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Town Council Proposes Moving Second Budget Referendum to November Fourth

Posted by whforums on August 13, 2008

The Bare Fact

In a remarkable turn of political gamesmanship, the Town Council last night proposed delaying the September 30th budget referendum by 36 days to November 4th, the date of the general (and presidential) election.

Defending September 30th

I should really start from the beginning, because the rhetoric surrounding the proposal is as careful as it is dismaying. Early in the meeting, Judy Aron argued that the date of the September 30th referendum should not be changed even though it falls on Rosh Hashanah. Aron argued that absentee ballots could be distributed and that amending the town charter would set dangerous precedent.

The October 7th Proposal (or, The Red Herring)

Soon thereafter, cloaking himself in the claim that everyone should have equal access to the polls, Mayor Slifka argued that there was legal precedent (from a case in Rhode Island, no less) to postpone the referendum because of Rosh Hashanah. Slifka proposed that the referendum be delayed until October 7th (one week after the original date) – a reasonable compromise and one that may still come to fruition.

The 30 Thousand Dollar Excuse

It’s the series of events that happened next that’s simply remarkable. Slifka argued that because special elections cost the town 30 thousand dollars per election, the town could save money by petitioning the legislature (while they’re in special session) for permission to consolidate our voting by moving our referendum from September 30th to November 4th, the date of the general election. In a surprise (though seemingly orchestrated) move, councilman Joe Visconti, who most would identify as a WHTA supporter and “No” voter, agreed that the November 4th referendum date – a date clearly advantageous to the “Yes” vote – was a good idea, despite the fact that it represents a 36 day delay from the date our charter appoints.

The Analysis

It seems pretty clear what Slifka and Visconti get out of this deal. If the special session of the legislature approves a November 4th referendum, Slifka gets a referendum vote on a day when “Yes” voters are far more likely to be at the polls. I think there’s little dispute that a referendum on November 4th and a referendum on October 7th would lead to significantly different vote totals. Meanwhile, Visconti, who is running for the US House against John Larson, gets a bump from the “No” vote that turns out to vote on the referendum. West Hartford is a significant get in the first district, and while the odds are slim that Visconti will win West Hartford, a surge of “No” turnout will likely help him to establish a more credible number of total votes in a campaign that’s largely a lost cause.

This referendum, which is designed to be a tool of the people, will become a tool of our politicians.

The part that gets me the most? The council unanimously approved the delay of the referendum to the seventh of October with the possible 36 day delay to the date of the general election.

The politics of this is really smart. Unfortunately, its intelligence is at the expense and manipulation of our local democracy.

20 Responses to “Town Council Proposes Moving Second Budget Referendum to November Fourth”

  1. r said

    Your analysis is correct. The only part of it that I don’t understand is that you would be surprised by this result. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

    If Slifka wanted to save the town money, then they should have addressed the real spending issues last February.

    Has anyone asked why the boy wonder or “Folsom Francis” couldn’t have renegotiated the leaf contract back then?

    Next up on the agenda – free parking in BBS garages for Christmas?

  2. Cynic said

    WHForums and R make great points.

    I love Slifka’s sudden “interest” in saving the town money. To date he has shown no interest in listening to the taxpayers, the WHTA, the GOP, on their budget saving ideas.

    Now that we have to look for a new manager ya think these guys will change the benefits package to a more realistic, economically viable package, or will they continue on the same path until we have to declare bankruptcy as Vallejo, CA had to do because of too generous employment contracts.

  3. Noah Webstar said

    Moving the date of the referendum up a week would have been the right thing to do. No need for legal gymnastics. But to try and push it back to November, when uninformed voter turnout will be higher than that of a strict budget vote and therefore more likely to blindly accept the majority party bunk is just plain wrong.

    As for having the legislature try and pass a special act to override the Charter, my guess is that it won’t fly. To open up the call of the special session to take up a local charter matter would open the door for amendments calling for property tax caps – a debate and vote the state Dems do not want to have. So it will be a true test of our state delegation’s power to see if they can get the matter brought up this month. And if they can, then how come they keep failing us in getting our full share of state money?

  4. Dean said

    Whatever the politics it seems to me that having the vote on Rosh Hashanah would be inappropriate and moving it to November ensures the greatest number of voters will have their voice heard.

