Change in policy
Next Monday, June 5, at the financial town meeting, approximately one out of every 20 Jamestown voters will make financial decisions that will determine the property tax bills for everyone else.
What's even more amazing is that these 250 or so "delegates," including myself, are given the power to control the financial obligations of Jamestown merely by showing up.
At a debate during the previous elections for Town Council, I was pitted against Council President Long regarding this very subject. His position was that the financial town meeting was mostly a formality and had outlived its purpose.
I disagreed, stating that the tradition of the event was one of the last venues where a community could act as one body, face to face, determining its future.
Unfortunately, I'm writing this letter because after doing research on the June 5 meeting I'm beginning to think that Council President Long's position is best.
When I learned a $3 million bond for the town hall was on the agenda, I wondered why a decision this important, and one that is 50 percent higher than originally proposed, was not offered on a full-day referendum.
The last time a large expenditure for a town facility was requested, it was decided by 3,000 Jamestown citizens not 250. What changed?
Could it be because Jamestowners voted to reject that $2.4 million project? Did town officials want to avoid the risk of losing their new facilities with an all-day referendum?
My research uncovered what many would call an obvious selfserving strategy, and yes, it was probably based on that previous ballot failure, but it was not by this administration.
The switch was made during last year's financial town meeting and apparently conjured up by a previous town administrator "who's name shall not be mentioned." (For those Harry Potter fans.)
In a nutshell, here's what happened. At the financial town meeting a year ago, Resolution #4 was approved for spending up to $300,000 for architects, engineers etc. to design a new town hall. On further review of the resolution language, it also required future "construction appropriations" to be approved only at a financial town meeting.
That's right, when we approved the spending of the $300,000 to design a town hall, we also gave away our right to have all Jamestowners decide on the final expenditures. By presenting the directive as if it were a safeguard against proceeding without voter approval, it distracted us from realizing there would be "no" all-day, islandwide referendum.
Knowing it's possible to stack a financial town meeting with friends, town employees, their families and project benefactors, I believe the previous town administrator pretty much guaranteed he would be able to get the money for his new executive office, in "our" new town hall, by adding that clause. It was a very devious tactic.
I have not been able to learn if any council members supported the change in policy, but in either case, if a deliberate strategy was used to manipulate the decision process "away from the many" and "over to the few," then yes, it's probably time to do away with the financial town meeting and force all major expenditures to be approved through an allday referendum.
Until that happens, I urge all concerned citizens to drop by the Lawn Avenue School Monday night at 7 p.m. and vote on important financial decisions that will be reflected in your future tax bills.