As fall began to take its final bows this week, winter was waiting in the wings, hastening the old season’s slide into history with sleet, ice, and snow. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, it appeared that someone had run Zambonis over the roads in much of the state, turning the morning rush into a cautious creep. Then snow frosted the landscape again on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Winter asserts itself in this way as no other season does. It imposes itself on our pace, on our schedules, and on our certitude. It threatens to break our appointments with its implicit threat to break our arms and hips by shifting the ground beneath our feet and the road beneath our cars. It loosens the connections we have to make, and, at times, cuts us off one from another.
In the ten years since Newtown purchased the state-owned property that served Connecticut for more than 60 years as a psychiatric hospital, the evolution of 186-acre campus at Fairfield Hills has been mostly municipal. The site is now the seat of Newtown’s government. Attempts to stimulate commercial interest there, however, have sputtered. The one notable exception was the opening of the 86,000-square-foot Newtown Youth Academy in 2008. But now, there is even talk of an eventual town takeover of that facility as well.
Now is the season of thanks and of thanks giving. It is also the season that kicks off gift giving, although anyone who has visited a mall or department store in the past six weeks has already been pummeled with jingling bells, fake Santas, and exhortations to buy, buy, buy. Drive here, or drive there to shop here, or shop there. Use the Internet, the phone, or page through that glossy catalog to make sure everyone gets exactly what everyone else in the USA wants. Or, give yourself the gift of time and Shop Small.
When the holidays get started in earnest next week, the town will again embark on a season of heightened sensibilities with a celebration of Thanksgiving. Elsewhere, the fulsome holiday spectacle of twinkling lights and jingling cash registers seems to go a little farther over the top with every passing year. But in Newtown the sense of what we have, etched as it is in high relief by what we have lost, has an authentic value worthy of our deepest thanks. It is this extra awareness of the fragile boundary between having and not having that made a report this week by the United Way of Connecticut about the extent of economic suffering in this affluent state, county, and town so unsettling.
The work of Newtown’s finance authorities is axiomatic: seek economy in the increasingly expensive enterprise of running a town. And in watching the early work of the Board of Finance and the Finance Department impacting the next budget cycle, some actual axioms come to mind. Waste not want not. A penny saved is a penny earned. Less is more. For some residents who may, for example, suffer a bone-jarring commute along some of the town’s more pothole-pocked byways twice a day, the economic zeal of budgetmakers may seem more like parsimony. (More about those potholes later.) It is beginning to look, however, like Newtown’s shrewd financing may be yielding some tangible benefits.
Election day is welcomed and celebrated in this country as the culmination of the democratic process — a system that is supposed to make our representative government accountable and self-correcting. It ensures a government of, by, and for the people. Having just endured yet another election campaign marked by a dizzying amount of spin, misdirection, and hyperbole, however, we understand that the modern practice of democracy may be getting most of its vigor and power not from “the people” but from vast sums of money with indistinct sources and purposes. We take consolation, though, from the words of Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.”
Newtown approaches Election Day this year with a perspective on federal and state government it did not have two years ago. Hartford and Washington, DC, do not seem quite so removed from our community life this time around; our elected representatives both in Congress and the legislature have had many opportunities to come through for Newtown, and for the most part they have done so, often expending significant political capital to secure grants and to enact legislation that directly benefited this community as it worked to recover from the tragic events of 12/14. The performance of these elected officials in the crucible of tragedy has informed our choices in the 2014 election more than the pro forma campaign promises and rhetoric.
There are few times of the year when we are reminded more of the passing of time than the end of October. The astonishing beauty of the landscape is always a surprise, even though we see it every year. We get to bask in the saturated colors only briefly, since the inspiring scene comes and goes so quickly, giving way to the next season and the next. It is best to satisfy our endless appetite for Octobers by savoring it with immediate appreciation and gratitude. So it seems appropriate that a group of people working in the town’s government, its Health District, and in the Visiting Nurse Association have chosen this time of year to invite the community to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon in appreciation, and in the presence, of two astonishing and inspiring men of medicine. Both, in their long careers, have brightened the outlook of Newtown with a brilliance rivaling any October.
The Legislative Council approved the transfer of $29,000 from contingency to contractual services last month to cover cleanup costs for private property at 31 Great Hill Road. A 3,400-square-foot home there was destroyed by fire, June 24, 2011. Neighbors have complained for three years about the unsightly mess, saying it attracts vermin, wildlife, and poses a safety hazard because of an uncovered and rain-filled swimming pool on the property. Demolition was completed last week. (See story.) It would be unremarkable, except for the fact that the town bankrolled the cleanup.
Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act has been on the books for nearly 40 years. A couple of generations of public servants have been operating under its provisions. Yet after decades of illumination by the state’s Sunshine Laws, our elected and appointed representatives in government continue to wander into the shadows, where they stumble over provisions of the act that should be well known to everyone by now.