Tag Archives: Representative Town Meeting

Roundup: Shop Local, Free Ice Cream, Spotted Lanternfly …

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Looking for a reason to shop local today?

Local to Market — on the former Talbot’s patio, at the Main Street entrance to Parker Harding Plaza — features:

  • Silverman’s Farm fresh produce (corn, peaches, tomatoes, peppers and more)
  • Kneads Bakery (breads and pastries)
  • Luke Molina, musician (12-2 p.m.)
  • Fresh Connecticut- grown flower bouquets
  • The Artists Collective of Westport (various artists)
  • Little Bits Pottery

The Local to Market patio is open today until 2 p.m., across from Cold Fusion.

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Looking for a way to clean up the community?

First and 2nd selectman candidates Jen Tooker and Andrea Moore are sponsoring a downtown event tomorrow (Sunday, August 29, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.). It starts and ends at Cold Fusion Gelato. All are welcome!

Ugh! (Photo/Amy Berkin)

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Looking for a “sweet” way to welcome the start of school?

Embrace Orthodontics invites everyone in the community to enjoy a free scoop of ice cream at their office (24 Imperial Avenue), from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Great idea! Also, a lot better for teeth than taffy.

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Sara Harris’ last day as Westport’s director of operations was yesterday. She’s moving to the private sector, after 4 years assisting Jim Marpe.

Her colleagues sent her off at Town Hall — and sent us this photo. Sara is posing with the right long-time resident — and wearing the right hat. (Hat tip: Mary Young)

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The end of summer has come quickly.

The last day for lifeguards at Burying Hill Beach is tomorrow (Sunday, August 29).

Compo Beach guards will be on duty through September 6.

Beach emblems are required through September 30, 2021.

Burying Hill Beach lifeguard coverage ends tomorrow. (Photo/Yvonne O’Kane)

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All 36 Representative Town Meeting seats will be contested in November’s election. Four members from each of Westport’s 9 districts vote on town appropriations, and give final approval to the budget; approve town ordinances; make recommendations regarding ordinances, and review certain decisions of town boards and commissions.

So far, all members in districts 2 (Jay Keenan, Lou Mall, Christine Meiers Schataz, Harris Falk), 3 (Mark Friedman, Arline Gertzoff, Jimmy Izzo, Ross Burkahrdt) and 6 (Jessica Bram, Seth Braunstein, Cathy Talmadge and Candace Banks) have submitted letters of intent to run again.

So have 3 members in districts 1 (Chris Tait, Matthew Mandell, Kristin Mott Purcell), 4 (Andrew Colabella, Noah Hammond, Jeffrey Weiser), 5 (Peter Gold, Dick Lowenstein, Karen Kramer), 7 (Brandi Briggs, Lauren Karpf, Jack Klinge) and 8 (Wendy Batteau, Lisa Newman, Stephen Shackelford). In District 9,Sal Liccione and Kristin Schneeman are running again.

Petitioning candidates who have been certified to run are Richard Jaffe (District 1), Ellen Lautenberg (7) and Nancy Kail (9).

Other candidates still collecting signatures are Abby Tolan, Carolanne Curry and Liz Milwe (District 1), James Bairaktaris (4), Claudia Shaum (5), John Toi (7), Rachel Cohn (8) and Marla Cowden and Lori Church (9).

Petitions are due September 14. Click here for a petition. Click here for a map of all 9 districts.

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Flags ae flying at half-staff throughout Connecticut, in honor of the servicemembers and others killed in the Kabul attack.

This is the scene at the VFW, on Riverside Avenue:

(Photo/Johanna Rossi)

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MoCA Westport kicked off its new exhibition — “Between the Earth and the Sky” — last night.

It features over 50 large-scale photos by Anne Burmeister and Ashley Skatoff from the Who Grows Your Food initiative. The intimate photographic journey celebrates the farms and farmers associated with the Westport Farmers’ Market.

The exhibition also includes site-specific installations by Kristyna and Marek Milde. The Brooklyn duo explore environmental issues, and the alienation of contemporary lifestyles.

The exhibition is open through October 17. It was created in collaboration with the Westport Farmers’ Market.

The new MoCA exhibition. (Photo/JC Martin)

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Also last night: Mihali entertained a large crowd at the Levitt Pavilion.

