Tag Archives: Foti Koskinas

Be Careful Out There!

School starts Thursday. (Sorry, kids — and parents — for the buzzkill.)

To raise awareness — and reduce the chances that notoriously inattentive drivers will be surprised to see school buses and kids sharing the streets – the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association just released a public service video.

Viewers all over the state will see it. It’s clever and punchy. The stars on screen include 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, and Westport cops, students, athletes — even our buses.

The message is clear: With buses on the road, allow extra travel time. Be alert. Don’t you dare pass when bus lights are flashing. Remind your kids how to behave too.

Perhaps Westport is featured in this statewide video because local drivers are the worst in Connecticut.

Perhaps it’s because the Concept Studio of Westport helped produce the PSA.

Perhaps it’s a combination.

Whatever the reason, it’s well worth watching.

Church’s “Black Lives Matter” Banner Vandalized

It was unclear whether a recent toilet-paper incident near Old Mill Beach was related to a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on the homeowner’s car.

But there’s no mistaking this vandalism.

Westport’s Unitarian Church is known for its focus on diversity, inclusion, openness and dedication to social justice. Its handsome building in the woods off Lyons Plains Road provides a safe haven for individuals, groups and causes of many kinds.

Last October — after a series of fatal police shootings of blacks — the church dedicated a “Black Lives Matter” banner. Speakers at the dedication included TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey; State Senator Toni Boucher; 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church.

The Unitarian Church’s banner.

Unitarian Church representatives say the sign was “just a first step to engage with members of the congregation, local officials, interfaith clergy, and the community to affirm the need for dialogue and non-violent action towards the ending of racism in our society.”

When the banner went up, church officials fielded a number of phone calls. Some were supportive and thankful. Some were questioning. Some were opposed.

David Vita — director of social justice — says, “It made for lively, respectful conversations.”

In the early hours of Thursday morning — just days after neo-Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups marched in Charlottesville — the banner was ripped from its post.

The empty signpost.

Vita says, “It’s hard not to connect the destruction of the banner with a changed political climate, and an emboldened rise in racism.”

Senior minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse adds, “We presume that those who took our sign feel that by removing it, they repudiate its message that black lives matter just as much as any other life.”

Marpe notes, “Given the current climate in this country and the state, the administration of our town and the Westport Police Department will not stand for this behavior. We will dedicate our resources to identifying the person or persons responsible for this vandalism. We urge our community to be respectful of the opinions of others and their right to express them, even if they may differ from their own. Hatred and bigotry are not welcome here.”

Police Chief Foti Koskinas says, “We support and respect the Unitarian Church, its members and their message of inclusiveness, equality and tolerance.  The police department is working with the church administration to prevent further incidents.”

All that remains of the “Black Lives Matter” banner. (Photo/David Vita)

The church is moving forward. This Sunday’s 10 a.m. service — planned before the incident — is “Heart of Racial Justice.”

Meanwhile, Morehouse promises to replace this sign. If it’s vandalized, it too will be replaced.

That will continue, he says, “until such a time as all lives — black, brown, gay or marginalized — matter as much as white lives do. We will not be intimidated by the forces of bigotry and hate.”

And, he notes, he will commit $100 to the NAACP whenever the banner is vandalized again.

(Anyone with information regarding the vandalism should call the Police Department detective bureau: 203-341-6080.)

“Catch A Lift” Catches Westport’s Spirit

“06880” is a little late to this story.

But it’s never too late to celebrate our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Or the people who help them.

Catch a Lift is a national non-profit dedicated to the physical and mental recovery of post-9/11 combat-wounded military personnel. The organization provides gym memberships and home equipment, fitness programs and motivational peer support.

Last weekend — thanks to the tireless efforts of Mental Grit Fitness owner/trainer Andy Berman; Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas and his entire department; Westporter and CAL board member Adam Vengrow, and the support of Joyride, Crossfit Revel and Achieve Fitness — 16 veterans came to town.

And then they went to town, with workouts, training and plenty of camaraderie.

A special shoutout goes to Daniel Slow. The Weston High School basketball player raised over $5,000 for Catch a Lift, thanks to pledges for every point he scored.

Photographer Matthew Paskert captured much of the action from last weekend’s “Westport for Warriors” weekend. If his images inspire you to learn more about Catch a Lift, click here.

(Photos/Matthew Paskert)

“Where Are Your Papers?” A Westporter Reacts

Alert “06880” reader Robert Birge is a marketing professional, investor and entrepreneur. He’s lived in Westport “almost 9 years, non-contiguously.” His activities include “regular consumption of food at our fine restaurants, chasing around 4 children, and trying to drive courteously.”

