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Marpe: Westport Is “Strong And Resilient”

What a difference a year makes.

At this time in 2020, when 1st Selectman Jim Marpe gave his State of the Town address to a large Westport Library crowd, he was aware of something called “the coronavirus.” But the town was strong, and the 4 challenges he cited were traffic, affordable housing, enhancing town facilities, and the mill rate.

Barely a month later, he led a town-wide Coronavirus Seminar in the library — though some residents stayed home, and watched virtually.

Three days later the schools, Town Hall and all public facilities shut down.

This afternoon, Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin were back at the library. But they delivered the 4th annual State of the Town report to an empty Trefz Forum. The event — like so many others in the past 10 months — was fully remote.

COVID colored nearly all of both leaders’ remarks.

From left: Board of Education chair Candice Savin, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, assistant town attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug (moderator).

Marpe acknowledged that as an early hot spot, Westport “stumbled a little out of the gate.” But — from outdoor dining to the Remarkable Theater; from public and private pivots to new ways of celebrating holidays; in ways large and small — Westport’s response was creative and strong.

The 1st selectman cited these operations:

Town officials interpreted often inconsistent governor’s and state guidelines to the public, Marpe said. They used Nixle, social media, video, their website, school contact lists and more to communicate. They coordinated education, compliance and enforcement efforts with the fire marshal and Westport Weston Health District.

Officials also worked with local business owners, leaders and organizations like the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association to reopen safely.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe delivered his remarks via the town and library websites, and on Cablevision and Frontier TV.

Marpe noted non-COVID efforts as well:

He added, “the murders of George Floyd and other persons of color, along with some racially driven local events, caused all of us to re-examine our commitment to diversity and inclusion.” TEAM Westport, the Westport Library and Westport Country Playhouse have partnered in those efforts.

In addition, Marpe said:

Then came Tropical Storm Isaias. No lives were lost, and property damage was limited. But it was one more test of town government.

Grove Point Road: just one example off Isaias’ devastation. (Photo/John Kantor)

In the aftermath, Marpe worked with state officials to hold Eversource accountable — and updated the town’s emergency plan.

Meanwhile, Marpe said, the “normal work of government” went on this year:

Projects that were delayed, but are now underway, include:

Among the items on the agenda for the coming year:

Cybersecurity is one of the 3 items that keep Marpe up at night, he said. The others: vaccine distribution, and COVID’s economic impact on the town.

Marpe concluded by thanking town employees, elected and appointed officials, business owners and residents for keeping Westport “remarkably strong, given the unanticipated circumstances of the past year.”

There is light at the end of the tunnel, he said. And although we are still in the tunnel, the town is “resilient and stronger than ever.”

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Marpe was preceded on stage by Candice Savin. The Board of Ed chair lauded teachers and administrators’ “hard work, dedication and creativity” in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, and described educational, health and safety responses to it.

Two highlights of the year, she said, were the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, and the appointment of Tom Scarice as superintendent of schools.

Savin also noted ongoing work at all levels on diversity, equity and inclusion issues, along with a variety of honors, awards and achievements by schools, staff and students.

The renovation of Coleytown Middle School: one of the year’s highlights.

(Today’s event was sponsored by the Westport Rotary Club and Westport Sunrise Rotary, in cooperation with the Westport Library. Assistant town attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug moderated.)

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