Tag Archives: Ken Bernhard

Rotary Clubs Reach Out To Ukraine

For months, Americans have been flooded with news about Ukraine.

For most of us, it’s a foreign country. We can’t quite figure out its politics, its place in the world, or all the political and business figures with similar-sounding names who seem to be doing nefarious things.

Ken Bernhard is not confused.

Ken Bernhard

The longtime Westporter — an attorney who spent 8 years representing Westport in the General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader; served as 3rd selectman from 1987-89; was on the Zoning Board of Appeals; has been on boards from the Library and Chamber of Commerce to Earthplace, Levitt Pavilion and Aspetuck Land Trust; helped found the Syria Fund for refugee aid, is involved with an orphanage in Haiti, collects shoes for thousands of children worldwide and raises guide dogs — has a connection to that Crimean nation too.

Three years ago, he taught law in the port city of Berdyansk. With that nation in the news now, he wanted to see what his Westport Sunrise Rotary Club — and its sister organization, the Westport Rotary — could do to foster the rule of law and due process.

“We wanted to give evidence that we support democratic values,” he explains.

Through a professor friend in Berdyansk, he found that the law university hoped to construct a moot courtroom where students could learn courtroom skills.

Both clubs quickly agreed to finance construction.

Nothing is easy there. But as soon as banking requirements are fulfilled, and the necessary documents are translated and executed, the project can begin.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Ukraine. But this is one unimpeachable fact: Halfway around the world, Westport is helping democracy thrive.

Ken Bernhard (left) with students in Berdyansk, Ukraine. They hold a Connecticut state flag.

Street Spotlight: Woods Grove Road

Some Westporters live on the water. Others live in the woods, or close to town.

But only residents of Woods Grove Road enjoy the Saugatuck River on two sides — with Coffee An’ just beyond.

Plus, of course, an easy stroll downtown.

Woods Grove is off Canal Street, on the right just past the parking lot for the old 323 restaurant, heading west toward Kings Highway.

Woods Grove Road is close to downtown. I’s bordered by 2 branches of the Saugatuck River.

AJ Izzo — owner of the old Crossroads Ace Hardware, another great close-by attraction (now replaced by an excellent liquor store) — says that when he grew up on nearby Richmondville Avenue, the area was woods, and a dirt road. Most houses were built in the 1940s and ’50s.

Ken Bernhard — who moved there from around the corner — calls Woods Grove “a charming respite.”

It’s a dead-end, so there’s little traffic. But it’s a long, winding road, so there are plenty of families. Kids play in the street. Neighbors chat.

Woods Grove Road is well named.

A “watering hole” features a dock and rope swing. “There’s nothing more pleasant than the sound of kids laughing and splashing,” he says.

The main branch of the river is great for canoeing and kayaking. Every morning, Ken says, a neighbor on the Wilton Road side paddles — with his German shepherd — to the dam and back. Everyone waves.

The neighborliness extends to Aquarion. The water utility owns land across the river. A while back, the pumping station made a distracting, growling sound. Ken offered to buy equipment to deaden the noise.

Nope, Aquarion said. They did it themselves.

A Woods Grove back yard.

Ken calls Woods Grove “delightful. The houses are not big, and the lots are not too large. Everything is the perfect size — just as much as we need.”

Besides Coffee An’ and the Merritt Country Store, residents can walk or bike to the library and Levitt. The Y — and Merritt Parkways exits 41 and 42 — are around the corner.

Yet one of the most interesting features of Woods Grove Road is one that neighbors barely mention.

A non-profit enterprise — the Westport School of Music — is located in a house halfway down the road. Established in 1938, it’s got a great reputation.

The Westport School of Music looks like any other home.

Students come and go quietly. There’s a little more traffic because of it than normal, but Woods Grove residents hardly notice. They’re happy to be near such a well-regarded, artistic enterprise.

Life on Woods Grove Road is good. Between the beautiful river and delicious donuts, who can complain?

Kids’ Detention Center Protest Set For Saturday

Jim Naughton is not sleeping well.

The Tony Award-winning actor is haunted by images of children kept in horrifying conditions in detention centers on our nation’s southwest border.

He is surprised and distressed that Americans are not rising up in protest over the separation from family members, lack of access to basic sanitary conditions — and deaths.

So he’s taking action.

Naughton — a longtime Weston resident — enlisted the help of fellow humanitarian Ken Bernhard. The former Republican state representative, 3d selectman and volunteer board member helped found the Syria Fund, which aids refugees; the Tree of Life Orphanage in Haiti, and the Soles4Souls shoe drive.  

