Let the public decide this time
Bristol, CT – – Although a formal proposal to do so has yet to be made, the idea of allowing the public to weigh in on the potential public financing of Depot Square by way of a non-binding referendum placed on this November’s electoral ballot has been floated. Public support of such a referendum can be heard around Bristol, from the barbershop to the post office, City Hall to the gas station, and everywhere in between.
However, not everyone is on-board with allowing the public to have a say. This past week Councilors Zoppo and Brown came out in opposition of such a measure. Councilor Brown equated asking for the public’s opinion to “throwing his hands up” and “not doing his job.” Representing the public’s desires for Bristol is your job, Councilor, and the best way to get the public’s opinion is through a referendum.
Councilor Fortier, meanwhile, did not offer a position on this issue, saying, “I don’t know. I’m not privy to anything.” Has Councilor Fortier not been a part of these meetings? Has she not met with the developer or others? Does she simply not have an opinion, or does she not want to make her opinion known? Perhaps she has just been spending too much of her time grandstanding on issues she has no authoritative power over, rather than focusing on matters she does.
The last time a major financial decision was made by the City on “Depot Square” back in 2005, it resulted in several million taxpayer dollars being spent on the mall. The decision was made in the middle of the night, with no public input. That administration decided they knew better than the public, and the result can still be seen today: a 17 acre parcel of emptiness in the center of our community, with millions in lost tax revenue and an I.O.U to the City’s “Rainy Day” fund.
Coincidentally, Councilor Zoppo - who opposes a public referendum on this issue - was a member of the City Council that made the initial decision to buy the mall with no public input in 2005. If the public is going to be asked to contribute additional money to this project, the Council needs to do the right thing and ask the public for its support. It is up to Renaissance Downtowns to sell this project to the public, as they have been working to do over the last few years.
At the end of the day, the City Council will have the final say – referendum or not – and will have the opportunity to lead. Why not at least get the public’s input before making that decision?