Tag Archives: Jay Walshon

[OPINION] “Tone Deaf Missteps” Lead To Westport’s 3rd Rail

Dr. Jay Walshon is a 38-year resident of Westport. He spends plenty of time at Compo Beach — and, recently, has watched hours of coverage of debates over parking fees. He writes:

Last month, Westport’s Parks & Recreation Commission reduced the non-resident beach emblem price from $775 to $545.

Member Chris O’Keeffe said, “It’s really important we share the history of this.”  I agree.

In the summer of 2017, residents complained about deplorable Compo Beach neglect — uncleanliness, disrepair, litter — plus overcrowding, parking, disorderly conduct and disregard of rules. They ascribed these problems to the increasing number of non-residents at Compo.


Lines of cars waiting to enter Compo. Sure, this was taken the day of the fireworks — but a few years ago, lines like this could be seen on weekends too.

In addition to logistical and operational recommendations, these residents wanted daily and non-resident emblem fees increased, the number issued decreased, visitor revenue captured, and the number of non-paying “drop-offs” addressed.

The Parks & Rec Commission designated a daily parking area, and increased staff, trash collections and weekend and holiday restroom cleaning.

They also considered “relocating the entry booth, daily pass sales, signage, events, traffic, rules and regulations, and police presence and enforcement.”

Lowering the number of beachgoers by decreasing non-resident emblems and daily passes, and increasing fees to offset revenue, became a primary consideration.

To avoid anecdotally based decisions, Parks & Recreation director Jen Fava was tasked to recruit college students to gather objective data. This never occurred.

Representative Town Meeting member Carla Rea asked how much of Compo Beach’s $2 million revenue was budgeted for maintenance. Ms. Fava did not have an answer.

RTMer Sal Liccione asked how many personnel were dedicated to maintaining Compo during summer. She did not have that information available.

Trash pickup was a concern several years ago.

Ms. Fava estimated that grievance rectification would cost $200,000. To recoup revenue, the Parks & Rec Commission raised resident parking emblems by $10 to $50, and Weston by $125 to $375. The number of non-resident emblems was lowered from 600 to 350; daily passes were capped at 100.

Equating it to a “seasonal Vermont ski lift ticket,” Ms. Fava increased non-resident emblems from $490 to $775.

John Suggs warned: “raising prices that could exclude non-Westporters is bad policy.”

Michael Calise declared that $775 “unreasonably punishes non-residents.” Because Compo revenue exceeded $1.5 million, he requested a justifying accounting of revenues and expenses. Ms. Fava could not provide this.

Residents said:

  • “Hopefully the increased fees and decreased non-residents will result in fewer people at the beach.”
  • “$775 is steep but the right direction, because it’s still a great deal.”
  • “This is a town beach; you need to think about the residents before you think about people from out of town.”

Among the Parks & Rec comments:

  • “Reasonable step to decrease overcrowding; right approach.”
  • “We need to focus on the property taxpayers here that are paying for the beach.”
  • “This shouldn’t offend anyone.”
  • “This is the fairest way to assess them.”
  • “Non-residents should pay their ‘fair share.'”
  •  “This is going to work out very well.”

It didn’t.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Ms. Fava’s outrageously insensitive $775 ski-lift equivalency, and targeting non-resident utilization via parking price and quotas, reverberated into the state legislature.

House Bill 6650 — introduced recently — says:

No municipality shall: (1) prohibit nonresidents…from entering or using a…municipal beach…or a municipal facility associated with such beach, unless such prohibition applies to residents of such municipality; or (2) impose on non-residents a fee for such entrance or use, or parking associated with such entrance or use, that is greater than twice the amount of any fee charged to residents for the same purpose.

In other words: If residents pay $60, a town can’t charge non-residents more than $120. Prohibiting non-resident drop-offs would mean prohibiting residents too).

Describing $775 as “unacceptable,” the Parks & Rec Commission reduced it to $545, increased the number to 450, and raised the number of daily passes to 120. Even $545 is still far higher than any other area town.

