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NOTE: This post reflects information received from Mary Ann Jacob following the initial publication of the story. This post was also updated at 6:30 pm May 25 adding remarks by Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt Governor Nancy Wyman.
In a May 24 interview with The Newtown Bee, First Selectman Pat Llodra announced that she will not be seeking a fifth term come November.
Mrs Llodra, who was first elected in a four-way race for the town’s top elected post in 2009, said that a desire to spend more time with her family prompted her to consider ending her career as her community’s top elected official — a decision she said she began entertaining about six months ago.
“It may sound selfish, but we’re looking at getting a place to go to escape from the worst storms of winter,” Mrs Llodra said, referring to her husband, Robert. “But we’re totally committed to spending the remainder of our days as residents of Newtown. We’ve been here over 40 years, and we have no intention of moving away.”
During a half-hour chat, Mrs Llodra said she consulted her journals to review the “themes, pressure points, and impediments that we’ve faced as a community, and how we’ve fared.” She also covered a number of high points during her career, as well as identifying the advice she will present to her successor.
In a note Mrs Llodra was planning to issue to the Republican Town Committee concurrent with her announcement, she indicated that she will remain an active RTC supporter, despite her retirement from elected service.
“It is work I truly love, even on the most difficult of days,” she wrote. “I believe the past eight years have been very productive, despite the incredibly significant challenges. The principles that form the foundation of the Republican party have helped to guide my practice, especially those oft referenced traditional core values of small government and conservative financial practices. At the same time, I join with many of you in a more moderate stance on social policies, and my discourse and policies have reflected that too.”
Referring to the retrospective list of accomplishments and involvements she culled from her journals since taking office in December 2009, Mrs Llodra reflected that “the record is something to be exceptionally proud of.”
She hearkened back to those first few weeks in office, recalling that one of the first challenges she faced as the town’s leader was grappling with state budget cuts — an issue she admitted she will be dealing with until her final day as first selectman in 2017.
“I had been in office about two weeks when I got that letter from Hartford saying that budget recessions will reduce our state aid by what was then about a million dollars,” Mrs Llodra recalled. “And we had a budget passed by voters that funded government and school operations that included a certain amount of anticipated funding from Hartford. That was the first big hint that I got that this was going to be a rocky ride.”
But that challenge served as an impetus for Mrs Llodra to begin working with other elected boards, Finance Director Robert Tait, and town department heads and staffers to begin “reducing our overhead, reducing our debt, controlling our spending, and getting out from under our practice of using fund balance to pay our operational cost, and improve our bond rating.”
“All of these at the same time became priority number one,” she said. “Along with running the government, we had to at the same time work diligently to be an affordable place to live. At the same time we didn’t, and don’t want to, compromise our core values.”
Maintaining Core Values
Some of those core values, Mrs Llodra said, are intrinsically tied to services, sites, and institutions, and they cost money to sustain and maintain.
“We are asking in this community for people to pay a substantial amount of money in the form of property taxes to support excellent schools, great parks, public safety agencies, a great library, beautiful and iconic buildings like Edmond Town Hall — that’s what people are getting for their money,” she said. “Look right outside my window at Fairfield Hills, a beautiful environment we’re still creating here for everyone. And while we want to control taxes, we can’t do it at the expense of eroding our core values. So it’s about finding that right balance.”
Mrs Llodra said from the first moment she decided to seek the first selectman’s seat, it has always been about the quality of life that residents experience every day.
“I’m all about Newtown and I’m going to fight for every dollar I can get to help us achieve what we want to achieve that speaks to our heart and soul, and I was going to pursue that with vigor, and energy, and all the intelligence I could muster,” she said. “And when I look at the millions and millions of dollars we have received in grants over the years, even if we remove everything that came to Newtown post-12/14, it represents the most public money that has ever come to this community in an eight-year period.”
While she did not dwell on the Sandy Hook tragedy during her interview, Mrs Llodra did speak to the devastation that Newtown suffered during two major storms during her tenure, including Superstorm Sandy, which taught the first selectman an important lesson.
“The results of that storm really triggered in my mind the importance of having a good community communication system,” she said. “We learned that we needed better ways to reach our residents, and to assure them that we had a plan to respond to those in distress, and a method in place for recovery. But we had to build those systems — and we are still working on them.”
In fact, one of the top messages Mrs Llodra said she plans on passing on to the next first selectman is the need to continue striving for thorough and clear communication, and ever-increasing engagement.
“It’s getting residents to engage — that’s the challenge,” she said. “Information flow continues to be the biggest hurdle to clear in our daily process of running this town. We can build the systems, but unless people engage, our good information hits a roadblock.”
Social Media Issues
At the same time, Mrs Llodra was never one to shy away from or avoid those who either inadvertently or intentionally spread misinformation, particularly on internet social websites.
