RTM member Clarence Hayes speaking at Tuesday’s meeting.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting on Tuesday spent the bulk of its meeting debating the “inclusionary housing fee” at the rate suggested in December by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

After two and a half hours, surprising no one, the RTM voted overwhelmingly, 30-1, to pass the new fee, with Jimmy Izzo, District 4, opposing. It means new zoning permits will bring in $5 for every $1,000 spent on zoning permit construction costs.

But a motion from the floor brought by new member Clarence Hayes, District 4, asking the body to take another look at the RTM’s previously anointed Long Lots School Building Committee, caused quite a rumpus.

“Resolved that the RTM moderator use his authority under the rules to appoint an ad hoc committee for the one-time purpose of investigating possible modifications to the memberships powers and obligations of the Long Lots School Building Committee which was established by the RTM,” Hayes said.

The reconstruction of Long Lots School is the town’s latest major project, perhaps costing $100 million. Questions have been raised about the committee’s transparency, and why its building committee meetings are not recorded and archived.

RTM Moderator Jeff Wieser said Hayes’s motion would need a two-thirds vote to be added to the RTM’s agenda, and then a simple majority to create the committee.

The matter clearly had some triggered.

Deputy Moderator Lauran Karpf asked if the motion was unsuccessful, could it be brought back at a future hearing.

Lauren Karpf.
Deputy RTM Moderator Lauren Karpf

“Is it just now or then? We’re just going to keep discussing this every month?” she exclaimed.

“At what point can you not bring the same motion over and over and over on the same thing to discuss every single meeting?” she asked.

“This is ridiculous …,” she said as Wieser banged his gavel, an occurrence he’s not known for, but wielded more than once Tuesday night.

Several Long Lots parents scrambled to the meeting.

“This seems to us parents who are here in force at the last minute, and we are not going to accept another delay,” said Veronika Tysseland.

“This motion seems for some reason to want to delay the process, we have yet to figure out those reasons,” Tysseland said.

“This school needs to be built now,” she said.

Seth Braunstein, District 6, weighed in with lengthy comments.

Seth Braunstein.
Seth Braunstein

“The Long Lots School Committee is a just body,” he said. “That was fairly and fully and adequately disclosed, vetted, voted upon.”

“Fair point,” Wieser said, breaking in.

“What’s the fair point?” Braunstein said. “Just hold on. That I am opposing the special interests? And trying to say and call this for what it is? I’m not gonna be silenced.”

“I am saying, in no uncertain terms, that it is not a transparent process,” he said. “And for people who have been screaming about transparency, boy, it’s pretty incredible that there’s now an effort to do an end-run where an important constituency doesn’t have a voice.”

“What just occurred is probably the most dysfunctional process that has occurred since the Long Lots School Building Committee was put together,” said Andrew Colabella, District 4.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “I’m not going to let a mirage of keyboard warriors who call [First Selectwoman] Jen Tooker or [Selectwoman] Andrea Moore or Jay Keenan, Don O’Day and other members of the Long Lots School Building Committee horrible names and then go after the parents.”

Dick Lowenstein.
Dick Lowenstein

“You are making it personal, you are making it personal, we are not doing this tonight,” Colabella said.

 Dick Lowenstein, District 5, took a more tempered tone.

“I don’t like the use of the ‘we’ OK in conversation, it implies that if you’re not with the we, you’re on the other side,” he said. “And I think that when people speak at this podium, they must speak for themselves, not for us. That’s a very important point I think in terms of decorum.”

“I sent comments to the whole RTM,” Hayes said. “I withdraw the motion, I think it’s a little bit mis-characterized, we’re starting to debate things which aren’t real. The commentary hasn’t addressed anything that I’ve said or suggested — could we do this better from a process prospective, a better transparency.”

A vote on Hayes’s motion appeared evenly split but needed two-thirds to proceed. Hayes ultimately withdrew this motion.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 36 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here..