Here’s The State Of Westport

The state of the town is strong.

The state of our schools is too.

Those verdicts were delivered by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin yesterday.

A large, inquisitive crowd packed the Westport Library. The 3rd annual State of the Town meeting was sponsored by our 2 Rotary Clubs.

Marpe began by citing 2 newly improved facilities: the library itself, and the Senior Center.

He also mentioned that Westport has the highest life expectancy in Connecticut, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Our neighborhood averages range from 82 years all the way to 89 (Old Hill area). Who knew?!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at yesterday’s “State of the Town” meeting.

Among the 2019 accomplishments, Marpe pointed to:

  • New accessibility projects at Compo beach, and environmentally friendly turf fields
  • Wakeman Town Farm improvements
  • Sasco Brook’s de-listing from the state register of impaired waterways
  • The town’s new mobile-friendly website
  • The Police Department’s innovative technology and equipment, including increased capability to respond in a crisis, and the groundbreaking Tesla 3 patrol car
  • Improvement projects at our 2 railroad stations
  • A 7% decline in Fire Department 911 calls, in large part due to proactive efforts in schools and the construction industry

The Westport Fire Department has made a determined effort to educate Westporters about fire safety.

  • Ongoing investments to upgrade commercial properties downtown and on the Post Road
  • 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane’s leadership of improved town wayfinding
  • 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker’s leadership of the “Westport Means Business” series
  • Commitment to be a NetZero community by 2050; rebranding “Sustainable Westport”; the RTM’s legislation on replacing single-use plastics; adding new solar energy capacity; switching 1,300 street lights to LED bulbs, and a “Zero Food Waste Challenge,” which includes a free pilot program for dropping off food waste at the transfer station (beginning April 1).
  • Consolidation of police, fire and EMS public safety dispatch centers with Fairfield
  • Automating building and land use processes with the Planning & Zoning, Building, Conservation, Public Works, Health District and Fire departments.

Building in Westport is becoming easier, with enhanced communication among town bodies. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Of course, there are challenges. Marpe mentioned:

  • Traffic. He, the police and Public Works are scheduling RTM district public meetings to identify practical, realistic solutions.
  • Affordable housing. We have 3 years left on our moratorium under the 8-30g state statute.
  • The need to enhance Longshore, and other town facilities
  • Keeping the tax mill rate flat, as it has been for about 5 years. Marpe noted that financial reserves are at or ahead of “our conservative targets,” and that pension and post-employment benefit assets are “very well-funded.”

Marpe concluded his prepared remarks by noting:

Westport is and will continue to be among the most attractive towns in the tri-state area to raise a family, educate children, create and grow a business, and retire.

We are a truly rare and wonderful combination of a small, charming New England town committed to celebrating our past and preserving our history, and also a cutting-edge community that fosters innovation, creativity and progress.

Westport preserves its past and looks to the future, says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. (Photo/John Videler for VIdeler Photography)

Board of Ed chair Savin said that the Westport School District is “strong, and getting stronger,” in areas like academics, arts, special education and athletics.

She noted the district’s focus on social and emotional health, safety and security — and combating vaping.

Among the challenges: reopening Coleytown Middle School, the budget, and the search for a new schools superintendent.

She said the board and community must “continue to invest in students, professionals and infrastructure.”

Board of Education chair Candice Savin’s presentation included slides like these, showing renovations to Coleytown Middle School.

Moderator Jeff Wieser then read questions from audience members.

Marpe was asked about his biggest budgetary challenge. “The capital forecast — school and town projects,” he said.

Regarding empty storefronts on Main Street, he pointed to new businesses coming in, along with “mom and mom” stores owned by local residents. He noted that the P&Z wants to improve efficiencies of town processes, and praised Regency Centers — owners of several large Westport shopping areas — for recent upgrades of their properties.

Marpe also said that the Downtown Merchants Association and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce are working hard to attract new businesses.

Asked about the relationship with the Westport Museum for History & Culture, the 1st selectman said that the town no longer stores records there, eliminating a $7,500 storage fee. He said that although this year the town helped fund the Museum’s First Light celebration, he was “troubled” when he realized some of the money went toward employees’ salaries.

“We are working with them to recover that portion” of the funds, he said.