  5. Kevin Walsh said

    “Meanwhile, Visconti, who is running for the US House against John Larson, gets a bump from the “No” vote that turns out to vote on the referendum.”

    Really? It seems to me that the only way that this scenario gets Visconti a “bump” is if the “No” voters would come out for a referendum, but would otherwise stay home for the general. How many folks would you truly expect to behave in that fashion?

  6. turtle said

    To date [Slifka] has shown no interest in listening to the taxpayers, the WHTA, the GOP, on their budget saving ideas.

    The WHTA’s leadership is libertarian and ideologically averse to the public sector (except when it comes to leaf pick-up, apparently). Its fundamental perspective on government is conspiratorial and antagonistic. The most vocal members of the WHTA are well off, and despite their whining that oppressive taxes are driving them out of West Hartford, they have yet to leave town. Their tactics are grotesque (for example, Dr. Elliot Check’s theatrics over Project Choice) and dishonest (for example, the infamous Tradewinds ad). These local mouthpieces for the completely discredited conservative movement keep a non-stop bullhorn to the ear and complain that no one is “listening”.

    Meanwhile, no matter when the referendum is held, it will tip the playing field: “No” would have an advantage in October, and “Yes” and Visconti will benefit in November. Might as well increase voter participation and save $30K. If the voters are uninformed it’s not for lack of effort by the BoE, the Town Council, and civic groups to educate the public.

  7. whforums said

    The question I guess becomes “Should the playing field be tipped by charter” or “Should the playing field be tipped by active manipulation by government officials?”

    It’s the active attempt to manipulate outcome by elected officials that leaves me banging my head against the wall. It’s like living inside a Diebold machine …

  8. Elliot Check said

    Hey Turtle, missed you.

    Glad to see that you appreciated my “theatrics” over Open Choice. Unfortunately, it was the only way to get answers. As I stated before I did the FOI, I asked 3 Board members questions and got no answers! They had no idea what the story was with Open Choice, yet they keep expanding it. BTW, was that an Open Choice student that was involved in the gun incident at Bishops Corner last spring with the other Hall High Student, the news never finished the story?

    It would be nice if you showed the same concern over the BOEs use of numbers.

    Chip ward in response to my requests said we take in ~ $300K from Hartford for Open Choice Students. He then said we spend approximately $300K in sending WH Kids to out of district schools

    Yet when asked what special services these students require Chip posted a page on the BOE web site indicating the Town spends ~$186K on Open Choice kids. So if we use these statements we now find that these kids are COSTING WH a net cash outlow. Do the Taxpayers of West Hartford have the right to know this?

    When I asked what was the effect of the Open Choice program on the Towns test scores the Administration claimed not to know. These are the same guys who can break out any statistic they want to support their position, but seem ignorant when a question such as this is asked. They know how many are on Free Lunch, Asian, White, Black etc. They have every demographic breakdown you can imagine except this one. Glad you find them credible.

    As to your comments regarding the WHTA, you have no idea what you’re talking about. There is one Libertarian on the Board as far as I know. Another one appears ready to vote for Obama, I don’t think that even qualifies as republican status. None of the Board members are “well off” as far as I can tell, I believe that 2 are retired, another is unemployed as is her husband. Frankly, whether or not they are well off doesn’t really matter, we are all still entitled to responisible spending and budgeting by the Town.

  9. Judy Aron said

    Oh gee whiz Turtle – make up your mind already – I thought WHTA was “an arm of the Republican party” LOL – Now we are Libertarians.. ROTFLMAO!

    I have news for you – Judy Aron is NOT the WHTA!
    The WHTA is a body of people that vote on the direction of the organization. In fact, when the organization voted whether or not to do a first referendum I voted against it as did the president Chris Torino. The organization decided otherwise. So you really don’t know what you are talking about with regard to WHTA and their leadership.

    And another thing – if you think I am “well off” then perhaps you know something about my bank accounts that I am unaware of. We live very simply on one income, thank you. And my concern is not just about MY taxes alone – it is about others in town. You on the other hand seem to be all about yourself. That is truly a shame.

