Category Archives: Local politics

Downtown Trees Get Priority Treatment

Remember all the hand-wringing 2 years ago, when trees were suddenly removed from Main Street? And when others were posted for removal in front of Town Hall?

Westporters love their trees. And, true to its campaign promises, the Marpe administration is making sure the next generation of trees gets the care they need.

A company cleverly named “Care of Trees” is deep-watering the roots of 5 new trees on Main Street, with an injection method. One or 2 slow-drip 20-gallon bags of water continue to nurture each tree throughout the week.

Tree care on Main Street.

Tree care on Main Street.

Taking care of young trees after planting is tricky, notes tree warden Bruce Lindsay.

“Their root systems are new. Watering is really important, to help them take hold. Street tree planting requires a great deal of planning, design, maintenance and funding to reach establishment.”

The Main Street trees were donated. The weekly cost of $300 per visit by Care of Trees comes out of the town’s tree maintenance budget. Lindsay says that after this year — once the trees are acclimated to the environmental conditions — watering will not be needed.

“The initial growing years are hardest on newly planted trees, especially in difficult site conditions like Main Street,” Lindsay notes. “Heat is radiated from cars, asphalt and sidewalks. There is limited root space and lower water access.”

The 8 new trees around Town Hall are getting the same treatment (below):

Tree in front of Town Hall

Meanwhile, Lindsay had a company trim and crown clean the trees around the Imperial Avenue parking lot, near the bridge leading to the newly renovated Levitt Pavilion.

Invasive growth was removed, and the area was scoured for safety and higher visiblity purposes. Each tree was climbed and cleaned, in a very detailed process.

Tree work being done near the Imperial Avenue foot bridge.

Tree work being done near the Imperial Avenue foot bridge.

Lindsay says, “People see me removing hazardous trees. But a lot of my job consists of stewardship: trimming, cleaning, watering. We want to make sure we preserve what we have, and mitigate any potential problems.”

Trees — their cutting, growth and regeneration — will continue to be a hot topic in Westport.

But right now, their maintenance has not fallen by the wayside.

A Taxing Question Is Answered

On Thursday I got my “sewer use charge and benefit assessment” bill.

Last year I paid $257.

This year, the charge was $5,487.00

First, I chewed some aspirin to stave off the heart attack I figured was coming.

Then I wondered: If this is my sewer bill, what will my property tax look like?

But after I did a quick calculation, I realized the increase was 20 times last year’s charge — and there are 20 units in my condo. Obviously, the tax collector charged me for all 20 owners.

Yikes!

Yikes!

Town Hall was already closed for the July 4th holiday. No biggie. I figured I’d call on Monday.

But a simple tax bill mistake is not what makes this story “06880″-worthy. Here’s the great part:

On Saturday I got an email from my upstairs neighbor, cc-ed to every unit owner.

At 12:13 a.m. Friday, she told us, she’d emailed the “Water Pollution Control Authority Coordinator” at the Department of Public Works — the contact for appeals listed on the sewer bill — with the same question I had: Had she been assessed for every owner in our building?

Yes, replied coordinator Bryan Thompson. It was a system error. New bills were being printed, and would be mailed out Monday.

What’s incredible is that Bryan responded less than 8 hours later — at 7:54 a.m.

On July 4th.

“I’m pretty sure no one in the history of the universe has ever gotten back to me that quickly,” my neighbor replied to Bryan.

And, I’d add, I’m pretty sure no one in the history of government, at any level, has ever replied that quickly to any tax complaint on a national holiday.

 

 

Melissa Kane: Downtown Westport Must Be Both “Soulful” And “Economically Vibrant”

You can’t say Melissa Kane doesn’t have roots in Westport.

The newly appointed chair of the Downtown Steering Committee — she takes over from Dewey Loselle, who is now town operations director — spent summers here, beginning when she was less than a year old.