However, Marpe added, “the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying. I appeal to residents to step back. You’re talking about people who live down the street from you.”

Regarding traffic, Marpe said the most significant impact comes from Waze. He acknowledged frustration with timing of Post Road lights, and said the town is in “regular communication” with the state Department of Transportation.

When the highways get crowed, Waze sends drivers through Westport.

As for Joey’s at the Shore, Marpe described the town’s 30-year relationship with the former beach concessionaire. He said they parted ways “without hard feelings.” An RFP has been issued for Compo, the skating rink/pool and golf course halfway house.

Seven or eight “well qualified” responses have been received. Bids will be open this week, and Marpe is optimistic that the new concessionaire will continue Joey Romeo’s “warmth, style, sensitivity and food.” He warned though that it may not be “fully operational” by the start of beach season.

In response to Board of Ed questions, Savin said that there are contingency plans in case CMS is not ready to reopen next fall; that pushing school start times back 30 minutes for all schools will be on the February 3 and February 10 agendas, and that declining enrollment is more challenging at the middle school level (because of the team approach) than in elementary schools and Staples High.

When the meeting was over, the town officials were not through. Members of the audience continued to ask questions. Marpe and Savin kept answering them.

41 responses to “Here’s The State Of Westport

  1. Sure is nice to know about that life expectancy thing here in town, since, in the US, due to cuts in safety net spending by the government, life expectancy has gone DOWN. Not so in other countries with more socially aware government spending….just sayin’.

    • Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      Life expectancy IMO is at least 50% self-fulfilling. If individuals, predominantly among the middle class, accepted responsibility for what they can control such as obesity/heart disease/drug addiction and if politicians allowed them to, there’d be more resources available to help those who truly need it and less inclination to point fingers. CFP (chronic finger pointing) is a disorder the politicians have done a great job of spreading to the rest of us.

      • Elizabeth Thibault

        Personal responsibility is a pretty reductive explanation for something like this. People in Westport aren’t just better people with stronger personal restraint and control.
        We can’t discount that the luxury of being able to afford quality health care. Being able to say “I can afford to go to the doctor to get this cold checked out,” and afford the $179 office visit fee (because we haven’t met the $5k deductible yet,) is something that helps our illness’ from getting worse and harder to treat. Being able to catch an issue in an annual checkup and take corrective actions is also something many of us take for granted. Being able to have regular dental care, which is considered a luxury by many in the country, is also something that allows us to be much healthier.
        Westport is filled with good people, but lets not discount the advantages our privilege bring.

        • Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70

          The factors I’ve cited have absolutely nothing to do with access to healthcare unless one needs a doctor’s visit to gain access to a mirror. My point in general was that catastrophic healthcare costs are self inflicted and if the controllables were under control then universal healthcare would not only be affordable it would be plentiful. You’re probably too young to remember but President Kennedy made physical fitness a national obsession 60 years ago. That’s the type of leadership that has been lacking since he was murdered. Presidents attempting it such as Jimmy Carter were laughed out of town.

    • Alcohol, drugs, obesity and suicide; four major causes of decline in life expectancy. Life expectancy started to flatten out in the 1980’s.

  2. I’m very disappointed at the statement by First Selectman Marpe: “the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying.” I can see Mr. Marpe isn’t taking this very seriously. When a 06880 post generates 33 extremely negative comments and no positive ones, there’s a problem! He doesn’t get it.

  3. “However, Marpe added, ‘the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying. I appeal to residents to step back. You’re talking about people who live down the street from you.’”

    Dan Woog’s 06880 provides a forum for a free people to express their opinions publicly. No elected official of this town should have the audacity to claim that those expressing their opinions are engaged in cyberbullying – a crime in Connecticut. First Selectman Marpe’s comments chill free speech and are far more concerning than any of the opinions expressed about the museum. Dan Woog’s readers aren’t cyberbullies – they’re mostly tax-paying residents of this town. I appeal to Mr. Marpe to stop attempting to inhibit our free speech rights.

    • Jack, You are exactly correct! Mr. Marpe was way out of line with that “cyber bullying” comment. He is accusing us of breaking the law! His comment does put a chilling effect on Dan’s readers!

  4. Marpe’s comment is not surprising since he supports Donald Trump and simply is reflecting the anti free speech and free press agenda of the Administration. He, of course, would deny that but, since he reflects Trump, why should we believe him.

