Category Archives: Local politics

COVID Vaccine: Am I Eligible? How Do I Register?

1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the Westport Weston Health District pass along important information about the COVID-19 vaccine:

Right now, only people eligible under Phase 1a or 1b may register for the vaccine. Click here for the form to register with the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).

Phase 1a includes:

  • Healthcare Personnel: All paid and unpaid personnel serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients of infectious materials.
  • Long Term Care Facility Residents: Adults who reside in facilities that provide a range of services, including medical and personal care, to persons who are unable to live independently.
  • First Responders at risk of exposure to COVID-19 through their response to medical emergencies, such as emergency medical technicians, police officers, and firefighters.

Phase 1b includes:

  • Individuals 75 and older (proof of age required at the clinic).
  • NOTE: The state Department of Public Health is still finalizing its definition of Phase 1b eligible residents.

To register (see above), full name, date of birth, zip code, occupation (including “retired”), and email address are required.

The information entered will only be used for purposes of scheduling a vaccination and will remain confidential.

Once submitted, a confirmation email will be sent from the Department of Public health/VAMS, followed by another email that approves or denies the registration.

Approved registrants may then register in VAMS and select a vaccination appointment.

Every individual must have a unique email to be registered and vaccinated. Someone using their personal email to register an elderly parent may not be able to register or be vaccinated using that same email. The Westport Department of Human Services’ vaccination helpline (203-341-5037) can help.

VAMS is the only way right now for an individual not in a congregate setting to register for and receive the vaccination in Connecticut.

This is a state program. Westport residents do not need to be vaccinated in Westport. VAMS may suggest vaccination appointments in nearby communities based on the supply of available vaccinations.

(For more Connecticut vaccine information, click here.)

Marpe Offers Vaccine Update

First Selctman Jim Marpe urges all Westporters to be vaccinated against COVID-19 “as soon as possible.” However, the timetable for doing so is not yet clear.

He says:

Currently, Westport’s long-term care facility residents and staff, and Emergency Medical Service personnel are eligible for and have been receiving the vaccination per state Department of Health guidelines for Phase 1a of the rollout. This includes personnel and staff from the Westport Weston Health District, school nurses, and Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services Departments.

According to Governor Lamont, Phases 1b and 1c are expected to be completed between January and May. The state has not yet finalized who will be eligible for vaccination during these phases.

A nurse prepares an injection of the influenza vaccine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 2013.

By June, it is anticipated that Connecticut will move into Phase 2, and the vaccine will be provided to the general population.  At that point, it is expected that the vaccine will be available through medical providers, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, and clinics.

Once the criteria for vaccination is met, whether based upon age, health status or employment category, Westporters are encouraged to schedule an appointment for vaccination. We expect that the scheduling processes and technology for the general public will be made available as subsequent vaccination phases are announced.

Although current vaccines do not contain the virus that causes COVID-19, there is a possibility that the virus may be contracted from another source. People may remain asymptomatic and contagious even after vaccination.

As a result, the town will continue observing COVID-19 protocols (wearing a face mask, physical distancing, routine deep sanitization, etc.) until it is deemed safe to discontinue those practices.

For more information oon Connecticut’s vaccination program, click here.

Marpe, Scarice Address Capitol Attack

In response to yesterday’s insurrection at the US Capitol, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe said:

As the chief elected officer of Westport, to watch the behavior and the blatant abrogation of responsibility by the Chief Elected Officer of the United States was discouraging and disgusting.

I am embarrassed for our country. Thankfully, as a community, our local elected officials regularly participate in a civil and respectful process that gives me hope and confidence that our democracy can and will survive.

In addition, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice wrote to parents:

I watched the events at the Capitol today with utter disbelief and abject sadness.  By now I’m sure you’ve read countless comments and reflections about the lawlessness and violent attack on our democracy incited by the reckless behaviors and comments of some of our elected officials, including our sitting President.  All I can add to this commentary is my condemnation.

My purpose for addressing the school community is to reassure parents that our team will be ready to receive our students Thursday and serve them in the most professional manner. This is our calling, among the noblest of professions.

Our team is working this evening to make certain that faculty and staff have resources assembled to support their work tomorrow and beyond. Each building principal will meet with faculty and staff to prepare them for the day. Highest among our priorities is to assure each child that they are safe in the school environment.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Each level will work to maintain an age-appropriate approach. The elementary level will not initiate group discussions on this topic but will be responsive to individual students as the need arises. We cannot make assumptions about how parents prefer to approach such topics with our youngest learners. As a result, we will be responsive in nature. If conversations and questions persist, and an elementary teacher needs to briefly address the class, parents will be informed so that they can appropriately follow up with their child.

