The Representative Town Meeting’s next session is June 7.
In addition to the usual requests for appropriations and ratifications of Planning & Zoning Commission decisions, there is this agenda item: to adopt a sense of the meeting resolution “that Westport supports the constitutional rights and principles established in Roe v. Wade, and opposes the elimination of those rights by any subsequent Supreme Court decision.”
The town’s non-partisan legislative body has passed similar “sense of the meeting” resolutions before — including, in 1969, a resolution asking President Johnson and Congress to “take immediate action to withdraw from the (Vietnam) war.”
Joanne Woodward spoke in support. After 3 hours of long, impassioned debate, the RTM voted 17-15 in favor of the resolution. The New York Timesran a long story about it.
The Levitt Pavilion kicks off the holiday weekend with a pair of free “open house” concerts this weekend. No tickets are required for the 2 shows, today and tomorrow (Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29, 5 p.m. both days).
Tonight it’s Michael Coppola and Harvie S Jazz Duo. Tomorrow features The Esperanto Duo: Dave Giardina & Chris Payne (“old time and gypsy jazz”).
Want to help diversify hiring, oversee investigations of civilian complaints, and work on other initiatives with Westport’s Police, Fire and EMS Departments?
The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) Public Protection Committee seeks 2 candidates to fill spots on our Civilian Review Panel.
The CRP includes 5 civilian members: the 2nd and 3rd selectwomen; one member of TEAM Westport, and 2 residents appointed by the RTM.
Specifically, the Civilian Review Panel handles:
Hiring Oversight: Participate in the interview process of new hires and lateral transfer applicants, offering feedback on the selection of candidates.
Complaint Review: Review and provide feedback on civilian complaints regarding Police, Fire and EMS.
Transparency & Accountability Improvements: Advise departments on policies and procedures to improve transparency and accountability.
Meetings: Hold special meetings as needed.
Training: Receive training from the Police, Fire and EMS Departments, to fully understand policies, procedures, general orders, internal affairs, and legal issues.
Reporting from Departments: The Departments will provide an annual report of all disciplinary complaints received, their status and resolution.
Applicants must be registered voters in Westport. No member of the CRP can be an employee, or family member of an employee, of the Police, Fire and EMS Departments.
If interested, email a resume and letter of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail: Westport Town Clerk, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. 203-341-1110. Indicate how your experience would qualify you for consideration as a panel member. The deadline is February 7.
As a commuter, Jeff Wieser did not feel a part of either Westport or New York.
He’d always been interested in government, but was not committed to party politics. The Representative Town Meeting — our non-partisan legislative body — seemed intriguing.
So in 2007 — 22 years after moving here — Wieser ran for a seat.
He won easily. “Well, it was an uncontested district,” he admits.
At his second meeting, the RTM passed a plastic bag ban. It was the first such measure east of the Mississippi River. Wieser realized the potential and power of the body.
Seven terms later, he is the new RTM moderator.
Earlier this month, Wieser took the gavel from longtime moderator Velma Heller.
On Friday — the day he retired from his 3rd career, as CEO of Goodwill of Western & Northern Connecticut — he reflected on his path to the post.
He and his wife Pat moved here in 1985, after his banking career took him to Hong Kong and Australia. Now, he says, “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
In 1989 Wieser joined the board of Homes with Hope, the supportive housing agency. Founder and CEO Pete Powell retired in 2009. A 6-month search failed to find a qualified replacement. Would Wieser be interested?
He spent 3 days considering it. When he asked Pat what she’d think if he gave up banking, she said, “It’s what you’ve always wanted to do.”
After a decade at the helm — opening more housing options, and adding services for homeless and hungry people — Wieser retired,
A few weeks later, he joined Goodwill as interim CEO. Two weeks after that, COVID hit. Good will laid off employees, and closed stores. Wieser felt he could not leave then. He stayed many months longer than he’d planned.
Jeff Wieser, at the Westport Goodwill.
Now that he’s finally retired, he’ll have the time to dedicate to his new position. It’s an important one.
Wieser knows the only image some Westporters have of the RTM comes from watching contentious meetings. They draw crowds. Few people view the more mundane sessions. Fewer still see the committee work and constituent outreach that is so important, to him and fellow members
The RTM’s non-partisan mandate appeals to Wieser.
“This is the essence of democracy,” he says. “We’re a town of 28,000, and we have a legislative body one-third the size of the US Senate. But there’s no party affiliation, so we have reasoned. thoughtful debates. The RTM should be a model for any democratic institution.
“Sometimes I appreciate the RTM more than I like it. But I really do like it.”
As chair of the RTM’s Finance Committee, Wieser worked with the 1st selectman and Board of Finance. That experience deepened his appreciation for how well the town is run.
As deputy moderator, he watched Hadley Rose, Eileen Lavigne Flug and then Heller run meetings. They are the 3 most recent moderators, in a long line of effective consensus builders.
Wieser describes the moderator’s role as “herding 36 pretty intelligent cats every month. I’m supposed to guide the conversation, slow it down, keep people in line, keep the rules of order, keep the agenda in good shape, and make sure the committees are meeting.”
The moderator is not supposed to participate in debates. “My goal is to help members accomplish their goals,” he explains.
Wieser calls his style “collaborative.” At Homes with Hope he learned that nothing gets done unless everyone pulls in the same direction.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!”
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 email@example.com. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)
A beautiful summer sight. But where will you store our boat this winter?
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)
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.
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.
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.
Comments Off on Roundup: Run For RTM, Boat Storage, Senior Golf, STAR Jobs,
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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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