GROTON — A new local political committee calling themselves the Groton Independents announced a slate of six candidates for town council in November drawing members from a mix of party affiliations.
The slate includes Republican incumbent Scott Westervelt, Republican Bruce McDermott, Republican-Independent Bill Furgueson, Democrat Genevieve Cerf, Democrat Karen Hatcher, and Independent Lauren Gauthier.
McDermott and and Cerf will drop off the Republican and Democratic slates, respectively.
Groton Independents Chair Lauren Gauthier said the committee was formed specifically for this fall’s election and is not not affiliated with the state Independent Party. The slate will run as petitioning candidates and will not cross-endorse given that the committee does not yet meet the formal requirements of an state party.
“Particularly here in Groton, it didn’t seem like there was a good middle ground voice,” Gauthier told CT Examiner. “And so the Groton Independents have come together as a bipartisan or nonpartisan group of folks who are just looking to have a middle ground, focused on solutions, focusing on centering citizens’ voices, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Gauthier said Republicans, Democrats, Independents and unaffiliated voters can join the committee group.
The committee’s platform is budget reform, “citizen-centered politics” and “sunlight for all.”
Gauthier said budget reform includes opening up the town budget, which the committee says needs to be transparent, and posting the expenditures monthly on the town website.
“I think there needs to be an almost audit level kind of look at the programs and services being offered by the town,” said Gauthier, who is a senior contract analyst at Electric Boat. “When you talk at budget meetings about why these increases keep happening, a lot of it is attributed to salary increases and taking on additional staff… but have services substantially increased or improved?”
Gauthier said there needed to be “a much more thorough, qualitative and quantitative review of the programming coming out of our staff and our departments” and a look at whether the budget aligns Groton’s needs and goals.
“I very much believe that the budget can be a moral document for a town. What are we prioritizing, de-prioritizing? And how are we growing for the future? And meeting the needs of the citizens as well as those that we’re trying to attract with any new services programs or development?”
Gauthier said the budget process timeline also needed to start sooner so that the RTM has time to review the numbers and send recommendations to the town council and act as a “fiduciary check” for the town.
“How do you have a very thorough budget hearing that gets slammed into six weeks?” she asked.
Gauthier said the committee slate would also advocate for removal of the two-round three-minute limitation for town councilors speaking on agenda items, which she said had been crafted to restrain Councilor Portia Bordelon.
“Depending on the topic, that can be such a restraint and if you’re actually having the kind of democratic Socratic conversation about something like a development or something like a new ordinance or a policy, if you’ve already spoken twice, but new information is revealed by another speaker, what’s your opportunity to then engage again?” she said. “Even if we don’t make a majority, we would still be pushing for that rule change.”
The committee also supports the Property Re-Use Committee’s policy for the disposition of town-owned land instead of the 2021 policy approved by the Town Council on June 27.
Gauthier said the idea for the committee started a few months ago. “It’s kind of always been kicking around, we really mobilized back in April or May for this specific election.”
Gauthier said she had previously worked with the Groton Republicans, “despite being quite moderate,” hoping that she could do something because “it’s much easier to work inside of a major party.”
“But with [the Republicans], the leadership there is so weak and there’s no willpower, it seems, among the organization to really be the opposition force that’s necessary,” she said. “The Groton Democrats aren’t in power because they’re good or what people really are asking for – it’s because they have no opposition, no meaningful opposition.”
Gauthier said the committee needs to win one percent of an election to qualify as a political party with the state – or 238 voters out of the town’s 23,809 active and inactive voters – but that’s a decision the committee will make in the future.
“We want to reform Groton to be a more responsive community and a responsive, community-oriented kind of government. We want our government to listen to those who are here, instead of chasing the ‘maybe hires’ of EB or those who they think should live here,” she said. “We’re bipartisan, we’re citizen-oriented, and we want to make big changes for the better of Groton.”