The middle school level will address the events of the day in their social studies classes, primarily with a civics lens. It is likely that middle school students have encountered a good deal of unfamiliar historical and political language today related to the process of certifying the election, and the manner in which the behaviors at the Capitol have been characterized by the media, and also social media.

Additionally, the natural inquisitive nature of early adolescence typically sparks dialogue about current events. Our social studies teachers are being provided with tools and resources to facilitate discussions while providing context for our students to comprehend the events of the day, and the implications as we move forward. Any student in need of additional intervention will be addressed through our support staff at the middle school level.

The high school level will also address these events in social studies classes.  Teachers will facilitate the discussion as students generate the questions. Our high school students are close to voting age. Among the relevant topics for classroom discussions are the process of elections, the constitutional role of Congress in presidential elections, and the idea that the events that transpired today are more about our democracy than politics. Alternative spaces will be provided for students during lunch waves and throughout the day to provide support when needed on an individual basis.

This is an emotional time and there will be a range of strong feelings from anger to sadness and fear. There will also be a great deal of confusion on the part of our students. Our high school community is just beginning to grieve the loss of a beloved classmate and the lingering emotional impact of the pandemic remains.  We will aim to validate our students’ feelings and questions, while doing our best to work through some very complex issues.

These strong feelings will be experienced by both students and adults. In my experience, these are the times when the humanity of our work intersects with our professional responsibilities. We are an organization composed of people and we bring all of our strengths and imperfections to our work every day. We will not be perfect, but we will answer the call and bring our professional best to serve your child tomorrow and beyond.

RTM January Meeting: Code Of Conduct Committee, Police Review Board

This is Peter Gold’s report on the January Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

No votes were taken at January’s RTM meeting, which saw the announcement of a new special RTM committee, the first reading of an ordinance to establish a civilian police review board, and the announcement of a new town clerk to replace the retiring Patty Strauss.

While RTM rules already require RTM members to conduct themselves in a manner above reproach, Velma Heller, RTM moderator, noted that the start of a new year is a timely occasion to take a step back and review RTM practices. She appointed a special committee of 7 RTM members to see if there is room for improvement, and to clarify expectations regarding conduct at public meetings and in written communications.

The committee is charged with developing a Code of Conduct that articulates desired behaviors that embody the RTM’s values and principles as an organization. The Code of Conduct will cover topics such as Freedom of Information Act issues, the general use of email and social media, and commonly accepted standards of decorum for participation in public discourse, whether in person or on line.

A proposed ordinance was introduced to establish an elected civilian police review board. It would receive, investigate and make recommendations on complains regarding the police. The ultimate decision on any complaint will remain with the chief of police.

Click here for the full text of the proposed ordinance (immediately following the list of upcoming RTM meetings).

The proposed ordinance will be reviewed at upcoming public meetings of the RTM Public Protection and Ordinance Committees. It will be debated and voted on at a subsequent RTM meeting, most likely in February or March.

If the proposed ordinance is adopted, the elected civilian police review board would replace the civilian review panel recently appointed by First Selectman Marpe. That panel reviews and provides feedback on documented complaints regarding the police that are investigated by the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. Unlike the proposed ordinance’s review board, it can not investigate complaints. Also unlike the proposed ordinance’s review board, Marpe’s panel also reviews complaints regarding the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.

Marpe also announced that Jeff Dunkerton, the assistant town clerk in Danbury, will replace Patty Strauss who recently retired as Westport’s town clerk.

Jeff Dunkerton Named New Town Clerk

When Patty Strauss retired as town clerk, she left big shoes to fill.

On January 19, Jeff Dunkerton will be fitted for them.

Most recently the assistant town clerk for Danbury, he was responsible for the automation of that office, including digitizing all city records. His management and administrative functions included preparation of department budgets and day-to-day oversight of departmental staff.

Jeff Dunkerton

Before that, Dunkerton served as a registrar of voters in Brookfield, and was an operations manager for a Pitney Bowes division. He is a volunteer firefighter in Brookfield, a marine patrol officer for the Candlewood Lake Authority, and a mentor with the Danbury Schools & Business Collaborative program.

“I am very impressed with Jeff’s background and employment history,” says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

“His dedication, experience and commitment to his profession are precisely what we are looking for in a town clerk. We look forward to having Jeff join the town staff in this important leadership role.”

