I believe a blight ordinance is needed in New Fairfield but not the one you are being asked to approve this Saturday. It would create a “Blight Prevention Board” made up of Town Employees to sit in judgement of any complaints including the many that they themselves may initiate. This board will have the power to place a lien on your property, to enter upon your property, and to alter your property and to remove certain of your possessions at the Town’s cost. That is an awesome power to give to any group that is not answerable to the citizens. This is unlike any other Town board or commission and places too much power in the hands of our employees, power that (unlike Wetlands or Zoning) is not balanced by the judgement of our citizens. The argument made by my fellow Selectmen, that blight issues are too technical for appointed or elected citizens to review or understand, is both insulting and inaccurate. The issues are no more complicated then Wetland or Zoning issues, or for that matter Board of Finance or Board of Education issues. In many ways they may actually be less so. The appropriate Town employees (Fire Marshal, Health Director, Building Official, Zoning Enforcement Officer) instead of being the members of the “Blight Prevention Board” and sitting in judgement of citations that they themselves may have issued should act as advisors to a board composed of citizens. As written there is simply no adequate check and balance.
Additionally these employees are all union members. Attempting to force them to sit upon a “Blight Prevention Board” would require additions to their job descriptions and, I suspect, bargaining with the unions. This has not been done. I do not know if these employees would want to sit on such a board; frankly, were I in their shoes, I would prefer not to. There are significant redundancies in the actual writing of the ordinance especially relating to the use of the word “dilapidated” in the definitions section. Other portions are redundant with existing Town ordinances and State laws. These may well lead to enforcement issues and additional legal costs.
This ordinance also anticipates taking action against a renter or lessee instead of the actual property owner. This potentially places the Town in the middle of a legal battle that should be between the owner and the lessee/renter. The Town should cite the owner and let the owner attempt to recover from her renter/lessee on the basis of their contract. We should not be financially exposed to that fight.
Should this ordinance pass it will be one more attack upon the self-government concept embedded in our Town Meeting form of governance and will hand yet more power to unelected employees who are not answerable to the citizens. There will be only one polling place for this vote. All voting will be at Meeting House Hill School this Saturday the 12th from Noon – 8PM. PLEASE VOTE NO! Feel free to call me at 203 746 8492 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Kim Hanson, Selectman