Tag Archives: Westport Representative Town Meeting

“06880” Podcast: Jeff Wieser

Jeff Wiese is now on his third career.

For many years, he was an international banker. Then came his non-profit work, as CEO of Homes with Hopes and Goodwill of Western and Northern Connecticut.

Now he’s moderator of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) — our non-partisan legislative body he has served on since 2007. That’s in addition to all his other volunteer efforts (Positive Directions, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, and much more).

It’s hard to condense that all into half an hour, but Jeff and I had an informative, intriguing conversation the other day at the Westport Library. Why does he do it? How does he do it? What’s it all mean for our town, today and tomorrow?

Click below for some fascinating insights on the RTM, and all of us who live here.

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Roundup: Leaf Blowers, Jim Wheeler, Trick Or Treat! …

Leaf blower legislation alert!

Tomorrow (Tuesday, November 1, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall), the Representative Town Meeting holds a first reading. of the newly revised leaf blower regulation.

Click here to read the full proposal. (Hat tip: Peter Gold)

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Jim Kemish — son of former 1st Selectman John Kemish — now lives in Boca Raton, Florida.

The other day his neighbor Adam, and Adam’s daughter, knocked on Jim’s door. She was selling coupon books to fund her class trip to Washington.

Jim asked them in, and Adam admired the art on the walls.

Jim pointed to his favorite print and said proudly, “That was done by one of my high school art teachers.”

He was stunned when Adam replied, “That’s a Jim Wheeler!”

Jim Kemish and Adam Goby had been dog-walking buddies for a couple of years. But they never knew they both went to Staples — in fact, Adam’s father Dave was a highly respected biology teacher there — and that, to top it off, both were Jim Wheeler fans.

Jim and Adam both wondered if Jim is still alive.

I told them: Not only alive, but healthy, active — and still drawing!

Jim Kemish’s Jim Wheeler print.

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Tonight, the streets around Compo Beach will be flooded (with trick-or-treaters).

There’s safety in numbers. So hopefully, not even the littlest one will be scared off by this guy on Soundview Drive.

(Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

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Also tonight: kids begging for candy on Lone Pine Lane will have to navigate past these eerie inflatable eyeballs.

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

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Meanwhile, as Halloween fades into the rear view mirror — except, of course, for your kids’ 3 tons of candy — it’s time to think about our 2nd “06880” Holiday Stroll.

Mark your calendar for Friday, December 2 (5:30 to 7:30 p.m.). It’s right after the tree lighting — just walk down the Town Hall hill to Main Street.

This year, we’re partnering with the Westport Downtown Association. Details will be announced soon — but right now we’re looking for a Santa Claus and a face painter.

If you can help in either role, please email 06880blog@gmail.com. Thanks in advance!

Staples Orphenians’ will once again sing at the Holiday Stroll.

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The weather is turning colder. But last week was delightful — perfect beach weather. And there’s no better place to catch some rays — and catch up on reading than Compo.

(Photo/Howard Silver)

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Claudia Sherwood Servidio took her first hike yesterday at Haskins Preserve. Like everyone who discovers the hidden gem on Green Acre Lane, off Compo Road South, she was awed.

For a bit of what you’ll see, at this Aspetuck Land Trust property, check out this “Westport … Naturally” image:

(Photo/Claudia Sherwood Servidio)

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And finally … ain’t no haint gonna run me off!

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Roundup: Longshore, Angela Lansbury, Cumby …

The Longshore Capital Improvement Plan is moving ahead.

The next phase of public input takes place soon.

Stantec — the town’s consultant — will present preliminary concept diagrams at  the October 19 Parks & Recreation Commission public meeting (7:30 p.m.). The Zoom link will be available when the agenda is posted here.

Open houses will follow, at the Westport Library:

  • Wednesday, October 26: (10 to 11:30 a.m.; 3 to 4:30 p.m.; 7 to 8:30 p.m.)
  • Saturday, October 29:  (9:30 to 11 a.m.; 1 to 2:30 p.m.).

At the open houses residents can examine diagrams up close, and ask questions and offer feedback to the consultants.

The presentation will be available on the project website Stantec Longshore Club Park, starting October 20.

A survey will be available on the website beginning October 31.

Public input is sought for the Longshore Capital Improvement Plan.