Representative Town Meeting Moderator Velma Heller ads, “We look forward to working with Jeffrey in his new position. I’m certain that he will be a very effective Town Clerk.”

Dunkerton lives in Brookfield with his wife Amber and their 2 sons.

Bright, Airy, Fresh-Smelling, Mold-Free: “New” Coleytown Middle School Reopens Today

In September 2018, Coleytown Middle School closed due to mold.

Today, teachers return. Tomorrow they’ll be joined by students.

The $32 million remediation and renovation project was not easy. The school was in far worse condition than anyone imagined. A global pandemic disrupted both the supply chain and some of the workforce.

But the reopening comes only a couple of months late. And the final cost is right on budget.

The exterior of the “new” Coleytown Middle School.

Staff and students will enjoy an entirely new HVAC system. Every window has been replaced. The exterior cladding is new. The entire property was regraded.

The entry atrium and library are bright and fresh. Science classrooms have been modernized.

Most importantly, for the first time in decades the school will not smell. The dank, musty odors that permeated the building — remembered miserably by generations of Coleytown Colts and their parents — are gone.

A new seal graces the entryway,

The school’s closure — after students reported dizziness and nausea — was first projected to last a month. Sixth and 7th graders were sent to Bedford Middle School; 8th graders headed to Staples High.

But the months stretched on. After educators and other officials considered everything from an entirely new $75 million building to permanent abandonment of the site, a middle ground — renovation — was the solution.

On March 4, 2018 a building committee was formed. The next day, they held their first meeting.

Chair Don O’Day — a former Board of Education head — and members John Broadbin, Jay Keenan, Karen Kleine, Srikanth Puttagunta, Joe Renzulli and Vanessa Valadares went right to work.

They had 3 charges: repair or replace the climate control system; repair or replace the exterior, to prevent water incursion, and regrade the exterior grounds to move water away from the building.

That meant replacing the entire roof, and every window; changing the exterior walls, adding new insulation and metal cladding; installing an all-new heating, cooling and dehumidifying system (and adding air conditioning to the gym), while regrading and installing a French drain outside.

Every window is new — including these large ones in the cafeteria.

The committee hired building engineers Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates; mechanical engineers Kohler Rohan; civil engineers Langan Connecticut; general contractor Newfield Construction, and interior designers CPG Architects.

Susan Chipouras — who earned kudos overseeing previous renovations of Staples and Saugatuck Elementary School — served as project manager.

Another key hire was EnviroMed. The Meriden-based firm industrial hygienist firm identified contaminants, and oversaw a rigorous removal protocol.

All furniture was taken out, cleaned and tested. Items that did not pass were thrown out.

“The school was a lot sicker than we thought,” O’Day says. “There were a number of structural challenges to address.

“We couldn’t just put in a new roof, windows and HVAC. We had to shore up the structure in a far more significant way than we expected. The town finally realized we needed more than just a Band-Aid.”

The renovated school is bright and airy. This is the atrium at the entrance.

O’Day lauds former CMS PTA co-presidents Sue Herrmann and Lee Goldstein for “relentlessly telling anyone who needed to hear that this building was sick, and not an appropriate place for kids or staff.”

Principal Kris Szabo and the custodial staff also worked hard to address all issues.

“The town has sent a clear message: Our children are valued,” O’Day says. “It’s our priority that they attend a school they’re proud of, and that will help them learn in the 21st century.”

The library has been modernized too.

He cited the Boards of Finance and Education, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, principal Szabo and Westport Public Schools director of technology Natalie Carrignan for “making our committee’s job a lot easier. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Now, at last, the new Coleytown Middle School is ready for prime time.

Some teachers have gone in on their own time, to set up their classrooms. They’ll all be on hand today, making sure everything is ready when students return tomorrow.

A world language classroom is ready for students.

It will be like the first day of school for everyone. Current 8th graders spent only 3 weeks in the building before it closed. Seventh and 6th graders have never been inside.

Of course, a few details remain.

Exterior work will continue through February — but only on Wednesdays and weekends, when students are not inside.

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s office is working with the state to obtain reimbursement of up to 20% of eligible spending.

Then there’s one more item to address. The company that created all the handsome new signage spelled one word wrong — every time.

It’s “cafeteria,” not “cafteria.”

Whatever it’s called though, it too looks — and smells — great.

Don O’Day in the cafteria — er, cafeteria. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Roundup: Kelli O’Hara, Tax Deferment, Santa Claus, More


Tony Award winner —  and Westporter — Kelli O’Hara joins Richard Thomas and the Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, and Bells at Temple Square in a holiday special.