This morning, they arranged for a protest march this Saturday (June 29, 10 a.m.) on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge in downtown Westport.

“If our neighbors in Westport and Weston have been waking at night, as I have, horrified by the news of the way our country is mistreating children, and would like to do something, please meet, demonstrate and march with us on Saturday,” Naughton says.

“We hope to bring attention to what’s going on. We need to let our representatives know that we want this situation addressed now. It can’t drag on.

“This is a humanitarian problem. People of every political stripe who find this abhorrent are welcome.”

Ken Bernhard, Lori Cochran-Dougall: First Citizens Of Westport

In the vast constellation of stars that make Westport shine, it’s tough picking 2 of the brightest.

But the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce has done a stellar job. Lori Cochran-Dougall and Ken Bernhard will be honored Wednesday, June 12 (6:30 p.m., Westport Inn) at the organization’s First Citizen Award dinner.

The duo will be joined by 4 “Young Entrepreneur” honorees, from Staples and Weston High Schools: Ryan Felner, Lilly Garone, Garrett Meyerson and Brianna Zeiberg. Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz is the keynote speaker. Each year the Chamber honors one Westporter from the non-profit world, and one from the business sector.

Lori Cochran-Dougall

Cochran-Dougall is well known — and beloved — as executive director of the Westport Farmers’ Market. She’s made it not just a place to purchase great, fresh produce and organic goods, but a true community gathering spot, with entertainment and education too. Every Thursday from May through November, the Imperial Avenue lot  pulses with life and good vibes.

Cochran-Dougall grew up in Roanoke, Virginia — home of the oldest continually operating farmers’ market in the country. Before coming to Westport, she chaired the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Farmers’ Market board of directors.

Her achievements here include gaining 501(c)(3) status for the market (a rarity); implementing a winter’s market; working with area chefs and farmers to find solutions to food distribution issues, and advocating for agri-tourism.

Bernhard — the other honoree — is a principal in Cohen and Wolf’s municipal, business and corporate, real estate, family law and appellate groups.

He spent 8 years representing Westport in the General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader. He was 3rd selectman from 1987-89, after which he was elected to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Ken Bernhard

He is or has been a member of many boards, including the Westport Library, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Norwalk Human Services Council, Earthplace, Westport Historical Society, Levitt Pavilion, Aspetuck Land Trust, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.

Bernhard helped found the Syria Fund, which provides support and education to refugees in Jordan. He’s deeply involved with the Tree of Life Orphanage in Haiti, which educates and feeds over 200 children, while creating jobs for adults.

He organizes shoe collection drives for Soles4Souls, shipping thousands of shoes to children around the world. He and his wife Alice have also raised 7 guide dogs.

If you want something done, the saying goes, ask a busy person.

On June 12, Lori Cochran-Dougall and Ken Bernhard will slow down long enough to be honored. “06880” joins the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce in saluting these 2 superbly deserving First Citizens.

(For more information and tickets to the First Citizen Award event, click here.)

[OPINION] Coalition For Westport Praises Saugatuck Committee Leaders

Alert “06880” reader — and co-chair of Coalition for Westport — Ken Bernhard writes:

As a member of the local political party Coalition For Westport, which focuses on planning and zoning issues, I attended today’s (the last) meeting of the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Steering Committee.

The Committee was established 14 months ago by First Selectman Jim Marpe to submit a report to the state regarding proposals for the future of the 68 acres called Saugatuck. Having followed the progress of the Committee, I expected there to be some heated exchanges as the final summary was proposed for review and comment.

In earlier meetings, strong personalities had articulated remarkably divergent opinions. Many observers feared that an agreement was unlikely.

For over a year, a committee has discussed the redevelopment of Saugatuck.

To the rescue — after what appeared to be a rocky beginning from one member who wanted to raise anew conflict issues — came the committee’s leadership. Thereafter, with the always steady guidance and direction of the co-chairs (Planning and Zoning director Mary Young and volunteer Craig Schiavone), the meeting continued with the difficult chore of building consensus for the wording of a general summary of goals, discussions, recommendations and findings.

At the end, the committee was successful, and authorized the co-chairs to proceed.

It is important to note that the one consistent variable throughout these past months has been the professionalism of Mary Young and Craig Schiavone.