    Believe me it isn’t the Judy Aron’s in West Hartford that are the trouble – it is the selfishness that we have seen blossom around us. It’s the attitude that we should continue to spend at the expense of young families and older residents no matter what – and if they can’t sustain the appetite that you and your pals demand then they ought to just pack up and leave Dodge. To your dismay people are fighting back against that selfish attitude.

    7000 people who came out and voted NO on this past referendum were predominately Democrats! Many of them were not even retired. People who signed the petitions are from all ethnicities, walks of life, and political beliefs and age groups.

    Your generalizations are so incredibly laughable, and the truth is that you don’t know anything about the Taxpayers Association or who it’s members are. We are as diverse as the citizens who voted NO in the last referendum.

    Open up your mind a bit and do us all a favor and cease the stereotypes and false accusations.

    You might also take a moment and reflect on a more alarming reality and that is we have many people in this town who are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution. We have heard many people express that, and the retribution they face is very real. Their only recourse is to vote privately in the polling places. I think it is wholly unconscionable that people are afraid to speak their mind in this town, but perhaps that is what you and your pals have intended. Luckily, I am not one to be silenced by the likes of you or anyone else. If you don’t like what I say or how I say it, then perhaps for me that is a victory.

    You don’t have to agree with my personal philosophies or political beliefs – no one does. I will assure you that 7,000 people who voted NO in the last referendum do not. What they all expressed in their vote was that taxes are too high and they want some accountability in this town and they want to keep West Hartford affordable for everyone. If you have a problem with that then that is just too bad. It’s not all about YOU.

  10. turtle said

    Well, Dr. Check, it’s my understanding that the town turns a profit on Open Choice students.

    Also, it may be that Open Choice test scores aren’t disaggregated and the admin really doesn’t know how to answer your question, or perhaps the results are confidential. There are so few Open Choice students I imagine they don’t have much of an impact one way or the other.

    Judy, you crack me up! “We live very simply.” I’ve heard that one before. “We’re just simple people.” Ha! Right.

    I’ll admit it’s been a while since I checked into Consent of the Governed, but it’s not as if your ideology isn’t spelled out for all to see. And the rest of your screed above is classic. Yes, we libs are just SELFISH because we want to invest in the public sector. Oh the irony.

    While I was disappointed that the budget was voted down, it’s no mystery why. The economy tanked, gas prices are high, people are in debt and skittish about the future. But your contention that “7000 people want accountability in this town” is sheer spin, as is (I suspect) your ominous insistence that “many people are are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution”. What is this “very real” retribution that “many people” are so terrified of? What do you mean when you say that’s “what you and your pals have intended”? Who are my pals? What did we intend? I know innuendo is reflexive with you, Judy, but out with it.

    Oh, and where’s your argument that the referendum date shouldn’t be changed even though it falls on Rosh Hashanah? Why should people be forced to decide between religious observation and civic duty if the vote can be rescheduled?

  11. Elliot Check said

    “Well, Dr. Check, it’s my understanding that the town turns a profit on Open Choice students.”

    I’d love to see the numbers, have you Turtle?

    At the meetings Chip Ward, and Claire Kindle, both commented that the money taken for Open Choice tuition was used to offset tuition for children going to out of district magnet schools. I believe Claire at least called it a wash. The $$$ invloved were ~$300K.

    When I asked if these children required special services they added a page to the BOE web site indicating that the Town spent ~$187K on the children. I believe they had SPED needs, reading needs, 2 teachers in the list. This would appear to pull it out of the break-even category. They did not bring up these numbers in the open meeting, if i recall correctly.

    If we are making money on Open Choice, it would appear that we need a better accounting. Our neighboring towns have cut back on Open Choice partially because of the expense (the other reason given was test scores), if indeed West Hartford is making money on Open Choice perhaps we should share our secret with thse towns.

    The next question that arises is: Are we exporting children to magnet schools who are not in need of special services and importing children who are in need of these services? This becomes a likely possibility if we can assume that those seeking out the magnet schools are already a bit ahead of the curve education wise.

    It is indeed possible that the Town test scores are not affected by Open Choice. “I imagine” is not an acceptable answer when we are on the verge of having both High Schools and I believe it was 3 Middle Schools on the NCYB watch list this year. But, if they can break out the Free Lunch and other groups without worrying about confidentiality they should be able to break this group out as well – no one is asking for names. West Hartford is about to spend $300K for the DIP, what is wrong with knowing these numbers. Again, our neighboring towns have cut back because of concerns about test scores.

