Tag Archives: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe

Prince Philip: The Westport Connection

The death last week of Prince Philip at age 99 brought back memories for Jim Marpe. A quarter century ago, he spent 2 hours with the queen’s consort.

Marpe was not yet first selectman, so this is not a Town Hall-meets-Buckingham Palace story. Still, it’s a good one.

In 1996 Marpe was a partner with Accenture, the management and technology consulting firm. His British partners asked if he would introduce the prince to the leadership team of the major New York global bank that was his client, to help encourage their further expansion in the UK.

The meeting took place when Prince Philip was in New York.

Marpe recalls that while he and the other guests were briefed on a certain amount of protocol, he was pleasantly surprised with “the relaxed demeanor of the prince, his genuine engagement in the presentations and discussion, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

“He knew what he didn’t know, but seemed anxious to learn,” Marpe says.

Prince Philip (left) and Jim Marpe. “You don’t shake a royal’s hand,” Marpe notes. “You just kind of clasp it.”

While this was more than 20 years before “The Crown,” and a year before the death of Princess Diana, Marpe was aware of the royal family’s “challenges,” and the prince’s propensity for making “tone-deaf” remarks.

Nevertheless, Marpe says, “our time together felt like a normal, friendly business meeting, and our conversation was comfortable.”

Reading the obituary this weekend, he noted that Phillip’s (as well as Queen Elizabeth’s) great-great-great-great-grandfather was King George III. The monarch was responsible for the British landing on Compo Beach, and the subsequent Battle of Compo Hill that is commemorated by our Minute Man Monument.

“That’s another Westport connection” with the British royal family, Marpe notes.

[BREAKING NEWS] Marpe Will Not Run For 3rd Term

Moments ago, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that he will not pursue re-election this November. He is 74 years old, and in his 2nd term as Westport’s chief executive. Marpe said:

It has been an honor to serve my community for the past 7 years. I deeply appreciate the bipartisan support and encouragement I have received throughout that time.

While the Westport Town Charter does not place term limits on our elected officials, my experience in the private sector taught me that every organization benefits from regular changes in senior leadership.

First Selectman Jim Marpe

I am proud of what my administration has accomplished or set in motion, including our responses to COVID-19, fiscal responsibility, physical improvements, and addressing social justice concerns. We have prioritized the delivery of superior services at a predictable cost to the taxpayer. I am very proud that we kept the mill rate stable throughout my entire term in office.

I also know that the real key to our success as a community is the professionalism and commitment to serving our residents that is exhibited every day by the women and men who are employed by the town and the Westport Public Schools.

It is also the result of the remarkable dedication and creativity of our dozens of citizen volunteers and elected officials. I am so fortunate to have led a team of employees and residents that is the envy of my counterparts in other communities.

During the remaining 7 months of my term, I will continue to focus on leading Westport safely out of the pandemic tunnel we have been in for the past year, as well as achieving or launching the initiatives that I have described in various budget and State of the Town presentations.

When I first ran for election to the selectman’s office, I committed to bringing a citizen-centric, professional management style to my responsibilities. I assure you that will continue into November.

I want to thank the voters of Westport for allowing me the opportunity to have the special privilege of serving them in the first selectman’s office. I remain humbled by, and grateful for, the responsibility you have granted me.

“06880” thanks Jim Marpe for his strong, clear, passionate service to the town — as 1st Selectman, former Board of Education chair, and many other positions. Click here for a full biography.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe last May, with a pandemic message for the town.

Marpe: Westport Plans For Spring And Summer — But Stay Safe!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe issued another COVID update today. It includes information about vaccines — and word that the town is planning for a Memorial Day parade, and a Levitt Pavilion season. He says:

Beginning today, all Connecticut residents and workers aged 16 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. For local vaccine scheduling instructions and locations, go to www.wwhd.org.