Last week, his kids’ nanny told him a disturbing story. Robert explains:

Someone she identified as a police officer asked her for her “papers” while waiting at the Westport train station. It happens that she is Latina. It also happens that she is a citizen of these United States of America.

Regrettably, we likely won’t learn who perpetrated this indignity. After a thorough investigation, Westport Chief of Police Foti Koskinas and Deputy Chief Vincent Penna strongly believe that whoever harassed our nanny is not a Westport police officer.

I’m not entirely convinced. However, I believe their view is reasonable, and I respect they have a different vantage point. I can only say it’s unclear who stopped her, and that there are sound reasons to doubt it was a Westport officer.

I find the details uninteresting now. That she suffered this indignity saddens me. Our nanny is a wonderful person. She cares for our 3 young boys as if they were her own. She’s exceedingly competent and industrious, and she always wears a smile. She’s the proud mother of two UConn graduates. Our community is fortunate to count her as a member.

Immigrants, legal and likely illegal, provide significant support to our rarefied town. While our community has time to wage fiery debates over high school essays on white privilege and unearned advantages, hundreds of immigrants make their way to Westport every morning to care for our children, clean our homes, tend our lavish gardens, and help build our beautiful houses. Westport would not be Westport without them. Any view to the contrary is patently false.

I grew up in New Mexico and Colorado. I learned at a young age to treasure the contributions and culture of the Hispanic community, along with every other group that has come to this country and helped make it great.

I’m also a vocal “member” of #TheResistance. I realize not everyone in Westport shares my views, but the voting patterns and my impressions of the typical Westport resident lead me to believe I’m among predominantly like-minded people. Westport is not Maricopa County, Arizona.

Two immediate family members have spent years in the federal criminal justice system. I’m confident this incident would not pass standards for probable cause or equal treatment.

My primary question after hearing this story was: “Is it possible this has spilled over into Westport?” I’m happy to share that Chief Koskinas and Deputy Chief Penna’s actions and words answered that question for me with an unequivocal NO! I also commend them for their responsiveness to a community concern.

I’m told the investigation has not implicated one of our officers, the MTA police or the Amtrak police. That leaves the possibility that a layperson harassed our nanny. I find this possibility more disturbing. I’d rather think that one jerk had a bad day and acted poorly, especially knowing the values coming from Chief Koskinas. If it happens again, I hope the community reports it. I’m confident our police department’s leaders would pursue the culprit vigorously.

I also believe it’s important to discuss a few comments I’ve received asserting that I should have allowed the police to investigate the incident before reporting it on social media. This is a choice we’re all granted as part of our right to speak freely. I respect that others would choose differently, but I stand by my choice. I know my nanny, and I know what she told me.

She was harassed by some racist in my town. I was and remain furious. I also believe the current climate necessitates vigilance toward every incursion on our civil liberties no matter how benign. Further, where should citizens or the press draw that line? If I had recorded a video like the Rodney King incident, should I have withheld the video from the public until a fair trial had been completed? I don’t think so.

Public discourse of wrongdoing and due process under the law are different matters. For example, anyone arrested in Westport will find their name, alleged crime and full color mugshot on Facebook right away. Even if you’re later fully exonerated, the damage done to your reputation would be hard to reverse. While the media surely enjoys the US Attorney’s penchant for high profile perp walks, I feel differently about the Westport police department employing public shaming in our small town. The point is that it’s a choice we all have a right to make.

It’s important to me to close this post with an expression of gratitude toward our police. Like most things in Westport, I believe we’re fortunate when it comes to our police. I’ve always found them to be efficient, extremely present, and friendly. I believe they keep my family safe. My wife Melissa and I intend to raise our children with the same respect for officers of the law that we have, because their position deserves that respect.

Smile! You’re NOT On Candid Camera!

The new Main Street traffic lights — at the Avery Place/Parker Harding and Myrtle Avenue/North Kings Highway intersections — have some Westporters spooked.

An alert “06880” reader sent photos of what he thought were surveillance cameras:

traffic-light-not-camera-2

Were they installed to catch drivers zooming through the light?

Or — worse — some kind of nefarious, Big Brother spy cams?

traffic-light-not-camera-1

This called for a call to Westport’s top cop.

Have no fear, Police Chief Foti Koskinas responded quickly. There are no cameras on any traffic lights in Westport.

These are traffic control devices. They replace the strips that previously lay under the pavement, sending signals to the lights to determine if cars were waiting in line. That’s why sometimes a light allows a left turn on red, while other times it turns green for everyone.