Speaking of large crowds: Both tonight’s performances (Gunsmoke) and tomorrow’s (Dr. K’s Motown Review) sold out a while ago.

Congratulations to the Levitt — and all who made possible this year’s 60 nights of free entertainment, under the stars!

Mihali (Photo/JC Martin)

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This week’s #FridayFlowers arrangements decorate the plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk. As always, they’re compliments of the Westport Garden Club.

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Friends of Sherwood Island “shore” know how to have fun.

Shorefest — their annual fundraiser — is set for Friday, September 10 (6 to 9 p.m.). It’s environmentally (and COVID) friendly, in the open air of the main pavilion.

Shorefest includes a seaside evening of food, live music and a silent auction. Catered by Westfair Fish & Chips, dinner options include lobster, steak, salmon, or vegetarian. Burgers and hot dogs are available for kids.

All proceeds support the habitat restoration, education, and advocacy work of the Friends group. Click here for tickets, and more information.

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Ronnie Hammer sends along this report from our friends at News12 Connecticut. Residents are urged to be on the lookout for an invasive species — the spotted lanternfly — in Fairfield and New Haven Counties.

It destroys some plants and vineyards, but won’t harm humans or pets. Click here for the full report.

(Photo courtesy of News12 Connecticut)

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Paul Delano writes:

The last couple of days you had a spider and a cicada in “Westport … Naturally.”

How about a cicada, hummingbird and katydid all in one? They are all big fans of my trumpet vine flowers.

(Photo/Paul Delano)

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And finally … Richard Tucker, the great American tenor, was born today in 1913. He died of a heart attack in 1975, in his dressing room before a performance in Michigan. His funeral was held on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, the only singer ever to be so honored.

RTM Changes: Velma Heller To Hand Over Gavel

In November, Westport elects a new 1st selectman.

We’ll need a new Representative Town Meeting leader too.

After 20 years on the RTM — the last 4 as moderator — and following a long career in education, Velma Heller looks forward to more time with her family.

Heller — who will be 85 next month — and her husband Garson have 3 children, 6 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

“This is a good time to do it,” the leader of Westport’s legislative branch says. “I’ve really enjoyed this role. It’s been an exciting journey.”

Velma Heller

Heller’s first RTM race was in 2001. She’d just retired after 17 years directing student teachers through Sacred Heart University’s College of Education — which followed a 31-year career with the Westport Public Schools, as reading specialist, Greens Farms Elementary School and Continuing Education principal, Bedford Middle School vice principal, and town-wide director of curriculum.

Her son Grant had been on the RTM; so had her husband.

“It’s your term to serve,” Grant said.

She ran as a write-in candidate, and won. She was re-elected 9 more times. She was chosen as deputy moderator, then moved into the top spot when Eileen Lavigne Flug stepped down to become assistant town attorney.

Heller declined to cite any highlights of her 2-decade tenure. “I put great effort into everything,” she says. But the former educator especially enjoyed chairing the Education Committee.

“I’ve made many friends, and developed wonderful relationships,” she says of her tenure. “This is my RTM family.”

In November she’ll have more time to spend with Garson, and her biological family. Their son Grant lives in Westport; son David is in Simsbury, and daughter Julie is in New York. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are all over the country.

“06880” joins Velma Heller’s many friends and admirers in saying, “Thank you for your long, great service to Westport!”

Roundup: Run For RTM, Boat Storage, Senior Golf, STAR Jobs,

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Want to run the town?

Or at least, help pass budgets, review board and commission decisions, and weigh in on matters like plastic bags and the Vietnam War?

The non-partisan Representative Town Meeting (RTM) does (or has done) all that, and much more.

36 members are elected to 2-year terms, from 9 districts. All seats are open, in the next election.

Westport residents interested in running can pick up a petition at the Town Clerk’s office. You  need 25 signatures from residents in their district to be on the November 2 ballot. 

The Town Clerk’s office will supply a district map, and list of all voters. Petitions are due September 14.

Questions? Contact town clerk Jeffrey Dunkerton: 203-341-1105; jdunkerton@westportct.gov.

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No, you were not alone.

Air quality in Westport was poor last night. The culprit — as some suspected — was the wildfires ravaging the West. Particles have traveled thousands of miles, and are affecting our East Coast town.

Here’s a view from Compo Beach:

(Photo/Betsy Pollak)

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Last night was also a mess downtown.