Health officials urge all who are able and eligible to register to get vaccinated. Those requiring special services and assistance with homebound vaccinations or transportation to vaccination appointments through Westport Transit should contact the town Department of Human Services (203-341-1050).

Fortunately, many of the most vulnerable in Westport are already vaccinated. They are enjoying the peace of mind and the realization that they are doing their part to help our community, neighbors, families and friends move into a spring and summer with less fear of infection from this horrible virus.

Although numerous people have been vaccinated, it is vital that COVID protocols remain in place until we are certain that transmission is decreasing.

Currently there is a surge in COVID-19 cases in Connecticut, and Westport remains in the red category with 28.5 positive cases per 100,000 population. We are seeing the effects of more social gatherings, travel, and a relaxation of COVID protocols.

Travel increases the chance of getting and transmitting COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control recommends that you refrain from non-essential travel and  follow the travel guidelines,

The CDC also recommends continuing to follow its COVID guidelines and protocols, specifically mask wearing, social distancing and good hygiene, even as restrictions are loosened and the vaccine is further administered.

“Masked COVID Portrait” — drawn by Dereje Tarrant, age 14.

Much of the uptick in cases is occurring in younger residents, and those in their 20’s and 30’s. There have been reports of large teen and youth groups gathering at Compo Beach without masks. Parents, please remind your children to wear masks when they cannot socially distance, even at the beach and other outdoor locations.

The Governor’s Executive Orders declaring a state-of-emergency have been extended to May 20. That means that COVID protocols and restrictions remain in place unless noted otherwise.

The town continues to work towards reopening more amenities and activities with the optimism that Westport will return to the yellow or gray status on the State’s color-coded COVID map, and that more people will be fully vaccinated.  These include:

  • The Center for Senior Activities and Toquet Hall are planning for the possibility of outdoor and limited indoor programming in late spring or early summer.
  • The Parks & Recreation Department and Selectman’s Office continue to plan for a Memorial Day parade.
  • The Parks and Recreation Department is preparing to open its facilities, and plan to offer programs that were not available last year due to COVID-19.
  • Longshore golf course is open for play, as are several tennis locations, Compo Beach pickleball courts, the skate park facility, platform tennis, Compo basketball courts, and playgrounds.

Compo Skate Park is back open. (Photo/ldinkinphotography)

  • The Board of Selectmen approved the Downtown Merchants Association’s Fitness and Health Expo for May 1,, and the Fine Arts Festival for May 29-30.
  • The Board of Selectmen approved the closure of Church Lane starting April 15, to allow for expanded outdoor dining.
  • The Board of Selectmen approved the use of the Imperial Avenue lot for the Remarkable Theater’s drive-in movie theater. and for the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library’s Supper and Soul events.
  • The Levitt Pavilion is planning its season, to be held in compliance with any necessary COVID considerations related to outdoor venues.

Westport is approaching the end of the Passover week, as well as this Easter weekend. Both are important symbols of renewal and new beginnings that we associate with the arrival of spring. I wish all who observe these important holidays the joy that is associated with those celebrations.

And to all Westport residents, I ask for a renewed commitment to working through the COVID pandemic together in a safe and responsible manner. In doing so, we can all enjoy the pleasures of our community that come with the spring and summer months.

As Easter approaches, the days get longer and brighter. But continued vigilance is needed. (Photo/Craig Patton)

Hundreds Rally In Support Of Asian-Americans

Eloquent, heartfelt speeches — from a US Senator, Asian-American elected officials, Westport politicians and parents, and Staples High School students — highlighted this morning’s rally at Jesup Green.

A crowd of about 500 — Asian-Americans, white and black; longtime residents and newcomers; senior citizens, toddlers and everyone in between — held signs, wore t-shirts, and joined together to condemn violence against the AAPI community.

Behind the Jesup Green crowd, a flag flew at half staff in memory of Asian-Americans killed last week in Atlanta.

State Attorney General William Tong and State Senator Tony Hwang described their own experiences as children of immigrants, and blasted myths like “the model minority.”

