that's going on by our elected officials. I really can't even believe you've suggested it.
Joan October 24, 2013 at 07:55 PM
Ms. Waizenegger accuses the speakers at a public hearing of being scripted and it being a "staged production?" How disappointing to think that one of our elected representatives would dismiss the comments of citizens who took the time to come to a meeting and voice their opinions based on some bizarre assumption she decided to make. I can't get over the irony, though, given the fact that just about every meeting of our Republican-dominated Town Council for the past two years has been "staged" and "scripted" to march in lockstep with Tim Herbst, with no regard to the input of their Democratic colleagues or, as we've seen here, that of concerned citizens. You can't make this stuff up! Sadly, the joke is on the ill-informed Trumbull voters who will no doubt continue to vote against their own best interests and re-elect Herbst and his lackeys.
Thomas Tesoro October 24, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Actually the Constitution of the United States protects minority rights. The United States Senate gives equal representation to a small State like CT and a massive State like Texas. Further to amend the Constitution you need a 2/3rds majority, not a simple majority. There are many more examples. The Founding Fathers correctly feared tyranny of the majority and put in place checks and balances to prevent such an occurrence. I doubt the voters in Trumbull voted knowing their representatives could not be bothered to pick up their budget books. That would have been a wonderful story had anyone bothered to cover it. In a small Town like Trumbull where achieving a majority is not that difficult the preservation of minority rights is essential. It is sad the power mad Republicans (not Mr. Pia) are more concerned with exacting retribution than listening to the opinions of others.
dave wilsoon October 25, 2013 at 08:56 AM
Correction Tony Bridgeport is a one party DEMOCRAT CONTROLLED disaster, with more corruption than you can tally. Is this what we should be aspiring to here?- ie, a city that has to have the entire State pay for it's bloated and failing educational system. Really ?? Quick bring back Tax and Spend Ray so we can destroy our town some more. You limousine Liberals are amazingly dangerous to the taxpayers
Kristy Waizenegger October 25, 2013 at 10:40 AM
Round and round we go. We've been reading the same comments for 4 years. It's exhausting and perhaps it's time to admit that you are all part of the problem. You all know that if the dems got majority back that they would all revert back to the very behaviors that you so vehemently criticize here. When republicans agree with republicans, you call it rubber stamping. When republicans agree with you, you call it compromise. When dems change things, you says it's good. When republicans change things, you say it's bad. The double Standard makes all things possible. It's enough already. I have a lot of respect for some of you and I wish you all well. Have a nice day.
Tony Silber October 25, 2013 at 01:44 PM
dave wilsoon, did you read what I said about not wanting to be a one-party town like Bridgeport? I mean, I get it, you want to agitate and you want shock value, but still. Kristy, I have a radical idea: Politics doesn't always have to be zero sum, meaning in order for me to win, you have to lose. There are ways of occasionally finding common ground, even in Trumbull. Sounds like you're a bit fatalistic about that, and that you're okay with the way things are. But even Tim Herbst the other night said you can compromise on issues without compromising your principles. Perhaps that's just empty rhetoric from Tim, but what he said is different from what you're saying, if I understand you correctly. What he said about collaboration is worth trying to act on. How can anyone conclude the culture is cynical and non-productive without thinking about whether it's possible to change it?
Kristy Waizenegger October 25, 2013 at 02:20 PM
Tony - I really do appreciate your ideas and your thoughts. Of course I support collaboration - what I'm saying is that you guys only call it collaboration if you get your way. I'm not fatalistic, I'm just telling it like it is. You all did nothing to change the culture when you were in the majority - you all thought it was fine - sorry but it's true. By the way, even when we do compromise we kept ripped - just look at the alarm ordinance - we compromised on the terms of the ordinance and one of your dem candidates has never gotten off his soap box about how this was handled by the republicans and yet, we all compromised and the ordinance had bi-partisan support. You see what I'm saying Tony? We can't win. Damned if we do, damned if we don't and people on your side are perpetuating it. I hope you're talking to them too. It didn't get this way because of one side of the aisle - it was a collaboration.
Thomas Tesoro October 25, 2013 at 03:35 PM
Actually that is not completely accurate. During the budget season it was obvious that the R's had no intention of making much of a move so I asked a simple question, at what point are you willing to compromise and I will meet you there. The response, we are comfortable with the FS budget. Fine, say that at the beginning and I can save myself countless hours of preparation and review. When the D's were in charge they had the power to decimate the R's but chose not to do it. Minority representation was preserved, and Kathy McGannon and I would meet with Bill Crooks to look for opportunites to create a better budget. Budgets during my first two years generally passed 5 to 1 or 6 to 0. Even with a 3 to 3 split we were able to come up with a 6 to 0 budget. Of course there were times when the D's acted goofy but now there is little to no compromise on anything of significance because there is One Party rule without restraint. In my 8 years on the BOF and for years before that the BOF never punted on the mil rate over whether or not to raid the general fund to artificially lower the tax rate. To me, the entire budget process this year was a charade. Once the FS set the budget the rest was theater. IMHO of course.
Benjamin Doyle McCormack October 27, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Constructing this argument along party lines is stupid. I took Gregg Basbagil's classes at Trumbull High School; he's smart and leans Democratic, but he's an even-minded person, and he entered this debacle after the Republicans had taken over the council, so talking to him as if he is the Democrat to blame for decimating Republicans a few years ago is completely invalid. Treating every Democrat or Republican as identical is like singling out a random white person and blaming him or her for slavery. It's kind of weird if you think about it. Starting up the "Where were the Democrats when" argument is just an invitation to keep the problem going. If, in another few years, the situation has spun around, the majority Democrats, when Republicans protest, could say "Where were the Republicans when..." and the cycle would continue. That it's balanced long-term doesn't make it okay. The problem of One Party Rule exists for better or for worse. That a town council sees fit to divide itself along party lines is preposterous to begin with. That the Republicans and Democrats have to have little get-togethers to plan out strategy before facing each other in council meetings is pathetic, honestly - even if it's been done before. It's pathetic in national politics; it's even more despicable in town politics. That this much anger is being brewed over town politics should be a warning bell. Tim Herbst is unqualified and emotionally-immature as a leader. His little Tony Soprano jibe at the debate proves that much. I don't feel comfortable with someone that hostile and cheap being in charge of my town's politics, and at this point, I have no idea whether Martha will be the answer, but I'm sure as hell willing to give it a try.


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