On more occasions than can be counted, they were patient when being challenged by emotional outbursts from both committee participants and members of the public. They were fair and objective while overseeing the discussions of the stakeholders including neighborhood residents, commercial property owners, commuters, retailers, and a multitude of opinionated citizens promoting different visions for the area’s future.

From the air, Saugatuck looks quiet.

In the end, they brought the proverbial “herd of cats” to a successful outcome, with most everyone pleased with the collaborative effort. It was a remarkable achievement, and both Mary and Craig deserve great credit for a job well done.

The Coalition For Westport congratulates the Saugatuck Committee on completing its work in a timely fashion. Further, the Coalition hopes that the Planning and Zoning Commission will now begin the task of changing its regulations to accommodate efforts to improve parking, traffic control, sidewalks, streetscapes and more.

Change is inevitable.  The question is whether the community will participate in, and lead, those changes.

Morgan Stanley Furniture Dump: The Sequel

Last week, Ken Bernhard was Paul Revere.

The Cohen & Wolf lawyer — a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney — was appalled that Morgan Stanley was tossing at least $100,000 worth of office furniture into a wood chipper, in preparation of a move from 320 Post Road West to new digs on Post Road East.

Last Friday, a contractor tossed Morgan Stanley furniture into a wood chipper.

Bernhard contacted Jeff Wieser, CEO of Homes With Hope. The Westport housing non-profit managed to save “1/20” of the cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas and other perfectly good goods.

This week, Bernhard was Kojak.

He spent the past few days trying to get answers from Morgan Stanley: about why they had thrown away so much furniture, and whether there was any truth to the rumor that a similar dump — though 4 times as large — is planned for this Friday, at the financial firm’s Nyala Farm site.

Bernhard said he hoped that Morgan Stanley would follow its own policy of “relocating” unneeded furniture “within other MS facilities,” then reselling or donating the rest to a third parties. He urged the company to work with Westport, other local communities and non-profits, allowing access to Nyala Farms for inspection and perhaps recycling of what the firm is about to discard. He even offered himself as a facilitator to help make it happen.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley threw away …

Bernhard was not pleased with the hemming, hawing and eventual silence from corporate headquarters.

Yesterday, he sent another email. He noted that a hospice facility in Stamford said it needs office furniture. They were happy to send a truck to pick it up.

Bernhard added:

In all honesty, I don’t understand MS’s perceived intransigence in not giving away some of what the company plans to destroy. In some communities the waste of valuable, useful assets might go unnoticed or overlooked, but Westport citizens aspire to do better than that. We have a strong, vibrant recycling program, a Green Task force, and municipal goals to reduce the community’s carbon footprint. Morgan Stanley is a part of our community.

Again, I offer my services to act as facilitator in identifying not-for-profits or others that might benefit from the reuse of furniture that will otherwise be wasted.

So far, he has not heard back.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks toward Friday.

And whatever happens at Nyala Farm — the sprawling office complex tucked away in the rolling hills off the Sherwood Island Connector — will be a lot less visible than it was on Post Road West.

… and another.

Take $100,000 Worth Of Perfectly Good Furniture. Then Throw It Out The Window.

Ken Bernhard is a principal in Cohen & Wolf’s municipal, real estate, and business and corporate groups. He works in the firm’s office at 320 Post Road West.

He’s also a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney.

He’s nobody’s fool.

This morning, Bernhard heard an enormous crunching sound coming from the building’s top floor.

Morgan Stanley — the tenant there — is moving out. Workers were methodically moving every piece of furniture — cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas, you name it — onto the ground.

A chipper then chewed every single piece up.

Into the chipper it goes.

Bernhard — who helped create the Syria Fund, which provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations — was appalled.

He asked the foreman of the company — Total Relocation Services — what was going on. The man said they had a contract. Morgan Stanley’s floor must be “broom clean” by the close of business today.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley is throwing away …

Bernhard asked the foreman to check that the financial services firm really wanted to toss at least $100,000 worth of perfectly good furniture away.

Yep, the forerman reported. A Morgan Stanley representative repeated the claim: “Broom clean” by the end of the day.

… another shot …

Bernhard swung into action. He called Jeff Wieser. The CEO of Homes With Hope raced over. He salvaged what Bernhard estimates is “1/20” of the furniture being demolished.

Bernhard also called 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He said he would send someone over, to see what he could do.

The foreman said he’d had no real notice of the project. But, he told Bernhard, next week the company is scheduled to do a project “4 times as big,” not far away. That may be Morgan Stanley’s Nyala Farms complex.

