Tag Archives: Westport board of selectmen

Tim Honey: Global Perspective On Local Government

From the 1950s through the ’70s, Staples High had a thriving American Field Service program.

Each year our school and community welcomed students from abroad, to live with host families. In return, we sent teenagers overseas to do the same. It was often a life-changing experience.

Tim Honey was one of those “exchange students.” In 1963, he was in South Africa. It was the height of apartheid; Nelson Mandela was trial for sabotage.

Sixty years later, Honey — a Staples football, basketball and baseball star — is still in touch with his roommate. He calls his time there “a great learning experience.”

When Mandela was elected president, Honey realized, “governance really matters. Under him, South Africa got it right.”

He has spent his life thinking about governance.

In 1962, Tim Honey (striped jacket) and fellow Staples High School students met the director of the World Health Organization, and presented a check their class raised for it. “We were idealistic and proud of the United Nations,” he said in this Facebook post during the early days of the pandemic.

After Cornell University, and a 5-month honeymoon in 1971 hitchhiking from East Africa to Cape Town, Honey worked with the National League of Cities. He earned a master’s in political science at Georgetown University, then spent 9 years in Portland, Maine as assistant and head city manager.

After a stint in Rhode Island directing the mortgage housing finance agency, he was appointed city manager of Boulder, Colorado.

Where Portland had been focused on economic development, Boulder was a hotbed of political ideas. There was advocacy on all sides of every issue.

His years there cemented Honey’s belief that — at all levels — “governance matters.”

And, he believes, city manager is an excellent way to govern.

Tim Honey

The role of a city manager — a CEO or chief administrative officer, who serves in a mayor and council type of government — began in the Progressive Era of the 1890s to 1910s. Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson wanted to clean up the corruption of (usually Democratic) machine politics, by professionalizing the civil service in areas like hiring, firing and delivering services.

City managers are part of a well-run professional association, with a strong code of ethics.

“You don’t need to be a Democrat or a Republican to collect garbage correctly,” Honey notes.

Most big cities, and many medium-sized ones, had (and often still have) city managers.

Southern New England is an exception. About 30% of the municipalities here have a city manager, primarily in the central and northern part of the state.

Westport does not have a city manager. We’re run — as some New England towns still are — by a board of selectmen (or in our case now, selectwomen).

For over 100 years after our founding in 1835, Westport was governed by a traditional town meeting.

In 1949, voters approved a non-partisan Representative Town Meeting (RTM). That year, 124 Westporters ran for 26 seats. There are now 36 seats, 4 in each of 9 districts. Some elections have 5 or 6 candidates; some are uncontested.

Westport RTM members, at last year’s Memorial Day parade.

Six other towns in Connecticut still use the RTM form of government.

Most city councils have just 7 to 15 members, Honey says. That makes for a “much more manageable” legislative branch — and an effective working relationship between a city manager, mayor and council.

“Issues are so complex today, even on a local level,” Honey says.

Land use is one. Another is traffic: How do you tame it? How do you make a town or city more pedestrian-friendly? How do you comply with ADA requirements?

All of that, he says, takes professional work that a city manager is trained for.

As city manager in Boulder, he had a network of colleagues — in similar places like Palo Alto and Eugene, Oregon — that he could work with. They shared common problems, and offered each other advice.

Should Westport think about a city manager?

“My dad was on the RTM in the 1960s,” Honey says. “When he retired to Rhineback, New York, he was on the town council. He advocated for a city manager.

“He was unsuccessful. It’s a hard sell, to make a change like that. You need neighbor groups that don’t like the current system to come forward. They need to ask for more accountability, more innovation.”

Honey is no longer a city manager. After leaving Boulder in 1997, he worked for Sister Cities International as executive director.

In 2006 he and his wife sold their Washington home. They moved to Cape Town, South Africa. For 5 months they volunteered in a township soup kitchen, and on community projects. It was “one of the best things we ever did.”

They moved back to Maine, where he worked with the International City Management Association. He developed a program focusing on African cities, and the role that local government can play in impoverished communities.

He just returned from his 20th trip to the continent. It’s been 6 decades since his first visit, when as a teenage exchange student he learned about the importance of governance.

Now in his late 70s, Tim Honey is as passionate about governing as he ever was. He invites anyone who wants to learn more about the role of city managers to email him: Stephen.t.honey@gmail.com.

(Hat tips: Carl Addison Swanson and Tom Allen)

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Coming This Summer: Higher Beach Prices, Fewer Cars

It’s official.

