Tag Archives: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe

History Museum Billed Town For Employees’ Time; Marpe “Surprised” And “Concerned”

In late 2018, organizers announced the end of Westport’s First Night celebration.

Recognizing a need for family-friendly New Year’s Eve activities, the Westport Historical Society filled the breach. In just a matter of days, executive director Ramin Ganeshram and her staff organized “First Light.”

Performances, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, a digital caricaturist, a henna artist, food trucks, a bonfire — it was all there. And (despite the rain), it was greatly appreciated.

A true New England horse-drawn sleigh ride.

This year, the Avery Place institution — now called the Westport Museum for History & Culture — continued the new tradition.

This year’s First Light included horse-drawn carriages, a live band, short films,  tarot reader, henna tattoos, teen game night at Toquet Hall, stargazing with the Westport Astronomy Club, ballroom dance instruction — and that warm bonfire.

As with previous First Nights, and last year’s First Light, attendees wore buttons for admittance to all events. They cost $10 online, $15 on site.

Ganeshram gave credit to the town of Westport, for helping support the event.

That support includes police officers, fire fighters, logistics — and funding.

On December 11, Ganeshram asked for town assistance “from the fund formerly attributed to the First Night Celebrations.” She detailed “projected costs as they exist to-date for the First Light Festival on New Year’s Eve.”

The organization’s spreadsheet showed that the horse and carriage would cost $1,300. The band was $250, the tarot reader $200; Branson Hall rental $200; marketing materials and buttons $100.

There is also a line item that reads “(1630-2130 hours x at holiday rate (#82.50 per),” at a total cost of $1,213.

In addition, the Museum requested that the town reimburse half the cost of the salaries of 5 Museum employees. They were projected to spend anywhere from 30 to 80 hours each on First Light activities, at fees ranging from $11 to $25 per hour.

The employees work in several areas for the Museum, including programs, operations, marketing, administration and administrative support.

Four of the employees would be reimbursed by the town for half of their hours worked: $750, $600, $600 and $500. The administrative support staffer was projected to work 30 hours at $11 per hour, for a total of $330. The Museum requested $330 from the town for her salary, but confusingly also said they would contribute $330 to it.

The total reimbursement request to the town for Museum employees’ salaries was $2,780.

Executive director Ramin Ganeshram was listed as spending 20 hours on First Light, at $50 an hour. Her $1,000 was covered fully by the Museum.

The bonfire at Veterans Green. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The invoice was sent December 26, and received at Town Hall 2 days later. A check for the full amount requested — $5,943 — was issued to Westport Historical Society, Inc. on December 30.

I asked 1st Selectman Jim Marpe about the use of town funds to cover salaries of Museum employees. He responded:

For nearly 30 years, the Town of Westport co-sponsored “First Night,” a family-friendly, substance-free New Year’s Eve celebration that offered an array of musical and variety performers, kid-oriented activities, bonfires, carriage rides and even fireworks.

This event took place through a combination of volunteers under the volunteer leadership of enthusiastic residents such as Barbara Pearson-Rac and her husband Frank, the late Bill Meyer and Allen Bomes, donations from local business and fund-raising organizations, and also town funding in the range of $7,000.  First Night also sold admission badges to help fund their budget, and the town provided some of the venues for various events.

The First Night concept was very popular around Connecticut and New England for many years, but in recent years, Westport became one of the few towns to offer this NewYear’s Eve option. Unfortunately, it became virtually impossible to stage a fireworks show in the downtown area, and rising costs and the dwindling number of volunteers began to limit the variety of entertainment options.

Fireworks were once a First Night tradition.

While the Town budgeted $7,000 to support the 2018 to 2019 New Year’s Eve First Night (last year), it became clear in the early fall that we would not be able to conduct the First Night event as we had in prior years.

The then-named Westport Historical Society stepped forward and offered to produce a mini-version of First Night called First Light.  The town approved the use of a small portion of Veterans Green for a bonfire, and provided financial support to underwrite the carriage ride and other out-of-pocket costs for performers as well as Fire Department oversight of the bonfire activity.  It was (and is) our belief that a substance-free, family alternative to celebrate the new year is a good thing for Westport and its residents of all ages.

In anticipation of this year’s (2019 to 2020) New Year’s Eve, we budgeted another $6,000 in case the now-named Westport Museum of History & Culture decided to conduct another First Light event, which in fact they did with some expansion of their offerings and venues.