Bernhard hopes to organize non-profits, and save some of what is there.

“It’s a collective effort,” he says.

It certainly is.

But what does it say about Morgan Stanley — and our society — that it has to be?

… and a 3rd. (Photos/Ken Bernhard)

Ken Bernhard’s Missions Of Mercy

Ken Bernhard is a very busy man. But not too busy to help others in need.

The longtime Westport attorney and former state legislator is deeply committed to 2 important ventures.

One is Soles4Souls. Founded as a relief organization after philanthropists and shoe executives provided footwear to people impacted by the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the non-profit has distributed 22 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries (and all 50 US states).

A few years ago, Bernhard helped collect over 700 pairs in Westport. He’s organized another collection this month. Collection boxes are set up in Town Hall and the Senior Center. More than 150 pairs of shoes have already been donated this year. Breaking that 700 mark should be a walk in the park.

Part of the informational sign at Town Hall.

Part of the informational sign at Town Hall.

In October, Bernhard heads to Jordan. With an Arab-speaking colleague, he’ll purchase and deliver everything from toothpaste to school supplies — to Syrian refugees. He’s helped set up the 501(c)(3) Syria fund, under the umbrella of Helping Jordan Refugees and Mercy Corps.

“When I listened to the news about millions of refugees who have lost so much, and endured incalculable suffering through no fault of their own — ending up in bleak compounds with nothing but a will to survive — I thought I and our community should do something to help.”

If a busy guy like Ken Bernhard can find time to help these 2 excellent causes, the rest of us can pitch in too. Donations made payable to The Syria Fund should be sent to Ken Bernhard, 11 Woods Grove Rd., Westport, CT 06880; online, click on TheSyriaFund.

Ken Bernhard is collecting donations for supplies to help Syrian children.

Ken Bernhard is collecting donations for supplies to help Syrian children.

“Conflict Of Interest” Charge Roils Baron’s South Debate

As the RTM prepares to vote this Tuesday (April 28, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) on whether to overturn the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to designate the Baron’s South property as protected open space, legislators have another issue to contend with.

Westport resident Valerie Seiling Jacobs sent this “open letter” to all RTM members:

As many of you know, I have been opposed to the proposed senior housing project on Baron’s South for many years. My view has long been that the deal proposed by The Jonathan Rose Companies was unfair to taxpayers since the town will get too little in return for donating such a valuable asset. And it has always puzzled me that Ken Bernhard, who co-chaired the Baron’s South Committee and is one of the project’s prime cheerleaders, seemed so determined to push ahead with the project—even in the face of growing evidence that the project was seriously flawed and could not meet the town’s needs.

I learned today [Friday] that Mr. Bernhard has multiple conflicts of interest that were never disclosed. First, Cohen & Wolf, the law firm in which he is a principal, is counsel to the Jewish Home of Fairfield, which stands to gain a lucrative contract for services if the Rose project goes forward. In fact, in a bulletin last summer, the President of JHF touted how great the business would be for the JHF. Second, Martin F. Wolf, another senior attorney at Mr. Bernhard’s law firm, sits on the Board of Directors of the JHF.

Mr. Bernhard’s failure to disclose these connections and conflicts is especially egregious given the sensitivity of this issue and Mr. Bernhard’s past behavior. At a Board of Finance meeting in October 2012, a number of members of the public complained that the RFP process appeared to have been rigged in favor of The Rose Companies—a suggestion to which Mr. Bernhard took extreme umbrage, demanding an apology. Nevertheless, in response to concerns about conflicts of interest, the members of the Baron’s South Committee were specifically asked to stand and state whether they had any financial interest in the Rose Companies. Mr. Bernhard did not stand. His failure to reveal his firm’s interest in this project may have been technically correct — since the financial interest was in another entity — but it was still materially misleading. As an attorney and a former elected official, Mr. Bernhard should know better.

A path in Baron's South. (Photo/Judy James)

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

For Mr. Bernhard to have served on the Baron’s South Committee without disclosing these connections, which fatally compromised his ability to objectively evaluate the responses to the town’s RFP, violate fundamental principles of justice and fairness. This is the equivalent of a judge owning stock in a corporation that appears in a contested matter in the judge’s court. And I note that this is not the first time that Mr. Bernhard’s ethics have been called into question. In 2010, he was forced to pay a $3,500 penalty after his improper campaign contributions were discovered.