Ms. Fava explained she was “now looking at things through a little bit of a new lens in terms of where the current climate is … because we went from $490 and skyrocketed to $775, way out of alignment with other waterfront communities … really doesn’t reflect our accessibility goals we want to have to let people come in and use our facilities.”

She defended the 2018-2022 $775 price, declaring “it was a very different climate.”

For decades, beach fees and accessibility barriers have been under the discrimination microscope. The only “climate difference” is HB6650, and the state’s perception of our exclusionary attitude and treatment of non-residents – our third rail.

Compo Beach (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

We shouldn’t wait for legislative imposition before re-addressing beach access structures. “Over-crowding” and “equitability” warrant clarification.  Metrics providing data on cost and problem intensity/frequency should replace anecdotes.

Compo’s revenue and expenses must become transparent.

The Parks & Recreation Department’s “Beach/Pool Operating Analysis 2019-2020” showed revenues of $1,820,995 (pool $15,429), and expenses of $498,720. The result: a $1,322,275 surplus.

Non-resident 2018 revenue was $519,800 (including Weston, it’s over $750,000.

RTM member Chris Tait said, “What we did wasn’t well received in the state. A lot of articles were written about us being outdated and alienating people to not go to our beaches.

“It didn’t look good, and gave fuel to the fire of people in Hartford who may not like what we do in Westport. What we did didn’t help us as a community.  Bringing this back down is a way of acknowledging that, saying we are open to people from out of town.  We are not exclusive.”

The manner in which issues were framed in 2017/18 exposed subliminal entanglements of entitlement, elitism and privilege, leading in part to HB6650.

Ms. Fava’s focus remains the false narrative that “things are different now,” the “optics” of being perceived as an elitist, privileged, exclusionary community – and above all, the fear of Hartford.

Instead of targeting non-residents, effective management and rules enforcement are the key objectives. But this requires leadership that doesn’t equate Compo to a Vermont ski resort.

These tone-deaf missteps needlessly blemished our community. It was avoidable.

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Memorial Day 2021: Tribute To A World War II Hero

Jay Walshon is a longtime Westporter. As Memorial Day nears, he memorializes his father — a World War II veteran — with these loving words:

On May 8, 27 days shy of his 96th birthday, my father Abraham Milton Walshon took his final breath on earth.

Forever he will be my hero.

During my 35 years in emergency medicine I’ve impacted thousands of families and helped save numerous lives. But all that pales in comparison to what my dad did. He helped save civilization from tyranny.

Whereas I worked within controlled confines of safe facilities, using disinfectants and sutures, he practiced in the office of heroism, laboring in mud, muck and mire, foxholes and entrenchments, under duress of bullets, bombs, grenades, and the mortar shells that took too many of his comrades and violated his flesh in 2 separate battles, earning him Purple Hearts among other distinctions of valor: a Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Oak Leaf Cluster, 5 Combat Stars, Occupation and Victory Medals.

Abraham Walshon’s medals

It was unnerving to learn that in one Nazi assault a mere twist of fate or divine intervention permitted the perpetuation of his lineage. My father’s unpublished cathartic memoir’s final punctuation mark forever silenced the unspeakable events of those years.

Captioning his youthful image gazing from page, the June 1943 Jefferson High School yearbook notes that “Milty’s” graduation intentions were Brooklyn College and photography. But by its June publication, my dad knew all that must wait. Like for so many of his youth, World War II interrupted personal plans and desires. He turned 18 on the 4th of that month.

One brother enlisted in Army Air Corps bomber reconnaissance in the Pacific. The other served Coast Guard in the Philippines. For my dad, Army infantry under General Dwight Eisenhower awaited.

Abraham Walshon, on his 1943 enlistment.

Noted by their Thunderbird shoulder sleeve insignia with “Semper Anticus” their motto, his 45th Division battled across Africa, Italy, France and Germany. Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and Rome represented places few tourists can comprehend. Asked later in life why not travel to Europe, he quipped there was no need. He’d seen enough on foot.