“Social media has changed the face of government, and is providing challenges we never expected to have,” she said. “And maybe it is the teacher in me, but I always remind the community to understand the source of the information they are getting, and possibly repeating, from social network posts. If that is your source, you need to be a critical consumer of that information. The amount of time we spend trying to unravel misinformation being spread is really unwarranted.”
Mrs Llodra said while it is critical for the government to be accessible, honest, to have integrity, and to be open and accessible, there is a personal responsible on the “other side of the equation.”
“The number of times I have found myself responding to people saying what they heard on the internet was wrong — and here is the real information, is a misuse of my time. I’m willing and obliged to do it, but people can’t be totally reliant on the information they source from social media,” she said. “It’s a challenge for all government.”
In her look-back document that Mrs Llodra created from her journals, she noted the number of developments that she supported in her role as first selectman, as well as a number of buildings that she has seen disappear, particularly within the Fairfield Hills campus.
She lists a variety of public and public/private developments, including the Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue substation, and the new Hook & Ladder headquarters, the new volunteer ambulance station, the dog park and animal control facility, Eichler’s Cove recreational area, and streetscape improvements in Sandy Hook, Hawleyville, and Main Street.
Mrs Llodra helped shepherd the Hawleyville sewer installation, saw the first of several duplexes at Fairfield Hills renovated, along with converting the Fairfield Hills engineer’s house into a recovery and wellness center for the community, and particularly those suffering with issues rooted in the 12/14 tragedy. She saw the cycle that included the demolition and rebuilding of Sandy Hook Elementary School, a skate park, and has been fully engaged in the development of a new community and senior center.
The first selectman has supported a significant number of other school and public projects, including major renovations, repairs, and improvements at the C.H. Booth Library and Edmond Town Hall, the creation of numerous solar power-generating installations, and the inception of the town’s organics recycling program, which she proudly points to as one of the most successful programs of its kind in the state.
Blight And Open Space
While working to see a blight ordinance enacted, and used appropriately, Mrs Llodra said she has also been a huge advocate for open space acquisition and trail development, especially at Fairfield Hills. She has also played a role in helping see Newtown’s bond rating escalate to AAA status, developing both a fund balance policy and Capital Improvement regulations.
Mrs Llodra has been a strong advocate for lowering taxpayer-funded government overhead by striving to find and integrate shared services among town and school departments.
“The bottom line is,” she said in closing, “there is still a great deal has been accomplished and a great deal remains to be done.”
She will share with her successor that immediately on the horizon Newtown will be facing the problem of having to build a new police station — and what to do with the existing building on South Main Street.
“What about Parks and Rec offices? Where should Social Services go? What is the future of Main Street — the Inn? The former ambulance garage? Does the town have a role with the borough in helping to chart a course for the future?” she asked. “How to grow our local economy? What is right for us? How do we get taxes lower without compromising the core attributes of our community? How to connect our Age-Friendly [AARP] status with real policy — to make those changes and improvements that lend voice to the intent of the initiative?”
Upon learning of her announcement, Mrs Llodra’s four-term running mate and current Selectman Will Rodgers reached out to The Newtown Bee to wish his colleague well, and to state that he is hoping to seek the first selectman’s seat this fall.
“I am currently interviewing with the RTC candidate’s committee with the hope of stepping up to serve upon Pat’s departure,” Mr Rodgers said.
Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob also wished Mrs Llodra the best, saying she would also be pursuing the empty seat and tapping Council colleague and former council Vice-Chair Neil Chaudhary as her running mate.
“I am proud to have served alongside Pat these last eight years,” Ms Jacob told The Bee. “I know her involvement will continue after she has finished this phase of her life. I will be running for First Selectman along with Neil Chaudhary as my partner.”
Ms Jacob said she and her running mate are looking forward to the process of interviewing with the RTC as well.
Late in the afternoon of May 25, after The Bee’s print edition went to press, Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman released the following statements:
Governor Malloy said, “Pat Llodra is a remarkable leader who puts the needs of her constituents and neighbors above everything else. During the town’s darkest hours, Pat worked day in and day out to bring stability, peace, and unity when her community needed it most. Having spent many hours with her in the weeks and months that followed, she became a true and trusted friend, and I thank her for her partnership during those trying times. There’s no doubt that her service to the Town of Newtown will forever be regarded as courageous, compassionate, and resilient.”
Lt. Governor Wyman said, “I want to thank Pat for her service to the people of Newtown, particularly her tirelessness and empathy when tragedy struck the community. She is a true public servant and excellent civic leader. I wish her only the best.”
Mrs Llodra said in December, she will be joining the rest of Newtown’s citizens looking to new leadership to show the way to build on the successes of the past.
“Each generation of leadership stands on the shoulders of those who came before,” Mrs Llodra said. “The role of the leader is to keep the vision alive and help reach new heights.”
Onward and upward, Mrs Llodra.