Water gushed into the street from construction work at the former Banana Republic on Main Street. The Fire Department responded promptly.

Main Street, yesterday. (Photo/Isabelle Taglia, Coleytown Middle School 8th grader)

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Starting November 1, Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department will offer winter boat storage at Longshore. Residents can store boats on their trailers in the gravel lot (Lot F) through April 15.

Space is available for 24 boats up to 24 feet (including trailer). Five more spaces are available, for boats with up to 32 feet. Rates are $720 plus tax for up to 24 feet, $960 for tax for the longer vessels..

Spots are first come, first served, for Westport residents only. For an application, email rgiunta@westportct.gov. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

A beautiful summer sight. But where will you store our boat this winter?

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Congratulations to Marc Lasry. Besides being a hedge fund billionaire, the Greens Farms resident owns the Milwaukee Bucks. Last night, they won their 1st NBA championship in 50 years.

Marc Lasry (right), after the Bucks won the NBA championship. (Screen shot photo/Fred Cantor)

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Speaking of sports: Leela Narang-Benaderet just made history. The 1988 Staples High School grad is the first Westporter to qualify for the US Senior Women’s Golf Open. She did it last week, with a 76 in the qualifier at Greenwich Country Club.

Over 400 golfers — most of them pros — competed internationally to earn a spot. Leela may have the easiest travel of all: The event will be hosted by Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield. Mark your calendars: July 29 to August 1. (Hat tip: Patty Kondub)

Leela Narang-Benaderet

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More competition news:

Vivek Kanthan is the US Rotax Max Challenge karting champion. The Westport 7th grader — who attends Pearson Online Academy, due to his travel schedule — won 7 of the 12 races in this year’s series. He will represent the US at the world championship in Bahrain later this year.

The final race was at New Jersey Motorsports Park last weekend. Sweltering heat, humidity and track temperatures of 103 degrees made the already exciting final round much more intense.

Karts reached speeds of 70 miles an hour. Vivek overcame a strong challenge to win, by just 0.08 seconds.

Vivek Kanthan, at the winner’s podium.

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STAR Lighting the Way has received a $20,000 grant from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. The money will help people  with intellectual and developmental disabilities find work, through STAR’s My First Jobs program.

STAR’s customized employment program for people with disabilities leads the state in job placements and hours worked. A team of job developers, employment managers and job coaches work with individuals, and networks with businesses, to create job opportunities, supervise training, and find locations to host classes in life, social, arts, and recreational skills.

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Parking’s reserved. So — apparently — is this spot atop the sign, for today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo.

(Photo/Daniel Hoffman)

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And finally … today marks the 160th anniversary of the first major Civil War battle. The First Battle of Bull Run, near Manassas, Virginia, ended in a Confederate victory.

In 1990, Ric Burns’ astonishing 9-part PBS miniseries brought the war — in all its glory and greed, courage and cowardice, epic sweep and tiny details — into American homes. I watch it every few years, to try and understand this momentous event in our nation’s history.

Perhaps the most memorable segment of the entire series was Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife. Written a week before the First Battle of Bull Run, it provides viewers an astonishing combination of love, eloquence and historical perspective.

Jay Ungar’s haunting “Ashokan Farewell” — a heart-rending violin duet with Molly Mason — makes this the most impactful three minutes you may ever see and hear.

RTM Upholds Hiawatha Lane Settlement

In a one-sided vote on a two-decade battle, the Representative Town Meeting last night upheld the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to settle litigation regarding a 157-unit housing development on Hiawatha Lane.

The RTM decision was 30 to 2, with 1 absention and 1 recusal. Twenty-four votes — 2/3 of the entire RTM — would have been needed to overturn last month’s P&Z decision to settle 3 lawsuits brought by the developer, Summit Saugatuck. The special RTM meeting was held following a petition by over 60 electors.

This is Peter Gold’s report on last night’s special meeting, held via Zoom. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

The RTM’s second meeting of the month considered overturning the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to permit Summit Saugatuck to build a 157- unit housing development, including 47 affordable units, at Hiawatha Lane. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the development as part of a settlement of 3 lawsuits brought by Summit.

The suits seek to overturn the P & Z’s earlier denial of the project, revoke the town’s moratorium from the requirements under Connecticut statute 8-30g (which permits developers to disregard most town zoning regulations so long as their developments contain at least 30% affordable housing), and eliminate the town’s ability to approve sewer connections for developments.

