Category Archives: Local politics

“06880” Podcast: Jimmy Izzo

Everyone in Westport knows Jimmy Izzo.

Former owner of Crossroads Ace Hardware, current RTM member, he’s got his finger on the pulse of every issue in town. He knows the ins and outs, pros and cons of life here today. He’s got plenty of opinions — but he delivers them with grace, warmth and optimism.

No one loves Westport more than Jimmy. And no one articulates that love better than he.

The other day, we sat  on the Westport Library Forum stage. Thanks to Verso Studios, our conversation is now part of the “06880: The Podcast” series. Click here to enjoy Jimmy Izzo’s memories, insights and ideas.

Jimmy Izzo

Roundup: Crosswalks, Cannabis, Cancer Fundraiser …

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Today is October 1. That’s the seemingly arbitrary date on which new laws take effect in Connecticut.

Among them:

An expansion of the law requiring drivers to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. it now includes a pedestrian who simply steps to the curb and raises a hand to oncoming traffic.

Drivers must also now stop, then proceed slowly while passing ice cream trucks (only while selling!).

It is now illegal for employers to require a jobseeker’s age, birth date or graduation date on a first application.

Medical marijuana patients 18 or older can now grow up to 3 mature and 3 immature plants at home. Starting July 2023, anyone 21 or older can grow plants at home. There is a cap of 12 plants per household.

New rules for crosswalks.

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Westport is filled with fundraising events: walks, runs, and “-thons.” All are worthy, and Westporters support them well.

But one of the most fun takes place this Sunday (October 3, Staples High School field hockey field). It’s the 12th annual Push Against Cancer.

And it benefits an organization with strong local ties.

The event — in which people of all ages do push-ups, in return for pledges — raises money for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. That’s the fantastic refuge for children suffering from serious illnesses, founded in 1988 by our own Paul Newman.

It costs $2,500 to send one child to the upstate Connecticut camp for a week. Since its inception by fitness expert Andy Berman, the Westport Push Against Cancer has raised over $725,000.

This year’s goal is to send 100 kids to camp. That’s $250,000. Groups like the Staples High School girls and boys have already raised over $34,000.

There’s still room to participate, or donate. Click here for information.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas, founder Andy Berman and First Selectman Jim Marpe banged out pushups at a previous event.

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The RTM is non-partisan. So is “06880.” (Most of the time.)

But we have to single out one candidate today. Not for his political views — but his sense of humor.

Fred Cantor received an email from the District 1 hopeful. It included the usual quotes and endorsements from voters. Boilerplate stuff.

But Fred and his wife Debbie found the final quote well worth reading: “‘Even knowing what I know now, I would still have married you.’ — Rick’s wife.”

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Nearly a week after the last ride stopped, and the final stuffed bunny was won, the Westport Woman’s Club continues to revel in the success of the Yankee Doodle Fair.

The annual event — an enormous fundraiser for the organization’s charitable activities — was moved from June to September , after being canceled in 2020 by COVID. But children (and adults turned out by the hundreds this year.

They had waited 27 months. The next wait will be much shorter. The Yankee Doodle Fair returns next spring, to its traditional Father’s Day/end-of-school weekend.

Last weekend at the Yankee Doodle Fair. (Photo/Joel Triesman)

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National Coming Out Day is October 11.

To support the LGBTQ community, Finding Westport will donate 10% of sales from t-shirts this month to Westport Pride.

The shirts show the Minute Man, silhouetted against the rainbow flag. To order, click here.

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A record fell at Wednesday’s girls’ swim and dive team meet. Staples High School beat Ludlowe 104-79.

Highlights included a record-breaking swim in the 50 meter freestyle — by a  freshman. Annam Olasewere. broke the school record with a time of 26.48. She also won the 100 meter freestyle (59.82).

Top performances also came from Annam’s twin sister Ayaan Olasewere, senior captain Jessica Qi, Kate Whitaker, Mia Guster, Ava DeDomenico, Ella Alpert, Dani Schwartz and Ali Chodash.