From that summer of ’69 on — when her parents brought her out from Manhattan — she has loved what she calls “my favorite place in the world.” Her downtown memories include Ship’s, the movie theaters (“I saw ‘ET’ there!”), and Bobbie’s Ice Cream (now L’Occitane), where Melissa served homemade scoops as a summer job.

Melissa Kane remembers when Ship's restaurant (background) anchored downtown.

Melissa Kane remembers when The Ships restaurant (background) anchored downtown.

Her boyfriend Jonathan nailed his marriage proposal: It was on a Compo Cove sandbar, which he knew she especially loved.

Melissa and Jonathan moved here nearly 12 years ago, 3 weeks after their daughter Lily was born. (She has an older brother, George). She quickly got involved with A Child’s Place, where she met her first group of “incredible people.”

She is one of Westport’s extraordinary volunteers: with the Westport Library trustees, Booked for the Evening and Friends group; Young Women’s League; Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection, Westport Arts Center,a nd Green Village Initiative.

Melissa Kane

Melissa Kane

Kane did all that while starting MKK Designs, a floral company that specializes in weddings and special events. throughout Fairfield County. Before moving to Westport, she worked in non-profit development and PR for a variety of social service providers, and others. She also was a food and entertainment columnist.

Her activism in town affairs led to an interest in the RTM. (“I actually liked the meetings!” she laughs.) She was elected to the governing body in 2011. She ran for 2nd selectman last November.

She and running mate Helen Garten lost to Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner, but Marpe was impressed with her focus on community-building, along with her expertise in conservation and sustainability. He appointed her to the Downtown Steering Committee shortly after the election, and named her chair when Loselle took his new post.

So what does all this mean to the future of downtown Westport?

“We have to make sure downtown is a soulful place for everyone who lives here,” Kane says.

To do that, she notes, “we’ve got to leverage the power of every organization in town. We have to include Town Hall, and we have to promote more public/private partnerships.”

Melissa Kane wants to involve all stakeholders in deciding the future of downtown Westport.

Melissa Kane wants to involve all stakeholders in deciding the future of downtown Westport.

She promises to continue Loselle’s focus on transparency and inclusion. After what she calls an “unprecedented” effort to reach out to as many constituencies as possible — a survey runs through July 13 — she looks forward to the committee’s next phase.

They held their 2nd “Visioning Workshop” on Monday. Ahead on July 21 at Town Hall: a series of presentations, by consultants, of survey results and workshops. That will be followed by open committee meetings and work sessions. Then comes a multi-day charrette, for even more public involvement.

“We’ll be involving all the stakeholders: residents, town officials, the Downtown Merchants Association, the library, Arts Center, Cinema Initiative, Bedford Square developers — you name it,” she says.

So what is Kane’s vision for downtown?

“As chair, that’s not important,” she says. “But what I am firm about is this. I never want to compromise the soul of Westport. Downtown must represent what’s real and authentic, and wanted by Westporters. But ‘soulful’ goes hand in hand with ‘economically vibrant.’

“Right now, we’re heading along the path toward that.”

 

Westport’s RTM: 65 Years Young!

65 years ago, Westport replaced its “town meeting” form of government with a “Representative Town Meeting” (RTM). 

Ann Sheffer used that anniversary as the theme of her invocation at last night’s session. As Westport prepares to celebrate Independence Day — and America’s special democracy — Ann’s remarks are very instructive.

When Velma Heller asked if I would give the invocation tonight, she suggested I talk a bit about the history of the RTM and its relevance today… because the 500 or so people who have served over the years embody the traditions and values of our town.

Ann Sheffer, at last night's RTM meeting. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

Ann Sheffer, at last night’s RTM meeting. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

I am one of a number of Westport families with multiple family members who served on the RTM. My father was on the RTM from 1953 until 1969, and served as moderator from 1959 to 1969. I was on the RTM from 1993 to 2005, as was my husband Bill Scheffler. That makes us one of 11 sets of married couples who have served on the RTM (though not necessarily at the same time).