Face painting was a popular activity at this year’s First Light celebration. (Photo/Dan Woog)

It was always the intention of that money to cover the costs of outside services such as the carriage rides, musicians and other performers and marketing material which the director of finance and I approved.

I was surprised to learn in the past week that the Town’s support was also used to cover a portion of the salaries of several Museum employees.

It was never our intent to subsidize the costs of non-town employees, and I’m concerned about the potential inappropriate use of town funds for this purpose.

I have asked our director of finance to look into this matter immediately, and to determine the appropriate course of action regarding this payment.

As I noted earlier, I believe that events like First Night and First Light are good for our community and add to our reputation as a family friendly community, particularly when they are supported by volunteers and non-for-profit organizations such as the Museum.

The town has always been willing to consider financial or in-kind support of specific services for events that serve the whole community, but it has never been our intention to subsidize the salaries of individuals who work for those organizations.

“State Of The Town” Meeting Set For Sunday

Presidents have their State of the Union addresses. Governors deliver (oddly named) “State of the State” talks.

This Sunday (January 26, 2 p.m., Westport Library), 1st Selectman Jim Marpe will discuss the “State of the Town.” He’ll be joined by Board of Education chair Candice Savin.

They’ll look back at town and school accomplishments over the past year, and preview upcoming initiatives.

There’s audience participation too. A question-and-answer session will be led by RTM deputy moderator Jeffrey Wieser.

The event is sponsored by Westport’s 2 Rotary clubs.

Pic Of The Day #962

A gaggle of children joins 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (center), 2nd Selectman Jen Tooker (left) and the Staples Orphenians, to count down before Westport’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony this evening, at Town Hall.

The Christmas tree, in front of Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue. (Photos/Dan Woog)

State: Here’s $40 Million For Cribari Bridge Rehab. Town: Not So Fast…

The state Department of Transportation today released a draft list of projects, under the 2021-24 Transportation Improvement Program.

Included is $20 million in fiscal 2023 — plus $20 million more in fiscal ’24 — for the “rehabilitation/replacement of state-town Bridge #01349, aka William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge.”

For those who haven’t followed the years-long saga, that’s the 133-year-old swing span over the Saugatuck River. It connects Riverside Avenue and Bridge Street.

One view of the William Cribari Bridge … (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

All projects on the list must be evaluated for air quality concerns. Because federal funding is also involved, national regulations — as well as state — must be adhered to.

The Cribari Bridge project may not necessarily be placed into the TIP. No decision is likely on the TIP until at least next summer.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said:

The town of Westport has not endorsed any plans for the Cribari Bridge, and awaits a conclusion to the CTDOT Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation.

As part of the EA/EIE, the DOT established a Project Advisory Committee, and met with this committee several times over the last year. DOT conducted a professional process, and I am confident they have taken away the community’s sentiments and concerns about the Cribari Bridge.

However, the town of Westport neither accepts nor rejects the CTDOT’s budgeted funding of $40 million over the 2 years until it is clear on the specific proposal for the Cribari Bridge, and the community agrees on which solution is the best for the town of Westport.

The Project Advisory Committee reviewed several alternatives for rehabilitation, including a no-build operation, and provided feedback to the DOT. No decision has been made.

The DOT continues to coordinate with other state and federal agencies, as well as various stakeholders, to consider specific concerns, such as impacts on historic properties.

… and another. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

The DOT is expected to issue a preliminary environmental document early next year. There will then be a public hearing and comment period, after which the DOT will make a recommendation of a preferred design alternative. Review by the Federal Highway Administration and state Office of Policy and Management will follow, with a decision announced later.

Marpe added:

My staff and I will stay abreast of the air quality and environmental findings for the Cribari Bridge rehabilitation or replacement options. Thereafter, we will follow the development of the TIP closely. I am committed to keeping the residents and businesses of Westport informed in a timely manner about this very important project.

Marpe Challenges Hatred, Urges Civility

In the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings, First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Following the tragic events in Charlottesville 2 years ago, I stated that “there is no place for hatred and bigotry in our country,” and expressed our community’s prayers for the victims of that senseless tragedy.

Those events led to the “Hate Has No Home Here” movement in Westport and other communities. Last year, after the Parkland, Florida tragedy, I again addressed the issue of gun control and sensible gun legislation.