The winning 400 meter free relay team (from left): Annam Olasewere, Ayaan Olasewere , Ella Alpert, Jessica Qi,

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David Komansky — a Westport resident who as chief executive officer and chair of Merrill Lynch from 1996 through 2003 led a major international expansion of the firm’s key businesses — died Monday in New York. He was 82.

He was raised in the Bronx by his mother, an Irish Catholic who converted to Judaism when she married his father, a postal worker whose family had emigrated from Russia.

Komansky began his 35-year career at Merrill Lynch in 1968 as a financial advisor trainee in Queens, after living in Miami where he served in the Coast Guard, attended the University of Miami and worked in a variety of odd jobs.

He sat on the boards of BlackRock, the WPP Group and the New York Presbyterian Hospital, where the Komansky Children’s Hospital was established at the Weil Cornell campus.

He is survived by his wife, Phyllis, of Westport; daughters Jennifer Komansky and Elyssa Williams (Simon), and grandchildren Joey and Maverick Williams.

A private family service will be held. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital (www.nyp.org/komansky) or the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org).

David Komansky

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The Staples High School Class of 1962 is planning its 60th (!) reunion, for June 17-18.

To learn more, send your name, address and phone number to StaplesReunion62@gmail.com.

An aerial view of Staples High School, when the Class of 1962 was there.

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“Westport … Naturally” has featured these 2 creatures before.

But never together.

As photographer Doug Brill notes: “Good day for praying mantis. Bad day for monarch butterfly.”

(Photo/Doug Brill)

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And finally … of course we follow up the new Connecticut rules on marijuana growing (first item above) with:

Thank You, Foti & Sam

The bad news: Police Chief Foti Koskinas is retiring, effective Thursday. So is his right hand man, Deputy Chief Sam Arciola.

The good news: Both will be retained under contract. Koskinas will serve  through October 22, 2024. Arciola serves through December 31, 2022.

The two men — whose steady, passionate and compassionate leadership has earned praise and trust, at a time when police departments nationwide face enormous criticism — will receive full retirement benefits. Koskinas became eligible in July; Arciola has been eligible since 2016.

However, says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, “at this sensitive time in the evolution of police accountability and responsibilities at the national and local levels,” a change in leadership could be disruptive.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas (center), Deputy Chief Sam Arciola (right) and officer Ned Batlin, at a Staples High School “Dodge-a-Cop” event. Police officers and Staples students played dodgeball, with and against each other.

He notes that while members of the WPD leadership team are “well on theier way to stepping into the chief and deputy chief roles,” they need more time to develop “the full range of skills and community relationships” to be successful.

The contract relationship, Marpe says, will benefit Westport from a continuity standpoint, and financially.

Koskinas began his Westport police career in 1996, 6 years after Arciola. They were promoted to their current positions in 2016.

Koskinas calls himself “honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to work with and for the town of Westport. Aside from my family, the last 27 years have been some of the most exciting and gratifying times of my life, while serving and working alongside members of this community. I am confident that we will have continued successes as we navigate through some difficult times in our country, and certainly in law enforcement.”

At the 2017 July 4th fireworks, Police Chief Foti Koskinas gave Ben Kiev a seat on his motorcycle.

He has had several offers, from the public and private sectors. However, he notes, “I never pictured or imagined myself wearing a uniform other than that of the Westport Police Department. I sincerely look forward to the opportunity to continue serving Westport for another 3 years.”

Both Koskinas and Arciola love their work. They have made the Westport Police Department stronger and more effective — and by doing so, have made Westport a better place.

Full disclosure: I have known Koskinas since he was a Long Lots Junior High School student, newly arrived from Greece and knowing no English.

I’ve known Arciola — and his extended family — even longer. The Arciola name is revered in Saugatuck.

I watched both with pride and gratitude over the past year. The two men — and others on the force — worked with Black Lives Matter leaders to make sure that last summer’s protests were safe and respectful. At the same time, they did not shy away from acknowledging that police departments everywhere have work to do.

Similarly, Koskinas and Arciola ensured that other rallies — for Asian Americans, the LGBTQ community and, most recently, housing fairness — were peaceful yet powerful.

