Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Washington Game" Comes to Westport

Drop Cap Letter: In his new book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House,” former White House press secretary Scott McClellan refers to what he calls “the Washington game.”

“Washington has become the home of the permanent campaign, a game of endless politicking based on the manipulation of shades of truth, partial truths, twisting of the truth, and spin,” he writes.

Unfortunately, we are now seeing the Washington game making an appearance in Westport. The issue is supposed poor fiscal oversight on my part involving the town’s obligations under new accounting rules for municipal employee post retirement benefits.

As much as critics would like to spin this into something more than it is, here’s the explanation of what happened, and why I--like everyone else--was surprised by the last-minute magnitude of our projected obligations.

The town’s obligation to adhere to the new accounting standards is not a new issue. It’s something we have been working on for several years, led by our late long-time finance director Don Miklus, the highly respected “dean” of municipal finance officers in the state.

It was Don’s belief that Westport would be able to fund at least its initial obligations under the new accounting standards by taking excess funds from our pension plans. By doing this, the impact on taxpayers would be reduced.

As he discussed this with me and others over the months, he assured us repeatedly that he had the issue under control. At no time did he ever suggest the magnitude of the liabilities the town faced. In fact, the actuaries confirmed at the June 16 Board of Finance meeting that they only brought their final report to us in mid-May.

Don’s unfortunate sudden death on Feb. 26 left us scrambling to put together the details of what he had planned. In mid-May our actuaries were able to pin down specifics of our projected obligations.

Along with my department heads, I had worked tirelessly to keep our municipal budget to a 3.9 percent increase. But I knew that to delay making any increased contribution toward retirement benefits until next year would only cost taxpayers more down the road.

Thus the Board of Finance decision to fully fund the retiree health benefits and the May 21 vote to approve a 7 percent tax increase. To say that I was disappointed with this increase would be a massive understatement.

To the Board of Finance members’ credit, they realized the importance of funding these accounts and protecting our triple-A bond rating. One only has to recall the well known private employers and some municipalities that found themselves unable to meet their pension obligations.

Not satisfied, however, with the sudden and unanticipated tax increase, I took the unprecedented step of putting the printing of tax bills on hold. I checked with the state to see if we had time to reconsider the tax rate. Word came back that we could. I then asked the chairman of the Board of Finance to call another special meeting on June 16 to reconsider the rate.

At the special June 16 meeting, I outlined some belt-tightening measures I am imposing, including postponing some capital projects. 

I told the board that these measures, along with anticipated but reduced revenues from the newly extended conveyance tax (home sales are down) and taking more funds from our ample reserves, would not only fully meet our initial retirement obligations but keep the increase to about 5 percent.

Republicans, however, wanted to make a reduced contribution to the retirement account and take less out of our reserves.

While other communities have opted for a phased-in funding method--and I had initially proposed doing the same thing--I came around to agreeing with Democratic members. They had argued that it is less desirable in protecting our coveted credit rating and would result in higher expenditures in the future. By fully funding now, we put the town on the road to saving taxpayers an estimated $30 million in future years.

The difference at the June 16 meeting was by then I had time to find ways to fully fund the obligations without raising taxes so dramatically. By taking the alternate partial funding approach, we would have merely deferred to next year additional “catch-up” increases.

In the end, I suggested a compromise 4.98 tax increase, mid-way between the 4.72 percent Republicans wanted and the 5.25 percent that I had brought forth in my revised proposal. The difference is a mere $27 for the average Westport homeowner-at the expense of higher costs later on.

Contrary to some claims in the press, this process showed how government can successfully manage to meet our long-term liabilities and simultaneously keep taxes under control.

Let’s hope the “permanent campaign” Scott McClellan experienced in Washington does not become the norm for Westport in coming months. What Westport really needs is less political gamesmanship and more serious scrutiny of how we spend taxpayer dollars. Then we all might be able to continue to afford to live in the town we all love. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"The Incident Has Left All Westporters Its Victims"

(The following appears in the Westport News March 5, 2008)

Westport last week not only hit another low in incivility in a public meeting, but it left many who witnessed the incident visibly frightened and shaken.

Those of us who have been involved in town government over the years have seen many passionate and often raucous debates. That’s part of the give and take of our democracy.

In the early 1980s, a woman even hit Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Jo Fuchs with a tomato at a meeting. But in recent years, elected volunteers have generally not feared for their safety in doing the town’s business. Not anymore.