State Senator Tony Hwang, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal noted that his own father arrived in the US alone, at 17, and believed, like so many others, in the American Dream. He said that he and a Republican colleague will introduce a “No Hate Act” next week, adding — in a nod to the diverse crowd — that “this is what America should look like.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal addresses the crowd.

Staples students Jacob Lee, Anya Nair, Gary Lu and Carrie Everett, plus college student Minnie Seo and parent Rosie Jon, spoke honestly about their own lives too.

A contingent of Staples students spoke eloquently.

It was a powerful outpouring of support. But — as several speakers noted — much more remains to be done.

Vijay and Kerstin Rao.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey spoke. His wife, TEAM Westport member Bernicestine McLeod Bailey, was at the rally too.

Rally organizer Sarin Cheung (left) and Westport artist Rosie Jon both spoke.

There were many young people at the rally.

A small part of the large crowd.

(All photos/Dan Woog)

 

Marpe Marks 1-Year COVID Anniversary

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Today marks 1 year since Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, Westport Public Schools representatives, my fellow selectpersons, various department heads and I held a press conference on the steps of Town Hall addressing the new “coronavirus” spreading throughout the world. At

that time we knew that COVID had been discovered in Westport, contact tracing efforts could not control its spread, and that community members should be made aware of the serious health and safety issues associated with the virus.

We announced that the Public Schools and other town facilities would be closed. We were unaware of how circumstances would unfold in the coming days, weeks, and months to follow.

Flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced the latest COVID-19 news, one year ago today.

In the following days, as the town was further shut down and we all entered a phase of self-isolation, I implored everyone to “stay safe and stay home.” I reminded Westporters to maintain “virus distancing” everywhere; that stores and certain businesses remained open only to insure that food and essentials were available to the public, and that all other activities where people may congregate in groups must be avoided.

In short order, we realized what services were considered essential. We became reliant upon takeout food, curbside pickup, and planned for lines outside grocery stores and pharmacies. Working and schooling from home, scrambling for masks, toilet paper and disinfectant became common occurrences.

It was a confusing and unsettling time. In retrospect however, I believe the common conversations and collective experiences were a way to self-manage the significant emotional toll the pandemic was having on our lives.

A funeral service at Willowbrook Cemetery was limited fewer than 10 mourners.

We continue to remain careful and vigilant. Thankfully, due to many positive developments throughout the year, the science and information now available provides an understanding of what we must do to contain and combat the virus.

I am very thankful that we are in a position today to state that we are beginning to see an end; that much of the unknown has become known, and that we are stronger as a result.

On this solemn anniversary, I send my deepest condolences to those who have lost a loved one and to others who have seen the devastating effects of this pandemic. As a community, we mourn with you and send loving thoughts that the memories of your family members and friends will sustain you in this difficult time.

I would be wholly remiss if I did not emphatically state that, despite its obvious impact, COVID has proved how creative, resilient and compassionate Westporters truly are. The support for first responders and health care workers, words of encouragement, heart-shaped signs, painted rocks, and donations of handmade PPE, proved to be a motivating force for many. These acts of kindness brought a sense of peace and calm during extremely challenging times. The community spirit and collective concern for all was, and continues to be, uplifting.

Some hot meals for the Westport Fire Department, courtesy of Staples football and Viva Zapata.

In conclusion, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Westport residents, businesses owners, religious leaders, town employees, and the multitude of volunteers who offered advice, maintained services, provided comfort, financial support, and generally surpassed expectations in caring for all of our neighbors.

Your cooperation and unselfish participation, under extreme conditions, was extraordinary. I will always be thankful that Westporters were able to respond to and meet the unique challenge that was COVID.  And I am confident that brighter days are ahead. Please continue to be safe and healthy.

For more information on Westport’s response to COVID-19, visit westportct.gov/covid, or wwhd.org. For information on COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans in Connecticut, visit ct.gov/covidvaccine.

