DARIEN — Many voters on Tuesday will notice more than a few vacancies on their Representative Town Meeting ballots.
According to Town Clerk Donna Rajczewski, there are significantly more openings in the Representative Town Meeting than there are candidates running for election, to the extent that there will be only 71 of 100 seats filled in Darien’s legislative body.
According to interim moderator Seth Morton, of District 3, the number of vacancies this year is unusually high. But Morton, and other RTM members, are not alarmed.
“It ebbs and flows. Recruiting people to be part of the RTM has always been a challenge. It varies from district to district,” said Morton, who became involved in town government in the 1970s, when talk of closing his children’s elementary school spurred him into action. “It has to do with people’s individual schedules, where they work, what the demands of their jobs are. I think people leaving and then new people coming in plays a part too. New people come in and don’t know anything about how our town government works at first.”
Jim Cameron, of District 4, said he might not have gotten involved in the RTM if not for a nagging neighbor who was a district chair. He has served for more than a decade.
“It’s very rewarding to serve on the RTM. It’s not a huge commitment of time. Darien is a very volunteer-focused community. That’s one of the things that makes Darien so special,” Cameron said.
Because of the way in which he was introduced to the RTM, Cameron believes firmly that district chairs should be out in the community recruiting new members to combat stretches of low participation.
“It looks as if there are certain districts that have a pattern of under-involvement. I think that’s attributable to a couple things. We need more controversial issues; we need very active district chairs and we don’t need to discourage people from joining,” Cameron said, referencing an ordinance that would have required members to maintain 50 percent attendance at RTM and committee meetings.
Cameron also said there needs to be some understanding that RTM members have day jobs and that they won’t be able to make every meeting.
In District 3, which has seven vacancies, changes at work caused three members whose terms expired this year to opt out of re-election, according to Chairman Steven Anderson. Another member in District 3 passed away in the last year, prompting his daughter, also a member of the RTM, to move out of town.
“In our district the number of vacancies is larger than normal. But vacancies are cyclical. And if there is a big issue that comes up, people come out for it,” Anderson said.
Also according to Anderson, it’s common for members to be appointed to the RTM after elections via a caucus. Residents who know of vacancies can apply to become a member and will be reviewed by their respective district before being accepted or denied.
Because members chosen by a caucus only serve until the next election, as opposed to the normal two-year term of an RTM member, Rajczewski speculated that many of the vacancies are caused around election time by these kinds of members. She several write-in candidates — who need 25 votes to earn a spot on the RTM — had approached her.
And while neither Rajczewski, nor any of the RTM members interviewed considered the number of vacancies a serious issue, Cameron was clear certain kinds of members are a problem in the RTM.
“Who I don’t have any sympathy for are the people who get elected to the RTM and only show up at one budget meeting every year. These people should be publicly shamed. That’s a disservice. I’d rather have that seat be empty than occupied by someone who doesn’t show up,” Cameron said.