Thursday, February 22, 2024

Opinion: The Imbalance of Power

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Our nation was built on the ideals of freedom—the freedom to choose our leaders, our homes, our places of worship—all under the safeguard of checks and balances. Last November, our values were on the ballot—Stratford residents showed up and voted. The results were a shock to some but expected to those who have been paying attention to the issues affecting our residents.

For instance, one obvious factor is our cost of living. Town debt has ballooned over 185% during this Administration, yet there is no formidable plan to consolidate our debt long-term. Schools also come up a lot when I speak to residents. Our Board of Education has faced annual scrutiny for its financial security, which burdens existing and future Stratford generations. That’s why I worked hard last fiscal year to secure an additional million dollars by utilizing unused ARPA dollars to help maintain essential financial obligations and avert significant layoffs. I did this by working across the aisle with the Council, the Mayor and my counterparts to pass the first unanimously supported bipartisan budget in recent years.

On the Board of Education, where one Republican and two Democrats were newly elected, no single Democrat chairs any of its eight committees despite securing three seats on the Board of seven. Two elected BOE members and educators, Lisa Carroll-Fabian and Christopher Cormier, were denied Chair of the Curriculum Committee. Instead, it is led by a non-elected resident who is not an educator. To complicate matters, State GOP Party Chair Ben Proto, a Stratford BOE Electorate member totaling nearly twenty years of service, was stripped of his Finance Committee appointment for reasons I can’t wrap my head around. Sadly, this imbalance of power and make-you-own-rules type of governing is not just limited to our Board of Education.

After months of bipartisan negotiations following a historic election–setting up a five-to-five Council, the first in decades–the Stratford Town Council passed its rules (6-4) this January that further solidify Leadership’s inability to work across the aisle and accept the results of the November election.

The new Council rules undermine public comment civility, disregard Stratford voters’ intention of last November, and are exacerbated by the Mayor’s lack of transparency, as she failed to share the names of dozens of nominees for ten Town Commissions. My adversaries might say Committee Chairs were selected based on experience, but isn’t experience what elected these new members to the Council? It’s why voters voted for them to ensure their voice is at the table. Denying Democrats equal leadership positions is a slap in the face to all Stratford Residents, especially to those who came out to vote.

Stratford residents value working together to solve the issues facing our community—we leave our differences behind and roll up our sleeves to do the hard work and get the job done. I’ve heard this shared value at every doorstep, business and school I’ve visited while serving on the Town Council. Yet, Republican Leadership chooses to live in an alternate reality where there is still a Republican majority, ignoring the results of a historic local election. It’s time the people reminded Leadership that this town might have residents in both major parties and some unaffiliated, but that will never stop our collaboration to solve tough issues.

While no provision in the Town Charter can avoid these shameless, unethical power grabs in both the Town Council and the Board of Education, there is a standard we expect our public servants to meet. I was elected to a third term on the Town Council not only because I value and adhere to these expectations of public service but also because I pride myself on being able to work across the aisle to get the job done.

When ongoing challenges arise, like debt and school funding, the blame rests with those in power. They can step up to the challenge or place the blame on others. Instead of dealing with longstanding, thorny issues like protecting residents from Town debt and inflation, Leadership chooses to put party over people – even those in their own party. Residents, I urge you. Call your Town Councilors (203) 385-4035 the Mayor’s Office (203) 385-4001 to rectify this error. Speak up while you still can with these new Council rules. This behavior cannot be left unchecked and will only worsen if we sit idly by.

Kaitlyn Shake is the Democratic Party Leader on the Stratford Town Council, representing District 7. Previously, Shake represented District 2 on the Town Council 2019-2023.

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