Monday, May 27, 2013

MY LAST GOOD DEED*

"The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor."        "The Myth of Sisyphus" by Albert Camus.




NEVER BEEN ONE FOR POLITICAL GAMES

Like the average American I don’t get involved much with politics, but I try hard to stay abreast of what our leaders in Washington are doing, even if there’s not much I can do to change their behavior.  And I have zero control of how they spend the thousands in taxes I give them every year. So I cast my vote and hope for the best.

On the other hand, like many Farmington Woods residents I spent the first thirteen years of my time here paying little or no attention to what was going on politically with our little community and never really got involved with the process.

But when the District Board presented us with what they called a $4M “investment opportunity" in January of 2012 my curiosity got the best of me and I attended the Public Hearing to find out what they had in store for us. My wife had attended one of the informational meetings and told me I'd be shocked  to hear the comments from the residents  in attendance. 

Prior to going I did voluminous research, talked to a lot of people in the golf business and came away convinced that what was proposed was not in the best interests of the majority of Farmington Woods residents. On the night of the meeting I stepped up to the lectern and voiced my disapproval as did many, many other residents, some more passionate and informed than me. It was so far from the norm it felt almost surreal to me. 

Later in the meeting the Chair of the committee, Dirk Aube, took a question from a resident who was concerned that she did not have enough information to vote on the issue and as a result was going to have to vote "no" on the bonds. In his answer to her he addressed the entire audience, telling us that he was impressed by their participation in the democratic process. He also made it very clear that “they” had enough votes to win.

That self-assured attitude rubbed me the wrong way and after the meeting my wife and I approached Irene Loretto, then President of both boards. We asked her how the board intended to disseminate the information we had just been given: that if both bonds passed it would mean an 18% increase in District Taxes.

Her response had the same self-assured tone. She told us that they had held two informational hearings and now this Public Hearing on the matter and that they had done all they needed to do to get the information out. Besides, she said "If residents were interested they could have attended the meeting." End of story.

Since it didn’t seem like enough of an effort to either of us, my wife asked her if it would be OK for us to get the information out. Her response was “Go right ahead”, as if she knew this sisyphean task could not be accomplished by two individual residents. How would you get the information out to 1,084 unit owners, let alone convince them to vote down a budget at Farmington Woods, something that had probably never happened before.

We took her challenge and started on a mission which included the creation of Residents for Fiscal Responsibility, an eight member committee that paid for the mailing of flyers to each unit owner not once but twice. These people, very concerned owners at Farmington Woods, saw no benefit to either proposal. My wife convinced me to create this blog as a way to inform and educate residents and I spent the next two months doing what I had never done before: I got involved with politics.


MY LAST GOOD DEED


I spent countless hours writing articles for just about every print media that gets delivered to Farmington Woods. I wrote articles for Avon Patch and several for CtWatchdog.com that got picked up by many Connecticut newspapers and sent letters to every local television station asking for their help. In the end Fox61 News was the only one  to respond but they showed up twice at Farmington Woods, including the added Public Hearing and got the word out so that this community could make an informed decision. 

The results of all this hard work were gratifying. With a record turnout of over 1,000 votes cast, the bonds were overwhelmingly rejected. This was not like most district votes where 70 to 90 "yes" votes can pass a District budget. This was a message from the great majority of residents. The people had spoken.

The next week I attended the annual budget vote at the Clubhouse and since they contained virtually no increase at all, both the District and Association budgets passed with ease. There were actually 33 "no" votes to 77 "yes" votes, but I learned later that compared to earlier years the no’s had increased dramatically.

Earlier this month on May 14th my wife and I attended this years budget vote, again held at the clubhouse. As I looked around the room I saw some familiar faces, but missing were a number of faces that I would have expected to see. For all the struggles they went through leading up to the actual budget vote I saw only two Mom’s and missing were some of the people who had worked hard to defeat the budget last year. In the end both budgets passed with ease.

After the bond victory and the increased turnout last year I was surprised to see both budgets pass so easily: the District budget 98-32 and the Association budget 179-46. I found myself, as they say on the internet, SMH, (shaking my head) and asking how this could happen. How could a budget with almost no increase garner more "no" votes than one that had nearly a five percent increase? And where were all the potential "no" voters?

Then I recalled what I had seen during the voting process: individuals voting against their own interests, many afraid to raise their “no” vote for fear of being singled out by the glaring group in the front three rows, heads twisted to see who the traitors were. They were of course those 32 brave souls who stood by their convictions and voted "no", which took courage considering the transparent manner in which the vote was held.

As a result, even though the bonds were voted down last year, the plan continues to replace the irrigation system, renovate the clubhouse and add the clubhouse elevators that got voted down in last year’s historic vote. The restaurant still needs it’s fix from residents in the form of a monthly assessment and the golf club itself is still losing in excess of  a hundred grand again for the fifth year in a row but you’d never no it by the voting results of that evening.

LET IT BE WHAT'S IT'S GOING TO BE

I left the meeting a little disgusted by the lack of progress in the past year. It seemed that the momentum built up last year had hit a wall and ground to a sudden halt. I felt like we failed.

But then I thought of all we accomplished in the last year: voting down $4M of indebtedness for a sport in decline worldwide and following that cleaning house both at the board and management levels.  We actually did a lot more than we set out to do.

Put in terms of real world politics, we won the battle but lost the war. And in real world politics there are essentially two kinds of people (with some crossover in the middle): those who want change and those who resist it and will continue to resist it until their dying breath.

The problem is those who resist change know exactly how they want things to be: just as they are now (or were in some golden era that exists only in their minds). The people who want change? Their interests are usually so varied that it’s like herding cats. It’s a nearly impossible task. Almost, Sisyphean.

In the end politics is a lot like sports. The people who want it more usually win. In this case the group that voted yes to the budget got what they wanted. Good for them. At least they showed up.

As for me, I’m no Sisyphus. I can only take the rock rolling back on me so long before I decide to step aside and watch what happens when I let it go. After all, Sisyphus was serving a sentence from the Gods. I'm not.

I’ll  be here, but for now I’m back to following politics and not participating. Besides, I've got my own boulder to push.





*Title and subheadings inspired by Adam Carter, better known as A-Plus, from his CD "My Last Good Deed".

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to see that you will be taking a back seat for now. While I don't always agree with you, I find your comments thoughtful and respectful. By the way, my husband and I were among the minority who were brave enough to raise our hands against the budget on May 14th. I strongly believe that voting should be privately done, not publicly.

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