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Angela Lansbury died yesterday, age 96.

In 2008, in honor of her dedication to the performing arts, she was presented with a special tribute by Bernadette Peters at Westport Country Playhouse.

Lansbury said, “I never played (at the Playhouse). I wasn’t a big enough star! If I don’t perform one small thing on this stage tonight, I’ll feel I’ve missed the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Then she enthralled the audience with “Not While I’m Around,” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”

A legendary shot from the Westport Country Playhouse green room. prior to the 2008 gala performance, From left: Bernadette Peters; Joanne Woodward, Playhouse co-artistic director; Julia Roberts, gala host; Angela Lansbury, honoree; Anne Keefe, Playhouse co-artistic director. (Photo/Kathleen O’Rourke)

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For several years, Staples High School Class of 2021 graduate Brandon Malin has contributed great photos and drone videos to “06880.”

His most recent effort is one of his most intriguing.

The other day — home for a quick break from the University of Michigan, where he is studying lighting design — Brandon headed to the Westport Library.

When he spotted the paving project on Jesup Road, the ever-curious Brandon grabbed his drone. He wanted to see what it looked like above.

It looks very cool.

He saw the road get chewed up by a milling machine, and watched various types of machinery work together.

Brandon send the video along. He recommends watching at 2x speed. “The machines move slowly,” he notes.

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Robbie Guimond lives in Saugatuck. But he battles traffic nearly every to head across town to The Porch @ Christie’s.

They serve “the best bacon egg and cheese in Westport,” he says.

But the vibe is just as great too.

Robbie writes: “The staff has impromptu ‘contests.’ This one in this photo was ‘Pride in Your Culture/Heritage Day.'”

(Photo/Robbie Guimond)

They also have “Best Hat,” “Favorite Sports Team,” etc. Customers vote throughout the day. The winner gets bragging rights — and more importantly, smiles.

“They’re a lovely group, and a wonderful part of Westport,” Robbie says. “I go there for the food. But mostly for the employees, and to support this business model of inclusivity and diversity.

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Everyone wonders about “The Cost of Success: What Pressure is Doing to Our Kids.”

Positive Directions wants to talk about it — positively.

That’s the topic of a program they and the Westport Weston Family Y are sponsoring (October 19, 7 p.m., Westport Library; reception at 6:30).

Panelists include Valerie Babich, Westport Public Schools coordinator of psychological services; Frank Castorina, Positive Directions clinical supervisor; Alicia Briggs, pediatric hospitalist, and students from Staples High School’s Teen Awareness Group.

They’ll discuss what causes pressure; how to recognize signs that your child is struggling; strategies for reducing anxieties, and local resources.

Positive Directions will host a follow-up “Lunch and Learn” series at the Y, on related topics. More information will follow.

For more information, call 203-227-7644.

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Spotted on social media, by MaryLou Roels:

“Please avoid getting gas at the Cumberland Farms near Stop & Shop. I was charged for Super Premium, after clearly choosing the Unleaded button.

“The police reviewed the video, which confirms the Unleaded button being pushed. The manager insisted the video would be backwards when speaking with the officer so would be difficult to determine. The officer assured him it would not, as it would be the furthest button from the nozzle.

“He insisted it is a franchise, and he has no idea who he works for. We are pursuing a refund from Corporate, but it’s really the principle at this point.

“Please let Officer Kelly in Westport know if you have experienced similar there, or any other station.”

She added a PS: “When he printed the receipt inside, it read for Super Premium. Clearly something being manipulated, and was a $25 difference from the Unleaded choice that was made.”

NOTE: This took place at the Cumberland Farms by Stop & Shop — not the one  near McDonald’s and Sakura.

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The Staples boys basketball  program invites all elementary and middle school players to play ball with the Wreckers varsity.

It’s Sunday, October 23, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. There’s a tour of the gym — and, for the parents, a silent auction.

Funds are being raised to revamp the “Players’ Lounge,” improve film and video, and defray the cost of a new varsity preseason training camp.

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Westport Representative Town Meeting District 2 has a new rep.

Michael Perry — a Westporter for over 30 years who recently retired from a career in sales and marketing — was sworn in at last night’s meeting.

He was selected by District 2 members to fill the vacancy of Christine Meier Schatz.

