Spring is a season of celebration in Newtown’s schools. The goals set by educators and the educated last September finally come within grasp as May warms into June. The achievements are logged, the achievers listed, bands play, choruses sing, performers take their bows, and awards are bestowed. It all culminates with the Newtown High School graduation ceremonies, which took place this week on Tuesday afternoon at the O’Neill Center at Western Connecticut State University. This is the time when the educational excellence we talk about all year long comes out to be measured and appreciated.
For nine hours on Saturday, June 13, there will be a great circling of compassion, companions, and caring both on and off the track at Newtown High School’s Blue & Gold Stadium for the 2015 edition of local American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. For 11 years, the community has gathered in this way in late spring for some consciousness- and fund-raising on behalf of ACS. More than $2.5 million has been raised in that time in a spirit of celebration in the face of all the trouble and grief that every cancer struggle entails.
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe’s announcement this week of his retirement seven months from now comes at a difficult time for the Newtown Police Department. Whenever a law enforcement agency faces allegations that one of its own has been flagrantly breaking the law rather enforcing it, as happened to the NPD in April, those in charge have some explaining to do. Of course, there is no explaining away criminal activity within a police department, which is supposed to be the heart of vigilance, discipline, and integrity in a community. As a veteran law enforcement professional with a long career marked by responsibility and duty, Chief Kehoe understands this as well as anyone.
The future does not arrive all at once by overnight express but emerges bit by bit through the often-overlooked interstices in our routine administration of the present. Take, for instance, Item 5 of new business on the agenda of the Board of Selectmen’s June 1 meeting, sandwiched between consideration of the latest update from the Permanent Memorial Commission and a resolution for adopting a Newtown Hazard Mitigation Plan. The “Electric Vehicle Charging Stations” discussion yielded authorization for the public works director and the Sustainable Energy Commission to begin work on a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection grant application for a two-bay charging station for electric vehicles, probably at Fairfield Hills.
By the spring of 2014, Officer Thomas Bean had been off the duty roster of the Newtown Police Department for more than a year. The post traumatic stress disorder he suffered following the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings had disabled him to the point where he could no longer work in his chosen career as a police officer. He had struggled with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts since responding to the mass murder of 20 first graders and six educators. He told the General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee at that time that he faced an uncertain financial future — a future that would be far more secure with common sense workers compensation laws on the books covering PTSD for first responders.
It is the time of year when we dig our fingers into the soil, plant seeds, and hope that they will flourish. We look forward to the bounty our gardens will provide. While not the agricultural community that it once was, Newtown is still a place where backyard gardens proliferate.
The simple joy of biting into a sun-ripened tomato or snacking on the sweetness of just-picked berries is a joy, even for those who can afford the best of produce in the off-season. For those who are on a fixed or suddenly reduced budget, the flavor of fresh produce is more than a joy; it is a gift.
Try to turn left at the flagpole. Drive by the high school on your way to work. Try to turn into traffic from any of the businesses near Exit 10. Suddenly, in this fast and distracted world, you will experience that rarest of luxuries: time to just sit and think. This is about the nicest thing we can say about traffic congestion in Newtown.
The arrests in the middle of last week of a Newtown Police sergeant and emergency services dispatcher on federal drug trafficking charges twisted the normal proud narrative we apply to local first responders to a point of painful fracture. The FBI, DEA, and Homeland Security investigations that led to charges against eight Connecticut men, including local police Sergeant Steven Santucci and dispatcher Jason Chickos, concluded that that they illegally distributed steroids and prescription narcotics — the kind of shady transactions we want the police to stop, not initiate.
When the town voted in 2008 to increase the size of the Board of Education from six to seven members, the charter change that accomplished that goal stipulated that the existing 3-3 division of the six seats between Democrats and Republicans be changed to allow a 4-3 partisan bare majority. It is frequently noted, particularly by politicians, that the Board of Education should not be politicized. It was decided, however, that the benefit of greater public participation on the school board afforded by an extra seat would outweigh the distractions inherent in the competition for majority status, especially if the majority is not a very big one.
A close reading of The Bee’s 2015 Guide to Newtown reveals, however, that the partisan split on the Board of Education is currently 5-2, favoring Republicans. How is this possible, given the charter stipulation approved by voters seven years ago?
Received wisdom in this age of politics and polemics holds that we should do unto others before they do unto us: define opponents in the worst possible light before they can define themselves, ignore facts when possible, and make them up when necessary. Above all, never listen to anyone who might hold a contrary view. How nice it has been to discover over the last couple of years just how far Newtown lags behind the political trendsetters, especially when our backward ways will yield for us a tax rate reduction if the $111 million budget is approved on April 28.