Ken Bernhard knows Westport. He’s lived here for decades, and seen a lot.
He spent 8 years representing our town in Connecticut’s General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader. He was 3rd selectman from 1987 to ’89, then served on the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The longtime Westporter has been a board member of the Westport Library, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Norwalk Human Services Council, Earthplace, Westport Historical Society, Levitt Pavilion, Aspetuck Land Trust, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and Connecticut League of Conservation Voters,
Further afield, he has worked with Syrian refugees, and in Ukraine. Ken writes:
I believe Westport is confronting a critical issue that requires the immediate attention of our town leaders — specifically, the divide between those supporting the preservation of our Community Gardens, and those who want to construct a new Babe Ruth playing field.
Advocates for both sides agree that there is a need for a new school. But the necessity for and, more importantly the location of, another ball field is debatable.
The hyperbole on both sides undermines us as a community.
Unquestionably, the Long Lots School Building Committee did its work thoroughly and honestly. But the allegations that it did not adequately involve some of the stakeholders soon enough, that it exceeded the scope of its mission, that the recommendation to remove the gardens was preordained, and that the process was possibly flawed, are resonating among Westport residents.
If we don’t address this directly, and before the political approval process commences, we will have failed to maintain the sense of fair dealing and honest brokering that defines how Westport manages its affairs.
Please recall instances where compromise and good governance prevailed in years past: resolving the Arts Center lease at Green Farms Elementary School, dogs at Compo Beach, the acquisition and then use of Winslow Park, construction of the Senior Center, creation of the Wakeman Farm complex, and building the Compo Beach playground, to name a few.
I recommend that the administration appoint an impartial, respected group of citizens to review the process; listen to LLSBC members, neighbors, and community garden advocates, and hopefully render an opinion regarding gardens vs. a playing field that everyone can accept, and that will help the approval process to proceed with minimum rancor and distrust.
It would not take a great deal of time, might speed up the hearings, won’t cost anything, and could avoid possible litigation.
Construction of the Compo Beach playground began in 1986 only after a court injunction was lifted.