Michael Perry isi sworn in at last night’s RTM meeting. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

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As traffic rushed past on nearby I-95 yesterday morning, there was this Sherwood Mill Pond congestion of cormorants too.

Matt Murray captured the peaceful-yet-cluttered scene, for “Westport … Naturally.”

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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And finally … on this date in 1810, citizens of Munich hold the first Oktoberfest. It celebrated the marriage of Crown Prince Louis of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Prost!

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[OPINION] Landscapers Group Joins Leaf Blower Ban Buzz

As a proposed leaf blower ordinance makes its way through the Representative Town Meeting, many residents are making noise.

Some want it enacted, for peace and quiet. Others oppose it, because it limits the times they can tend to their lawns.

One group has been noticeably silent: the leaf blowers themselves.

The other day, they weighed in. Here’s what the Connecticut Grounds Keepers Association — a non-profit serving “landscaping firms and their allied manufacturers and distributors” — says:

A proposed ordinance is working its way through Westport’s RTM committees pertaining to the use of leaf blowers. While the concept of decreasing noise is a noble and worthy cause, the execution and language of this ordinance is problematic at best.

One issue with this ordinance involves the time window given to use gas or electric leaf blowers. If you were to use even an electric leaf blower at 5:01 p.m. or later to clean the patio or clear your driveway, you could be subject to a $249 fine from Westport’s Conservation Department.

This means that commuters who find themselves stuck on the train or in traffic past 5 p.m. will be unable to ever use any form of a leaf blower during the work week.

Additionally, if your landscaper happens to use a gas-powered leaf blower between May 1 and October 14, you as the homeowner could be subject to
that $249 fine.

Furthermore, the reporting mechanism written into this ordinance encourages
neighbors to videotape one another and document leaf blower usage for submission and assessment of citations and fines.

Another issue with the proposed ordinance involves the selective targeting of landscape professionals.

This ordinance allows unrestricted use of gas-powered leaf blowers on town owned property and publicly or privately-owned golf courses.

During the recent RTM Health Committee meeting, some individuals expressed concern about the emissions and dust from leaf blowers for the operators and
bystanders. It is hypocritical and unjust to restrict gas powered leaf blowers for homeowners and landscapers, but condone and encourage their use by town employees and contractors who Westport is
liable for.

The burden of compliance for this ordinance lies solely with landscape professionals and you, the homeowner. While battery-powered landscape equipment is an adequate solution for many homeowners with small yards to maintain, the equipment isn’t ready for high-volume professional use.
This is confirmed by the exemptions of public works employees and golf courses.

The cost of compliance to a homeowner may be in the hundreds to purchase an electric leaf blower, but the cost to landscape professionals is in the thousands to outfit their entire team.

If electric leaf blowers were so much better than their gas-powered equivalent, they would have already been adopted and used en masse by the industry and the town.

Electric leaf blower.

The progressive transition in the powering of lawn and landscape equipment
should be allowed to happen as technology advances and becomes economically feasible for implementation by small business owners.

This ordinance has not yet passed. Since the stated goal was to achieve a quieter environment for Westport, a reasonable solution would be to determine acceptable working hours in residential areas, rather than restrict equipment use.

Furthermore, setting zero emissions equipment goals will certainly be dealt with at the federal level soon, and should not vary from one town to another.

Respectfully,
The Connecticut Grounds Keepers Association

(The RTM’s Finance, Public Works Committee, and the Environment Committee, have met about this bill. The Ordinance, Parks & Recreation and Public Works  Committees have meetings next week. The entire RTM will consider the proposal on October 11.)

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T

Leaf Blower Ordinance Returns To RTM

Leaf blowers: Westporters love ’em when they make our lawns look neat.

We hate ’em when they make our neighbors’ lawns look neat.

They’re an efficient way for lawn crews to work. But they are very environmentally unfriendly.

All those ideas have been debated before, nationally and locally.

Westport’s Representative Town Meeting had a first reading of a proposed leaf ordinance — not the first one ever proposed here — earlier. Another reading (now that revisions have been made) is set for the September 6 meeting.