With a shooting at a public meeting in Missouri still fresh in our minds, the Feb. 26 incident at a ZBA session leaves no doubt that Westport is not immune from such possible dangers.

I outlined what happened and my response in a memo to department heads and chairs of all boards and commissions. It said:

“On Tuesday night at a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, a member of the public became unruly, yelling obscenities at board members and acting in a threatening manner that resulted in police having to be called.

“The incident is deeply regrettable and only underscores that Westport is not immune from frightening and potentially violent outbursts at public meetings and in public places.

“I have conferred with the Westport Police Department and we will be reviewing security measures for Town Hall and for Town Hall meetings.

“I have already informed the ZBA and P&Z chairs that I and our police officials will be meeting with them and those commissioners who so desire to further discuss these measures. I will be happy to schedule similar meetings with others.

“In the meantime, I want you and all Westporters to know that from now on, we have zero tolerance for any threatening behavior in Town Hall or at public meetings.

“Clearly we will not attempt to infringe on anyone’s right to make their views known at public meetings. But it must be done in a non-threatening manner. Those who engage in such behavior will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Even before the ZBA meeting, I was asked by a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission for increased security during its forthcoming meetings on the controversial Family Y application to move to Mahackeno.

I responded that I had already requested such security and, in view of the latest incident at Town Hall, I am conferring with the Westport Police Department on additional security measures.

Controversy and Westport have long been synonymous. But clearly passions have become more pronounced recently.

Maybe it’s a combination of current economic troubles, a loosening or even breakdown of civility in many aspects of our daily lives, or simple frustration with the often slow and sometimes perceived unfairness of our bureaucracy.

Whatever the reasons, they are no excuse for the kind of behavior and resulting fear that occurred last week at Town Hall. Unfortunately, the incident has left all Westporters its victims. 

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dinner Conversation

Drop Cap Letter: I had a dinner conservation the other night at a charity benefit that I think is worth sharing.

The man, whom I shall not identify other than Mr. X, told me he was a longtime Westport resident, a Staples grad, had known my father 50 years ago, and volunteered that he was a “conservative.”

After some small talk, he wanted to known why I was proposing that the Baron’s South property, which he described as a “pristine parcel in the center of Westport,” be used to house seniors, young people, and members of our municipal workforce, and others working here.

It should be used to build the Y, he said, adding: “Why should the town help those who otherwise can’t make it (financially) be able to live in Westport, Connecticut?”

I explained to him that Westport has always had a diverse population and benefited from it. I said unless we took steps to help out, the town would be made up of predominately millionaire hedge fund managers and well heeled financial types.

He said that he was a hedge fund manager and made clear he had no problem with that demographic makeup.

I added that because of the hilly terrain, the difficulty of getting traffic in and out of Baron’s South and the fact that the Senior Center was already there, it was better suited to housing than any other municipal use (a fact confirmed by a recent study).

I said housing units scattered over the site would not sacrifice the trees and scenic terrain and would not be as disruptive as constructing a massive Y with the required parking for its thousands of members.

I said housing also would have a better chance of passing muster with the zoning board.

A fellow diner on the other side of men chimed in that he had a 27-year-old daughter who could not afford to return to Westport and things were not much better financially for a 94-year-old relative still living here.

That didn’t seem to sway Mr. X.

Then I pointed out that Westport ought to be affordable in some manner for those who teach in our schools as well as some of our police officers, firefighters, and other municipal employees.

I said that in times of emergency, Westport would be in peril if we had to depend (as we do now) on most of our first responders trying to get here from places an hour or more away.

Mr. X paused, perhaps envisioning his expensive waterfront home going up in flames for lack of adequate personnel.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said.

The conversation then drifted on to other topics.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007: Westporters Rally Round the Flag

Drop Cap Letter: The text of my remarks at today’s 2007 Memorial Day parade:

Honored Guests.

Thank you to all those who participated in today’s wonderful parade and a special thank you once again to Bill Vornkahl, known as “Mr. Parade” in Westport. Bill has been doing this now for close to four decades and we are eternally grateful.

I was particularly impressed with the Y’s Men’s float designed by Leonard Everett Fisher who was among those who planned the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima. And I thought it very fitting that it included a tribute to the late Clark Ford, a longtime resident who oversaw the float’s prize-winning design for the last five years.