In the past, Foti said, every time a road was repaired or repaved, the strips were torn out and replaced.

Now — sitting high above ground — they’re much safer.

Until the next wind storm.

Railroad Parking: Less Is More

The other day, an alert “06880” reader asked if the recent renovation of the train station’s westbound parking lot (#1) resulted in the loss of any spaces. (He was pretty sure it did.)

I did not know the answer. But I knew who would.

Foti Koskinas — who as Westport’s police chief is also responsible for railroad parking — responded (as usual) almost immediately.

He said: Yes. The original plan would have meant 6 fewer spaces. When another exit was added, an additional 2 were lost.

During the project however, realignment of spaces and crosswalks added 2 back. So the 1st number stands: There are now 6 fewer spaces than before.

The reason for the loss, Foti noted, is that the old lot was non-conforming to current regulations. Spaces were too narrow, resulting in many dented doors.

Pre-renovation: an aerial view of train station parking lot 1 (center).

Pre-renovation: an aerial view of train station parking lot 1 (center).

But Foti added lots (ho ho) more information. And it’s all good.

Throughout the summer, the Police Department examined every parking area. New spaces will appear, sometime before the holidays:

  • 12-14 additional parking spots in Lot #2 (the smaller westbound lot, just up the hill from Lot #1 and Luciano Park)
  • 8 new spots on Park Street (coming down the slight hill from Exit 17, opposite the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow restaurant)
  • 15-17 more spots on one side of Franklin Street, under I-95
  • 54-60 additional spots in Lot #7, off Franklin Street (due to leases the town took over from the state — not easy, but they got it done!).

But wait! There’s more!

The department has contacted the next 150 commuters on the wait list. They’re in the process of getting their permits.

And more permits may come, once the projects in the bullet list above are completed.

Now, if only Metro-North could respond as quickly and efficiently as the Westport Police…

Click on or hover over to enlarge this railroad station parking map.

Click on or hover over to enlarge this railroad station parking map.

Town Leaders Drop And Give (Much More Than) 50

On a normal Saturday, Westport’s many gyms, fitness centers and cycling studios compete for customers.

On a normal Saturday, First Selectman Jim Marpe cuts ribbons, meets citizens, maybe even takes his stuff to the dump. Police Chief Foti Koskinas oversees his cops, locks up bad guys and keeps Westport safe for all.

Last Saturday was not normal.

A number of gyms, fitness centers and cycling studios sent their clients and trainers to the Levitt Pavilion.

There, Mental Grit Fitness owner Andy Berman welcomed 300 fitness enthusiasts. Among them: Marpe and Koskinas.

Together, over the course of an hour, they banged out over 200,000 push-ups.

Andy Berman, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and First Selectman Jim Marpe assume the position.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Andy Berman and First Selectman Jim Marpe assume the position…

Thanks to pledges they secured in the weeks before, they raised over $75,000 for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. That organization — founded, of course, by the late Westport icon Paul Newman — offers special experiences to youngsters battling serious illnesses.

This is the 7th year Berman ran his unique fundraiser. It was the most successful — and (thanks to Westport’s CEO and top cop) high-powered — yet.

...and pause for the camersafterward.

…and pause for the camera afterward.

Andy gives huge props to Crossfit Westport’s Amy Mandelbaum; Crossfit Revel’s Jay Ross and Julie Migliaccio; JoyRide’s Rhodie Lorenz, and Achieve Fitness’ Andrew Kindt for their leadership. A number of other local gyms and fitness centers also participated.

Berman was thrilled. Everyone who did push-ups at the Levitt felt proud.

There’s no report, though, on how the first selectman and chief of police spent the rest of their day.

(To contribute to Berman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp fund, email andy@mentalgritfitness.com, or call 203-733-1194.)

Andy erman and Foti Koskinas get a bit of advanced work in.

Andy Berman and Foti Koskinas get in a bit of advanced work.

BREAKING NEWS: Exits Added To Train Station Parking Lot Plan

This good-news email was just sent to railroad parking lot pass holders, from Police Chief Foti Koskinas: 

After additional communication with commuters and users of Saugatuck train station parking lot #1, the Railroad Division of the Westport Police Department requested that the engineers responsible for the project reconsider the single driveway entrance and exit plan

The proposed modifications will meet safety requirements, while reducing potential exit wait times during periods of high traffic flow.

The resulting modifications allow for 2 entrance/exit driveways, and the addition of a right-hand turn lane to the originally proposed entrance/exit driveway.

The email says that the changes will result in a loss of 7 spaces. Seems like a small price to pay for a common-sense change. Tomorrow night (Tuesday, June 7, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the RTM considers a $1.5 million appropriation request for the plan.