Chief Foti Koskinas with Black Lives Matter protesters, last June. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Much of their work takes place in the public eye. Much also takes place far from it. Here’s one story that demonstrates how Foti Koskinas and Sam Arciola operate.

A few months ago, a memorial bench went missing from Compo Beach. Relatives of the man the bench honored were distraught.

Two days later, Koskinas called to tell me it had been recovered, I asked who the officers were, so I could thank them publicly. He said — reluctantly — that he and Arciola were involved.

However, he asked that I keep their names out of it. He wanted the entire force to be recognized.

Sure, the chief asked not to be mentioned. But that’s the kind of men Foti Koskinas and Sam Arciola are: caring, hard-working, genuinely dedicated to their community.

Besides, what’s he going to do? Arrest me?

Roundup: Thoreau, Yankee Doodle Fair, Politicians …

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The Yankee Doodle Fair ends its 4-day run today (Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.), at the Westport Woman’s Club and adjacent parking lot on Imperial Avenue.

Youngsters (and adults) have enjoyed the many rides, games, activities (and all the food). A raffle is set for this afternoon, with prizes including the furry friend below.

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Henry David Thoreau was a prophet of environmentalism and vegetarianism; an abolitionist, and a critic of materialism and technology — a century and a half before our time.

Westporter Andrew Blauner’s new book — “Now Comes Good Sailing” — will be published next month. It’s a compilation of original essays from 27 writers, exploring how this remarkable man influenced and inspired them.

On November 8 (7 p.m., Westport Library, in person and virtual), Blauner discusses all things Thoreau. Click here to register, and to buy his book.

Henry David Thoreau

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The Staples High School boys soccer team’s car wash was a rousing success yesterday. They blew the previous record profit out of the water.

The event drew scores of drivers — and a few politicians. The boys soccer program is scrupulously non-partisan.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and 2nd Selectman (and candidate for the top spot) Jen Tooker (center) stopped by …

… and so did State Representative (and 1st Selectman candidate) Jonathan Steinberg (far left) and his running mate, Board of Education chair Candice Savin (2nd from right).

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“Westport … Naturally” features all kinds of living things. We’ve highlighted hummingbirds, egrets, bears and more. Today we introduce our first snake.

This beauty was seen yesterday on Roseville Road.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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And finally … legendary farmer and environmentalist John Chapman “Johnny Appleseed” was born today, in 1774. He introduced apples to large portions of North America, as every schoolchild learns.

 

 

Pic Of The Day #1621

Last night’s moon over Town Hall (Photo/Tomoko Meth)

Remembering Garson Heller

Garson “Gar” Heller — a longtime town elected official and volunteer who with his wife, RTM moderator Velma Heller served Westport in many ways, for many years — died yesterday.

A 40-year survivor of multiple bypass surgery, he experienced serious health issues shortly before his death. He was 85 years old.

His family calls him “generous and kind, sometimes to a fault, with a dry wit and a keen mind.”

Born in Manhattan to Elsie (Lakoff) and Garson F. Heller on December 11, 1935,  Garson was the eldest of 4 children. The family moved to Scarsdale when he was 2. He excelled in the classroom and on the athletic field. He also enjoyed many adventures with his boyhood friends and siblings, including riding his bicycle into New York City for a surprise visit to his grandmother when he was 11.

He graduated from Yale in 1957 with a degree in chemical engineering. He competed in intramural sports, then later corporate and local softball leagues. He played tennis into his 70s,until health issues forced him to put down his racquet.

Garson Heller

Gar started his long and varied career at Mobil Oil. With a talent for math, logic and complex problem solving, in 1969 he moved to a technology consulting firm, Data Dimensions, where he designed content automation and workflow systems for United Press International and other large organizations.

In 1982 he joined Securities Industry Automation Corporation, which supported the back-end trading and processing activities for the New York and American Stock Exchanges. He played a key role in the design and procurement of systems architecture for SIAC’s facilities at MetroTech in Brooklyn, and was the senior director for computer acquisitions until his retirement in 2002.

He loved all professional sports, but especially the Yankees and Steelers. He was also a competitive bridge player, strategizing tricks on Metro-North and playing with the same group of commuters for more than 20 years.