I had a chance to visit Iwo Jima on a training exercise with the Marines while based in Japan for CBS News a couple of decades ago, and it was a very haunting experience.

This is my second Memorial Day address as your first selectman but, as I noted last year, I first marched in a Westport Memorial Day parade in the early 1950s. Yes, I’ve missed a few here and there over the years, but the nostalgia remains for the small town that Westport once was. A Westport where everyone practically knew everyone else. It was a quieter, gentler time. It was a Westport where the controversy of the day was the army’s plans to build a Nike missile site where Bedford Middle School is now located.

You old-timers will remember of course that this was the subject of Westporter Max Shulman’s hilarious novel, “Rally Round the Flag , Boys,” later made into a movie of the same name starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward—a movie that brought them to Westport. And they’ve been here ever since, thank goodness.

But you know, in Westport, and many other places across our great nation, it seems we don’t rally round the flag very much anymore. Maybe you saw the story in yesterday’s newspaper about the city manager in Long Beach, Long Island. He sent a memo around last week which addressed the war in Iraq, the American flag, Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole Smith and Brittany Spears in three very short paragraphs.

Edwin L. Eaton was one small voice trying to remind the nation what matters and what doesn’t. He wrote, “While our society and media outlets appear to be consumed by the activities of the ‘glitterati,’ we tend to forget that each day Americans are anonymously dying in Iraq.”

He went on: “I think only fair that they be remembered and honored” and then he ordered all American flags in Long Beach flown at half-staff—indefinitely.”

Westport has had its own way of reminding ourselves that young Americans…and those not so young…have been dying in Iraq. Every Saturday morning rain or shine a group of Westporters has stood on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge reminding all who pass by that Americans are dying in Iraq.

Our grand marshal, Ted Diamond, and his wife, Carol, can usually be found among those on the bridge. No one would dare question the patriotism of Ted Diamond…or Larry Aasen…or other of any of our other war veterans on the bridge. And no one would accuse any of them of not rallying around the flag.

But we all could do more to rally around the flag and recall the sacrifices of those who have served and who continue to serve. Sometimes you don’t realize how many Westporters have served their nation in extraordinary ways.

The late Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halbertstam, who was honored posthumously yesterday at the Westport Public Library’s Booked for the Evening fund-raiser, found one such Westporter.

His name was Gene J. Takahashi. A month before Halberstam’s untimely death in a California car crash, Halberstam wrote about Gene Takahashi in a Forbes magazine column.

“Some two years ago I went out to Westport, Conn., to interview Gene Takahashi for a book I was writing about the Korean War,” Halbertstam wrote.

“There were, it soon struck me, two Gene Takahashis, the first the former IBM executive, quiet and exceptionally modest, the model citizen of a prosperous Connecticut suburb; and then another Gene Takahashi, someone whom almost none of his neighbors knew anything about.”

Halberstam went on to detail Takahashi’s difficult life, including the time he and his family spent in World War II internment camps, the indignities he endured in the U.S. Army as an American of Japanese descent, and his Korean War battlefield exploits that won him a purple heart and a bronze star for valor and which, Halberstam said, made Gene Takahashi “a genuine war hero.”

“I had been intrigued by Takahashi’s story because it is so American,” Halberstam wrote, “at once good American and bad American.”

A few days before his death, Halberstam was called by a reporter for Inklings, the Staples High School newspaper. Aaron Kiersh, the Inklings reporter, asked Halberstam about Westporter Gene Takahashi.

“I’m doing this in honor of Gene,” Halberstam said, referring to the book on the Korean War.

“He’s just an uncommon man. He’s very graceful, a modest man. He had a platoon, oddly enough, an all-black platoon. He’s a wonderful man who should be celebrated.”

Ironically, the same day that Halberstam was killed, the Inklings reporter spoke to Gene Takahashi about Halberstam. Neither knew at the time Halberstam was dead. Takahashi said he was looking forward to Halberstam returning to Westport for yesterday’s event.

“My experiences caught Halberstam’s attention,” Takahashi told Inlings. “He came to Westport and we spent the day together talking about my experiences.
He’s a meticulous writer, very unique.”

The Inklings reporter noted that Gene Takahashi was battling lung cancer. Well, 13 days ago, Gene Takahashi died. A memorial service was held this weekend…Memorial Day weekend….at the Saugatuck Congregational Church…a day before he and Halberstam were to be reunited at the Westport Library.

