New Canaan selectmen candidates sound off at debate
While this year's only contested race is for town treasurer, the League of Women Voters still allotted time for candidates to sound off on issues and priorities important to them.
First Selectman candidate Rob Mallozzi and selectman candidates Nick Williams and Beth Jones were on hand to speak to those points and answer questions about what they hope to tackle as soon as they are in office this November.
The most significant order of business had to do with revitalizing downtown New Canaan's economy. Mallozzi started off by discussing ways to market the town to visitors using volunteer efforts
"I think we have some wonderful stores, we have some wonderful restaurants that are all coming in to the area, and I believe that we can all do a better job with the volunteer efforts of many, many brilliant people in our community and market our town and market the experience of New Canaan," Mallozzi said. "There seems to be a little more vibrance in town with some of the new businesses coming in, but the effort will be on us, and it will not be a paid-for effort, but a volunteer effort to market this town to the hundreds of thousands of people right outside our door on Metro-North or on the Merritt Parkway."
Jones, a Democrat, agreed on the benefits and vibrancy of all the stores and restaurants in town, but said the Board of Selectmen wouldn't necessarily have an active role. Instead, she believes relying on and facilitating the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce is what they should focus on.
"I think we have a great Chamber of Commerce now. We have wonderful stores, and mostly local people running them, and I think the best thing we can do is just facilitate their ideas and help them do their job," Jones said. "I don't see a really active role for the selectmen other than to help the local businesses do what they do best."
Williams, a Republican, suggested more destination events drawing in visitors from other parts of the country. This past weekend, he said, New Canaan hosted an NFL Flag Football regional tournament that brought in nearly 1,000 people to town, most of whom had never been to New Canaan before.
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"I think if we do these types of destination events, it kind of serves as a marketing purpose," Williams said. "Let's face it folks, once people come to New Canaan, they see what a terrific town it is and they want to come back."
Williams also stressed the need to improve cellphone signals in town after the recent events of Tropical Storm Irene. It was something he plans to push once the new administration gets into office. He elaborated on how cellphone coverage was a big problem for Connecticut Light and Power crews during the storm.
"This was really a problem. Driving around with the folks of CL&P, the teams out there couldn't get in contact with the home base, and that led to problems," Williams said.
When asked about the possibility of expanding the Board of Selectmen to five members, as opposed to three, the responses were a bit more mixed. Williams said the only issue with three members is with Freedom of Information Act compliance. He said since it is such a small board, a conversation between only two of them could be legally construed as a meeting, making things a bit more difficult. However, all three members agreed that having even more government in town may not be necessary.
"If I was to talk to Beth, that would be in violation of the open meeting laws," Williams said. "So I think that is the driver behind that. Having said that, we have a lot of government in town. We have a large Board of Finance, Town Council, et cetera. So it's something I think we should definitely consider if only because of the caucus issue."
Mallozzi also agreed an expansion, which would require a charter change, might not be for the best.
"I've been in some preliminary talks about charter review," he said. "The five-member Board of Selectmen does not make sense to me, in my opinion, and Nick alluded to the reasons. We don't have an RTM, like Greenwich and Darien have. We have a very, very viable and active Town Council. It's a debating society, and quite frankly, the executive level here is the executive branch of government. We make decisions based on purchase agreements, based on contracts, and I believe that a three-member board is more than sufficient to come to those decisions."
Another point all three selectmen were passionate about was the state of Town Hall itself. They all agreed it would be a priority to get something done to fix the building, especially being in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"I think it seems to be a consensus now, as the Long Range Planning Committee is finishing up their work, that most people in town believe Town Hall is the building the most in need. I think it's a shame that we are still not even ADA compliant here," Jones said. "I would like to suggest to the first selectman that until we become compliant, that (we hold) all our meetings downstairs, because I just don't think it's right that we aren't ADA compliant."
Mallozzi echoed those concerns and alluded to how the three of them will be very focused on fiscally responsible action once they are in office.
"Folks, are you excited about your new Board of Selectmen? You've got three folks here who are action-oriented, that are goal-oriented (and) that want to see something done," Mallozzi said. "I think you can see the anticipation I have with working with these two folks. We will certainly be looking at the long range plan. There are some great ideas coming out of it, but make no mistake, you've seen the pictures. This is a dilapidated and (much in need of improvement) facility."