Among the draft’s key proposals:

  • Electric-powered leaf blowers would be permitted all year.
  • Gas-powered leaf blowers would be permitted only from March 15 through April 30, and October 15 through December 31.
  • No leaf blowers of any type could be used before 8 a.m., after 5 p.m. or on any state or federal holiday.
  • Exceptions could be made for storm clean-up operations.
  • The ordinance would also not apply to leaf blowers on town-owned property, or publicly or privately owned golf courses.

The Conservation Department would be in charge of enforcement. After warnings, they could assess fines of $100 for the first violation, and $249 for each subsequent violation.

Following Tuesday’s reading at the RTM meeting, it will go back to committee. A vote could be taken in October. If passed it would become effective on March 15, 2023.

(Other items on Tuesday’s RTM agenda include an appropriation of $237,000 for drainage on the Longshore golf course greens; an appropriation of $313,500.00 for a traffic study of the “Cross Highway School Zone” between North Avenue and Bayberry Lane, and the establishment of a Long Lots Elementary School renovation building committee.)

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Official Obituary: Ted Diamond

The Diamond family has released an obituary for Ted Diamond. The former 2nd Selectman, longtime civic volunteer and World War II hero died earlier this month. 

Theodore Diamond — a combat veteran, attorney, CEO and active citizen of Westport, died at home on August 2 as a consequence of Covid-19. He was 105 years old.

After serving as an infantry drill instructor, Ted volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. He was determined to fight, and became the lead navigator of a group of 28 planes flying 50 missions against the Nazis leaving from North Africa, Italy and Russia.

The missions were beyond dangerous — after 50 of them, only 3 original planes survived.

Ted Diamond

An  exhibition called “In Their Own Words: Jewish Veterans of World War II,” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, opens with Ted’s words: “As a Jew, it was Hitler and me. That’s the way I pictured the war.”

For his service Ted received many medals and decorations, including 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses. He was proudest of the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military medal.

Ted was totally engaged in Westport politics. He served 3 terms in the RTM, and 3 terms as 2nd Selectman.

He worked on many projects in Westport. Three stand out, and helped
to form the character of the town.

The first was the town’s acquisition of Longshore Country Club, and the upgrading of the clubhouse.

The second was working with the modernization of the Fire
Department, to help it become one of the finest and most professional departments in Connecticut.

Finally, and probably most important to the town, Ted led a community movement to prevent the development of a shopping mall. Instead, the town purchased the land that has now become Winslow Park.

Ted Diamond delivers an RTM invocation. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

Born on July 3, 1917 in New York City, Ted was the son of Isador Diamond and Sadie (Drath). Diamond. His parents had recently immigrated from Europe, had limited proficiency in English and were very poor. To contribute money to the family, Ted worked from the age of 8 in a grocery store and drug store.

Ted learned to read early. When a mobile library unit came monthly to his community of Far Rockaway, he borrowed and read as many books as he could.

A teacher in Ted’s elementary school recognized his talents, and encouraged him to take the competitive exam for placement in an elite public school, Townsend-Harris.

He was admitted, and the experience changed his life. It introduced him to college level study, school government, world affairs, and a community of achievers within which he excelled.

Following high school, Ted graduated from St. John’s University, and received his law degree from Columbia University. He was drafted shortly after graduating from law school.

Before he flew overseas, he met Carol Simon for 2 hours at a party. He told his flight crew that if she were still available after the war, he would marry her.

In 1946 they married. They shared an intense love for 75 years, until her death in March 2022.

From 1946 until 1950, Ted practiced in a small law firm specializing in civil rights and labor law.

In 1950 he joined Composition Materials. Ted developed, manufactured and marketed diverse materials used in industries from oil well drilling to airplane maintenance to the composition of running tracks. He worked at Composition Materials until he was 87.

Ted is survived by his sons William and Jonathan; daughter-in-law Harriet; grandsons Theodore and Noah, and great-grandchildren Peter, June and
Beatrix.

A celebration of Ted’s life will be held Sunday September 18 (11 a.m., MoCA Westport).

Contributions in his memory may be made to: ACLU Connecticut, 765 Asylum Avenue, Hartford, CT 06105.

At 98, Ted Diamond served as grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Roundup: Hiawatha Lane, Abortion Ban, Salsa Fresca …

Though Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger dismissed a suit by Hiawatha Lane residents against Summit Saugatuck — developer of the 157-unit apartment complex by I-95 Exit 17 — the neighbors vow to fight on.