Now both are gone…but you can be sure, not forgotten, not by this generation or by the many who will follow.

The same Inklings issue that carried the Halberstam interview also had a story about a soldier many Staples students would have a lot easier time identifying with—Staples assistant principal Rich Franzis.

It was announced last January that the 51-year-old Franzis, a lieutenant colonel in the army reserve and father of three, will be on active duty for 18 months. Franzis, adviser to the sophomore class, told Inklings that he visited Iraq in April for two weeks to meet with the counterpart he will be replacing this summer.

He mentioned that the turret gunner in his Humvee is the mother of a 3-year-old who volunteered to go back to Iraq for a second time. Franazis closed his e-mail to Inklings this way:

“I’d like to wish the class of 2007 my very best wishes for a successful future. Hopefully I’ll be back to see my class, the class of 2009 graduate. Best regards and thanks for thinking of me. – Rich Franzis.”

Well, Rich Franzis, we are thinking of you today, of you and your fellow soldiers now serving our country. We’re thinking of Gene Takahashi. We’re thinking of Ted Diamond and the millions of others who have served so valiantly.

And yes, Westport can still rally round the flag for all those to whom we are so grateful for our freedom and for making our country still the greatest nation in the world.

Thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

State of the Town

Drop Cap Letter: Here are some excerpts from my prepared remarks before today’s Westport Rotary Club.

I deviated from the text and did not say things exactly this way or in this order. But I stand by the remarks as outlined here.

I’ll also be delivering a similar talk to the Democratic Town Committee on Monday, Feb. 12 at 8 pm. at Town Hall.

We’re in great shape in Westport and we’re getting better all the time. In fact, our problem, if you can call it that, is that Westport continues to be one of the most desirable places to live in the United States.

It’s a problem because with a finite stock of real estate, people continue to bid up the price to settle here. And that makes it difficult for seniors on fixed incomes to remain…difficult for young people who grew up here to return….and difficult for our teachers, police officers, firefighters, and others who work here to live in Westport.

That’s why I am a strong proponent of affordable housing, workforce housing, and senior housing--but done on our terms and in areas acceptable to townspeople.

Yes we’ve been impacted by the recent housing slowdown, but certainly not as much as some places.

Not only do we have some of the best and most scenic recreation facilities…but we have an involved, caring community. The monies raised by the people in this room, and by hundreds of our neighbors, and donated to those in need set us apart from many communities. 

More "State of the Town"

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day 2006: "Someone Points a Finger at You and You Go"

Drop Cap Letter: Text of my remarks at today’s Veterans Day ceremony in the Town Hall Auditorium:

In yesterday’s New York Times, there was a story from Zagrit, Iraq, by C. J. Chivers.

It recounted how a group of marines got the news about the resignation on Wednesday of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

An Iraqi watching television who was an involuntary host to a platoon of marines looking for insurgents passed on the news in broken English to the platoon’s sergeant.

“Rumsfeld is gone,” he told the sergeant.

“Rumsfeld is gone?” the sergeant said. “Really?”

The Iraqi nodded. The sergeant went upstairs, the Times correspondent wrote, and he said to five marines sprawled with rifles on the cold floor, “Rumsfeld’s out.”

The Times report went on: Lance Cpl. James L. Davis Jr. looked up from his cigarette. “Who’s Rumsfeld?” he asked.

Politics and politicians are not of great interest to many of our young men and women serving in the military. They have but one mission—to serve their country.

And to stay alive.

Later in the story, the correspondent told of meeting Lance Cpl. Patrick S. Macguire. His grandfather fought at Iwo Jima.. His father was a marine in Vietnam. This was his second tour in Iraq.

“Here’s the deal,” he said. “Someone points a finger at you, and you go.”

And so it has been for decades for those in our military.  Someone points a finger at you and you go.

They have gone from Westport in wars back to the Civil War. And they have gone most recently to Afghanistan and to Iraq.

Westport has been fortunate in that our town has not suffered any recent direct war casualties.

But back in 2003, Connecticut’s first casualty in the Iraq War was the son-in-law of Westporter Jay Paretzky, who at the time was president of our volunteer ambulance service.

Master Staff Sgt. Phillip Jordan, 42, and eight other marines were killed in an ambush.