After another weekend of shocking headlines involving mass shootings which obviously have roots in white supremacy, and frankly, 2 more years of incidents similar to Charlottesville and Parkland, we are still faced with the challenge of inflammatory public rhetoric and hate-filled internet postings and activity.

We are fortunate that Westport is represented by national, state and local legislators and elected officials who act and speak responsibly in the face of these divisive issues.  They are committed to pursuing and enforcing responsible and effective gun control legislation, as well as condemning the racial biases demonstrated by others.

The fact that these incidents are happening on a regular basis is appalling. Each time I am asked to address them both personally and in my role as first selectman, it is done with an extremely heavy heart.

Although recent national incidents were much more horrific and tragic, the sentiment where I prompted a call to civility and respect to all Westporters after an unfortunate incident during a local public meeting last year holds true today.

I stated, “We will continue to publicly deal with issues and challenges that ignite passions on all sides, but we can’t let those passions create an air of disrespect, intimidation and bullying. I implore all Westport residents to allow their personal and public interactions to be driven by respect, tolerance and a desire to coexist in a positive manner with all of our neighbors.”

I will continue to address this issue within our community, and I will continue to denounce any form of hatred, bigotry or cultural bias.

Sewage Leak Stemmed; Beaches Still Closed

According to the Westport Fire Department, the sewage leak in the Saugatuck River was completely stopped as of 8:30 last night.

Temporary pumps will remain in place until permanent pumps are installed next month.

According to the Fire Department, town officials have been in close communication with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Westport Weston Health District. 

Water quality testing will be performed tomorrow (Monday), in an effort to reopen beaches. Swimming at all Westport beaches — including Sherwood Island State Park — remains off limits today, “in an abundance of caution.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe thanked town and state departments for their prompt response.  He added, “We appreciate the cooperation of our residents and visitors not using the beaches for swimming until we receive the all-clear from the Health District and DEEP.”

The sewage leak yesterday, on the Saugatuck River.. (Photo/Michael Cammeyer)

Westport Celebrates: Transformation Complete, Library Opens!

If you want to know what kind of town Westport is, consider this:

On a Sunday morning — the most beautiful day of summer (so far) — 1,000 or so men, women and kids turned out to celebrate the re-opening of our library.

Plus this: The multi-year project came in on time.

And within budget.

A large crowd waited for the opening ceremony.

There were brief speeches by Governor Ned Lamont and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Governor Ned Lamont — whose family endowed a library at Harvard University — talks about their importance.

A band played. Dozens of kids jumped in for the ribbon-cutting.

Kids celebrate, moments after 1st Selectman Jim Marpe cut the ribbon.

Then everyone clambered up the very new stairs, to the great new entrance. As Marpe noted, the library — originally a gift from Morris Jesup — now embraces Jesup Green, named for the founder’s family.

A brass band plays, as the crowd streams up the steps.

It’s a spectacular building we can all be proud of. It will evolve and be used in ways we have not yet even imagined.

Within minutes of the opening, the grandstand was packed.

Today was a great day for Westport. If you haven’t seen it yet: The festivities continue until 4 p.m.

To all who made today possible — especially our amazing library director Bill Harmer — thank you!

Music on the main stage, dance, podcasts, educational sessions, even composting and bees — it’s all on, all afternoon at the new library, until 4 pm. (All photos/Dan Woog)

Alabama Vote Sparks Westport Protest

More than 50 women — and men — gathered yesterday on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge.

Bearing signs ranging from simple (“My body, my choice”) and sharp (“Regulate your dick, not my pussy”) to caustic (“If you ban abortion before you ban military assault rifles that massacre children in schools, you have lost the right to call yourself ‘pro-life'”), they protested the passage in Alabama 2 days earlier of a far-reaching anti-abortion law.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The group included all 3 selectmen: Jim Marpe, Jen Tooker and Melissa Kane.

Also on the bridge: Firouz Saghri, 22 of Westport, and Hunter Rempe, 21 from Fairfield.

They were headed to happy hour when they saw the protest. They asked for paper and markers, made a sign — and stayed the entire time.

When co-organizer Darcy Hicks thanked them, Firouz said, “This is so much more important than happy hour. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the time.”

Hunter added, “Hey, we have moms and sisters and female friends. This is important!”