The town has already been to trial on all 3 lawsuits. Absent approval of the proposed settlement, decisions in all 3 cases are expected shortly.

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at the Hiawatha Lane development.

Town attorney Ira Bloom explained there were 2 main questions for the RTM to consider. First: Should the town continue to control development by retaining its moratorium and the right to approve sewer connections? Equally important, he said, is how to “best balance the interests of the Hiawatha Lane neighborhood against the interests of the town as a whole.”

He stated that fire safety is the key issue in the case seeking to overturn the P & Z’s denial of the project. Summit’s proposed development meets all the requirements of the fire code. However, the P&Z initially rejected the proposed development on the advice of fire marshal Nate Gibbons, who felt additional safeguards — particularly a second access road to the site — were needed.

Fire safety concerns have been a major issue with the proposed Summit Saugatuck development.

Bloom said that recent cases where towns have sought safeguards over and above fire code requirements, including another Westport case involving a proposed development on Cross Street, have been decided in favor of developers. Courts have held that meeting the fire code requirements is enough to let the development proceed. Bloom said that the town does not have a high probability of winning this case.

Summit also challenged the 4-year 8-30g moratorium the Department of Housing granted the town 2 years ago. In March, the DOH notified the town that it intends to revoke the moratorium because it can no longer justify the moratorium points given for the Hidden Brook housing development. Without those points the town would not have enough points for a moratorium.

Based on settlement negotiations, the DOH told the town it is now “tentatively on board to keep the moratorium.” If the settlement is not approved, Mr. Bloom said the town will probably lose the moratorium, exposing the entire town to 8-30g affordable housing applications at many other sites.

The last suit challenged the current requirement that town approval is required for all connections to its sewer system. Westport denied a sewer permit. Summit sued and won; the town appealed and prevailed; Summit then appealed to the state Supreme Court. As with the other 2 cases, a decision  is on hold pending the RTM’s decision on the proposed settlement.

Danielle Dobin and Paul Lebowitz, the Planning and Zoning Commission members most involved in the settlement negotiations with Summit, explained the consequences of losing the lawsuits if the settlement is not approved and the benefits of the proposed settlement.

Though all P & Z commissioners sympathized with the plight of the Hiawatha Lane area residents affected by the proposed development, Dobin and Lebowitz said the P & Z felt the consequences to both the neighborhood and the town as a whole of continuing to oppose the development in court justified the settlement.

Summit Saugatuck’s site plan. I-95 is at the top; Saugatuck Avenue is at the right.

Under the settlement, all lawsuits would be dropped and could not be reinstated. This would preserve the town’s moratorium and ability to approve sewer connections, both crucial for controlling and guiding development in town.

Summit would build 157 units instead of 187 units, including 47 affordable units; eliminate one building from the project; include several 3-bedroom units for families, and provide additional fire safety features. It would also repair roads in the area, fix a culvert to eliminate flooding, and preserve open space.

A major concern of Hiawatha Lane area residents is the increase in traffic generated by the proposed development. Dobin explained that courts do not consider traffic congestion when deciding 8-30g cases.  First Selectman Marpe promised that the Board of Selectman, in its role as Traffic Authority, would work with the residents and the state Department of Transportation to take steps to mitigate the traffic.

It was noted that the Office of  State Traffic Administration would also need to approve the development, as it would be considered a major traffic generator.  However, OSTA approval would not be sought until after the settlement is approved or the lawsuits are resolved. If OSTA requests changes as a condition of its approval it is likely Summit would make such changes.

Several Hiawatha Lane area residents spoke against the settlement. They felt the P & Z did not negotiate hard enough; traffic and pedestrian safety issues were ignored; the existing affordable housing in the area should be preserved, and that residents displaced from their homes by the proposed development should be given priority for the new affordable units.

Dobin and Leibowitz explained why they thought the settlement was the best deal that could be obtained, pointed out that traffic and pedestrian issues are not considered under 8-30g, and that federal fair housing laws do not allow for preferential placement.

RTM members expressed sympathy with the Hiawatha Lane area residents, but felt their plight was outweighed by the town’s need to preserve the 8-30g moratorium and keep control over sewer access. Members also expressed a desire for the town to “do something” to assist the residents who would be displaced by the proposed development.

