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The three candidates running for first selectman in the November 7 municipal elections answered a range of questions, including queries on property taxation, land development, and the aftermath of 12/14, at a Candidates Forum, which drew about 125 people to the Edmond Town Hall Theatre on October 24. Current four-term Republican First Selectman Pat Llodra is not seeking re-election.
At the session sponsored by The Newtown Bee, Republican Will Rodgers, Democrat Dan Rosenthal, and petitioning candidate Andy Clure responded to questions posed by Newtown Bee Editor Nancy K. Crevier, many suggested by readers and residents. At the forum, the two candidates running for selectman — Republican Jeff Capeci and Democrat Maureen Crick Owen — introduced themselves to the audience, but did not answer questions.
In describing the Republican candidates’ qualifications for the Board of Selectmen, Mr Rodgers, who is in his eighth year as a selectman, said, “We have the greatest political leadership experience.” Such experience is important as the town deals with an era of declining state funding, he said. “The town has improved its fiscal practices in the last eight years, and we’d like to continue that,” he said.
Mr Rodgers works as a general practice attorney. He is retired as a colonel from the US Marine Corps Reserves. Also, he has been involved in local politics for about 20 years.
“I’m used to the players in town and I can bring them together to [find] a solution,” he said.
Mr Rosenthal said, “It is an honor and a privilege to run for first selectman… I am here because I love Newtown.”
Mr Rosenthal stressed the need for the town to control spending, citing residents’ concerns about local property taxation. Mr Rosenthal noted he has long worked in the field of financial services.
“I am not a partisan person. I believe in working in teams,” he said.
Mr Rosenthal said he has spent his life in Newtown and understands the town well. He said he would bring a sense of creativity and a new perspective to the town’s top elected position.
“I can lead without party bias,” said Mr Clure. His local government background includes his current membership on the Board of Education, his co-chairmanship of a committee on the planned community center, and his former membership on the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers. Noting that he has worked in financial management for large companies, Mr Clure added,”I am committed to serving all of Newtown.”
Mr Clure said he puts much effort into his various roles, such as membership on the Board of Education. He said he has helped improve operations at Edmond Town Hall, noting his background in the field of marketing.
“I’m not tethered to either party,” he added.
Asked what steps they would take as first selectman to reduce the residential property tax burden, Mr Clure responded that he would seek to create a “small-business incubator” in town where the efforts of new small businesses would be nurtured. Mr Clure also suggested that the town form a Newtown Film Commission, a public agency that would promote the use of locations in town for film production.
Mr Rodgers said the town should work to attract new light industry and distribution centers as part of increased economic development efforts. The first selectman needs to serve as a “goodwill ambassador,” he added.
Mr Rosenthal endorsed the concept of creating a small-business incubator. He called for a more aggressive economic development effort locally. Of the need to create a suitable town economic development marketing strategy, Mr Rosenthal said the town cannot simply ask that new businesses locate here.
In response to a question on how the town can attract desirable forms of development, rather than “strip mall” commercial growth, Mr Rodgers said the town needs to update its inventory of available properties as a marketing tool. It is better to “mold the development” that occurs, rather than later reacting to what has been built, he said.
He would prefer that more light industry locate here, rather than simply retail growth, Mr Rosenthal said.
Mr Clure said the town should work to help local small businesses.
Based on questions The Newtown Bee received from residents prior to the forum, Ms Crevier asked the three candidates to describe their positions on the locally sensitive issues of gun control and gun rights.
Mr Clure voiced his support for the Second Amendment, which addresses the right to bear arms, but added that gun issues are difficult issues.
“I think it’s more of a mental health issue,” he said, adding that many mental health resources are available locally.
Mr Rodgers observed that more pressing than gun issues are mental health issues.
“Our emphasis should be there,” he said.
On the topic, Mr Rosenthal said that he is not a gun owner. He said he believes in safe gun storage. He said he accepts all people’s rights in terms of guns, adding that public discussion on the matter is needed.
Asked how they handle various ongoing issues that have arisen from 12/14, the three candidates responded. Those topics include the creation of a permanent memorial to the Sandy Hook School victims and the creation of the planned community center, for which the town received a grant in honor of the 12/14 victims.
Mr Rodgers said he wants to ensure that there is no “fall off” of the various resources now available to people to help them resolve the emotional issues resulting from 12/14. It is important for the sake of emotional healing that the permanent memorial be created, he said. After a memorial is created, the town would move forward, but never forget the incident, he said.
Mr Clure said the town must be sensitive to the emotions of the families directly affected by 12/14, helping those families in whatever ways possible.
Mr Rosenthal said he supports the construction of a memorial to the 12/14 victims. He said he foresees the town’s Social Services Department and the Newtown Center for Support and Wellness, which is a counseling agency, eventually being located in the same place.
Answering the question as to what steps he would take to help the growing number of local senior citizens, Mr Rodgers stated his support for the planned senior citizens center, which would be located within the same building as the planned community center. Mr Rodgers also voiced support for “a modest expansion of elderly tax relief.” He added, “We value our seniors and we value having our seniors here.”
Mr Rosenthal said that the “isolation” of some senior citizens is an issue, adding that there should be improved transportation services provided for local seniors.
Mr Clure said local seniors will be getting a well-deserved senior center for their use.
“We need to help them be a part of the new technology age,” he said.
On a philosophical note, Ms Crevier asked the candidates how they would continue the practices of the current town government or change them.
Mr Rosenthal credited Mrs Llodra for providing able leadership through difficult times. He said he would foster a town government culture in which appreciation is expressed.
“Culture is important,” he said, adding that fostering creativity throughout an organization is important.
Mr Clure said he appreciates the work Mrs Llodra has done as first selectman. Mr Clure suggested that the new first selectman have expanded office hours for the sake of public access, and that the first selectman’s personal cellphone number be made available to improve communication.
He gets along well with Mrs Llodra, noted Mr Rodgers. He said that he would maintain the town’s proper fiscal policies, adding that he would be more proactive in terms of attracting economic development to Newtown.
Asked how the “transparency” of public planning for major capital projects could be improved, Mr Clure said the town needs to better involve members of the public in planning for both the funding and the construction of a project.
Mr Rodgers said that he and Mr Capeci are sticklers for following correct public processes. Also, the town should communicate more clearly to the public on such projects through the use of social media, he said. The community center planning process has been thorough, he said.
Mr Rosenthal answered that the planning process for a public building needs to be inclusive. Mr Rosenthal, who is a Police Commission member, said that a design firm will be chosen to draw plans for a planned new police station. He said that he wants three potential locations for a new police station to be considered, including two places at Fairfield Hills and one place elsewhere.
In closing remarks, Mr Rosenthal said of his ongoing campaign, “It’s the privilege of a lifetime… It really has been truly motivating and inspiring… I’d be very honored to have your vote on November 7.”
Mr Clure concluded,”I’m honored to be considered to be your first selectman.” He pledged that he would listen to all residents and would take action to address their concerns.
As a Republican, Mr Rodgers said that he believes in limited government and in fiscal conservatism. He said he would continue practicing sound fiscal policies in the face of fiscal challenges.