A Layperson’s Guide to the RTM “Call”

The agenda, or “Call”, for the September 21st, 2020 RTM meeting is packed with 39 items affecting all areas of town governance.

To help understand the importance of the decisions being made by the RTM, we are providing a summary of the agenda items.  If you want to get involved or have your voice heard, you can attend and participate in the full RTM meeting and the district and committee meetings, which are all public meetings. 

More information on when the various meetings are, how to sign up to speak, and the official documents and background provided to RTM members and the public can be found at the following links:

Schedule of Committee and District Meetings (includes Zoom login information)

Zoom Details for full RTM Meeting on Monday, September 21st, 7:00pm

Sign-Up to Speak on any Call Item

RTM Call, Items 1 through 38

RTM Call, Item 39

Explanatory Comments on Call Items 1 through 38

Explanatory Comments on Call Item 39

More documents, including redlined labor contracts and other materials are available here.

Appointments (Items 1, 2, 15-34)

The Appointments Committee has put forward 22 candidates for appointments to Town boards and commissions that will be considered by RTM members for approval.  These appointments are for regular and alternate members to the Human Services Committee (2), Historic District Commission (2), Commission on Aging (3), Harbor Management Commission (3), Board of Health (4),  Board of Parks & Recreation (3), Board of Ethics (1), Alarm Appeals Board (2), and The Nathaniel Witherell Board (2).

These volunteer boards and commissions are vital to the operations of the town and have an impact on budgetary decisions, planning, and operations.  It is unusual, but not unheard of, for nominations for appointments to be met with any controversy or debate in the RTM and very rare for the RTM to reject an appointment.

Sense of the Meeting Resolution (SOMR) (Item 3)

SOMRs are essentially a non-binding opinion of the body.  If approved, this SOMR, brought to the RTM by petition in June and returning under the RTM’s new rule that items brought to the RTM by petition require a second reading, would urge the Board of Estimate & Taxation (BET) to approve interim appropriation requests from the Board of Education (BOE) that may be required due to budget cuts and COVID-19-related costs.  However, because the BOE does not have any pending appropriation requests, it is likely that this SOMR will be withdrawn.

This would have been a “second read” of this SOMR, which was first debated at the June RTM meeting.  The community support for this SOMR was unprecedented and many RTM members reported receiving more comments from the public than ever before.  Although other, less urgent, SOMRs received the 2/3 vote required to waive the second read rule, opponents of this SOMR rallied to get enough votes, but not a majority, to avoid their vote being recorded on this issue despite hours of debate.

Labor Contracts (Items 35-37)

External factors have resulted in two of the three contracts on this month’s Call (Item 35, GMEA and Item 36, LIUNA) to be postponed as the union membership will not have been able to vote on the contract before the September meeting.  The Town’s former labor negotiator left last year, and a replacement was not hired until recently.  COVID-19 closures also contributed to delays in the negotiation process.  The remaining contract, Item 37, UPSEU, applies to nurses that work for both the Town Health Department and the Board of Education and will be voted on by its membership just prior to the RTM vote on the 21st.

The RTM is the final vote on labor contracts after they have been negotiated and approved by union membership.  The Labor Contracts Committee (LCC) works with the Town’s labor negotiator to aid the RTM in making an informed decision because the rejection of certain contracts can result in sending a contract into arbitration.  Arbitration carries some risk as the outcome could result in a contract that is more costly to the town than the negotiated contract.  Instead of rejecting a contract and forcing the Town into arbitration or approving it outright, the RTM often postpones the item indefinitely, a parliamentary procedure that effectively “sends a message” that the RTM disapproves of the terms while allowing the contract to go into force.

As of this writing, the Labor Contracts Committee has voted to postpone indefinitely Item 37, the UPSEU contract, and the Budget Overview Committee (BOC) has voted to reject the contract.  This item was referred to the Education and Finance Committees, which will take the item up for a vote during their meetings on Monday, September 14th.  If the RTM chooses to reject this contract, as proposed by the BOC, the town will enter arbitration.

RTM Rules Amendments (Items 4, 5, 10-12)

RTM Rules are not set in stone and can be amended by the body under most circumstances. In 2019, a special Governance Committee completed a lengthy review of RTM policies and procedures which resulted in a number of recommended changes, many of which were ultimately rejected by the body.  The Governance Committee had also tasked certain committees with reviewing the budget process and committee responsibilities detailed in the rules.  These changes require careful consideration as they can affect transparency and the effectiveness of the RTM’s budget review responsibilities.

Item 4 is a proposal by the Finance Committee to establish a standing committee, the Capital Review Committee, that would review the capital projects proposed in the First Selectman’s budget.  Early reports indicate that this item is likely to be withdrawn and that this work will be undertaken by the Finance Committee.

Item 5 is proposed amendments to the RTM Rules applying to the planning process by which the RTM reviews the Town Budget prior to its vote on the budget at the May meeting.  The BOC was tasked with reviewing and updating this section Governance Committee.  Per the BOC Chair, “1) The BOC felt there was still too specific onerous requirements for the standing committees during the budget process. The proposed version removes those burdensome requirements.  2) The BOC clarified and offered more detail on actions by certain committees during each month of the budget process; 3) The BOC added explicit mention of the hard copy or online budget material in the month it is available and distributed to the RTM.  Although the proposed changes are generally innocuous, it does add items, like the BOC’s annual “Budget Workshop” and a letter regarding budget goals that BOC sends to the BET early in the budget process.  These tasks have been undertaken for a number of years by the BOC but are not universally approved of.  These efforts are largely prepared by the BOC Chair without the assistance of committee members and, until recently, the content has been discussed with, but not voted on, by BOC membership.  The concern is that the resulting efforts, which influence member votes, are less democratic and transparent.