Many expressed their feeling that the town failed to adequately plan to meet the requirements of 8-30g over the past years as other towns — notably Darien and New Canaan, which have received several consecutive moratoriums — have done, leaving Westport in its current situation.

It was also pointed out that the settlement would have to be approved by the court, giving concerned residents one last chance to make their concerns heard.

Voting against the proposed settlement were Lou Mall and Carla Rea. Arline Gertzoff abstained, while Matthew Mandell recused himself.

RTM April Meeting: Refinancing, Reimbursement, Restrictions

This is Peter Gold’s report on the April Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

With one exception, April’s RTM meeting dealt with unexpected opportunities and unexpected costs.

The current (and very low) interest rates provided an unexpected opportunity to refinance $13 million in bonds issued in 2012 and 2013, when rates were much higher. The rate on the new bonds is expected to be less than 2%, given the Town’s AAA Moody’s bond rating. Refinancing will save the town approximately $500,000 over the 9-year life of the new bonds.

The RTM approved unexpected costs of $380,000 for additional COVID expenses, $780,000 for additional expenses related to Hurricane Isaias, $508,470 for Westport’s 50% share of additional costs for the new Fire, Police and EMS dispatch center being built in connection with Fairfield, and $32,970 for unanticipated state-required drug testing for police officers, and costs to hire new officers to fill 4 unexpected vacancies. FEMA is expected to reimburse the town for all COVID and Hurricane Isaias expenses.

Hurricane Isaias damage on the Longshore golf course. (Photo/Brian Sikorski)

The COVID expenses are for protective devices, sanitizing, legal fees, signage and employee testing. Ten percent of all town employees are tested every week.  During the debate, several RTM members expressed the need to relax the COVID-induced restrictions on public access to Town Hall once the pandemic is passed so people could freely access town offices.

Nearly all of the Hurricane Isaias expenses were for extra help, overtime, and contract services for extra equipment and help to clear roads. The town enters into standby agreements with various contractors to provide their services on an as needed basis in the event of an emergency. Westport incurs no expense if the services are not used. Contracting for emergency services on an annual basis ensures the services are available when needed, at a lower cost, and makes the costs eligible for FEMA reimbursement.

In addition to FEMA reimbursing the town for the $780,000 in out-of-pocket hurricane expenses, exceptional record-keeping by town employees will result in FEMA reimbursing Westport an additional $200,000 to $250,000 for the town’s storm-related use of its own trucks and other equipment.

The new joint Westport-Fairfield Emergency Dispatch Center has been in the planning stage for several years. The proposed site was the old GE headquarters building owned by Sacred Heart University.

Sacred Heart is building a new hockey arena next to the old GE headquarters, forcing the Center’s relocation to a different spot on the Sacred Heart campus. That, and delays in the start of construction, resulted in increased construction costs. Upgraded technology, new servers and a backup microwave communications link account for the remainder of the new costs.

The new appropriation brings Westport’s share of the costs for the establishment of the Emergency Dispatch Center to $1,928,470. Despite this, savings from the lower operating cost for  the Center are anticipated to exceed the cost of establishing the Center in 3 years, and to continue hereafter.

Connecticut’s new police accountability law requires officers to be tested for steroids as part of their certification. Ten percent of the  police force is recertified each year. While Westport police officers are already tested for drugs, this new mandate will increase drug testing costs.

The last item on the RTM agenda was a first reading of an ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers, except during 6-week periods each spring and fall.  There is no debate or discussion on a proposed ordinance at the RTM on a first reading. The draft ordinance now goes to the RTM Environment, Public Protection, Parks and Recreation, Health and Human Services, Public Works, Finance, and Ordinance Committees for review.

Dates for these meeting will be posted on the Town’s website at https://www.westportct.gov/about/advanced-components/meeting-list-calendar. The public is welcome to listen to the meetings and submit comments via email before and during the meetings. Once the committees finish their reviews, the draft ordinance returns to the RTM for a second reading and a vote.  This will not be before the June RTM meeting at the earliest.

Roundup: Leaf Blowers, Paper Source, Cable Monopoly …

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Leaf blowers — those must-have yet most-hated suburban scourges — are the subject of a proposed Representative Town Meeting regulation.