After retirement he continued to play in various bridge leagues and, since the early days of the pandemic, online. He was a Bronze Life Master bridge player, based on numerous competitions.

Garson read each section of the New York Times and many other publications, and completed the Sudoku and KenKen puzzles each day in record time. As passionate as he was about monitoring current affairs in the US and around the world, he loved Westport, the town that he and Velma moved to in 1964, with 2 little boys.

He was first elected to the Representative Town Meeting in 1969, and served for 14 years. In 1983 he was appointed to the Board of Assessment Appeals, and later elected to a seat on that board which he held for 38 years.

He also volunteered as a poll worker for local and state elections, often staying until the last vote was counted. He was honored by the Republican Town Committee in 2011 for his many years of outstanding service to the community, which continued until his death.

Above all else, Gar was a man of the highest morals who approached everything he did with integrity, candor and humor. As the longest serving member of the Board of Assessment Appeals he strove to treat each appellant fairly, and to serve both the town and other taxpayers equitably.

He was predeceased by his brother Andrew. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Velma Heller; sons Grant (Joanne) of Westport and Bradenton, Florida, David (Wendy) of Simsbury; daughter Julie of Brooklyn Heights; grandchildren Bonnie Steinman (Zachary), Katie, Grant Jr., Lisa, Nicole and William Heller, and great-grandchildren Jacob and Mia.  He is also survived by brother Richard and sister-in-law Rosemary; sister Ronnie; sister-in-law Rita, and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

The family will observe a private memorial.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Garson’s memory to the American Heart Association, in gratitude for the advances in cardiac care and interventional technologies that enriched Garson’s quality of life and extended his years of impact on all who knew and loved him.

Roundup: Election Questions, Oka, Harvest Moon …

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This election season, the LWV Westport is sponsoring 2 candidate debates.

And they want your questions.

The 7 p.m. sessions — broadcast on Cablevision Channel 79 — are October 25 (Boards of Selectmen, Finance and Assessment Appeals) and October 26 (Planning & Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Board of Education).

Questions should be emailed to speechbyrachel@gmail.com.

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Oka is a posh British furnishing and home goods store, with 13 UK locations.

Its first US store opened earlier this year, in Houston. Coming soon: Dallas.

And this spring: Westport.

After extensive renovation, Oka moves into the former Banana Republic building on Main Street. (For years before that, it was Klein’s Department Store.)

New York Times readers throughout the region saw an advertising insert on Sunday. The Westport opening was featured on the cover, along with a 15% off offer. Just use the code “NYTIMES15.”

It’s good until October 22. Online, of course! (Hat tip: Jeff Jacobs)

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If you’re looking for a photo that encompasses nearly every aspect of life in Westport, this is it.

Paul Delano’s Imperial Avenue image from earlier this morning shows a school bus picking up one youngster, as a car waits. A jogger approaches. And — of course — a deer calmly crosses the road.

“The drivers were cautious,” Paul reports. “So everyone went safely on their way.”

(Photo/Paul Delano)

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Yesterday’s “06880” noted that Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s book about COVID-19 will be published today.

On October 4 (7 p.m.), the former FDA head — and our neighbor — will speak about it at the Westport Library. The event will also be livestreamed.

He’ll be interviewed by another familiar TV face (and Westporter): CNN’s Alisyn Camerota.

Click here for registration and more information.

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Seth Goltzer’s Harvest Moon shot was Sunday’s Pic of the Day.

He was back at Compo Beach last night, to photograph another moonrise. Other Westporters sent similar images. This was the most dramatic.

(Photo/seth Goltzer)

Meanwhile, Franco Fellah of the Westport Astronomical Society snapped this shot. I don’t know what kind of camera and/or telescope he used, but it sure feels like he was close.

(Photo/Franco Fellah)

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Did you know that the praying mantis is Connecticut’s official state insect?

Did you know that our state even has an official insect?

Or why?

Whatever. Here is a gorgeous “Westport … Naturally” shot, courtesy of Sharon Fiarman.

(Photo/Sharon Fiarman)

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And finally … on this date in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was unanimously approved (!) by the Senate as the nation’s first female Supreme Court justice.