Educated under the GI Bill at Packard and Columbia for an unanticipated degree in accounting, my dad set a precedent: the first civilian promoted to deputy inspector general. Base commanders shivered upon his arrival to inspect accounting and procurement records. But any harsh veneer belied the tenderness that lay within.

Forgoing the power and prestige of position so many strive for, Dad prioritized his 68-year love affair with Dorothy and the family they created. He chose to resign the military, rather than uproot our lives to D.C. To my sister and me it never appeared a difficult or regretful decision.

Music filled our Brooklyn childhood home: Jolson, Dorsey, Ella, Satchmo, Steve & Edie, Judy, Barbra, Sammy and Sinatra (who my dad considered a personal friend, having once met him backstage). With his own “Sinatra-esque” vocals that brought him to clubs in NYC, accompanied by his untrained fingers caressing piano keys guided by his remarkable natural ear, our Bensonhurst dwelling was transformed in a fashion only music can do.

Strong, obstinate, sometimes impatient and abrasive (a byproduct of the Depression), proud to a fault, a king of the cha cha, Dad suffered no fools, and was intolerant of superficiality, frivolity, disloyalty or ostentation.  Despite his 5-9, 150-pound stature, he never backed down.

Abraham and Dorothy Walshon’s wedding.

Whereas many fathers emphasized popularity, power and fortune, the virtues of modesty, frugality tempered with generosity, and above all else family, became his guiding light – a wisdom obtained from his life being daily imperiled.

With tenderness at his core, and flowing creativity with generosity until his death, my dad gifted every single loved one a personalized poem recognizing each occasion. Each writing was unique, elegant, tender, permeated with love.  Going through his belongings, we discovered 4 binders titled “The Loving History of the Walshon Family in Poetry and Rhyme.” Each overflowed with every birthday, wedding, bar mitzvah and anniversary poem he wrote over 7 decades. That was my tough dad.

His photography aspiration ultimately “settled” for many “snapshots,” and a handful of 8mm reels capturing the joys of post-war family milestones – my first bath, a wedding, rides at Coney Island – all borne of one man’s personal celebration of survival, validation of freedom’s triumph, and perhaps a subconscious poke in Germany’s eye that we didn’t merely endure. We indeed prevailed.

Losing the love of his life, severing the 68-year earthly bond to my angelic mother Dorothy 4 years ago, irreparably damaged the spirit that ravages of war had only tarnished. Despite incredible strength for a nonagenarian, independence and a continued presence of mind, these past 4 were not easy or kind. The ravages of time ultimately succeeded where the Nazis had failed.

68 years of happy marriage.

As the Army buglers’s solemn melody embraced the mourners present, and I tearfully watched the flag-adorned coffin lowered beside his devoted love of 73 years, my only regret was not knowing them during their innocence of youth, predating the horrors and darkness that no child should witness, yet so many were forced to endure.

My dad was from a generation of boys who were steeled so that those who followed would not be forced to be. They embodied the true meaning of bravery, selflessness and sacrifice in order to make the world a place worth living for we who have followed. “Duty,” “valor,” a time when mere teenagers knew what was at stake and willingly offered the ultimate sacrifice – not one conscription amongst them. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are forever indebted to role models like my dad.

On this Memorial Day we honor, salute and remember the many who have served in freedom’s highest calling – my dad now among them. As for so many others, life will go on, but never the same.

As years pass, our Memorial Day parades may become perfunctory – replete with dogs, burgers, barbecues and beer.  Conversely, they should become increasingly meaningful. In April it was estimated that of the 6.1 million WWII veterans, a mere 100,000 remain living. In 5 years perhaps, only a handful of scores; in 10, none. My dad’s passing lessens that 100,000 by only one – but for my family, as for every other, that is an enormous “one.”

Abraham Milton Walshon is not just my hero – he was ours. I pray that his kind are never again needed.

Abraham Walshon (center) with his family (from left): granddaughter Megan, wife Dorothy, Megan’s husband Jason, grandson Zak, daughter-in-law Caroline and son Jay.