Carolanne Curry writes: “A close analysis by (our) attorney of the findings in Judge Berger’s decision, would show the Judge’s decision to be weak enough, flawed enough, and sufficient enough to warrant an immediate and vigorous appeal. During a conversation on Friday our attorney relayed that the merits of an appeal were convincing and justifiable. (Read the decision dated May 31, 2022  here.)

“We have come too far to simply relinquish our sincere efforts and the many successes we have achieved, especially while there are viable pathways to further success that are still within our reach. Our chances of success today are like all the chances we’ve continuously embraced for nearly 20 years. We’ve gone ahead each time and achieved many wins. We still remain an affordable working class neighborhood. We still remain a community with history… and hope. We still remain committed to stopping something so very wrong.”

An appeal would take 12 to 18 months, Curry says. That would put a hold on construction.

The biggest challenge, she says, is funding. Her email included a goal of $50,000 to cover the current balance owed, and legal fees going forward. Click here for details, and more information.

One of the Hiawatha Lane homes on the demolition list.

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With 23 sponsors, it was already clear that a “sense of the meeting” resolution supporting a woman’s right to abortion would pass the 36-member Representative Town Meeting.

But — after impassioned debate — the non-partisan legislative body enacted the member without dissent from the 29 members still on the Zoom call.

The RTM has weighed in on national issues before. In 1969, they voted 17-15 to oppose the Vietnam War. After the Sandy Hook massacre, they resoundingly called for an end to gun violence.

District 4 representative Andrew Colabella told “06880” after last night’s vote:

“Tonight the RTM, men and women, stood together and in unison, eloquently and passionately to adopt a resolution asserting 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.

“Putting aside individual beliefs and political affiliations, this nonpartisan body, like always, setting precedent by discussing and taking action voiced, loud and clear with great enthusiasm while holding back tears.

“The future is terrifying. We are fortunate and lucky  to live in such an educated and strongly passionate diverse and inclusive town that, like our state, goes above and beyond to protect women’s rights.

“Furthermore, the best health care is provided free of political interference in the patient-physician relationship. Personal decision-making by women and their doctors should not be replaced by political ideology. This was affirmed in our unanimous vote.

“And like the people that we are in this town, ready to give a helping hand, will take pride in helping those beyond our borders whatever decision is rendered.”

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No such thing as a free lunch?

Don’t tell that to the crowd at Salsa Fresca yesterday.

The Post Road healthy Mexican spot gave away free lunches — and dinners — all day long. It was “Customer Appreciation Day.”

Lines were long, but they moved fast. No one worried about swiping credit cards, or fumbling for cash. Customers definitely appreciated that.

Gracias, Salsa Fresca!

A small part of Salsa Fresca’s long line.

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When newly minted teacher Haleigh Donovan put out a plea for books for her underserved 4th grade classroom, “06880” readers came through.

Dozens of Westporters donated hundreds of books. Others sent gift cards, for the 2014 Staples High School and College of Charleston master’s graduate to purchase too.

Soon, she and her parents — Staples grads Dan and Nicole Donovan — will pack up a car, and head south. Haleigh will spend the summer setting up her classroom.

With each book, she’ll be reminded of the generosity of hometown friends and strangers.

Haleigh Donovan, with a small portion of Westporters’ large donations.

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Former 2nd Selectman and Board of Finance chair Avi Kaner — named last year one of the “Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life” — just returned from a B’nai B’rith trip — to the Vatican.

He and his wife Liz were part of a private audience with Pope Francis.

The pontiff said: “The promotion and deepening of Jewish-Christian dialogue has been something close to my heart since I was a young boy, because at school I had Jewish classmates; it is a dialogue made up of encounter and concrete gestures of fraternity.

“It is good that we should help one another, because in each one of us, in every religious tradition and in every human society, there is always a risk that we can hold grudges and foster disputes against others, and at times do so in the name of absolute and even sacred principles.”

The delegation responded: “Your Holiness, we hope that all people will stand together against antisemitism, against anti-Christian discrimination and against intolerance directed at Muslims. In recognition of our common home and common destiny, let us protect the environment, care for the most vulnerable and promote mutual understanding rather than mutual recrimination. Thank you, Your Holiness, and may God bless all people everywhere with shalom, with peace.”