Item 10 is proposed changes to the responsibilities of the Finance Committee, as detailed in the appendix of the RTM Rules.  Significant changes include approving all candidates for the Labor Contracts Committee, greater detail regarding its review of the capital budget (see Item 4) including review of the Town’s Debt and Fund Balance Policies, which are governed by the BET, and removes mention of its oversight of the town’s insurance and risk policies.

Similar to Item 5, Item 11 is a BOC proposal to amend the section of the RTM Rules pertaining to the budget procedure and schedules.  It is essentially a summary of the budget process, but also includes a chart indicating which members and committees are eligible to receive hard copies of various budget documents.

Item 12 is proposed changes to the BOC’s responsibilities as outlined in the appendix of the RTM Rules.  It adds two responsibilities, including that it will work with the BET and the Town’s Labor Negotiator “to understand upcoming costs and trends in town finances for the following fiscal year” and the budget goals letter noted in Item 5 above.  This raises some concerns as it overlaps with the responsibilities of other committees and could be burdensome for Town employees if they are tasked with providing more information and time to additional committees.

Town Charter Amendments (Item 7)

Item 7 is a proposed change to the Town Charter that seeks to increase the number of members on the Board of Human Services from seven members to nine members.  According to the explanatory comments: “A larger Board would help with having an increased Board presence in the community. Nine (9) members would also help with increasing the number of Board members with different backgrounds and making the Board more diverse, thereby reflecting the demographics of Greenwich.”

Proposals to increase the size of committees, boards, or commissions is often met with concern about a lack of willing candidates and the increased workload for the RTM Appointments Committee, which interviews and vets most appointments prior to approval by the RTM (typically 40 to 50 per year) and the Selectmen’s Nominations Advisory Committee (SNAC), which identifies and vets candidates for approval by the Board of Selectmen.  However, the Town’s volunteer boards and committees can require a significant time commitment, which can also inhibit participation.

Ordinance Amendments (Items 13)

Item 8 is an amendment to the Town’s ordinance applying to speed limits and regulations (Ch. 7, Art. 1, Sec. 7-9) for vessels in the Town’s waters.  The amendment would establish a Slow-No-Wake zone between Great Captain Island and Cormorant Reef in the outer harbor of the Greenwich Harbor area. This change is supported by the Harbor Management Commission and should improve safety on our local waters.

Item 13 is amendments to the definitions section of the Town’s existing nuisance ordinance to address blighted structures on properties, which have a negative impact on neighborhood property values, crime, and health and saftey.  The existing ordinance addresses and defines “nuisances” on properties but does not include the structures on said properties.  This has prevented the Town from addressing blight and neglect resulting in negative impacts on surrounding property values and health and safety concerns for neighbors.  Houses with broken or boarded up windows, tarps covering roofs are examples of issues that could be addressed under these changes.  There are approximately 15 to 20 properties that have been identified as having issues that could be remediated once this change is in place.  In addition to these amendments, the Town Administrator, who oversees nuisance complaints, is holding regular meetings with representatives from the relevant town departments, including the Office of the First Selectman, Police, Fire Marshal, Tax Collector, Assessor, Land Use, Buildings, Health, and Human Services.

Interim Appropriations (Items 9, 39)

Item 9 would appropriate funding for The Nathaniel Witherell (TNW) rehabilitation of its Pavilion facility. These funds will be reimbursed to the Town through the already-approved Community Development Block Grant it will be receiving.  Funding of TNW, which is one of few municipally run skilled nursing facilities in the country, has long been a controversial issue, particularly because the town contributes significant funds to its operations and capital spending each year.  Some feel that TNW could be sold or operations outsourced to a non-profit or for-profit organization. But, because the facility serves a growing and vulnerable resident population there is also strong community support for maintaining the status quo.

Item 39 is for an interim appropriation requested by the Police Department (GPD) to purchase body cameras in anticipation of forthcoming legislation at the state level.  More detail on the costs and equipment can be accessed through the links above.  Interim appropriations for items that could be postponed and included in the regular budget process are often frowned upon.  With discussions swirling about police accountability, which this appropriation should increase, and defunding police departments, there is likely to be some debate on this request.

Land Acquisition (Item 14)

Item 14 is the approval of an acquisition of land by the Town for a 72-acre property currently owned by Aquarion Water Co. for $1M and authorizes the First Selectman to execute the necessary agreements.  The Greenwich Land Trust (GLT) is contributing an additional $1M for a total purchase price of $2M, significantly lower than the $3.5-4M appraised value of the land.  The GLT will own the land and the town will hold a conservation easement.  GLT will be responsible for the property’s maintenance.  This acquisition of open space is in keeping with goals outlined in the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development.

Acceptance of Grants and Donations (Items 6, 38)

Any grant in excess of $5,000 must be approved by the RTM and most are approved without debate.

Item 6 would approve the acceptance of a $64,700 PEGPETIA grant to the Board of Education from the State of Connecticut to support the acquisition of equipment and infrastructure for the video production program at the high school.

Item 38 is the acceptance of a gift valued at $26,497 from the Greenwich Preservation Trust (GPT), which will pay for repairs to the historic Thomas Lyon House, which is located on Route 1 at Byram Road.  The property is owned by the Town and maintained by the GPT.  GPT will pay the town-approved vendor directly.





District Map

If you’re inspired to take action, write to your RTM members and let them know how you feel.

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