The RTM Ordinance Committee meets March 25 (7:30 p.m., conference call). They’ll discuss these rules:

  • Summer (May 16-October 14): Gas-powered leaf blowers not permitted; electric/battery-powered leaf blowers allowed.
  • Fall cleanups (October 15-November 30): Gas- and electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.
  • Winter (December 1-March 31): Gas-powered blowers not permitted; electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.
  • Spring cleanups (April 1-May 15): Gas- and electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.

In addition:

  • No leaf blower of any kind may be used before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
  • No more than 1 leaf blower (regardless of power source) may be used simultaneously on any site less than 2 acres in size.
  • No gas-powered leaf blower may be used on any state or federal holiday.
  • Exceptions: If the 1st Selectman declares an emergency, then gas-powered leaf blowers and/or electric/battery-powered leaf blowers may be used as necessary.

Fines (property owner is responsible):

  • $100 for 1st offense (after a warning)
  • $200 for 2nd offense
  • $500 250 for third or subsequent offense.

The public can call in to the meeting: 646-876 9923. The meeting ID is 850 4769 6393. The passcode is 788806.

 

 

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Paper Source — the Chicago-based stationery store chain — closed 11 stores in the past year.

The downtown Westport shop — between Bank of America and Barnes & Noble — remains open.

It is corporate owned. A recent story on the Well-Appointed Desk blog notes that headquarters “bought a bunch of product from small makers, declared bankruptcy so they would not have to pay the bills, then sell it in the stores for 100% profit.”

It’s great to shop local. But caveat emptor: Supporting this Westport business may mean complicating situations with its corporate owner. (Click here for the full story.)

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The weather’s nice. Time to get the kids moving!

The Joggers Club has opened a group for youngsters. Led by experienced runners, the focus is on form, endurance and fun.

It “runs” Sundays, 2 to 3:15 p.m., April 4 to May 2 at the Staples High School track.

Space is limited to 20 children, grades 3 to 8. The cost is $50 per child.

The Venmo account is “TheJoggersClub-Westport.” Questions? Email thejoggersclub@gmail.com.

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This evening Wednesday, March 10, 6:45 p.m.), Congressman Jim Himes hosts a “telephone town hall.” He’ll discuss the American Rescue Plan. Audience members can ask questions during the call. Click here for the link.

Congressman Jim Himes, at Bedford Middle School.

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Looking for another COVID test center?

There’s an under-the-radar spot right under our noses. Yale New Haven Health operates a drive-through operation at 140 Mill Plain Road in Fairfield, just off I-95 Exit 21.

Hours are by appointment only. Click here for more information, or call 833-275-9644. (Hat tip: Carol Waxman)

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Westport’s MaryGrace Gudis is one of 4 new members of Norwalk Hospital’s board of directors.

Director of the Norwalk Hospital Foundation Board since 2011, she has spent more than 1,000 hours researching and compiling the hospital’s history.

Active at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, MaryGrace is also involved in initiatives providing college educational assistance to disadvantaged students.

The Southern Methodist University graduate has held senior communications positions in the financial industry, including director of public information and senior liaison to the board of directors at the Federal Reserve Bank. Her husband Mark is on the board of directors for Nuvance Health, Norwalk Hospital’s parent company.

MaryGrace Gudis

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Last month, “06880” reported that the Tristate Coalition for Fair Internet Service is working on legal challenges to Optimum/Altice through the New York State Attorney General’s office, and promoting alternate providers. They’re also collecting data on customer experiences with the longtime cable service.

That survey data was lost when Google disabled the account without the group’s knowledge. They’re appealing. Meanwhile, they created a new survey.

They ask people to complete the Optimum/Altice survey, even if it was already done before. Click here for the link.

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The Webb Road goose is ready for every holiday. Next up: St. Patrick’s Day!

(Photo/MaryLou Roels)

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And finally … exactly one year ago today, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

You know: WHO.

Unsung Heroes #180

It’s budget time.

Every town department has submitted their requests to the 1st Selectman. He and his staff have crunched the numbers, asked them to trim some figures, then compiled it all into a 483-page document.

Now the Board of Finance steps up. They hold hearings next week. First comes the town budget; then education.

They’ll debate. They’ll vote. Then they’ll send their recommendations to the Representative Town Meeting.

There may be some intermediate steps — protests of some cuts, more back-and-forth, public input about what’s essential, what’s a frill, and whose ox is getting gored.