Jordan and his wife Amanda had visited Westport regularly with their then 6-year-old son Tyler.

Others from Westport have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately, they returned home safely.

But many who served in other wars did not. Some of their colleagues are with us today in this auditorium.

“Someone points a finger at you and you go,” said the marine in Iraq.

We are grateful for those who have gone without question when asked…from Westport and from all across America.

Today it is our honor to honor them, express our gratitude, and, as a community, once again to say “thank you.”

Saturday, October 14, 2006

So Where Does the Time Go?

Drop Cap Letter: Yes, I know, Gordon’s Journal has been AWOL for a while.  Busy days and long hours. But here’s a little catch-up.

This week a group of fifth graders from the Westport schools came in to talk about community issues, everything from big houses, obesity in young people, emergency preparedness, taxation, traffic, sidewalks, biking on town streets, whether I would run again and of course, the Y at Mahackeno.

They listened politely and intently. Clearly they had done their homework and truly were interested in the issues and my answers. The Westport Minuteman had a good story about it in this week’s issue.

Last week, there was a letter in the Westport News suggesting I had been silent on the Y issue. I guess the letter writer was not paying attention to last fall’s debates where it was a main issue in the selectman’s race and to my comments reported in the press since then.

As I told the youngsters this week, in the best of all worlds the Y would be centrally located. I have had numerous conversations with Y leaders in which I offered to work with them to find an alternate location downtown. But the answer has been the same—they are focused on moving to land they already own at Mahackeno.

The Y, like any land owner in Westport, has the right to apply to use their property as they see fit. If their efforts are unsuccessful, I stand ready to work with them on finding someplace else.

I don’t recall discussing affordable housing with the fifth graders. But it certainly is something on the front burner for all Westporters—Gorham Avenue, Saugatuck, you name it. 

I sat through much of the P&Z meeting this week along with many other Westporters listening intently to the presentations. I had hoped for an opportunity to speak along with my fellow Westporters. Maybe next time.

What I’ll say is what many others have said – the proposed development on Gorham Avenue and Main Street is too intense for the neighborhood. There is no question Westport needs more affordable housing, senior housing, workforce housing, etc. But not at the cost of destroying neighborhoods, especially one so historic as the Gorham area.

We as a community must find places where we can erect this kind of housing. Baron’s South certainly is one place and we are actively pursuing plans to do so. There are plans that have been on the drawing boards for some time to expand such housing in the Hales Court area. We hope to move ahead on these as well.

The six units approved for West End Avenue for the Interfaith Housing Association will help out. So will some units in a proposed development by the Gault family in Saugatuck.

But any plans for creating this kind of housing in Westport must be done in a measured way and must have support of the community. Next month—date to be decided—I hope to have a “Citizens Summit on Affordable Housing” where we as a community can begin earnest discussions on the issue.

I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day -- A Time to Say "Thank You"

Drop Cap Letter: It was a honor to march in today’s Memorial Day parade as first selectman and to make some remarks afterward on Veterans Green. For the record, here’s what I had to say:

Honored guests,

What a wonderful Memorial Day parade. Thank you to Bill Vornkahl for his efforts on this parade, Veterans Day, and just about every event in Westport that involves marching.

I have walked this parade every year for the past 15 years, wearing either a firefighter’s uniform as a member of the Westport Volunteer Fire Department or as a member of the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service. I am delighted to march this year as still a member of both units but also this time as your first selectman.

I first marched in a Westport Memorial Day parade about 50 years ago as a Cub Scout or a Little League member. I am not sure now which. While the details of those years have started to fade, I still remember well though the small town feeling, the spirit of patriotism,and the outpouring then to our veterans, especially those who fought in Korea, World War II and World War I.

But those who have studied Memorial Day and its history know that it began as Decoration Day to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War.

Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day due to the lingering hostility towards the Union Army. Many Southern states did not recognize Memorial Day until after World War I.

Westport’s observance of Decoration Day began in the late 1870s with Civil War veterans visiting cemeteries to decorate the graves of war dead.

More "Memorial Day -- A Time to Say "Thank You""

Friday, April 07, 2006

Open Space

Drop Cap Letter: The issue of open space has long been discussed in Westport and recently it was in the news again. Today’s Westport News printed a column I wrote in response to recent comments in its news columns as well on its editorial pages. It is reprinted below:

By Gordon F. Joseloff
Westport First Selectman

The issue of “open space” has been discussed in the news columns of this newspaper and most recently in Woody Klein’s “Out of the Woods” column. Unfortunately, my good friend Woody ends his column in a manner that might lead some to believe that I am in favor of turning Westport into “just another overcrowded, polluted exurb with no particular character or room to breathe clean air.”