It premiered last week, and runs through January 11 on PBS stations. But you don’t have to wait — just click here to see. (Hat tip: Gloria Gouveia)

Kelli O’Hara, on the PBS special.


Westport is offering another tax relief deferment program for eligible taxpayers for the January installment period.

It is an extended grace period on tax payments to assist taxpayers suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19. Eligible taxpayers can utilize the program for January tax bills on real estate, personal property, motor vehicles and sewer assessments. Payments made any time within 3 months from each bill’s due date will not incur interest charges or penalties.

Applications for deferment must account for one of the following hardships:

  1. Household has suffered a reduction in income of at least 20 percent due to COVID-19.
  2. Business or nonprofit revenue from October 2020 to January 2021 is expected to be reduced by at least 30 percent compared to the same time last year.
  3. For landlords: Income is significantly reduced. Landlords can also provide proof of forbearance programs offered to their own tenants to be eligible.

Applicants must submit documentation. Click here for the application form and additional information.

Those who were eligible for tax deferment last April or July must apply again for the January payment deferral.


Santa — aka Josh Philip — has been a busy boy.

He personally visited 89 Westport homes over the past few weeks. Kids of all ages were thrilled to see him.

Just a warm-up for tomorrow night, of course. But — like all those Westport  Country Playhouse shows that move on to Broadway — there’s no pbetter place than here to warm up for the Big Time.

Ho ho ho! Santa visits one of dozens of Westport homes. (Photo/Rose Phllip)


If you clicked on the link to today’s lead story listing scores of worthy local charities to consider donating to this holiday season — check it again. Readers have suggested more than a dozen more, in areas ranging from domestic violence and child advocacy to the Farmers’ Market and Susan Fund.

Click here for the updated list. And give generously!


And finally … I’ve always liked Eric Clapton. And I’ve loved Van Morrison.

But their latest release — a collaboration — makes me wonder if they’ve spent too many years too close to their amps.

“Stand and Deliver” is a 4 1/2-minute rant against government-imposed lockdowns. It was released on Friday, in the midst of Britain’s battle against rapidly rising COVID cases, and news of a new strain that threatens to wreak more havoc.

At last proceeds go to Morrison’s Lockdown Financial Hardship Fund, which helps musicians facing difficulties as a result of the virus and lockdowns.

Marpe: Be Prepared For Storm!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the Office of Emergency Management say:

A significant winter storm is forecast for tonight, with heavy snow hitting our area. Travel is not advised tonight through Thursday afternoon. We ask residents to have all storm preparations complete. and stay off the roads this evening.

WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM NOW THROUGH 1 PM THURSDAY
Heavy snow expected, with snow accumulations of 12 to 16 inches and winds gusting as high as 40 mph. Travel could be very difficult and dangerous. The hazardous conditions could impact the evening and morning commutes. Near blizzard conditions and near whiteout conditions are possible overnight into early tomorrow morning.

COASTAL FLOOD ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 11 PM WEDNESDAY TO 2 AM THURSDAY
Minor to locally moderate flooding is expected in the most vulnerable locations near the waterfront and shoreline. Expect 1 to locally 2 feet of inundation above ground level in low-lying, vulnerable areas. Some roads and low-lying property including parking lots, parks, lawns and homes/businesses with basements near the waterfront will experience shallow flooding.

PRECAUTIONARY ACTIONS
If travel is essential, keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency. Allow extra time as some roads may be closed. Dangerous travel conditions may exist. Do not drive around barricades or through water of unknown depth. Take the necessary actions to protect flood-prone properties including moving vehicles to higher ground.

Sign up for local emergency alerts: text 06880 to 888777, or click here.

Get ready, “06880” readers!

New Civilian Panel Reviews Police

Soon after the 2013 election, new First Selectman Jim Marpe met with Police Chief Dale Call and Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas.

“I’d never been a police officer,” Marpe — a former management consultant — says. “I needed their best input.”

Today, he notes, “I’m a lot smarter about their activity — and the Fire Department, and EMS.” Though the leaders of those department report to him, Marpe describes their relationship as “more collaborative than command-and-control.”

Nearly 5 years ago, Marpe appointed Koskinas as chief of police. He continued what Call had begun: a review of policies and procedures to reflect new national policing standards.

Westport’s manual dated back to 1972. It was one year younger than Koskinas.

The department enjoys an excellent reputation. In 7 years, Marpe says, “I don’t need 2 hands to count the number of genuine, legitimate complaints we’ve gotten — and that includes the Fire Department too.”

