Tag Archives: Shelly Kassen

Baron’s South Committee: A Follow-Up Report

Alert “06880” reader Tom Leyden and his wife Rita have been busy. They attended yesterday morning’s Baron’s South Committee meeting. They were also at the September 21 meeting, and this week’s RTM and Board of Finance sessions. Tom sent along this report:

We’re interested in the prime subject (affordable housing), the utilization of public town owned property, and the process.

I was impressed tremendously by how this committee worked yesterday morning (2 members were absent: Jo Fuchs-Luscombe and Ken Bernhard). There was meeting management, give and take, obvious caring and expertise shown. Many opinions were aired.

Several members were defensive, but restrained in response to how they were characterized in the public sphere. However, this took little time.

Given the result of Wednesday’s Board of Finance meeting, everyone present agreed to staying on the committee to conclusion.

Selectmen Gordon Joseloff and Shelly Kassen offered whatever resources necessary, and open minds. They supported redoing, if that’s the final result.

Janis Collins (BOF) offered insightful suggestions on how to proceed forward. This is too complicated for me to accurately explain, but was well taken by the committee. Many of her points led to the “next steps.”

A point that Paul VanOrden made that I agree with is that the committee came up with a recommendation based on the limitations of the scope of the Request For Proposal for good and well-considered reasons, and should not be forced to change but rather explain why, etc. It’s up to the approval process to accept or reject their recommendation.

John Thompson suggested that there was confusion in the public’s interpretation of the numbers, and that the committee should set out to correct that confusion. Who could disagree with that?

Most of the balance of the meeting was taken determining the intermediate steps towards the already scheduled RTM meeting of October 29. “Sub-meetings” (my words, not theirs) will be scheduled between and among the Board of Finance, RTM, Planning and Zoning and other interested parties (again my words) to insure an effective meeting on the 29th.

Shelly Kassen served in a very effective fashion to guide the committee through the vagaries of the “approval” process. She was very informative to me, a “public” listener. She did not strike me at any time as having anything but the best interests of affordable housing and the town’s fiscal interests at heart.

Part of the Baron’s South property.

Toward the end of the meeting I was asked to comment. I made the following points:

1. The committee was impressive.

2. The committee suffered from a communication problem, meaning that their reasons for choosing the proposal they chose should have been articulated more clearly and effectively quickly, making sure the restrains of the RFP were thoroughly understood by the public.

3. I believed their conclusion was the only one that could be chosen under the RFP.

4.  Whether they liked it or not this was a political process, and the lack of intermediate communication as to what was going on let the public decide any way they wanted what they were up to or not. The public has opinions, good or bad, and with the marvel of modern media, instant and widespread capability will fill the vacuum with “noise.”  The committee should have found a way to provide intermediate communication.

5.  I was happy with the “next steps.”

All in all I witnessed a good, effective committee meeting with a process road forward to achieve the best result for a serious and genuine need for affordable housing with fiscal viability for the town.

Let’s keep our powder dry, and let the process work.

Meanwhile, Back On The Farm…

Wakeman Town Farm — remember it? — is moving along steadily, in its transition phase after this summer’s kerfuffle.

Wakeman Town Farm.

According to spokeswoman Elizabeth Beller, the transition team — which also includes Liz Milwe and Cathy Talmage — is working diligently to restore WTF to an “educational center for sustainable living.”  The emphasis is now on education, not farming.

Fundraising is the primary goal.  Once funds are secured, the team plans to go before the Board of Finance to demonstrate its financial viability.  The hope is to do this in early October — at the latest, early November.

An energetic, rapidly growing group of volunteers is working to maintain the farm.  Former steward Mike Aitkenhead and his family are among them.  “We hope they will return as stewards,” Elizabeth says.

“A core group of volunteers is working on a new mission statement, logo, and a signature image,” she added.  “Most importantly, we want the message out there that we are an ‘inclusive’ group, hoping to involve the entire community in our efforts.”

A website is live:  www.wakemantownfarm.org.  So is a Facebook page:  “Wakeman town Farm Sustainability Center.”

Recently, the team visited Ambler Farm in Wilton.  Elizabeth calls it “a thriving, town-owned, school-teacher-as-steward run facility, with a wealth of educational programs, summer camps for kids, and membership opportunities for the entire community.”  It’s a model WTF hopes to learn from.

