Tag Archives: Board of Education chair Candice Savin

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.)

Persona Of The Day: Candice Savin

For a while, Rob Simmelkjaer and I have been talking about a “Persona of the Week” interview for “06880.” Persona — his new mobile app — makes it easy and fun to conduct interviews and create podcasts.

These days, staying connected is more important than ever. So Rob and I are using Persona’s “06880 Dan Woog” channel to help.

Once a day — usually in my COVID-19 Roundup story — we’ll share your stories. Some will be family interviews; others will be questions of special guests.

We start with Board of Education chair Candice Savin. She answered a few questions from Rob Simmelkjaer about when schools will likely reopen, the impact of this crisis on the education budget, and whether the shutdown will impact the schedule for Coleytown Middle School’s reopening.

Here’s a clip from her CMS answer. You can download the app (iPhone or Android for the full Q&A, and to ask her your own questions. Then follow “06880 Dan Woog” — and stay connected. (To share your own interviews, tag “06880 Dan Woog” in the interviewee field.

Board of Education chair Candice Savin

Here’s The State Of Westport

The state of the town is strong.

The state of our schools is too.

Those verdicts were delivered by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin yesterday.

A large, inquisitive crowd packed the Westport Library. The 3rd annual State of the Town meeting was sponsored by our 2 Rotary Clubs.

Marpe began by citing 2 newly improved facilities: the library itself, and the Senior Center.

He also mentioned that Westport has the highest life expectancy in Connecticut, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Our neighborhood averages range from 82 years all the way to 89 (Old Hill area). Who knew?!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at yesterday’s “State of the Town” meeting.

Among the 2019 accomplishments, Marpe pointed to:

  • New accessibility projects at Compo beach, and environmentally friendly turf fields
  • Wakeman Town Farm improvements
  • Sasco Brook’s de-listing from the state register of impaired waterways
  • The town’s new mobile-friendly website
  • The Police Department’s innovative technology and equipment, including increased capability to respond in a crisis, and the groundbreaking Tesla 3 patrol car
  • Improvement projects at our 2 railroad stations
  • A 7% decline in Fire Department 911 calls, in large part due to proactive efforts in schools and the construction industry

The Westport Fire Department has made a determined effort to educate Westporters about fire safety.

  • Ongoing investments to upgrade commercial properties downtown and on the Post Road
  • 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane’s leadership of improved town wayfinding
  • 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker’s leadership of the “Westport Means Business” series
  • Commitment to be a NetZero community by 2050; rebranding “Sustainable Westport”; the RTM’s legislation on replacing single-use plastics; adding new solar energy capacity; switching 1,300 street lights to LED bulbs, and a “Zero Food Waste Challenge,” which includes a free pilot program for dropping off food waste at the transfer station (beginning April 1).
  • Consolidation of police, fire and EMS public safety dispatch centers with Fairfield
  • Automating building and land use processes with the Planning & Zoning, Building, Conservation, Public Works, Health District and Fire departments.

Building in Westport is becoming easier, with enhanced communication among town bodies. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Of course, there are challenges. Marpe mentioned:

  • Traffic. He, the police and Public Works are scheduling RTM district public meetings to identify practical, realistic solutions.
  • Affordable housing. We have 3 years left on our moratorium under the 8-30g state statute.
  • The need to enhance Longshore, and other town facilities
  • Keeping the tax mill rate flat, as it has been for about 5 years. Marpe noted that financial reserves are at or ahead of “our conservative targets,” and that pension and post-employment benefit assets are “very well-funded.”

Marpe concluded his prepared remarks by noting:

Westport is and will continue to be among the most attractive towns in the tri-state area to raise a family, educate children, create and grow a business, and retire.

We are a truly rare and wonderful combination of a small, charming New England town committed to celebrating our past and preserving our history, and also a cutting-edge community that fosters innovation, creativity and progress.

Westport preserves its past and looks to the future, says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. (Photo/John Videler for VIdeler Photography)

Board of Ed chair Savin said that the Westport School District is “strong, and getting stronger,” in areas like academics, arts, special education and athletics.

She noted the district’s focus on social and emotional health, safety and security — and combating vaping.

Among the challenges: reopening Coleytown Middle School, the budget, and the search for a new schools superintendent.

She said the board and community must “continue to invest in students, professionals and infrastructure.”

Board of Education chair Candice Savin’s presentation included slides like these, showing renovations to Coleytown Middle School.

Moderator Jeff Wieser then read questions from audience members.

Marpe was asked about his biggest budgetary challenge. “The capital forecast — school and town projects,” he said.

Regarding empty storefronts on Main Street, he pointed to new businesses coming in, along with “mom and mom” stores owned by local residents. He noted that the P&Z wants to improve efficiencies of town processes, and praised Regency Centers — owners of several large Westport shopping areas — for recent upgrades of their properties.

Marpe also said that the Downtown Merchants Association and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce are working hard to attract new businesses.

Asked about the relationship with the Westport Museum for History & Culture, the 1st selectman said that the town no longer stores records there, eliminating a $7,500 storage fee. He said that although this year the town helped fund the Museum’s First Light celebration, he was “troubled” when he realized some of the money went toward employees’ salaries.

“We are working with them to recover that portion” of the funds, he said.

However, Marpe added, “the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying. I appeal to residents to step back. You’re talking about people who live down the street from you.”

Regarding traffic, Marpe said the most significant impact comes from Waze. He acknowledged frustration with timing of Post Road lights, and said the town is in “regular communication” with the state Department of Transportation.

When the highways get crowed, Waze sends drivers through Westport.

As for Joey’s at the Shore, Marpe described the town’s 30-year relationship with the former beach concessionaire. He said they parted ways “without hard feelings.” An RFP has been issued for Compo, the skating rink/pool and golf course halfway house.

Seven or eight “well qualified” responses have been received. Bids will be open this week, and Marpe is optimistic that the new concessionaire will continue Joey Romeo’s “warmth, style, sensitivity and food.” He warned though that it may not be “fully operational” by the start of beach season.

In response to Board of Ed questions, Savin said that there are contingency plans in case CMS is not ready to reopen next fall; that pushing school start times back 30 minutes for all schools will be on the February 3 and February 10 agendas, and that declining enrollment is more challenging at the middle school level (because of the team approach) than in elementary schools and Staples High.

When the meeting was over, the town officials were not through. Members of the audience continued to ask questions. Marpe and Savin kept answering them.