    • TDS.

    • Dan- Jim Marpe is a personal friend of mine- trust me he is no supporter of Trump. Pretty bold surprising accusation coming from you. A bit out of character as you are a person who is respectful of character don’t you think?
      How many of Democrats like yourselves spoke out against Dick “photo opt” Blumenthal’s endorsement of a convicted felon Joe Ganim for Mayor of Bridgeport?
      Nothing but crickets from all of the powerful Democrats in our community and surrounding areas. Why? Because Dick Blumenthal is a Democrat he gets a pass from all media outlets, and folks like yourself?
      Trust me, if Jim Marpe endorsed Trump, there would be an all out media circus in Westport.
      Jim Marpe is a straight honest man, doing his best for our town. Confusing his character with that of Donald Trump, is embarrassing and on the cusp of slander of character.
      You are better then that Dan.

      • William Adler

        Agreed. As I have counseled, let’s keep national politics out of these discussions. A great blessing of a Town like Westport is that people of all parties can work together to come up with local solutions that work!

      • Come on, Jimmy. It is completely fair to say that when the national leader of the GOP is Donald Trump and local politicians line up behind his leadership as members of GOP rank-and-file, they are supporting. They are turning a blind-eye to the wrongs of the administration while accepting the benefits (lower taxes on the rich) happily. Jim Marpe doesn’t endorse Trump because he is being a hypocrite. Are you saying he’ll endorse his Democratic Party opponent in November?

        If you want to compare the national party leadership with Bridgeport’s mayor being a Democrat, good luck with that. We’re not bringing up corrupt (and convicted) Republican Governor John Rowland. We’re not bringing up Philip Giordano, the convicted pedophile that the GOP previously ran for Senate. We’re talking about the national leader of the party.

        • Republicans who happily ride on his coat tails are supporting him.

          How much courage does it take to walk away from the GOP? Because elected officials are goose-stepping behind him.

          Are you ready for the votes on witnesses in the impeachment trial? How many Republicans will say ” probably a good idea to hear what a witness has to say.”

          This is how democracies die. Republicans who accept this are the ones pulling the trigger.

          • William Strittmatter

            Stop being silly. Lamont is out buying votes by handing out bonding money to those that will roll over for him. I haven’t seen you call for an investigation or for CT Democrats to renounce their party. I understand no foreign powers are involved (except maybe the technology providers), but certainly an unseemly quid pro quo. And certainly those that have traded their votes for bonds did it for personal political gain.

            Trump is a jerk. How he behaves is appalling. Never should have been elected. If the Democrats had nominated anyone but Hillary (maybe even Bernie in 2016), he probably wouldn’t be president today. If Hillary had run her campaign on something other than the premise she would be a shoo-in, she’d probably would be president. Nominate someone other than Bernie or Elizabeth and he probably won’t be re-elected in 2020, even if the economy is good. But Dershowitz, that bastion of conservatism (ha), is arguably right about whether any of this is impeachable.

            The criminalization of policy differences is what will kill democracy. False dichotomies aren’t helpful for civil discussion either.

        • Chris- We are 49 out of 50 in economic growth in the country. Our legislature has been run by a Democratic Majority for as far back as John ” I got my hand out” Rowland.
          Mr. Marpe is a class act. He does not endorse Mr. Trump. Mr. Blumenthal is transplanted New Yorker, who married into his fortune, moved to CT to fulfill his political ambitions. He has done ZERO for our state, except have a locked in “photo opt” time slot on Channel 12.
          To ENDORSE a “CONVICTED FELON” and not be called out by one of my Democratic CT resident colleagues in public office is an embarrassment to our democracy.
          Please, don’t insult me, Mr. Marpe or any other registered Republican by saying we are Trump supporters.
          Our Representatives in Hartford and Washington need to start focusing a little more on how we can get people to start MOVING IN to CT and not OUT. Don’t you agree?

  5. Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    As a 67 year old, I can remember when the schoolyard bully was someone who was physically aggressive and a repeat offender, usually because the adults on duty looked the other way. I fail to see how strongly stated candor in a public forum such as 06880 equates to bullying cyber or otherwise. Nonetheless, Mr. Marpe was handed the buck on the WMCH and promptly passed it. The WHS was Westport’s collective memory. I’m going to bet that in 20 years even today’s residents won’t remember what Westport was like.