But more importantly, I realized that July 16 marks the 65th anniversary of the date in 1949 when the citizens of Westport approved the change from a town meeting to a Representative Town Meeting – which made us one of only 7 towns in Connecticut to have this form of government. We are the only fully non-partisan one.

In 1999, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the RTM, we published a history of this body (it’s available here). Here are a few details that show how the RTM has evolved.

In 1949, there were 124 candidates for 26 seats. But only 4 women were elected that first year. Today, both the moderator and deputy moderator are women, a first for the RTM.

Each member was to represent 250 citizens (today it’s about 700). One commentator observed that it was “as democratic as Congress and twice as personal.”

There were notable votes over the years. My favorite, with my father presiding, was the 1972 resolution asking President Nixon to withdraw from Vietnam. It passed, 17-15. There were also many, many evenings, often until 3 am, spent debating the education budget, sewers, and, of course, dog leash laws.

RTMIn essence, the history of the RTM is the history of the Town. We were reminded of that in recent months, when we lost 2 of the most notable members: Allen Raymond (the 4th Moderator) and Bill Meyer, who gave many an impassioned speech from this lectern.

I was going to add David Royce, but I remembered he was never a member of the RTM — just a wonderful gadfly who was actually arrested during one of his protests.

There are traditions that I hope you will learn about and continue. For example, RTM Rules of Procedure call for the “first right-hand seat of the left-hand section as you face the Moderator” to be left empty as a memorial to Maclear Jacoby, one of the original members, and to all deceased RTM members.

I want to leave you with the words that Gordon Joseloff wrote when he was elected moderator of the RTM in 1995:

“May those who serve in this body, and hold the responsibility for our Town, be

  •  Respectful of our past
  • Confident of our present
  • Bold about our future.”

Ann nailed it. Happy anniversary, RTM — and happy Independence Day, Westport!

 

Compo Beach Plan Moves To Parks & Rec On Monday

For nearly 3  months — ever since a raucous public meeting at which dozens of Westporters decried the possible removal of perimeter parking from Compo – the town’s Beach Site Improvement Committee has held work sessions.

This Monday (July 7, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the group hands off their draft master plan to their bosses: Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission. The meeting is open to the public.

“We look forward to an opportunity to discuss the plan and receive public input regarding the recommendations,” says Parks and Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh.

“Compo Beach is one of the town’s crown jewels. Future plans for Compo Beach are important to all Westporters.”

Part of the plan. It shows new entranceways, an expanded boardwalk, and a parking area in the center of the beach.

Part of the plan. It shows new entranceways, an expanded boardwalk, and a parking area in the center of the beach.

First Selectman Jim Marpe notes that this is not the end of the process. “The plan is still a ‘draft’ document subject to further change and revision, based on the review of the Parks and Recreation Commission and additional input from the public.” He invites interested citizens to attend the meeting, and continue to provide suggestions and feedback.

If you’d rather  watch at home, the meeting will be televised (Cablevision Channel 79, AT&T Channel 99). And if you’re out enjoying Compo — parking close to the sand — check out the videostream at www.westportct.gov.

(The final draft of the Compo Beach Master Plan is available at www.compobeach2.com.) 

Jim Marpe Mourns Bill Meyer

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe reacts to the death of Westport resident Bill Meyer:

The passing of Bill Meyer has left a hole in our community that will never be filled.

His enthusiasm for his town of Westport and for every Westport organization to which he belonged was unmatched and infectious.

He never tired of selling Westport and all the things that make it a special place.  But he always said that selling a great product is easy. For us, Bill was the one who made Westport special.

In his last public appearance -- this year's Memorial Day parade -- Bill Meyer promoted the Sunrise Rotary's Great Duck Race.

In his last public appearance — this year’s Memorial Day parade — Bill Meyer promoted the Sunrise Rotary’s Great Duck Race.