March 11, 2020: The Day COVID Crushed Our Town

On Sunday, March 8, 2020, town officials hosted a community forum on COVID-19, at the Westport Library.

“A small, well-spaced-apart crowd was joined by many more online participants this afternoon,” I wrote.

“Presentations were clear and cogent; questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful; answers were direct and honest.” Topics included schools, the Senior Center, restaurants, Metro-North, budget implications, gyms and the YMCA.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe (far right), at the March 8 COVID-19 panel.

The key takeaways:

  • There were dozens of “what-ifs.”
  • The best precautions included rigorous hand-washing, frequent cleaning of surfaces, and careful monitoring of surroundings and contacts.
  • It was virtually inevitable that COVID would come to Westport.

In fact, it already had.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left),and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe demonstrated the best way to say hello, COVID-19-style.

Three days later — on Wednesday, March 11 — fear had heightened considerably.

A student at Staples High School asked me if I thought schools would close. “Maybe Monday,” I replied.

That night I was supposed to have dinner with my sister and nephews in New York, and see Andy Borowitz. We texted all day about what to do. With trepidation, we said: Let’s go for it.

Suddenly, news came that Westport schools were closing. A news conference was quickly planned for outside Town Hall. Forget dinner, I texted. I have to cover this.

The weather outside Town Hall was beautiful, I reported. But the officials on the front steps were grim.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper and others outlined the day’s rapid developments.

Flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announces COVID-19 news.

They noted a private party in Westport the previous Thursday, March 5. Of the 40 or so attendees — of all ages — 14 reported coronavirus-like symptoms.

“It’s likely many people were exposed,” Cooper said. “And others will be.”

Schools would be closed indefinitely, for deep cleaning. Also shut: Town Hall. All meetings, including the Board of Finance budget. The Senior Center. Toquet Hall. The Westport Library (until Monday).

Marpe noted that private institutions must decide for themselves which events to cancel. “We recognize these are tough decisions,” he said.

Print and television reporters kept their distance from each other, at the press conference on the steps of Town Hall. (Photos/Dan Woog)

I still planned one last hurrah that night in New York.

I never went. Midway through writing my story, I got a text. Andy Borowitz had canceled.

The next day, I walked downtown.

The scene was surreal. Main Street was abandoned. Stores were shut; every parking spot was open.

A friend in an office above Brooks Corner spotted me. We talked for an hour. He runs a summer camp. He had no idea if — or how — he’d be affected. We agreed: None of us knew what’s ahead. But suddenly we were very, very worried.

One of my fears was that with Westport locked down, I’d have nothing to write about.

An hour or so after the Westport Public Schools announced they were closing, Trader Joe’s looked like the day before a snowstorm. (Photo/Armelle Pouriche)

I could not have been more wrong.

After returning home, I did not leave for the next 4 days. I wrote constantly. There were stories everywhere.

I wrote about:

  • Constantly changing advice on numbers and safety precautions
  • Store closures: How to get food
  • Church closures: What to expect for Easter and Passover
  • What students should expect, with schools closed
  • The emotions of the Staples girls’ basketball team; COVID canceled the state tournament, just as they reached the semifinals
  • The lack of test kits
  • A raging debate on whether “small gatherings” were okay. “It’s not a snow day!” one news story reported. Some in Westport disagreed.

And of course, I wrote about the beach.

The weekend was gorgeous. Stuck at home Thursday and Friday, Westporters flocked to Compo. Some wore masks. Most did not. Some practiced that new concept: social distancing. Others did not.

Compo Beach, March 13, 2020 (Photo/Jo Shields Sherman)

Alarmed, Marpe shut the Compo and Burying Hill parking lots, and the Compo playground.

Some Westporters applauded his action.

Others protested. They drove to the beach, and parked up and down Soundview Drive.

Police issued tickets. But they were playing whack-a-mole. As soon as one beachgoer left, another arrived.

