Letter: Darien's Representative Town Meeting should reconsider committee leadership process
The following letter was sent to the RTM Rules Committe in advance of Monday's restructuring meeting. It is reprinted here with the author's permission.
To the Members of the RTM Rules Committee:
As the Rules Committee prepares to finalize committee assignments for the new legislative term, I would like to propose the Committee consider a change to the RTM's current operating procedures.
An impressive number of RTM Members have, thankfully, served in the RTM for many years. Their long tenure is of enormous benefit to our Town as we navigate the annual budget process and deal with a wide variety of community issues on each year. Our long tenured members contribute to the Town’s institutional memory and often help steer around potentially costly mistakes. With this longevity of service comes an informal system of seniority which, at times, can produce less desirable side effects, such as controlling the process of government at the exclusion of less tenured members of our body who may be very capable and eager to contribute. This can be discouraging, unhealthy and counterproductive to our purpose as a deliberative body.
In the case of some (not all) of the RTM’s committees, our seniority system and implied incumbency of committee assignment and/or leadership may be one such unintended side effect. Over the past several years I have heard from a number of RTM members (current and former) that they would like to have become involved in RTM Committee X or RTM Committee Y but membership in those committees requires seniority. Or, that some committees have been chaired by the same person for a very long time, thereby diluting any potential for involvement or contribution if they were assigned to those committees. Likewise, a number of former RTM members have told me in no uncertain terms that one of the main reasons they withdrew from the RTM was because they believed a few senior members controlled the vast majority of the RTM process. While it is true that each committee chair, vice chair and secretary are 'elected' at the outset of each legislative year, this unofficial seniority system often prevents less tenured members from more active roles, regardless of their background, expertise or work/community experience without being willing to ‘ruffling feathers’ at the outset of their terms.
Therefore, I propose that as a body we need to find a more constructive way to leverage our experienced members without disenfranchising our less tenured members. For example, I believe we should explore whether or not committee chairmen should become subject to some form of term limitation, such as 2 or 3 years. Equally, we should consider whether or not membership on the Rules, Finance & Budget or Education Committees should be subject to a consecutive term limitation of some sort. This should not necessarily be a lifetime limitation, just a consecutive 2 or 3 year term limitation, perhaps. There are many ways to enact such limitations and they need not be too complicated, but I believe such a change to our operational procedures should be discussed openly.
I submit that the main goal of any such discussion should be to improve the governing structure of our body and to create a more vibrant and cooperative spirit of involvement. New leadership in each committee every few years, for example, should be generally healthy for our body and
may help to encourage greater involvement from the current membership. It may also encourage other members of our community to become involved.
I sincerely believe the RTM and the people of Darien would benefit from constructive term limits in much the same way that the membership and leadership of our Town Boards and Commissions changes periodically. Please understand that this proposal is not directed at any one member, committee chairman or committee. It is born from a sincere desire to instill good governance in the RTM's operating procedures and intended to improve the health and vibrancy of the RTM as a whole.
According to the Town's charter, the RTM, (through the Rules Committee) is empowered to "determine its own rules of procedure". As such, I believe changes to the RTM’s operational procedures rests within the Rules Committee to enact. You may wish to seek input from the RTM as a whole on this subject.
I hope you will give this topic and proposal due consideration in your impending deliberations.