  6. I don’t especially appreciate being lectured by the First Selectman about “tone”. You want to see inappropriate tone? Try raising legitimate concerns about town matters. Certain town officials who serve at the pleasure of the First Selectman will soon offer on the record sneering, disparaging – or worse – comments intended to suppress further expression by that resident. When the facts are uncomfortable, argue for civility.

  7. Are opinions considered tone crimes if you no longer live in Westport?
    I believe the town needs to set guidelines.
    Oops, I apologize for that…

  8. William Adler

    I too object to the cyber-bullying comment. If the 06880 forum unearthed awkward facts about the Town unwittingly paying for salaries at WHS, something the Town admittedly is working to correct, perhaps that is reason to be grateful, not admonishing. 06880 is a wonderful forum and I am proud of all the Westporters who contributed to the WHS conversation, both pro and con. Open discourse is free speech. It should be cherished and protected by our public officials.

  9. Just to clarify: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe did not say “06880” specifically when referring to “cyber-bullying” — that’s why I put it in parentheses. He used the term “blogosphere.” However, because “06880” is the only blog that reported on the Westport Historical Society/Westport Museum for History & Culture controversy, it’s clear that’s what he was referring to.

  10. William Adler

    06880 is the digital Town Square of Westport. Where Westporters meet to discuss what’s on their minds. That is the most basic form of “news.”

    • Mr. Marpe made a rather huge mistake in his choice of words! Cyber bullying is a very big topic nowadays and is being dealt with in every school system in the country! Any hint that the 06880 commentators have participated in this illegal act, is insulting!

      • Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70

        As a public servant, politician, custodian of the public trust or whatever else you want to call it Mr Marpe had best indulge in a little self-reflection before he cyber bullies himself into a walking cliche which is when the need for term limits typically rears it’s ugly but often necessary head.

  11. Mary Schmerker

    I agree that calling the comments on 06880 “cyber bulling” is totally inappropriate. Yes a few remarks were a little bit snarky but eliminating the name of a previous donor to honor someone else tops the chart of “snarkiness”. I am grateful to Jack Backiel who said once a Westporter always a Westporter! There was a discussion earlier on this blog about being born in Westport. Well, I wasn’t born in Westport but my DNA was knit together in late 1939 at 4 Violet Lane. I credit much of total person I am today to having been in Westport from 1940 to marriage in 1966. My education in Westport Schools (Staples 1958) carried me to college and then a career and was my foundation for life. I did not comment earlier when I saw that salaries for First Light were charged to the town. I was appalled! Having worked for a non profit organization as a professional we were considered just that. We were not hourly employees. we understood that our work would involve night meetings, weekends and even holidays. We were employed to accomplish a task in a professional manner. Bill the city and up the pay for holidays…never would have happened where I worked. I am glad that the city is attempting to recover those fees. Keep up the good work all of you who are still fortunate enough to live in Westport. Thanks Dan for all your efforts to report and keep us connected to the place we love so much.

    • If you came to Westport in 1903 like my grandfather, or you came in 2017, you’re a Westporter! The year makes no difference! It’s all in the mind. If you consider yourself a Westporter, you’re a Westporter!

      • Mary Schmerker

        Thanks. actually my DNA has been hanging around Fairfield County since the 1600’s. One set of Grandparents were in Westport about 1916 the other set returned here in 1933. But all four sets started out in the area before Westport was incorporated. I am passionate about how much Westport and it’s people influenced my life.

  12. Jim Marpe’s remarks about cyberbullying are offensive and reflect the federal government’s spinning issues to Trump’s agenda. I am so surprised that our first selectman chose to ignore the valid comments of hundreds of residents who are people who “live down the street” from him. If he knew the many stories of WHS Executive Director’s foibles, maybe he wouldn’t have called residents’.comments in 06880 ‘cyberbullying’. He obviously doesn’t care to investigate all the problems associated with the WHS: 06880 provides a forum that is unavailable elsewhere in Westport to publicly comment on town issues. It’s wonderful to have 06880, Any hint of suppressing public comments is offensive.