Mike Aitkenhead (kneeling) and his family will soon be back at Wakeman Town Farm.

Ambler Farm’s steward and a board member spent 2 hours explaining their philosophy and management, giving a tour and answering questions.  “We left the meeting inspired that we could do everything they’re doing at Ambler,” Elizabeth says.

Also ahead:  a summer camp for youngsters; adult (and kid) workshops, and a farming intern program for middle and high school students.

There will be a new flock of baby chicks, and bunnies, in the spring.  Maybe French Angoras — to harvest their wool for spinning into yarn — along with dwarf dairy goats.

The bad news:  The group has to raise $25,000 to cover operating costs for one year.

The good news:  They’re passionate about doing it.  And — like the transition no one thought possible — they’re getting it done.

(The 1st WTF fundraiser is a cocktail gathering this Saturday, September 10, 5-7 p.m. at the Bellers’.  A 2nd fundraiser is set for Sunday, September 25, at the home of Andrea Mathewson.  Tax-deductible donations — payable to “Town of Westport,” with “Wakeman Town Farm” on the memo line — can be sent to Elizabeth Beller, 4 West Ambler Rd., Westport, CT 06880.)

A Good Time For Charlie

Good things happen to good people.

Charlie Haberstroh

Charlie Haberstroh is one of the genuinely good people in Westport.  The 60-year-old, 2-decade Westporter — a 2-term Board of Finance member, former RTMer, longtime Rotary leader and sports volunteer — is the Republican Town Committee nominating committee’s choice to fill a vacancy on the board of selectmen.  If approved by the full RTC, and then the 2 Democratic selectmen, Charlie would replace Gavin Anderson, who resigned for health reasons.

Charlie was not looking to leave the finance board — especially not during budget season. But 7 years is a long time.  I can’t begin to fathom what all those loooong meetings — filled with mind-numbing numbers and interminable speeches by passionate yet repetitious town officials and common citizens — does to the human brain.

Board of selectmen meetings may be quicker and less contentious, but they are just as important as Board of Finance gabfests.

“I’ve run my own asset management firm for 10-plus years, and was a manager for most of the 30 years I worked for other finance firms prior to founding my own,” Charlie told “06880.”

“The Town of Westport has many challenges over the next few years, including increasing pension and medical obligations, as well as anemic economic revenue growth at best.

“I can help try to rationalize expenditures, and look to try to make government work more efficiently.  I know the Westport school system well, and may be able to help integrate like functions.”

Charlie knows there is no magic wand.  The key is “hard work to try to do more with less.”  The other option:  “Westport runs the risk of turning into the other very high-taxed New York metropolitan suburbs.”

Selectmen are frequently caricatured (okay, by me) as dealing solely with stop signs.  Most Westporters know the selectmen only as proclamation-proclaimers.  Though the duties of the 2nd and 3rd selectmen (the former runs for office on a ticket with the 1st selectman; the latter is the loser with the most votes) are to advise the 1st selectman on all aspects of town government, and approve town contracts, the value of the 3rd selectman depends on the willingness of the 1st selectman to use his or her expertise.  The 3rd selectman’s status as the lone representative of the other party ensures that chances for dramatic votes are slim.

“I have every confidence that the (current) 1st selectman has the intellect and confidence” to use the 3rd selectman’s skills and expertiese effectively, Charlie says diplomatically.

So what about running for 1st selectman himself, in 2013?

“I have no political ambitions,” Charlie says.  “I run my own firm, and do not believe that will change in 3 years.  I can only do the best job I can for the town as 3rd selectman.

“Westport has been very good to my family during the 20-plus years we’ve lived here.  During that time my wife (Westport Department of Human Services coordinator Patty) and I have tried to give back to the community in any way we can.

“My goal has been to leave whatever organization I am involved in in better shape than when I began with it.  If I can do that in the 3rd selectman position, I will be very satisfied.”

Gavin Anderson leaves some big shoes to fill.  Charlie Haberstroh is one man who can step right into them.

Fortunately, the Westport board of selectmen is not the United States Congress.  Gordon Joseloff is not Harry Reid; Shelly Kassen is not Nancy Pelosi.

And — though he loves to golf — Charlie Haberstroh is most definitely not John Boehner.

“06880” looks forward to Charlie’s quick approval next Tuesday by the Republican Town Committee, and soon thereafter by Harry and Nancy Gordon and Shelly.