Northing could be farther from the truth. In my 14 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) I repeatedly advocated for and voted for purchase of land for use as open space and for municipal use. I have repeatedly objected to selling portions of Baron’s South to the Y because Westport has so much need for land for its own purposes.

At the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting the other night, Finance Director Don Miklus and I told members that setting aside $500,000 a year in a fund to purchase land was not as cost-effective as seeking to bond a purchase when something comes available. We have adequate funds in place now ($300,000-plus) to put down a binder on a property or to pay for other land acquisition preliminaries.

I emphasized to the commission and later to Westport News reporter Kirk Lang that purchase of open land while a priority, was one of a number of my priorities, including erecting housing for our seniors who want to downsize, for empty-nesters who want to remain in Westport, and for our municipal employees, most of whom cannot afford to live here.

For our police and firefighters, it’s not merely an issue of convenience. It’s a serious public safety concern. With most of our first responders living out of town, they would not be here in case of a sudden crisis and would have a hard time getting here.

We have made progress in recent years in purchasing land for open space. We have done miserably in developing more affordable housing. Yes, they often are competing interests. But if Westport ends up a place where only the truly wealthy are left to take advantage of open space, we have not served our community well.

Woody Klein says open space in residential areas should be preserved. Of course it should be—where practicable. But my remarks were addressed to those who have told me the town should compete against developers when a homeowner decides to sell so open spaces can be created in neighborhoods where they do not now exist. While that is an admirable goal, I’d rather put my taxpayer dollars into the larger parcels of existing open space – or mostly open space—that would serve more people.

We have had a number of large parcels on our potential acquisition list for many years. These were identified by the Land Acquisition Committee in its comprehensive report issued in June 2000.  Our priority ought to be in acquiring—or at minimum expressing an interest in acquiring—these properties. But equally important is the need to increase our stock of affordable housing. If it can be done on land already owned by the town (Baron’s South, for example) that makes it less expensive, more doable, and more attractive to developers.

In any case, increasing our stock of open space and erecting affordable housing where we can are not mutually exclusive goals. Together they would prevent Westport from becoming “just another overcrowded, polluted exurb.”

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Where Does the Time Go?

Drop Cap Letter: No, I haven’t forsaken Gordon’s Journal. The truth is the hours have been long and opportunities to blog in short supply. I will try to do better.

There’s been much on my plate lately. While we fortunately have not had many brush fires in the recent dry spell, I’ve been putting out a few in town government, or trying.

Later today, I ‘ll address the Westport Rotary Club and give them an update. I’ll post some of those observations later here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

First 100 Days

Drop Cap Letter: It’s hard to imagine but Shelly and I have been in office 100 days. It’s been exciting, at times exhausting, but full of challenges.

At the top of my priority list when I came in to office were four items:

• Emergency preparedness
• Senior tax relief
• Property revaluation
• Technology

We’ve made progress on all of them.

On preparedness, I’ve met weekly with our police, fire, health, and Red Cross officials to make sure Westport is as prepared as it can be for any eventuality – natural or man-made. In addition, I’ve been to two state training sessions.

I’ll make no secret of the fact that of all the possible emergency scenarios that could hit us, I am most concerned about a pandemic flu and the spread of bird flu in Asia, Africa and now parts of Europe. Its consequences should it mutate into humans and spread will be catastrophic.

In April, Westport, Weston and Wilton are participating in an exercise that will simulate a health disaster necessitating the distribution of vaccines or medications to the estimated 50,000 residents of our three towns. It will be a good test of our readiness and, I hope, heighten public awareness of the need for each of us to be prepared for such an emergency.

We are working on a public education program that will tell Westporters how we are preparing and how you should as well. In the meantime, I recommend going to http://www.pandemicflu.gov/

Town Launches Newly Redesigned Web Site

Drop Cap Letter: The town launched its newly redesigned Web site today. Check it out at http://www.westportct.gov We hope you will find it interesting and, more importantly, useful. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Weekend Storm: Westport Did Well

Drop Cap Letter: This weekend’s storm, unlike the ones in January, did not sneak up on us and Westport was well prepared.