Pope Francis shook Kaner’s hand, looked him in the eye and said, “Pray for Peace.”

Pope Francis and Avi Kaner.

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It’s been a while since we checked in with the Fresh Market ospreys.

Carolyn Doan reports: “There is at least one chick in the nest. There are probably more, but this was the most visible, sitting right up front with mom. Dad brought in a fish. All is well.”

(Photo/Carolyn Doan)

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It could take years — if ever — for the improvement project at the Main Street/ Weston Road/Easton Road intersection near Merritt Parkway Exit 42 (first reported yesterday on “06880”) to be completed.

Let’s hope there’s some routine maintenance done of the traffic island there before then.

If it looks like this today, just imagine a few years from now.

(Photo/Terry Brannigan)

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On the other hand … there are plenty of handsome entrances to private Westport roads.

But can any of them beat today’s “Westport … Naturally” beauty?

(Photo/Valerie Szeto)

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And finally … Jim Seals — half of the ’70s soft-rock duo Seals & Crofts — died Monday in Nashville. He was 79.

I knew (but never really cared for) the group’s hits like “Summer Breeze” and “Diamond Girl.”

But I did not know — until I read his obituary — that Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were part of the Champs, who had a 1958 hit with “Tequila,” another song that did nothing for me. (They joined after it was a hit.)

Nor did I know that Seals’ brother Dan was a member of England Dan & John Ford Coley (“I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”). You guessed it …

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Jessica Bram’s Invocation

Each month, a different Westporter gives an invocation before the RTM meeting.

Most are earnest, but unmemorable. (Trust me, I know: I’ve given one myself.)

Last month, Jessica Bram departed from the usual aren’t-we-all-lucky-to-live-in-Westport platitudes. Instead — peaking directly to her colleagues — the RTM member confronted important issues head-on.

I asked Jessica if I could post her words here, so au audience greater than a few dozen legislators and local policy wonks could see — and reflect — on them. Here’s her invocation:

I moved to Westport over 24 years ago. A single mother when I arrived, I didn’t know a soul here. I raised 3 sons who now have successful lives because they went through our extraordinary Westport Public Schools – that school system that we are here to talk about tonight.

Jessica Bram

(Incidentally, I will mention that one of my sons married his Staples High School girlfriend— he went to Bedford, she to Coleytown—  and they just had their second child.)

When Coleytown Middle School was shut down, I remember saying – because our school system is so critical in this town—that this was the single worst thing that ever happened to Westport in my 24-year memory.

To lose an entire middle school … to be forced to cram one entire school population in with another! Remember what a crisis that was? The worst that could ever happen.

Then came COVID.

And instead of being upset because our kids were in crowded classrooms after Coleytown moved in with Bedford (remember we were upset because so many had to have lunch so early?), now there was COVID. And now all our kids had to stay home from school.

Our whole town changed. Businesses failed, people lost jobs, restaurants shut down. Perhaps worst of all, we couldn’t be together.

Two years later, here we are, at our RTM meeting, still on Zoom.

Yes, we disagree on so many things. We all have opinions here (as you know I have opinions on everything, you’ve all heard them).

But let’s think about what our differences are about, and the values that they reflect.

We argued about using ARPA funds for beach repair. But wasn’t that about protecting the environment? Being responsible stewards of our shoreline, our town’s greatest asset?

Yes, we fight about gas-powered blowers. But isn’t that because each of us wants to hold so tightly on to the Westport that we all came here for, the homes and lives we built for our families, regardless of whether that’s quiet afternoons or beautiful lawns?

Yes, we have argued for and against offering public transportation. But what a gift we received from that conflict! That gift of having received over 100 heartfelt emails — each one different, each expressive, none of them boiler plate.

I learned so much that I didn’t know about … what it’s like to have an infant at home and only one car… what it’s like to be a worn-out commuter.  So because of that conflict we got to know so much about our neighbors’ lives, in personal, truthful ways.

The Wheels2U debate elicited many personal emails and phone calls.

We argue vehemently about P&Z issues such as affordable housing, 8-30g, and the zoning problems that that legislation causes. But although we may vehemently disagree about zoning issues, we do respect our town bodies that allow our disagreements to be spoken aloud and acted on in orderly, non-combative ways.