Yesterday morning, the Board of Selectman approved several changes recommended by Parks and Recreation. Fee increases will pay for $200,000 worth of maintenance, supervision and a full-time police officer. The new charges — and increased personnel — may ease some of the overcrowding and complaints that arose last summer.

Beach stickers will now cost $50 for residents — up from $40 last year. The senior and handicapped fee goes from $20 to $25. The non-resident price rises from $490 to $775.

Weston residents — who occupy a middle ground between Westporters and non-residents — will now pay $375 (up from $25o). Weston seniors’ stickers are now $200, a $65 increase.

Daily parking increases too: It’s up from $40 to $50 weekdays, and from $50 to $65 on weekends. Only 100 daily passes will be sold this summer — and purchasers will have a special parking area.

In addition, this year 350 beach stickers will be sold to non-residents. Last year’s cap was 600.

Fee changes may ease some of the crowding at Compo Beach.


Kane Names Simmelkjaer As Running Mate

Democratic First Selectman candidate Melissa Kane has completed her ticket.

This morning she announced that Rob Simmelkjaer will join her, in the 2nd selectman slot.

A member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Democratic Town Committee, Simmelkjaer jumped into local politics soon after moving here in 2013.

Rob Simmelkjaer

His face may have been known to Westporters even before he arrived. He’s been an on-air contributor for NBC Sports, where he is also vice president of NBC Sports Ventures. He previously worked at ESPN and ABC News, where as anchor and correspondent he covered such events as the Virginia Tech shootings and President Ford’s funeral.

At Dartmouth College, Simmelkjaer majored in government and philosophy. He also holds a law degree from Harvard University.

He is a volunteer coach with the Westport Soccer Assocation, and a vice moderator at Norfield Congregational Church. He and his wife Kathryn — a physician at Bridgeport Hospital — are the parents of 2 young daughters.

When NBC Sports moved from 30 Rock to Stamford, the Simmelkjaers looked to move out of Manhattan. They had friends here. The town’s friendly vibe, opportunities for children and excellent schools made it a no-brainer.

“This is the place I wish I grew up in,” says Simmelkjaer, a New Jersey native.

Always politically engaged, he volunteered with the Barack Obama campaigns in 2008 and ’12, and Hillary Clinton last year.

When Kane asked him to be her running mate, he was quick to say yes. “She’s a terrific leader, is passionate about the town, and knows we have to invest in our assets,” he says.

He is eager to face the budget issues “coming down from Hartford.”

Rob Simmelkjaer with his wife Kathryn, and daughters Julia and Annika.

He also is running because, he says, “with the big picture in today’s country, more people need to stand up and answer the call to serve.”

Believing in the adage “all politics is local,” Simmelkjaer says, “if we want to solve problems at the state and national level, we need to show we can do it here, in a civil way.”

If elected, he hopes to leverage his day job — working with entrepreneurs and tech people — to focus on “better uses of technology as a town, and with partners, to solve problems like traffic, parking and communications.”

Simmelkjaer also says that — though they’re not the Board of Education or Finance — the 3 selectmen have a role to play in “maintaining our top-quality schools. Whether you have kids or not, that’s important for us all.”

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.

Don’t Cross At The Green

For decades, pedestrians have reached Main Street from the Post Road by crossing to the YMCA from — first — Colgan’s and Thompson’s Pharmacy; then Ships, and now Tiffany.

No more.

The crosswalk was  recently erased — poorly, but officially.

The Board of Selectmen believed that intersection was dangerous — the Post Road is wide there, 2 lanes of traffic diverge, and well, why not?

The lone (legal) way to cross now is a few yards away, from the west corner of Taylor Place to what was once the library.

Any bets on how long it will take Westporters to stop crossing the Post Road by the Y?

I say never.

Manolo Is Not A Takeout Restaurant

Westport’s selectmen have plenty to do.  In addition to setting budgets, ensuring public safety and deciding where dogs can poop, our top 3 elected officials act as the town’s Traffic Authority.

This doesn’t need an emergency meeting — the sign’s been around since the Herb Baldwin days, probably — but at some point our selectmen might reconsider 15-minute parking on Church Lane.

I’m sure Cafe Manolo is not pleased that diners worry about tickets even before the menus arrive.

Across the street at the YMCA it takes 15 minutes just to climb the stairs to the locker room, change, then make your way back down to the pool.

The parking restriction might have worked when Manolo was a bank vault, and the Y was a firehouse.

But the streets of Westport are no longer filled with Packards, flivvers and horses.