Forty years later, that number has exploded to … three.

[OPINION] Aspetuck Land Trust Head Urges Westonites: Vote Today!

Aspetuck Land Trust executive director David Brant writes:

We need the help of all Weston voters to come out today (Saturday, September 18, noon to 8 p.m., Weston Town Hall), to cast your ballot approving the town’s sale of the 85-acre Fromson Strassler property to Aspetuck Land Trust to preserve it forever as open space.

Protecting this property is a major step in Aspetuck Land Trust’s multi-year effort to preserve a 700-acre undeveloped forest block along the Weston-Wilton border. Aspetuck has won a $625,000 state grant and received private donations to cover the $1.143 million acquisition cost. The sale has broad support from Weston’s elected leaders including the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Boulder talus wetlands, one of the many habitats on the Fromson Strassler property,

To close the deal, Weston voters must approve it. The Land Trust encourages all Weston voters to vote today for the sale of the property to Aspetuck Land Trust.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to preserve a property of this size, by Fairfield County standards.

The property is heavily forested, with extensive wetlands, streams, boulder fields, steep slopes, ledge and rock outcrops that support a diverse array of wildlife and rare species like the Eastern box turtle.

This is your opportunity to help preserve a landmark property for future generations. The property will be trailed for hikers to enjoy.

For more information about the property and sale on the ALT website, click here.

Map of the proposed purchase.

 

Roundup: Barista’s Baby, Election Questions, Afghan Refugees …

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In June, “06880” posted a plea from Amanda DeRosa. The Westport mom sought help for her favorite Starbucks worker, a woman in dire straits due to deliver a baby 3 months later.

Readers responded quickly, and generously. Amanda soon gave the woman $4,550 in gift cards, for stores like Buy Buy Baby, Target and Stop & Shop.

On Wednesday — after 3 days in labor — the barista delivered a healthy, 8-pound baby boy. Both are doing well. Amanda, the new mom (and her infant) thank the Westport community for helping start him on a new life!

A new life!

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What would you like to ask candidates in the upcoming local election?

The League of Women Voters Westport is sponsoring 2 debates — and they invite questions from the public.

Sessions are set for the Boards of Selectmen, Finance and Assessment Appeals on October 25, and the Planning & Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Education on October 26. Both begin at 7 p.m.

Questions can be emailed to speechbyrachel@gmail.com.

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This week’s “06880” story on Westport’s efforts to help resettle Afghan refugees in this area contained an error in dates, and an outdated reference.

On Tuesday (September 21, 12 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church), there’s a free, open-to-the-public lecture about the Afghan crisi by Ann O’Brien, director of community engagement for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services.

On the weekends of September 25-26, October 2-3, 9-10 and 15-16, Greens Farms Congregational Church will accept drop-offs of winter coats, raincoats, and boots for adults, teenagers and children; school supplies and backpacks; new toiletries; cleaning and household supplies, and small appliances. “Boxed and labeled” is appreciated. Furniture and other clothing is not needed.

The IRIS/Westport Rotary Club effort to house and assist a family in East Norwalk includes the United Methodist Church, Temple Israel, Greens Farms Congregational Church, the Religious Society of Friends, Saugatuck Congregational Church, and 15 Westport families identifying as a Muslim community.

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Peter Cuseo — part of a noted Westport family — died at home Tuesday morning. He was 74.

Son of the late Albert R. Cuseo Sr. and Yvonne Cuseo, he was an Army veteran, having served in Vietnam. He worked alongside his family at Albert R. Cuseo Refuse Service and Cuseo Exxon Service Station. He then worked at Masiello Bus Service and the Connecticut Department of Transportation in New Canaan.

Survivors include his wife Teresa; son James Cuseo (Laura), daughter Christina Gudzik (John) and grandchildren Arlo and Riley.

Friends are invited to attend the funeral ceremony and internment Saturday (September 18,  at Willowbrook Cemetery395 Main Street Westport, CT. Click here to leave online condolences. Contributions in Peter Cuseo’s memory may be made to the American Cancer Society.

