2018-05-10 / Front Page

Council reverses itself on 3 bonds

School, library and golf clubhouse now separate questions

The Democratic councilors delivered mea culpas before ultimately voting to unbundle the $9.8 million bond referendum into three separate questions.

“I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong,” said Kristine Trocki, council president.

The unanimous decision Monday night, in front of a standing-room-only crowd, was fueled by a petition signed by nearly 800 taxpayers that implored the councilors to rescind their April 2 vote. That 4-1 decision, with Republican Blake Dickinson dissenting, combined three projects into a single vote.

Those measures included $5.9 million in school repairs, $2.9 million to build a new golf course clubhouse and $1 million for library maintenance. With Monday’s vote, a referendum for each of these projects will appear as a separate question in November, and each will need a simple majority to pass.

“What your petition makes clear to me, as somebody who strives to solve problems, is that I had created one,” Councilwoman Mary Meagher said.

Following weeks of “having this inner debate with myself,” Meagher, who led the charge last month to bundle the projects, offered a second motion to separate them. The final straw, she said, was when she received the petition Friday.

“I counted 29 sheets of signatures, most of them double-sided,” she said. “And though you might not believe me when I tell you this, I just started to smile. Because this is democracy at its most direct.”

Tom Tighe, a two-term Democratic councilman from 2012-16, spearheaded the petition. By combining the three options, he said, voters were not given “the right” to support one project while opposing another. A vote for the schools, for example, would mean a vote for the clubhouse and library.

“We were only given one way to vote,” he said. “Our way or the highway. That’s what it sounds like.”

Tighe’s comments were followed by a resounding round of applause.

Before allowing Tighe to speak, Trocki opened the discussion with her thoughts. While she still believes bundling the projects is “fiscally sound,” the outcry was enough to sway her.

“The petition is exactly what the community should do when it feels passionate about an issue that may need to be reexamined,” she said. “This is truly an example of the democratic process. As I hope all or most of you know, I very much believe in an open, democratic, transparent and respectful process when dealing with the community, regardless of whether you share my position or not. I have taken my role as town council president very seriously in what is now my sixth year. I want you to know that based on these signatures, I am willing to consider unbundling the bond. I am willing to do so because I believed that the goals of transparency and democracy are more important than any political position.”

Councilman Gene Mihaly pointed to the “dismal voting patterns” across the nation as the reason he voted to bundle the projects. Tighe’s petition, however, proved to him that this community was different.

“I’m thrilled to see the intensity in interest of people wanting to vote,” he said. “You don’t want to vote once, you want to vote three times. That’s just marvelous.”

As a former California resident and professional political scientist, Mihaly said voters tend to stay away from polls when ballot questions are cumbersome and confusing. He pointed to research that indicated long ballots “depressed voter interest.”

“That sure as hell isn’t a problem here,” he said.

While Trocki commended Tighe and his supporters, she did take exception to Dickinson’s comments in the interim. Following the April 2 vote, he said the decision to combine the three projects was “sneaky and underhanded.”

“All decisions, including the decision to bundle the bond, are made in open public meetings, with full transparency, and with a council that is doing its best every single meeting to do the right thing,” Trocki said. “Suggesting or acting otherwise, especially for political gain, is completely unacceptable.”

Meagher agreed, saying Dickinson’s comments “are not just unfair, but also untrue.”

“Unfortunately, that comes with the territory that is politics,” she said.

Dickinson defended himself. He said the comments were a reflection of “people who don’t think they have a voice.” Dickinson then apologized for the remarks.

“If I scathed anybody, it’s not me personally,” he said.

While the four Democrats agreed to unbundle the bond, they also reiterated their position to get all three projects approved in November.

“All are needed and necessary,” said Mike White, vice president. “If it’s not done now, it may cost us more money later.”

“I still very much believe in each of these three projects, whether they are bundled or independent,” Trocki added. “I believe that they all have merit on their own, but frankly they all need to be done, regardless of how the bonds are structured.”

Before closing the debate, White commended the community for exercising its civic duty.

“Too bad national politics can’t get people from all different parties to come together like this,” he said. “Keep up the good work.”

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