From Sunrise Rotary to First Night; from Saugatuck Congregational Church to Y’s Men; from mentoring young students to ushering at the Community Theater, and many other organizations as well — Bill left his high energy imprint on everything he was a part of.

When Bill became a member of Sunrise Rotary he became one of its most dynamic members; bringing in far more new members than anyone.  A true Rotarian – how wonderful to see him supporting his beloved Duck Race as he rode in this year’s Memorial Day Parade.

Bill was on the Board of First Night for many years. His energy and enthusiasm for the organization was a key factor in sustaining this great family event.

As the Senior Center Super Bowl Party organizer, Bill arranged for cheerleaders and members of the Staples High School football team to attend and provide spirit to the festivities. It didn’t matter which teams were playing in the Super Bowl – it was enjoying the day and the event that mattered.

As our most recent longest serving RTM member, Bill brought a new meaning to civic duty. He loved to campaign at the train stations and in front of the area supermarkets on behalf of the candidates he supported — and they came from both sides of the political aisle.

This photo epitomizes Bill Meyer. He's volunteering at the Great Duck Race, sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, while hugging Republican State Senator Toni Boucher.

This photo epitomizes Bill Meyer. He’s volunteering at the Great Duck Race, sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, while hugging Republican State Senator Toni Boucher.

Bill Meyer is probably most famous as the creative force behind our town’s girls’ softball program. He paved the way for gender equality in our town’s sports programs long before it became the accepted norm.

The town’s softball diamond on North Compo is Bill Meyer Field. For the last 25 years he has been umpiring games and is well known to all of the girls and their families who have played softball over that period.

In contrast to his vocal and unabashed enthusiasm for organizations in town, Bill was quiet and unassuming in his outreach to those in need. Bill mentored several young boys in both Bridgeport and Westport. He was a board member of Isaiah House in Bridgeport, which is a half-way house for people leaving prison. Again, these are true examples of his dedication to those in need and his desire to serve his community with his talents and gifts.

The list of contributions Bill Meyer made to the town of Westport is long and inspiring. These contributions were not monetary in nature, but rather contributions of mind, spirit, enthusiasm, and self. He was selfless – always thinking of others and how he could provide an opportunity for others to become involved as he had. His love for Westport shone throughout. His legacy will surely endure but, for now, he has left us with aching hearts and fond memories of raucous enthusiasm enveloped by gentle dedication and kindness.  He will be sorely missed.

Our deepest sympathy goes out to his wife, Carolyn and to Bill’s children.

Remembering Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer — the consummate Westport volunteer, a man who knew everyone in town, and one of the most genuinely friendly human beings on the planet — died today. He battled multiple myeloma for over a year.

In his 85 years, Bill did more than 85 normal people could in 85 lifetimes.

Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer

Professionally, he had a fulfilling career as national sales manager for several companies. “We manufactured and sold pens and pencils,” he said of one business.

That’s like saying Bruce Springsteen “plays music.” In fact, Bill managed 800 workers on a Blackfoot Indian reservation in Montana. He was so motivational and inspirational, the tribe adopted him — and gave him an honorary Indian name.

But as much as he traveled, Bill always found time for Westport.

Plenty of time.

Here is a teeny-tiny, way-too-partial list. Bill…

  • was elected 9 times to the RTM. He chaired the Parks and Recreation Committee, and served on its  Education, and Health and Human Services Committees
  • founded the Westport Little League softball program; was a member of the Little League board of directors; umpired — and had a softball field named for him
  • served as Y’s Men president and membership chairman
  • was a director of Sunrise Rotary, Senior  Center, First Night, Westport’s AARP chapter, Westport Community Theatre, and 2 intercity Bridgeport agencies
  • served on the Saugatuck Congregational Church council
  • mentored a boy from age 5 through adolescence
  • helped with Meals on Wheels
  • volunteered on many Republican campaigns
  • was a board member of Isaiah House in Bridgeport, which helps parolees transition from prison to life outside
  • won the 2004 Service to Older Adults award
  • earned a Westport First award
  • received the YMCA’s Faces of Achievement honor.