    Finally, it appears that the majority ofthe Open Choice children are concentrated in 3 of the 4 schools slated for expansion at a cost to the Town of $3-5 million. Are we entitled to a better accounting of how they are impacting the crowding situation?

  12. turtle said

    I’d love to see the numbers, have you Turtle?

    Yes I have. From Chip Ward’s April 1 memorandum re Financial Impact of Open Choice Students:

    In total, the marginal cost of these students to the district runs about $124,000 to $188,000. We receive total revenue of about $360,000 for these students. These students are not a net financial burden on the district.

    I can’t believe you are still demagoguing this issue.

    Off-topic, to boot.

  13. Elliot Check said

    Again Turtle, the Board/Administration also says it uses the Tuition from Open Choice to offset the tuition to out of district magnet schools. You can’t use the same $$ twice. If indeed that is the case there is a net $ outflow!

    It may be hard for you to believe, but I really don’t have a problem with Open Choice. I simply think we need better insight into what the true costs to the Town are, since we are continuing to expand the program on an annual basis. The taxpayers can then decide how large to allow the program to grow.

    “Off-topic, to boot”

    Turtle you were the one who changed the topic when you accused me of “theatrics’ and now demagogary.

  14. turtle said

    You mean this?

    It is important to note that in addition to the 87 Open Choice students who come to this district, we have 125 students who are residents of West Hartford and who are attending schools in other districts by choice. These 125 students are in many ways the mirror image of Open Choice students. For Open Choice students we have small additional marginal costs for educating those students that are more than offset by the revenue we receive for these students. For the 125 resident students who leave the district, we have small marginal savings in operating costs offset by large tuition payments for these students (up to $3,600 for some students next year). Students are free to attend these schools and recent state law changes mandate that we pay the tuition for students attending these inter-district magnet schools.

    The positive net revenue from Open Choice students help pays for the tuition costs of these students who have left the district and limits the general fund impact of these students’ tuition bills.

    So–you’re scapegoating Open Choice students for the tuition costs of WH students attending interdistrict magnet schools? Is that it?

    Also, are you not insinuating that Chip Ward is being dishonest?

  15. WH Alum said

    A friend of mine went to get an absentee ballot as she will be attending services out of town. She had to go back with the ticket to the synagogue she will be attending to prove that she is attending a service and not able to vote. Do all synagogues require a ticket? What if you don’t have a way to prove yourself?

    I am fine with moving the vote one week forward or backward, but moving it to November is scary… to be that far into the budget year and school year and possibly make changes could be very problematic.

    As for the numbers and $$ for Open Choice… I’m with you, Turtle. These kids come in with more than enough money to support the services they require. They should not be to blame for us sending kids out of district and costing us tuition. I guess a better question would be, how much do we save on day to day services for these WH kids who we “export” and does that wash-out with the tuition we spend? Is there a benefit to WH participating in the inter-district magnet program?

  16. Judy Aron said

    Turtle obviously knows the state of my finances better than I to proclaim that I am “well off”. What exactly is your criteria for being “well off” Turtle?

    I am not disputing that I have political opinions and they are clearly expressed on my blog – and quite frankly I don’t care a whit if you agree with them or not – the point was that my political opinions are not that of the WHTA, and that is what you inferred. I also do not make up the entire leadership of that organization. It’s clear that you don’t agree with me or the WHTA – so what else is new. Can we move on already. You are sounding like a broken record on that count. We get that you don’t agree – have you anything else to offer?

    hahahah – love the phrase “invest in the public sector” – is that so people like our Town Manager can walk away with a six figure “retirement” while he goes to work for $160,000 a year somewhere else? Great investment. Or perhaps paying for catered meals to the Ed. folks in Town Hall. That’s a real worthwhile use of money. Want to enlighten us as to why we have money for new furniture in the Education budget but teachers still have to go out and purchase their own supplies out of pocket? Turtle – you don’t even KNOW where the money is going – but you are willing to take more out of everyone’s pocket to spend. Yeah – I’d say that is selfishness – for your special interest. if you are so hot on paying more to the town then be my guest – there is a fund you can donate to. Have a blast.