One thing I do know is that regardless of how we feel about 8-30-g, we all do care about, and have compassion for, families, either struggling or wealthy families, who all want to have safe, affordable homes where we can raise our children.

And don’t we all support our organizations such as Homes with Hope, that are working so hard to end homelessness — whether we offer that support philanthropically, or by cooking and serving lasagna in our newly renovated Gillespie Center?

Let me point out that we are, after all, a town that has a youth center, and homeless shelter, a block away from a Tiffany’s. All of which says something about what we in Westport care about. Not just the homeless shelter. But Tiffany’s too, because it does speak of the lives we unapologetically want for our children.

The Gillespie Center is a few feet away from Tiffany. (Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

Yes, some of us cling furiously to our causes and our pet issues and our political affiliations.

Yes, we may disagree on so many things.

Yes, our RTM meetings can at times stretch agonizingly long into the night.

But let’s remember who we are.

With all our disagreements, in all those exhausting, contentious, boring RTM meetings, we are all doing it just to make things right.

Let’s think about the values and principles that we share at the heart of it all – our families, our first responders, our overworked teachers. And yes, even our noisy neighbors.

Let’s remind ourselves – and applaud ourselves for — living in a town not of things and real estate, but of principles. That what we’re here for – especially those of us on the RTM — are principles of honesty and fairness —and what’s really important in our troubled world.

Because that’s who we are.

And know that in the end, we care for, respect, and yes, even  a little bit, love each other.

RTM members march in the 2018 Memorial Day parade.

Traffic Safety: Someone Is Listening

Everyone* complains about traffic, pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Someone is listening.

Actually, several someones.

Every Thursday this spring, there’s a public meeting at Town Hall. Members of the Police, Public Works and Planning & Zoning Departments set up a mic, then listen as the public provides input about the worst spots, and (sometimes) suggests fixes.

The meetings are organized by RTM district, so the focus is hyperlocal.

This past Thursday, I went to my own District 9 meeting. 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas were in the audience, along with our 4 Representative Town Meeting members.

RTM District 9 member Kristin Schneeman addressed the traffic and safety meeting. In the row next to her are fellow RTM reps Nancy Kail, Lori Church and Sal Liccione.

With the Post Road, Route 136 and 33, several major roads and the Saugatuck River crisscrossing our district, we have special challenges.**

Residents described issues with traffic lights, lack of sidewalks (North Compo), speeding drivers (and boaters), noise, and not enough police enforcement

As each speaker mentioned an area, Google Street View showed the problem on a big screen.

When a speaker mentioned safety issues on North Compo Road, members of the Police, Public Works and Planning & Zoning Departments listened — and looked. 

Solutions are not easy. Many District 9 roads — and others throughout Westport — are controlled by the state. Something as simple signage and changing traffic light cycles takes time; adding sidewalks involves taking private property and knocking down retaining walls. Town and state funds are limited.

But town officials were attentive. They took notes. They answered questions.

And — when possible — they offered immediate solutions. If vegetations obscures a sign or inhibits sight lines, for example, call Police or Public Works. They’ll take care of it.

“Thanks for active listening,” one District 9 resident said. Her neighbors nodded in agreement.

Three meetings remain. All begin at 7 p.m., in the Town Hall auditorium. Click here for a map of RTM districts. 

  • District 2: May 5
  • District 3: May 12
  • District 5: May 19

*Including some of the worst offenders.

** I know, I know. Every other RTM district is special too.

RTM Resolution Condemns Russia

Representative Town Meeting sessions usually involve local budgets, contracts and resolutions.

Occasionally, the real world intrudes.

In the 1960s, the RTM made national headlines when it voted — controversially and closely — to condemn the Vietnam War.

Last night’s meeting addressed another international crisis. This was far less contentious.

After a moment of silence in support of Ukraine’s effort to remain a free state, the town’s legislative body passed — unanimously — a sense of the meeting resolution from member Sal Liccione stating: “We, the RTM, condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a free and independent nation, recognized by the United Nations.”

Late in the afternoon, former member Kristan Hamlin had emailed members, urging them to wear blue and/or yellow — the Ukrainian colors — to the Zoom meeting. Some did. (Hat tip: Peter Gold)

Some RTM members who had seen the email wore blue or yellow. (Screenshot/Peter Gold)