With the parking lot closed, folks parked up and down the exit road.

All that was within the first 96 hours of COVID in Westport.

It’s been here since.

I realized quickly that I would not run out of stories.

The pandemic has affected every aspect of life here. I’ve written about:

  • The return of college students and 20-somethings to their parents’ homes
  • The continued fallout from “the party”
  • Mental and physical health
  • Westporters of all ages coming together: teenagers shopping for the elderly; women making masks (and yarn bombing trees); churches providing meals; children painting positive messages on rocks
  • Where to find toilet paper, paper towels and Lysol
  • Businesses and restaurants that closed — and new ones that opened
  • Pop-up entertainment, like the Remarkable Theater and a Staples grad who sings opera
  • How to access business loans and other help
  • Hybrid education, Staples’ unique graduation, and the virtual Candlelight Concert
  • 12-step programs, religious services and more online
  • App developers who help the world trace contacts, visualize impacts, connect with others
  • Virtual programming: the Westport Library, JoyRide, non-profit fundraisers and more
  • Where to get tested, and how to get a vaccine.

One of the yarn bomber’s first works, at fire headquarters. (Photo/Molly Alger)

One year ago today, I stood on the steps of Town Hall. I still thought I could get to New York that night.

I haven’t been back since.

This has been a year like no other. Every man, woman and child in Westport has been affected.

We’ve lost 28 neighbors. Over 1,400 here have been diagnosed with COVID. If we did not believe that COVID was real on March 10 last year, we sure did on March 11.

Soon, “06880” will look ahead. We’ll try to figure out what March 11, 2022 will feel like.

But today, let’s look back. We want to hear your thoughts on the past year.

What did the town do right? Wrong? What are you most proud of, or regret the most? How did your life change?

Click “Comments” below.

And remember: Wear a mask!

James Dobin-Smith created the OneWestport.com website in a matter of days. It provided up to date information on what’s open and cloed, all around town.

COVID Update

Here is 1st Selectman Jim Marpe’s weekly COVID update:

This week we saw great progress in the fight against COVID-19, and some return to normalcy.

Governor Lamont announced some easing of COVID-19 restrictions over the next couple of months. Individuals age 55 and over, along with educators and childcare professionals, became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Westport Weston Health District (WWHD) hosted the first COVID-19 vaccination clinic dedicated to school personnel at Staples High School.

Health officials continue to emphasize mask wearing, social distancing and good hygiene, even as restrictions are loosened and the vaccine is further distributed.

Governor Lamont’s plans for the 2021 spring season include the following:

  • An executive order immediately opens the fishing season by removing the closed seasons on all inland waters in Connecticut, and opens additional lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams to fishing statewide.
  • Effective March 19, the occupancy limits for many places of business, restaurants, cultural institutions, libraries, offices, and houses of worship will be removed, although COVID protocols must continue to be observed. Indoor occupancy limits will be increased to 25 indoors and 100 outdoors. For commercial venues, those caps are 100 and 200 respectively. Subject to Department of Public Health guidance, all sports will be allowed to practice and compete, and all sports tournaments will be allowed.
  • Effective April 2, summer camps and festivals are advised they may begin planning to open for the upcoming season. Additional information can be found here.

Summer camps may be open again this year.

In Westport, I am pleased to announce that plans are underway for a summer that will look more like what we normally experienced in past years.

  • The Levitt Pavilion is planning its season, to be held in compliance with any necessary COVID considerations related to outdoor venues.
  • The Board of Selectmen approved the use of the Imperial Avenue parking lot for the Remarkable Theater’s Drive-In movie theater, and for The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library’s Supper and Soul events.
  • The Parks and Recreation Department is currently preparing to open its facilities, and plans to offer programs that were not available last year due to COVID-19. They will strive to create safe environments for all facility users and program participants by following best practices and state guidelines.