The town budget

But by mid-spring, Westport will have a budget. Everything from pencils to potholes will be funded. Our mill rate will be set.

And — despite perennial complaints about high taxes — just ask relatives and friends anywhere elsewhere in the tri-state are about their taxes. You’ll realize what we pay is pretty low, considering all we get. (Perhaps you can compare your taxes with others while watching the sunset at Compo, walking at Longshore, or waiting to pick up your kid at school.)

Those budgets and mill rates don’t fall from the sky. They involve plenty of planning, short- and long-range; plenty of scrutinizing; plenty of priorities.

And plenty of time. The budget process is months in the making. Much of it is tedious (and eye-straining). All of it is crucial.

Making a budget is the job of town employees. Passing it is the work of volunteers, on the Board of Education, Board of Finance, RTM and other bodies.

The education budget

It’s easy to say “my taxes are too high.” It’s easy to say “why do we need x, y or z?” (of course, your x, y and z is very different from mine).

It’s a lot tougher to study spreadsheet after spreadsheet, attend meeting after meeting, and cast difficult vote after difficult vote.

This week’s Unsung Heroes are all the women and men who make the process work. Westport would not be Westport without your service.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

RTM January Meeting: Code Of Conduct Committee, Police Review Board

This is Peter Gold’s report on the January Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

No votes were taken at January’s RTM meeting, which saw the announcement of a new special RTM committee, the first reading of an ordinance to establish a civilian police review board, and the announcement of a new town clerk to replace the retiring Patty Strauss.

While RTM rules already require RTM members to conduct themselves in a manner above reproach, Velma Heller, RTM moderator, noted that the start of a new year is a timely occasion to take a step back and review RTM practices. She appointed a special committee of 7 RTM members to see if there is room for improvement, and to clarify expectations regarding conduct at public meetings and in written communications.

The committee is charged with developing a Code of Conduct that articulates desired behaviors that embody the RTM’s values and principles as an organization. The Code of Conduct will cover topics such as Freedom of Information Act issues, the general use of email and social media, and commonly accepted standards of decorum for participation in public discourse, whether in person or on line.

A proposed ordinance was introduced to establish an elected civilian police review board. It would receive, investigate and make recommendations on complains regarding the police. The ultimate decision on any complaint will remain with the chief of police.

Click here for the full text of the proposed ordinance (immediately following the list of upcoming RTM meetings).

The proposed ordinance will be reviewed at upcoming public meetings of the RTM Public Protection and Ordinance Committees. It will be debated and voted on at a subsequent RTM meeting, most likely in February or March.

If the proposed ordinance is adopted, the elected civilian police review board would replace the civilian review panel recently appointed by First Selectman Marpe. That panel reviews and provides feedback on documented complaints regarding the police that are investigated by the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. Unlike the proposed ordinance’s review board, it can not investigate complaints. Also unlike the proposed ordinance’s review board, Marpe’s panel also reviews complaints regarding the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.

Marpe also announced that Jeff Dunkerton, the assistant town clerk in Danbury, will replace Patty Strauss who recently retired as Westport’s town clerk.

RTM Approves Local Tax Deferment Program

Last night, the RTM approved 1st Selectman Jim Marpe’s tax relief deferment program.

The program — worked out with the help of a number of town officials — acts as an extended grace period on tax payments for Westport taxpayers suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Eligible taxpayers can utilize the program for their April and July tax bills on real estate, personal property, motor vehicles and sewer assessments.

Payments made any time within 3 months from each bill’s due date will not incur interest charges or penalties.

Applications for the deferment program must include one of these hardships:

  • Household has suffered a reduction in income of at least 20 percent due to COVID-19.
  • Business or nonprofit revenue from March, 2020 to June, 2020 is expected to be reduced by at least 30 percent compared to the same time last year.
  • For landlords: Income is significantly reduced.

The tax deferment program does not forgive tax payments. Late penalties will apply retroactively, at 18% annually or 1.5% per month.

Applicants must submit documentation. Deadlines are May 22 for April 1 taxes, and July 1 for July 1 taxes. Click here for the form, and other information.

Because Town Hall is closed to the public, residents with questions should call 203-341-1147 or email TaxRelief@WestportCT.Gov.

NOTE: Banks and mortgage services that hold tax payments in escrow must continue to pay the town when the taxes are due, even if the homeowner participates in a moratorium on mortgage payments.