All of these facts bolster the conclusion that the Rose Companies’ proposal is a bad deal for Westport and its taxpayers. The Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to designate Baron’s South as open space was the right thing to do. I hope that you will decide NOT to overturn that decision.

Thank you.

——————————————————————–

I asked Ken Bernhard for his side of the issue. He said:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Ms. Jacobs’ letter to the RTM. It distresses me that the discussion about a project designed to address the needs of hundreds of Westport seniors who require affordable housing options has devolved into the kind of ugly debate endemic in Washington — specifically, don’t discuss the issues; unleash a personal attack on your opponent.

Curiously, Ms. Jacobs appears to be guilty of the very offense that she charges me with, i.e. an undisclosed bias.  She does not divulge in her letter that she is the co-chair of a political party, Save Westport Now, whose agenda appears to oppose development in town regardless of its merits. Apparently, the unanimous consensus of the RTM sub-committee to overturn the vote of her party’s candidates has given rise to her invective.

I have lived in Westport for more than 40 years and for most of that time, I have been actively engaged in the community’s affairs. I have given of my time by holding positions on the ZBA and the Board of Selectmen. In addition to serving as town counsel for 3 administrations, I have represented Westport in Hartford. Throughout this time I did, and still do, provide free legal services to many of the non-profit organizations in town. I sit on multiple boards providing my time and energy helping our friends and neighbors. It’s all been a labor of love.

The risk, of course, in being so active is that occasionally there are instances where the roles may overlap. These instances are part of life in a small town and are not considered conflicts in the forums in which these things are adjudicated. A community cannot function without this reality of professional and personal overlap of its citizens’ talents and interests.

Early springtime at Baron's South. (Photo/Judy James)

Early springtime at Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

Five years ago, I was asked by First Selectman Joseloff to give more of my time to Westport by sitting on the Baron’s South Committee. The 8-person committee was made up of volunteers serving in a private capacity. None of us had, nor did we ever have, any decision-making authority.

Since that time, I have donated at least 300 hours serving on this committee, a large portion of which was spent long before there was a proposal to do anything. When a concept for providing affordable housing for seniors was ultimately advanced, the town sent out a request for a proposal. Our committee of volunteers reviewed the proposals and made a unanimous recommendation to accept the proposal submitted by Jonathan Rose. The decision to work with Jonathan Rose was made by elected officials.

The substance of Ms. Jacobs’ letter is that she claims I have a conflict of interest in serving on the Baron’s South Committee because she has learned that one of the 50 lawyers at my law firm does work on totally unrelated matters for Jewish Senior Services, an organization that has joined with Jonathan Rose to provide services if and when the project is approved and built at some time in the very distant future. (Ms. Jacobs is incorrect when she asserts that Attorney Martin F. Wolf is a senior attorney at Cohen and Wolf in that he is “of counsel,” retired from active practice years ago, and has no financial interest in it).

Ms. Jacobs would argue that I should have conducted a conflicts check with my law firm. This would have been appropriate had I been serving as legal counsel or in any other professional role — but I was not. I was acting as a private citizen in a private capacity doing volunteer work for my community. Ms. Jacobs can spin the facts and connect the dots any way she pleases, but there is no legitimate substance to her point.  Her criticism is inflammatory and its purpose is more about advancing the political agenda of Save Westport Now than anything else.

We have an important issue confronting our community, i.e. whether to preclude the use of Baron’s South for any municipal purpose, even the expansion of the senior center, or to leave open the discussion on how best to use this valuable town asset for affordable housing or otherwise. Reasonable people can disagree, and Westport deserves a respectful exchange on this issue.

——————————————————————-

In a related development, RTM moderator Eileen Lavigne Flug will recuse herself from leading Tuesday’s discussion. She is of counsel to Cohen and Wolf. In a comment on a previous “06880” story, Flug wrote:

While Cohen and Wolf does not represent Jonathan Rose Companies, it has come to my attention that Cohen and Wolf represents the nonprofit Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County, Inc. on certain matters, although not on the proposal for senior housing at Baron’s South. While I myself have no connection with the Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County, Inc., and while I believe the connection to be attenuated since the matter before us is a zoning issue and not directly related to the proposed senior housing project, in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict and any concerns about the RTM’s process and deliberations, our deputy moderator Velma Heller will be running the meeting.

Baron's South, with the baron's Golden Shadows house in the distance.

Baron’s South, with the baron’s Golden Shadows house in the distance.