Nationally of course, police departments face intense scrutiny.

So — in addition to weekly meetings, and many more frequent phone conversations — Marpe has created a Citizen Review Panel. To “foster and maintain the public’s trust” in its public safety departments, the panel will:

  • Participate in the interview process of new hires and lateral transfer applicants of the Police, Fire and EMS Departments
  • Review and provide feedback on complaints
  • Advise the departments on policies and procedures that improve transparency and accountability.

CRP members will be trained to understand policies, internal affairs and legal issues. They’ll hold regular public meetings.

The CRP will include the 2nd and 3rd selectmen (currently Jen Tooker and Melissa Kane); one member of TEAM Westport, and 2 members of the Westport electorate. Marpe has appointed TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey to the panel, and will name the 2 other members soon.

Westport Police Chief Fotios Koskinas (Photo/Dan Woog)

Koskinas says that the police union is on board with the CRP. “They want accountability and transparency too,” he says.

Westport’s police already meet or exceed the state’s Police Office Standards and Training (POST) guidelines in areas like body cameras, chokehold procedures and more. Minority recruitment — including the most recent hire — is “the most diverse ever,” says Koskinas.

“But we want an outside party to see the complaints that come in. We want to highlight how well we handle our internal policing.” Sometimes, he says, an investigation turns up an issue that the initial complaint did not even include.

In 2016 there were 6 civilian complaints against the Police Department. The next year there were 5, then 6 and 8. In 2020, there have been a total of 3. Complaints against the Fire Department and EMS are even lower.

Most police complaints, Koskinas says, involve citizens dissatisfied with an interaction with an officer.

“It may be the way someone stopped the car or spoke to that person,” Koskinas explains.

“We look at the body camera. Maybe the officer spoke in a monotone. We try to explain what goes into controlling a scene.” Often, he says, a complaint is then withdrawn.

“But we do speak to the officers. We do adjust policies. We take every complaint seriously.”

Nearly all police interactions with the public are positive.

The Representative Town Meeting is currently examining a Civilian Review Board ordinance. Its members would be elected by the public.

Already though, the Civilian Review Panel is up and running. They are reviewing their first incident.

“Mr. Marpe and I believe in this,” Koskinas says. “We want to set it up for long success.”

RTM Upgrades Radio System, Seawall; Appoints Transit Director

This is Peter Gold’s report on the December Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.

December’s RTM meeting featured several housekeeping items, and 3 appropriation requests.

Dan Woog’s invocation gave thanks for America’s democratic traditions. He thanked the RTM for all it does for Westport, describing the RTM as ”its own tradition. It is non-partisan. It represents every segment of town. It is unique. It is quirky. It is ours.”

Members then reelected Velma Heller as moderator and Jeff Wieser as deputy moderator for the 4th time, and thanked retiring Town Clerk Patty Strauss for her 23 years of service to the RTM and the town.

The RTM also thanked Marty Fox and Patsy Cimarosa, who resigned as directors of the Westport Transit District, for their nearly 5 years’ service as directors.

The most expensive appropriation was $4,635,408 for a new public safety radio system. The current system is 15 year old, and has parts that can no longer be repaired.

The new system will piggyback on the state’s existing system. making it significantly less expensive than buying a stand-alone setup. The new system enables the Police Department, Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services to communicate together for the first time, and expands the area covered by the system.

$230,000 was approved to repair the seawall along the river at Jesup Green. The project adds a railing atop the seawall to help minimize accidental falls into the river. While the RTM agreed safety should be a priority, hope was expressed that the railing will obstruct river views as little as possible.

Repairs will be made along the Saugatuck River seawall.

The RTM also approved $80,000 for the design and permitting stage of a project to repair the Old Mill walkway and tide gates.

The final agenda item was to appoint a new volunteer director for the Westport Transit District.

Peter Gold, former chair of the RTM Transit Committee (and the author of this article) was nominated, because of his familiarity with the Transit District’s operations. He would resign once the town came up with a plan for the future of the Transit District.

A motion was made to delay appointing a new transit director until February to give the town additional time to decide on a course of action.

Peter Gold

While some thought the absence of a director would prod the town to take action more quickly, others noted that a director must be in place now to deal with day-to day operations, including the new Wheels 2U Westport on-demand door-to train station commuter service, and to prepare the Transit District’s budget for the next fiscal year.

The appointment of a director would not prevent the town from formulating its own solution. Based on this, and Gold’s knowledge and experience with the Transit District, he was appointed as a director by a vote of 34 in favor, and 1 abstention.