We put all our public works crews on alert as well as private contractors, checked our equipment, readied the sand and salt supplies, and were ready to go when the first flakes started sticking late Saturday night.

Fortunately, it was a fluffy snow, not the heavy kind that takes down trees and power lines. As a result, we did not have one report of a power outage or tree down in Westport during the storm.

Our big concern is that the northeaster coincided with the full moon high tide. The combination had the potential of causing flooding – and it did. The flooding was relatively minor, however.

I accompanied Assistant Fire Chief Larry Conklin and Firefighter Tim Chalfant as they made their rounds Sunday morning, first to Saugatuck Shores and then the Compo Beach area and Green’s Farms.

Shortly after 9 a.m., water had begun to creep over Canal Road. By 10:45 a.m., high tide, there was a good 3 feet of water (or more) over the roadway. By then, Conklin had ordered an engine company and staff car to Saugatuck Island as a standby – a precaution taken any time flooding is expected.

We also saw some minor flooding on Compo Road South near the Minuteman statute as well as on the entry road to Burying Hill Beach. There was also some flooding in the Old Mill area. 

More "The Weekend Storm: Westport Did Well"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Brown Bag and Legislative Priorities

Drop Cap Letter: A busy week gone by and a busy week coming. Last week included a brown bag on emergency preparedness and a review of events during January’s wind storms and power outages.

Chris Swan of CL&P was there to give us his perspective. We also had reports from Fire Chief Chris Ackley and Police Chief Al Fiore. Michelle Deluca of the Red Cross brought along a backpack full of supplies to keep on hand in case of emergency.

Also there was Eileen Woodley who told us of the nightmare she went through when a tree crashed through the roof of her Hockanum Road home. Luckily no one was hurt, but her house and contents suffered considerable damage.

It was a good opportunity to remind all Westporters of the steps they need to take to be prepared for an emergency. The question of opening a Westport shelter came up and I explained that we had little indication of a desire by residents to go to a shelter.

We opened a “warming station” at the Red Cross chapter on Church Lane and no one showed up. Weston opened its middle school as a shelter and also had no takers.

If a storm hits and you do want to go to a shelter, please let us know by calling the non-emergency number at the fire department – 341-5000. Westporters traditionally have been reluctant to go to a public shelter – preferring friends or a hotel first. But we are ready to open one if there is a need.

At the end of the week, I attended a breakfast meeting in Norwalk with other mayors, first selectmen and area legislators to discuss priorities for Connecticut’s legislative session opening this week.

The meeting, arranged by the South Western Regional Planning Agency, touched on a number of subjects – transportation, the economy, taxes, and speeding tickets, among other things.

SWRPA is asking legislators to once again consider adding a surcharge of $10-$25 to tickets issued by local municipalities that would come back to the towns and cities. Most people don’t’ know that all the revenue from speeding tickets and other moving violations all goes to the state.

The reaction from local legislators to the proposal was luke warm. One wanted to know how many tickets all the towns issued (that information is being compiled). Another expressed concern that the towns would start issuing more tickets when budget needs became acute.

Don’t hold your breath on this one.

P.S. I hope to get to Hartford for the opening of the legislative session Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Week That Was

Drop Cap Letter: Apologies for not posting for a while. Last week’s back-to-back storms kept me busy.

With more than 4,000 Westport homes without power at one point, I figured my time was better spent working on storm-related problems rather than writing the blog (which many people could not have seen anyway).

If you did have power, there was information on the town Web site (http://www.westportct.gov,) on WestportNow (http://www.westportnow.com), on the radio (WWPT 90.3 FM), and on the phone (22power or 227-9637).

It was one of those storms where Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P) acknowledges it was caught short on the Saturday night/Sunday morning of the holiday weekend. The utility moved a mobile emergency command center into Westport (at the transfer station on the Sherwood Island Connector) Monday morning.

With the help of our police, fire, and public works crews, CL&P was able to deploy the manpower it did have where it was needed most. The bitter cold of the Sunday/Monday did not help. By Monday night, there were still 1,1,00 Westport homes without power.

By Tuesday afternoon, that number was down to a little more than 200 and down to about a dozen by midnight.

But Wednesday morning brought more high winds and more outages. I canceled several morning meetings and accompanied Fire Chief Chris Ackley on several calls. 

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