The new parking lot #1 plan. Sorry -- this is the only size I could find!

The new parking lot #1 plan. Sorry — this is the only size I could find!

(Hat tip: Pam Kopack)

Commuters: Meet Police Chief Monday A.M.; Watch New Traffic Pattern Monday P.M.

Commuters have concerns about the proposed reconstruction of Saugatuck railroad station parking lot 1.

Foti Koskinas is ready to hear them out. And show them exactly what’s being planned.

Tomorrow morning (Monday, June 6, 6 to 8:30 a.m.), the police chief will be at the station. He’ll listen to what commuters say, and help clarify the scope of the work.

Tomorrow afternoon (Monday, June 6, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.), he’ll close 4 of the 5 exits from the lot — simulating (as best he can) the traffic pattern if the renovation plan is approved.

An aerial view of train station parking lot 1 (center). Only one exit will be used Monday from 5:30-7:30 p.m., to simulate the proposed reconstruction plan.

An aerial view of train station parking lot 1 (center). Only one exit will be used Monday from 5:30-7:30 p.m., to simulate the proposed reconstruction plan.

Anyone wishing to observe the experiment (as opposed to being part of it) should park in lot #2 (off Railroad Place) or on Franklin Street, and watch from Luciano Park. That way, pedestrians will not impede traffic flow.

“Our goal is to work with the community,” Koskinas says. “Everyone wants what is best for the commuter, while at the same time highlighting safety while following required rules and regulations.”

Fireworks Over Fireworks

Westport PAL is taking heat for something it’s done well for decades: organizing one of our town’s hottest shows of the year, the 4th of July fireworks.

Of course, they’ve never been on July 4th. We celebrate Independence Day on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 5th, with Westport’s biggest party of the year. Besides fireworks, we enjoy picnics, barbecues, bands, and tons of fun.

This year — for a variety of reasons — the big day is June 30. When they heard that, a few Westporters exploded.

Westport's 2014 fireworks, as seen from Hillspoint Road.

Westport’s 2014 fireworks, as seen from Hillspoint Road.

The main complaints are that the event is scheduled on a workday — June 30 is a Thursday — and that folks have to work the next day (Friday, July 1). A secondary issue is that June 30 is several days before the 4th, lessening the holiday’s importance.

The date was picked almost a year ago, says Westport PAL president Ned Batlin. With a limited number of barges, barge crews, and fireworks companies available, not every town can schedule its fireworks on the same date.

For as long as they can remember, Batlin and Police Chief Foti Koskinas say, the fireworks have been held on a weekday (including Friday). At 4 p.m. the beach is cleared; then, people who have purchased tickets ($35 per car — a price that has remained constant for years) are allowed in.

It would be very difficult to clear the beach on a holiday weekend — both because of sheer numbers, and because some of those visitors would have paid for an expensive weekend day pass.

Scoring a prime spot in front of the barge -- and relaxing with an iPad.

Scoring a prime spot in front of the barge — and relaxing with an iPad.

In addition, Batlin explains, for financial reasons it’s best for the rain date to be the day after the originally scheduled fireworks. A few years ago rain pushed the fireworks to July 5. Many people complained that it came after the holiday.

For the past few years, Batlin notes, July 4 came close to a weekend, so many people did not have to work the day after the fireworks. This year, July 4 is a Monday.

“We know not everyone can take this Friday off, but some people can,” says Koskinas. “Knowing that some people will have a 4-day weekend, we opted for Thursday so we could have Friday as a rain date.”

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch the fireworks. This was the scene last year at the Schlaet's Point jetty, where Soundview intersects with Hillspoint Road.

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch the fireworks. This was the scene at Schlaet’s Point jetty, where Soundview intersects with Hillspoint Road.

The fireworks are PAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help fund programs that serve thousands of youngsters, and 30 college scholarships.

The fireworks draw 12,000 people to Compo Beach. “We’re well aware we can’t please everyone,” Koskinas says. “Whether it’s the date, the weather, the traffic going to the beach or leaving, someone will be unhappy.

“We strive to please everyone. But we realize that’s not possible.”

Koskinas concludes, “Every year we hope the weather cooperates, that everyone has a good time, and is patient. And every year we hope the fireworks are better than the year before.”

Soundview Drive is one place to be for the fireworks. The woman on the balcony is conducting a fife and drum corps, which entertained along the closed-to-traffic road.

Soundview Drive is one place to be for the fireworks. The woman on the balcony is conducting a fife and drum corps, which entertained along the closed-to-traffic road.