Letter: Another Referendum, Stay Unemotional

To the Editor:

Yet another referendum is upon us. Part Deux for the capital budget that resulted in an incredible tie! Once again, I have no intention telling anyone how to vote, but a lot of you have asked me how I’m voting. I’m happy to lay my cards out on the table here and say I’m planning to vote Yes, but I appreciate it’s a tricky and confusing decision for many. Because of this trickiness and confusion, I sought to take my own points of advice in past postings to guide me in my decision. Perhaps this logic will resonate with you. But I also understand if you’re on a different page.

To summarize these points …

#1: “This is not a blood sport, there can be no emotion.”
#2: “Express and assume good intent.”
#3: “A budget is not religious text.”

Before I go further, let me share some basic info on why we’re even in a second round in case you’re not up to date … After a successful ATBM that produced record high turnout and engagement by a mix of people that, in the end, was in fact very consistent with and reflected in the referendum turnout (another historically successful event with record high engagement … congrats and thank you all), the capital budget ended in a tie, leaving us all with the question of “what happens next?”

What actually happened next is that we all suddenly became lawyers and charter experts. I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but I know there’s a lot of questions out there. The charter makes it clear in section 7.5, what happens generally in a tie election, whether it’s for a candidate or “any” referendum, and that next step is essentially a re-vote. However in a later section 9 that specifically outlines budget approval processes and the ATBM, there is language that essentially says that if a majority of voters do not support the ATBM revised budget, it goes back to the Board of Finance.

Because a tie is not a majority, and because this section is specific to the ATBM vs. the more general references in section 7.5, the argument was that section 9 prevailed. Personally, I don’t think that was the spirit of the charter, but I respect that it’s a potentially legally binding (or at least an admissible argument) and that in the end, it is in fact up to our town attorney to weigh in on these kinds of questions.

Admittedly, this was a concerning proposition to me, if the Board of Finance decided to take advantage and just reinstate the original budget before the ATBM referendum. This is frankly what I was bracing for which made the legal opinion all the more charging and relevant. However, recognizing the split nature of the tie and perhaps reacting to my earlier message that one should perhaps use this entire extraordinary budget experience to listen to all voices and act in the spirit of collaboration versus a false mandate, the Board compromised to preserve elements of the ATBM budget; namely the elimination of the “portables” or new temporary offices to replace the current temporary offices we have.

This comes out to slightly more than half of the total reduction from the ATBM capital budget. Moreover, these portables were the single biggest low-hanging fruit/opportunity for elimination to me … honestly, it was almost all that mattered to me, to over-simplify.

Of course I’m concerned with working conditions of our town employees, but spending $2M over 5 years and then scrapping it all is just blindingly wasteful, especially knowing that … while there may be aesthetic distaste … there’s no imminent danger working in this current facility. And if there were, I would expect an engineering authority to provide that alert and guidance to prompt our action … to comment on its structural integrity or safety, but one never has.

I’d rather spend more on a permanent solution sooner that our employees deserve. I personally see this as a victory to achieving my specific goals, as well as a victory to the majority of voters who came out asking for fiscal discipline. I see this whole experience as a huge victory for Weston. But I know not everyone feels that way, with questions still swirling around the legal argument, as well as those people who feel cheated out of the potential of seizing the entire ATBM reduction, not just half.

To that point, I need to dust off my game theory textbooks. Even if the tie went to a re-vote, there’s no guarantee that the ATBM budget would have won, which would have resulted in the Board of Finance re-working it anyway, with potentially less of a spirit of compromise, in their words. Literally a 50-50 shot.

And on top of that, if the result of this Saturday’s referendum is a No, or rejection of the Board’s compromise, there’s no guarantee that the re-submitted budget will necessarily be lower … it can even be higher if spite has any role in this, bringing the portables back into the picture. And no, there’s no more ATBM or public meeting here beyond more referenda … it will just be re-worked by the Board of Finance independently over and over and if it’s still rejected by July, the Board continues reworking while we revert to some temporary form of last year’s budget, which would be a little messy for a capital budget that is so project specific. And so the certainty in front of us with this proposed budget, has much higher utility and value to me than the uncertainty of any other decision path.

This goes back to rule three … the budget isn’t religious text. There’s no one right budget we should be fixated on and latch ourselves to. There’s the best and most workable budget that we can arrive at. And I think we’re there.

Going back to those who are feeling shafted from some sort of perceived legal loophole, I understand that frustration, and I understand if it makes you want to vote No out of protest. But I try to remember rule 2, assume good intent, and the compromise, to me, shows that. And the way I see it, we’re voting on a budget … a number. Not a movement or a protest. But different things motivate the way each of us vote, and I’d understand if this was your motivation. It’s normal. For me, I go back to rule number 1: No emotions.

In the end, I feel victorious for Weston and I’m so proud of the way everyone engaged and turned out. I implore you, hopefully for a last time, to go out and vote again on Saturday whichever way your personal compass points.

—  Kerem Dinlenc, Member, Board of Selectmen

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