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Fairfield Republicans Defend 'Secret' Meetings

James Millington and Edward Bateson are the majority leader and deputy majority leader, respectively, of Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting. They submitted this letter to the editor in response to criticism of how the Republican Caucus handled the 2011-12 budget process.

As the majority leader and deputy majority leader of the Republican Caucus of the RTM, we could not help but respond to several recent accusations that the Republican RTM Budget Focus Groups are meeting in “secret.”

First of all, let us explain how the focus groups came to be. Republicans hold 38 out of 50 seats on the RTM.  With this large majority, we decided last year that we had a unique opportunity to break the budget into sections and assign small groups to completely review each section line by line. There is a massive amount of detail in the nearly $260 million budget. Hundreds of line items make up our budget, and it is not clear exactly what is built into every line. To be sure that we had performed our due diligence in reviewing the budget in our limited time, we formed seven focus groups.

In the weeks that followed, the RTM members have attended many public meeting, heard from department heads and talked to citizens at meetings and via email. Those members not able to attend all the meetings have been reviewing the meeting online and on TV compliments of Fair TV. (Special thanks to Fair TV for their comprehensive coverage of the budget meetings.)

To set the record straight, there have been no “secret” meetings.  The content of the budget is not a secret, what goes into each line item is not a secret and any recommendations that may be made for reductions will not be a secret.  At the April RTM meeting, we will announce the areas in which we plan to make reductions. The public and our colleagues will have ample time to review, and time will be available for debate and discussions at the May 2 budget meeting.

In Washington, D.C., and Fairfield, it is common practice for members of political parties to meet privately to form their budget strategies and bounce ideas off one another. These meetings are commonly referred to as a caucus, and only members of the body from that party and ex-officio members are allowed to attend. On the Republican side of the aisle of the RTM, only Selectman Walsh and Board of Finance Chairman Flynn can attend our caucus as they are the only ex-officio Republicans on the RTM.

In Fairfield, Republicans and Democrats meet privately in caucus before each RTM meetings. The public and non-members are not allowed to attend. However, these meetings have never been deemed “secret.” The meetings are a vital part of the political process in which we speak freely of our ideas, vet the ideas of others and try to come to a consensus on the issues. Both political parties can have caucuses whenever they wish outside of the general meeting to discuss whatever they wish.

Our focus groups are nothing more than work groups or mini-caucuses. They are too small to officially classify as a caucus but achieve much of the same goals as a caucus.

The residents of Fairfield elected us to take a hard look at the budget. In our opinion, we needed to spend more time to review the budget outside of the regularly scheduled meetings. As a result, our members are working diligently to make sure that any reductions we put forth are well researched, well thought out and well vetted among our members. We encourage the Democrats to do the same, and we look forward to an open public debate of all our ideas.

Regardless of what side of the aisle you are on, we are all working hard to do the best we can in these tough economic times, and we continue to strive to preserve all that makes Fairfield a great place to live.

James Millington (R-9)

RTM Majority Leader

Edward Bateson (R-3)

RTM Deputy Majority Leader

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