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Dennis Gibson died peacefully on Tuesday, surrounded by his family. He was 77.

His family says: “Denny loved people. He was a friendly man who always made time to connect with others, whether at a dinner party, a Staples football game, or on the sidewalk downtown. He was a proud Westporter and loved the friends he made in the town he called home since 1999.”

The Michigan native spent the first years of his life in a house with no toilet — only an outhouse. At 21 years old, in a Grand Rapids home with plumbing, Denny had his first son, David. His son Kevin and daughter Leigh Ann followed shortly after. He committed himself to fatherhood as he moved with his family from Indianapolis to Jacksonville, Bethel, Syracuse, Youngstown and Manhattan.

Denny met the love of his life, Patty Burke, when they were working at General Foods. They married in 1982.

After 23 years at General Foods, the natural salesman struck off on his own, as a successful entrepreneur. He built a business from the ground up alongside his son David.

Nearly 30 years after his first child, Denny had triplets: Jack, Max, and Bo. They will cherish his whippy one-liners and memories of stretching him before his weekly tennis games.

He became Grandpa Denny to Bill, Jenna, Dan, Grace, Ellen, Claire, Daniel, and Delaney, who he loved dearly.

He is survived by his wife Patty; brother Lynn of Grand Rapids; sister Nancy Roberto of Cincinnati; sons David (Sheri) of Coronado California, Kevin (Kris) of Canfield Ohio; daughter Leigh Ann Dwyer (Bob) of Fairfield; sons Jack of Westport, Bo of Brooklyn and Max of New Yor.

Calling hours are today (Friday, September 17, 4 to 8 p.m., Lesko & Polke Funeral Home 1209 Post Road, Fairfield). A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated tomorrow (Saturday, 10 a.m., Church of the Assumption). Interment will be private. Contributions in his name may be made to Tunnel to Towers.
To sign his online guest register, click here.

Denny Gibson

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Elena Nasereddin writes: “The recent heavy rains have helped produce both familiar, fairy-tale mushrooms and large, white skull-shaped forms with Halloween creepiness.” She sent several photos of the ‘shrooms growing on Iris Lane. This one is today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature:

(Photo/Elena Nasereddin)

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And finally … in 1916, World War I German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen (aka “The Red Baron”) won his first aerial combat near Cambrai, France.

Westport’s Mask Mandate: Whose Business Is It?

Some people have wondered about this.

Others have not thought about it at all.

“06880” reader India van Voorhees writes:

“Do you know if there’s any enforcement of the mask mandate here in Westport, and if there are any fines for noncompliance?”

(Masks are currently mandated indoors — including town facilities  and schools — though there are certain exemptions.)

“It seems that, except for supermarkets and drugstores, a lot of businesses aren’t paying attention to the rule.

Masks are once again mandated indoors in Westport. (“Mask Quilt” by Amy Schneider)

“For example, one of the regular employees at Organic Market never wears a mask, and the boss often wears his under his nose. I love that place, and the people there,  but I won’t go in again until the mask mandate is rescinded or COVID is under control.

“Same with the Exxon gas station at 1510 Post Road East. The employees were not wearing masks the last — and I mean last — time I went inside.

“And it’s the same with Hook’d on the Sound. People are in line without masks and employees are behind the counter without masks- even though there’s a sign that says masks are required.

“Employees were wearing masks last time I went down to Joey’s by the Shore, at Elvira’s.”

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

“Is our only option to avoid those places?  Or can something be done?”

It’s a great question. Enforcement of the mask mandate — nationally, throughout the pandemic — has been difficult. The town website page on the subject makes no mentions of consequences, though a link to Governor Lamont’s executive order indicates a fine of $100, and empowers “local health directors, district health directors, and their designees; state and municipal police officers and peace officers” to enforce it. Fines go to the state’s General Fund.

“06880” readers: What do you think?

Should Westport enforce the mask mandate more vigorously? If so, should there be dedicated patrols, or a reliance on citizen complaints? Or is this one of those squishier rules, like picking up dog poop or rolling through stop signs?

Click “Comments” below. And if you’ve had a personal experience involving someone without a mask indoors, please let us know too.