Bill loved Staples. He loved Westport, sports, the theater, church, the Republican party, volunteering, old people, young people, and his wife Carolyn.

Or — to put it another way: Bill loved life.

We owe Bill Meyer an enormous debt. He touched each of us, and all of us.

He made Westport a better place to live.

You can’t ask for a better life than that.

This photo epitomizes Bill Meyer. He's volunteering at the Great Duck Race, sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, while hugging Republican State Senator Toni Boucher.

This photo epitomizes Bill Meyer. He was volunteering at the Great Duck Race, sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, while hugging Republican State Senator Toni Boucher.

 

 

Jim Marpe Gets Tanked

Jim Marpe is the Joe Biden of Westport politics.

Whether you agree with his stands or not, you know the guy loves his job.

Yesterday, Westport’s 1st Selectman sat in the dunk tank at Sunrise Rotary‘s annual Great Duck Race.

For anyone who wanted to take a shot at our chief executive — or just hoped to support a great effort — it was a perfect way to start the summer.

And what was the rest of the Great Duck Race like?

Here is the dumping of the ducks, into the Saugatuck River.

Dewey Loselle’s New Post: Town Operations Director

First Selectman Jim Marpe has named Dewey Loselle to the new position of operations director for the town of Westport. Loselle’s current post in the Marpe administration is chair of the Downtown Steering Committee.

Dewey Loselle

Dewey Loselle

A bipartisan search committee made the recommendation.The group was led by Pete Wolgast, former executive assistant to First Selectman Doug Wood. Wolgast said, “the high quality of applicants for this opening was amazing. As it turned out, Dewey has all of the experience and ability to be an outstanding success in his new role. I am certain that he will be a huge benefit to the First Selectman in his goal of improving the operations of Westport’s town government.”

Search committee member and former Board of Education chair Don O’Day added, “I was very impressed with all of the candidates and the decision on whom to recommend was not easy … We chose Dewey based on his very impressive resume, his considerable knowledge of Westport’s governing structure, and his recent work leading the Downtown Steering Committee. He has shown he can get things done while reaching out to as many people as possible.”

Loselle has over 30 years of experience in local and state government, including division chief for the New York City comptroller evaluating programs and agencies, NYC assistant commissioner for budget and finance in NYC, a government consulting principal/partner, and on the Westport RTM. He has conducted over 100 consulting engagements with state and local governments helping improve performance and functionality.

Loselle has served as a consultant for the state of Connecticut, and municipalities such as Greenwich and Stamford.  He was a member of Governor William O’Neill’s Thomas Commission, which studied ways to make state government more effective and efficient.

Loselle’s educational background includes a BA in government (magna cum laude) from Boston University, and a masters in public administration from New York University (with concentrations in public policy and finance).

Downtown “Visioning Workshop”: Now You Can Visualize It

Yesterday, “06880″ talked about this Saturday’s “Visioning Workshop” — an opportunity (June 7, 12:30-4:30 p.m., Bedford Middle School) for Westporters to share opinions about the future of downtown.

Today, you can see some of the ideas that might be on the table.

Downtown Steering Committee member Melissa Kane sent along a few of the “Visual Preference Cards” to be used in the Downtown 101 portion of the workshop.

“They’re terrific examples of some of the 35 topics we’ll cover,” she says. “I hope they give people a better understanding of the exercise — and hopefully get them excited to participate.”

 

Visioning - 2

 

 

Visioning - 4

 

Visioning - 5

 

Visioning - 3

 

Visioning - 1

Sure, you can click “Comments” below to voice your opinions.

But — if you can — go to Saturday’s workshop too. That’s when officials will officially listen.