    Yes – selfish pretty much sums it up when you don’t care if people are forced to move because of higher taxes, especially when those people help build the town and infrastructure that you are currently enjoying. Did you kick you parents out of their house too?

    You want to know the very real “retribution” people are afraid of?
    They are afraid of losing their town jobs, or of being black listed as contractors or of being targeted by the police in town. Laugh it off and mock me – but it happens and people ARE afraid to speak up.

    Turtle – there IS an absentee balloting process – it is designed for instances where you cannot vote because of religious reasons – it states it so on the instructions – so no one is
    “forced to decide between religious observation and civic duty” –
    The argument that they must choose is pure nonsense. You could vote absentee tomorrow is you want.

    I am pretty much done with this discussion – I am not going to convince you nor will you convince me – and at this point your comments really are just that of an Internet Troll. You are an unpleasant and angry person. I have no use for you or your comments.

  17. turtle said

    Ha! I’d remind you that my initial comments referred to the WHTA leadership, amd you, Judy Aron, are a vocal and well-known member of that leadership, a blogger, and a public figure open to criticism. Calling me a troll tells me you have nothing. In addition, I see you are still flinging that BS about caterers at town hall. If I recall correctly Bruce Putterman responded to this canard months ago. But what difference does it make? You have your agenda, and it doesn’t really matter what the town reps say.

    You’re awfully defensive about my remark that some of the most vocal WHTA spokespeople are well off. I’m sorry, but I’m not moved by affluent conservatives crying about their taxes and affecting to speak for the downtrodden of West Hartford.

    I have nothing against the well off–in fact, I wish there were more of them. I also can’t argue with people who can’t afford to pay higher taxes and therefore vote against budget increases. But why should anyone take the protestations of a militant homeschooler and small-government fanatic seriously in a town identified with superior education and services? Not to mention that your ideological fellow-travelers have run this country into the ground, and yes, I am angry about that now and forever.

    You want to know the very real “retribution” people are afraid of? They are afraid of losing their town jobs, or of being black listed as contractors or of being targeted by the police in town.

    Yikes! West Hartford has become a police state? Time to pack up and head for a flowering democracy! So we’re to take your word for this. Given your track record I remain skeptical. Also, I’d remind you that the only people who have suffered retribution because of their position on the budget were supporters who receieved racist and anti-Semitic hate mail following a public hearing last year at Town Hall.

    I’m familiar with this thing called absentee balloting. But if voting can be made easier rather than not, especially because of a major religious holiday, I favor increased turnout and saving the town $30K. Maybe I’ve taken too superficial a view of the matter, given the indignation of some of the more thoughtful posters here.

    How many times have you announced that you have no use for me or my comments? Maybe next time will be the charm. Good luck with that!

  18. Mike M said


    You can pay my taxes. Now at $6,800 and going up. Judy, way to go! It seems to me that the YES RAISE MY TAXES folks just don’t get it. They are so busy screaming about BOE cuts that they can’t see the forest though the trees. Don’t waste your time arguing with these idiots. The proof is in the pudding with CMT scores, etc. but they will argue the WHTA is out to cut teachers.

    Question for Turtle. How many houses does it take to pay the annual pension for Feldman, Sklars, and Francis? Lets hire another BOE supervisor, God we don’t have enough of them.

    For the record, I make about $90K per year and it isn’t enough to reside in a town of people who believe their beloved BOE is the greatest thing since slice bread. It reminds me of those idiots who tell you that Congress is doing a lousy job except for their representative.

  19. turtle said

    I did not know there was a “BOE supervisor” in West Hartford. Who is it?

  20. WH Alum said


    …but they will argue the WHTA is out to cut teachers.

    Yeah – the WHTA’s referendum cuts did cause a cut to teachers. Rumor has it last week Norfeldt 5th grade was reduced to three classrooms of 28 kids each. Teachers got shuffled and one is apparently out of a job – not sure the details. Supposedly 1 kid moved out this summer and when the admin or BOE reran the numbers they decided to reduce the classrooms, aka teachers. So a class of 20 or so kids was reshuffled into the other 3 classrooms, adding about 7 kids per class. My question is what will happen if one more moves back in? Will they add a class mid-year or will one class go to 29?

    At 90K you’re making more than both of us combined did last year.

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