    As a separate matter-of-fact,, because of his service to our town, Dan Woog should be named ‘ town historian’. We have a ‘poet laureate’, we should have a ‘history laureate’.

    • I totally agree that Dan Woog should be the official town historian! How can we make this happen? We’d need a few resignations over at the former Westport Historical Society to start with! Then we’d need the First Selectman to make it happen. Let’s do this Westport! I also know a former WHS employee who I’d like to see come back, and she made a few comments. Her name is Kate Mozier-Tichy. It’s time to clean house!

  13. When I read the introduction of the term “bullying ” last week into the 06880 discussion, I knew this conversation would be compromised and pretty much over. So sad.

    Sad because if any tough behaviors (refuse to use the word “bully” as it it is misused and overused) could be called into question, it would be also the ones behind the keyboard who actually had the real power to erase the founders of the Westport culture, i.e. the Sheffer and Kramer families for a start. How must those folks feel? May they also feel “bullied” out of their heritage and generosity? Without so much as initial discussions or heads up to to anyone let alone the families and faithful donors over the decades. People’s donations trashed without notification? Glad I didn’t send any of our close to 50 photos from vintage 1960s of Westport culture to them as my family was recently contemplating. Apparently not relevant nor safe.

    Why wasn’t that brought up as well? Just using the buzzword “cyberbulling” shuts down all good conversation to a peaceful end. I think there was insensitive strong arming on the other side as well which didn’t sound like that was addressed during your meeting. No wonder people have been silenced. Sad and quite over this. I love Westport and our childhood there and quite discouraged to read the comments at your town meeting. So sorry if this offends anyone.

  14. Janette Kinnally

    True leadership allows us to freely communicate our unhappiness about some issues that have arisen in Westport. I grew up here and whether you did or not you have the right to your opinion and I don’t feel people were bullying. They were stating opinions of how they felt. And I think the leadership of this town needs to listen and not just act like everything is always roses. We have some great things happening, but there are areas that need to be improved. True leadership is owning the good and the bad and listening to your constituents (since you were voted in as first selectman) and also sharing that things can be improved and mistakes were made and here are solutions to some of the mistakes or issues.
    That is what our first selectman should have said.
    For example, the first selectman knew there were issues at CMS with the mold and leaking in the building because his daughter went to CMS. But his daughter is older and is now married. What if she had children and sent them to our school district. She would not want her kids going to a middle school with all of the current issues. We hope to have this resolved soon, but please do not open it early, just to get it open and continue to do the work while the kids and teachers are at the school during the day. When I said to him last year – “you need to be a leader in this situation”, that means speaking up and then trying to figure out solutions before it gets to a critical state.
    None of us are perfect, but if you are going to lead our town, you need to take responsibility for the good and the bad that we feel is happening. I know plenty of people will step up and volunteer their time to fix things and get it right in Westport.

  15. Bob Penderson

    I was actually a Marpe supporter but after reading what he said I am beyond embarrassed to have ever been a Marpe supporter. He is attempting to stymie free speech. I think that I read every comment posted about the Historical Society and can’t recall anything any where near bullying or illegal. There was at one point reference on Facebook that someone sent the Executive Director emails that may have crossed the line but from what I can remember no one here mentioned it, claimed to have done it, or proposed doing such a thing. There were a few posts where Marpe himself may have been called out for his inaction and his town officers approving tax funds to be sent to the “new” Historical Society. If he can’t handle being called out then maybe the job is no longer for him.

    • Mr. Marpe and those who are in charge of the WHS, or whatever it’s called now: I’m coming to town for four days- February 22 to Tuesday the 25th. I want my aunt’s Bedford Junior High Diploma back! It was issued in June 1932! The name on the diploma is Steffania T. Backiel, and like I mentioned, it was issued in June 1932 and it’s in excellent shape! I won’t rule out “donating” it again, in the future, depending on what happens to the historical society. There’s too much chaos, and the institution I gave it to doesn’t really exist anymore! I’m very upset at what happened to the Westport Historical Society, an institution once revered.

  16. It seems to be another distressing sign of the times that it’s nearly impossible to have any discussion on just about any topic without Donald Trump somehow getting dragged into it. I wasn’t crazy about Mr. Marpe’s “cyber-bully” comment either, but to call it somehow a reflection of Trumpism is pretty far-fetched.