The Remarkable Theater will be back, with movies and events like Supper and Soul concerts. (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

While the easing of these restrictions, as well as the relief from the vaccine, is encouraging, we cannot and should not put our guards down when it comes to the pandemic. All protocols that relate to face coverings, social distancing, and cleaning measures must be maintained. 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. I strongly urge all residents and businesses to follow the State’s reopening guidelines.

The CDC’s latest guidance on mask wearing can be found here.

Update from the Westport Human Service’s Department:

The Department of Human Services and the WWHD seek the community’s help in identifying residents who are experiencing technical difficulties scheduling their COVID-19 vaccination appointments or who require a home vaccination appointment. Seniors ages 65+ and individuals ages 55+ years old with disabilities who require local appointments or a home visit to receive their vaccine should call 203-341-5037 or email humansrv@westportct.gov for assistance.

If you or a loved one are genuinely homebound, please contact the Human Services Department for an assessment of eligibility to receive a home visit for vaccination. Homebound persons include those who require medical equipment to leave their home safely and whose medical provider has advised them not to leave their home due to medical vulnerability.

Registration for the Vaccine:

Vaccine eligible residents are encouraged to make vaccine appointments at any available vaccination clinic, and not wait for an appointment specifically with WWHD. It is anticipated that as supplies to the Health District increase, additional clinic appointments will become available.

Those who are currently eligible to register for the COVID-19 vaccination include:

  • Healthcare personnel
  • Long-term care facility residents
  • Medical first responders
  • Residents and staff of select congregate settings
  • Individuals 55 and older
  • Educators and child care providers:  Pre-K – 12 teachers, paraprofessionals, custodial staff, food service providers, school bus drivers and childcare providers as well as in-school administrative staff. This does not include individuals who are not required to work on-site in a school.

To view a statewide list and map of COVID-19 vaccine clinics click here, enter your zip code in the location box on the right and press the yellow search icon.

Vaccination appointments can be made utilizing the following tools:

  • The Vaccine Administration Management System can be used to schedule appointments at multiple clinics across the state. Click here.
  • Call Connecticut’s COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment Assist Line: Open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., 7 days a week: 877-918-2224.
  • Hartford HealthCare: Multiple locations throughout the state, including large clinics in the Hartford area. Click here.
  • Yale New Haven Health: Multiple locations throughout the state, including large clinics in the New Haven area. Click here.
  • Stamford Health: 7 days a week at Stamford Hospital. Click here.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans in Connecticut, visit ct.gov/covidvaccine.

State To Town: You Want The Cribari Bridge? Pay For It.

The state Department of Transportation’s environmental assessment report on the William F. Cribari Bridge will be released next month.

But Deputy Commissioner Mark Rolfe has told 1st Selectman Jim Marpe that its conclusion — and the DOT’s recommendation — is to replace the bridge with a new structure that meets Federal Highway Administration standards.

Many Westporters — fearing traffic on a bigger, new span — have pushed instead for renovation of the 133-year-old structure.

However, Rolfe offered Marpe an alternative: The state could transfer ownership of the bridge to the town of Westport, and re-route Route 136 (Bridge Street and Compo Road South).

The catch: The town would be responsible for operation, maintenance and repair of the Cribari Bridge.

Is that a bridge too far for Westport?

Stay tuned.

William F. Cribari Bridge: The debate continues. (Photo/Sam Levenson)

Norden Place Distribution Center Application Withdrawn

East Norwalk residents — and their neighbors around the corner in Saugatuck — are breathing easier today.

Almost literally.

Developers of a 330,000-square foot distribution center proposed for Norden Place have withdrawn their application.

Norwalk’s Zoning Commission was scheduled to discuss the plan tonight. The meeting has been canceled.

Artists’ rendering of a distribution center.

The warehouse and distribution facility included 19 loading docks. It would generate up to 190 truck trips a day, and more than 350 trips by car.

According to “Nancy on Norwalk,” owners promised to keep traffic to the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. — “to the extent commercially practicable.”