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Finally, Town Honors F. Scott Fitzgerald

On May 14, 1920, a young couple signed a 5-month lease for a modest gray cottage on Compo Road South.

It was not big news. In fact, it took the Westporter-Herald — the local newspaper that chronicled every visitor, gathering and event in town — until the next month to run this small item:

“F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer, has leased the Wakeman Cottage near Compo Beach.”

The iconic shot of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of their Westport home.

But the honeymoon home of Fitzgerald and his new bride Zelda — they’d gotten married on April 3 –had a profound impact on both. It appears in more of their collective works than any other place they lived.

With good reason. The couple drank and partied all summer long.

On May 14, 2019 — 99 years to the day after that now-legendary lease-signing — Westport will officially recognize that event.

The cottage that once abutted larger-than-life multimillionaire Frederick E. Lewis’ property (now Longshore Club Park) still stands. Today it’s a handsome home. First Selectman Jim Marpe will stand there, and declare “Great Gatsby Day” in town.

The official proclamation — a combination of legalese and whimsy — begins:

“Whereas, it was an age of miracles. It was an age of art. It was an age of excess and it was an age of satire….”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here, on South Compo Road.

But that’s not the only Fitzgerald-Westport connection this month.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, the Westport Community Theater presents a costumed stage reading of The Vegetable.

If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry.

Richard “Deej” Webb — the Westport historian who collaborated with Robert Steven Williams on a film and book that describe the Fitzgeralds’ Westport sojourn, and make the strong case that it heavily influenced The Great Gatsby — calls it “his worst work.”

The Vegetable is Fitzgerald’s only full-length play. It was his lone attempt to establish himself as a successful playwright, and his sole foray into political satire.

The plot involves an accidental president who undergoes impeachment. Coming during the corrupt administration of Warren Harding — who died the year it was published — it was “ahead of its time,” Webb says.

To call it forgotten today is an understatement. According to Webb, it was last performed in the 1990s.

The WCT has modified it a bit. What Webb calls “a racist scene” has been edited out.

That may have been a product of its time. But nearly a century later, impeachment is back in the news.

And — at least in Westport — F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are too.

(The staged reading of The Vegetable is Saturday, May 18 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 203-226-1983.)

Jeff Wieser To Retire From Homes With Hope

Jeff Wieser — longtime president and CEO of Homes with Hope — will retire from the multi-purpose housing organization by the end of 2019. Board chair John Walsh announced the news today.

Jeff Wieser

In his 9 years as director, Wieser has been a driving force for HwH. During his tenure he has overseen operations at the Gillespie Center and the Bacharach Community. He also expanded the portfolio of 44 supportive housing units, which the agency owns and operates.

Homes with Hope more than doubled its shelter capacity, providing beds for 115 people each night. And Wieser introduced an after-school mentoring program for the 30 children in HwH facilities.

In addition, Wieser led the merger with Project Return, the housing program for young women ages 18 to 24.

Wieser has helped Homes with Hope become a national role model, demonstrating how a suburban town can effectively respond to homelessness.

“Jeff has been a transformative, innovative leader” in the fight against homelessness, Walsh said.

“He is also a powerful advocate for the homeless beyond our community in his roles in Opening Doors of Fairfield County and as board chair of Supportive Housing Works, a regional collaborative whose mission is to end chronic homelessness in Fairfield County.”

Westporters of all ages volunteer at the Gillespie Center.

Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe called Homes with Hope “one of the community services that makes Westport so special.” He noted that under Wieser’s leadership, the organization has “expanded its affordable, supportive housing options, its relationships with other not-for-profit agencies and its overall community support.”

“As a local resident, Jeff saw the opportunity to leverage his business and professional experience with his passion for helping others, and has helped make Homes with Hope even better than he found it,” Marpe added. “On behalf of the town of Westport, I want to thank Jeff for his untiring service to our community and wish him well in the next chapter of his life.”

Wieser will stay in his position until a replacement is found. A search committee will focus on finding a local leader who understands both Westport and Fairfield County.

“Being involved with Homes with Hope over the last 30 years, first on the board and then as executive director, has been the most satisfying professional role of my life,” said Wieser.

“It is easy to be proud of the Homes with Hope organization, and it is easier to be proud of the community that supports HwH so spiritually and generously. I look forward to staying involved in any way that I can be useful to Homes with Hope and Westport.”