Common Sense Solutions: Making Decisions

This is the eighth and final paper of an eight-part digital series where I address my positions on a range of different town issues that Westporters care about. Click on the first seven of the series to see them: Traffic, School Funding, The Arts Center at Barons South, Affordable Housing, Revitalizing our Business Districts, Planning and Compo Beach.

I’ve noticed that many good people who get elected to local office stop listening to their neighbors. Sure, they may count the number of “pro” and “con” emails they get, and vote accordingly. But they don’t try to take the pulse of the community to understand what Westporters really want, and what’s going to make people angry and dissatisfied.

 

Two examples: Why was anyone surprised when one hundred Westporters showed up at a meeting to object to Parks & Recreation’s plan to take away waterfront parking at Compo Beach? And why didn’t everyone anticipate that commuters would be outraged by a plan to eliminate all but a single exit out of the Charles Street railroad parking lot? In both cases, local leaders changed course, eventually. But for a time, maybe a long time, there were lots of unhappy residents.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And it hasn’t always. A former First Selectwoman held brown bag lunches every week that were open to all residents. If you had a burning issue—from a broken sidewalk to school budget cuts—you could show up and speak your mind. The First Selectman and other elected officials (and many did attend) got a heads up about problems that were brewing. Residents went away knowing that at least they had been heard.

As your First Selectman, I’ll reinstitute those lunches. And I’ll do more. Neighborhood groups are a powerful, underappreciated force that can help a First Selectman be more responsive. The Greens Farms Association, of which I am a member, is one of several established groups that have successfully represented their neighborhoods for years. New groups have formed in response to particular issues, such as the Riverside Avenue neighbors who successfully lobbied to have Riverside Park declared passive open space and the Saugatuck Neighbors who successfully advocated against a Tesla dealership in their neighborhood and are now monitoring the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development plan. As First Selectman, I’ll meet regularly with these groups, to keep them informed of my plans and to learn what’s on the minds of their members.

I’ll also institute a “walk the town” program where I will visit individual neighborhoods and walk and talk with residents. It’s another way to learn what matters to you.

The common theme is listening. As an RTM representative, my job was to advocate for my neighborhood as forcefully as possible. I see the job of First Selectman a bit differently. The First Selectman represents the whole town. It’s the responsibility of the First Selectman to be an honest broker, making sure all opinions are heard and considered fairly. That’s really important when some of our residents feel powerless because they don’t have friends in local government.

Eventually, the First Selectman must make a decision. That’s tough when emotions are running high, since somebody will go away unhappy. I’m not afraid to take a position and to explain my decision openly and honestly. That’s what I’ve tried to do over the last eight weeks in this series of issue papers. As your First Selectman, I will do no less.

Best, John