Much of that traffic would spill onto Route 136. In Westport — around the corner from Norden Place — that’s Saugatuck Avenue. A few yards away in Norwalk, it’s called Winfield Street.

Westporters were also concerned about truck drivers mistakenly getting off I-95 Exit 17 — rather than 16 — and becoming stuck under the railroad bridge.

The proposed Norden Place warehouse and distribution center is shown in yellow. Truck routes are also marked.

The proposal generated tremendous opposition, including a petition signed by more than 1,700 people.

Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Planning & Zoning director Mary Young, the full Planning & Zoning Commission and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce president Matt Mandell were among the most vocal opponents.

In December, P & Z members Cathy Walsh and Chip Stephens presented a letter to Norwalk’s planning board. They said:

East Norwalk and Saugatuck operate as one ecosystem. We share the same air, water, roads and traffic. We have extensive shared service agreements in place for EMS, fire and police.

Both towns have made substantial progress toward increasing our sustainability, walkability and safety by investing in sidewalks, crosswalks and roadways. This project runs contrary to our  collective long term goals and will negatively impact the health, safety and welfare of the residents of our community.

(To read more, click here for the “Nancy on Norwalk” story)

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:

  • Live remote work, including all town services
  • Zoom technology for public and internal meetings
  • A property tax deferral program.
  • Flexibility with town rules
  • Election registration, and primary and general elections, completed using drop-off and mail-in ballots, and socially distanced polling places.

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:

  • Launching the “Zero Food Waste Challenge” with Sustainable Westport.
  • Negotiating to establish new management at the Inn at Longshore
  • Initiating the Transit District’s Wheels to You program
  • Inaugurating “Westport Together” alliance to strengthen the health and well-being of Westport’s youth.

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:

  • The P&Z Commission amended zoning regulations to create new opportunities for semi-independent units designed for adults with special needs.
  • He attends P&Z Affordable Housing Subcommittee meetings, with representatives from TEAM Westport, Health & Human Services, the Westport Housing Authority, the RTM and others
  • P&Z chair Danielle Dobin and he have participated in statewide webinars and panels focusing on affordable housing and racial equity.
  • The town is committed to focus more assertively on hiring and mentoring a more diverse workforce.
  • He worked with the Chief of Police, Fire Chief and EMS to establish a Civilian Review Panel to oversee complaints and hiring.

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:

  • Artificial turf was refurbished at Jinny Parker and PJ Romano Fields; new lighting was at the Greens Farms Elementary School field, and Riverside Park was improved
  • Public Works paved over 10 miles of roadway
  • Public Works and Parks & Rec are beginning to use electric leaf blowers
  • The Human Services Department received $1 million in Community Development Block Grants to address homelessness on a county-wide basis.
  • Town Assessor Paul Friia and his staff conducted the 5-year revaluation of residential and commercial property.
  • The 2020 Census was completed. with over 85% self-initiated response rates from
  • Town Hall was reopened to the public with appointments.
  • Coleytown Middle School was reopened (“11 months ago, I thought that would be the big story this year,” Marpe said).

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

  • A marketing campaign to promote Westport to businesses and potential residents
  • Pursuing final approvals to dredge the Saugatuck River in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers; seeking state and federal funding
  • Completing Kings Highway bridge work by late spring
  • Adding plaques to Town Hall and 22 ½ Main Street to acknowledge the contributions of Black and indigenous people to the history of Westport.

Among the items on the agenda for the coming year:

  • Repaving the Senior Center and upper library parking lots
  • Burying utility lines from Main Street to Gorham Island.
  • Completing the site plan for Longshore and Baron’s South
  • Additional improvements at Riverside Park and Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.
  • Initiating a full infrastructure plan that includes bridges, parking lots, sewers and town buildings
  • Working with a private company to enhance the town’s wireless and fiber infrastructure.
  • Creating a cybersecurity response plan.

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.)