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Democratic first selectman candidate and current Police Commissioner Daniel Rosenthal and his running mate for selectman, Maureen Crick Owen, are basking in the relative calm that comes with having their local town committee unified around their aspirations to overturn a longstanding Republican majority on that top elected board.
The pair of longtime local volunteers and community leaders appear to be heading unopposed into a Democratic Town Committee caucus July 20, at 7:30 pm, in the Alexandria Room of Edmond Town Hall, which sources say will also reveal a strong and robust ticket of dedicated candidates for influential panels like the Legislative Council, the Boards of Finance and Education, and the Police and the Planning & Zoning Commissions.
The Republican Town Committee caucus, on the other hand, will yield outcomes that are quite a bit more uncertain as current council Chair Mary Ann Jacob, Selectman and former council chair Will Rodgers, and first term school board member Andrew Clure appear ready to compete for the majority of GOP supporters expected to turn out at the planned Republican caucus set for 7 pm on July 24, in the Edmond Town Hall gym.
While the Democrats will likely see the slate from their caucus follow through to this fall’s general election on November 7, all three Republican candidates for first selectman have previously told The Newtown Bee they are inclined to take their runs up to at least a GOP primary, which, if it happens, will occur on September 12.
On a related note, local Registrar of Voters Carey Schierloh announced that her office will be open on Friday, July 21, from 1 to 4 pm, for primary petitions for the Democratic Party, and on Tuesday, July 25, from 1 to 4 pm, for primary petitions for the Republican Party.
Mr Rosenthal, if successful, would not only represent the third generation of his family to hold a first selectman seat along with his father, Herb, a current selectman, and grandfather, Jack. Having spent much of his adult life up to now working in the world of finance, the aspiring town leader and his running mate recently visited the newspaper to further clarify their ideas and plans for Newtown’s future under a “Rosenthal 3.0” administration.
The candidate, who also served one term on the Legislative Council about a decade-and-a-half ago, told The Newtown Bee during a recent interview that he is looking at his current political goal as a logical and viable career change.
“I’m leaving a career and considering a new path,” he said. “So I determined I could be successful because I believe I have the skill set that can best benefit the community. As I checked the boxes on that, I’m grateful for the unity and enthusiasm behind us.”
Mr Rosenthal sees this election season as being a positive one for Newtown voters, as well, given the fact that departing First Selectman Pat Llodra has had little or no opposition through most of her tenure in the town’s top elected office.
“No disrespect to Pat, but we’ve had several years of uncontested races,” he said. “Assuming it goes that far, this is the first year we’ve had a Republican primary in a long time. But again, after the caucus, all the candidates will have to decide how far they will take it. As far as Maureen and I are concerned, we’re both really excited that the party appears to be unified behind us, and I don’t take that for granted in the least.”
Once Mr Rosenthal decided to take the plunge, as it were, he said the first call he made was to an agreeable Ms Crick Owen.
“We’re the only two people running who are lifelong residents of Newtown — I’m multigenerational, and she is much more multigenerational,” he said, referring to his running mate’s lineage dating back nearly to the founding of the community. “She is someone I consider to be very bright, and I think we complement each other very well.”
In speaking of his enthusiasm for a possible leadership role come December, Mr Rosenthal pledged that he is “not in it to burn the [existing] system down; it’s enthusiasm for making things better.”
That said, he added, “There are no sacred cows.
“Naturally we’ve both been in town, but we also come at things from a fresh perspective,” Mr Rosenthal said.
Ms Crick Owen has similarly been successful in her pursuit of elected service, albeit as a two-term underticket candidate for the Board of Assessment Appeals.
“I felt I had the skills to do that work, but I’ve always felt I had the ability to serve a higher office,” she said. “With Dan, the timing was right for me, but I’ve always been motivated to work in elected or appointed office. Here we had the opportunity presenting itself, and it was the right candidate for first selectman. I think we make a great team.”
Designs On Change?
If elected, Ms Crick Owen said she and Mr Rosenthal will remain unified behind a manageable set of big picture priorities that they agreed upon before either even declared their serious intentions to run, developing a strategic plan, enhancing economic development, and improving communications between town hall and Newtown’s residents.
“In a world of constrained resources — I do think we’re going to begin losing some money from the state, if not all of it — the community’s capacity for more taxation just is not there,” Mr Rosenthal said. “We need to think creatively, so I think strategic planning is important as we become much more income constrained. This is something we talked about over the years, and the school board did a strategic plan, but I don’t believe the town’s strategic planning efforts ever took hold.”
Mr Rosenthal believes that a new administration would provide a perfect opportunity to involve “all facets of the community” in the development of strategic planning.
“I could tell you that improving roads, or maintaining quality schools is also critical, not only for keeping good people here, but for attracting good people in the future,” he said. “But I would rather people feel this is an inclusive process incorporating the seniors, the business community, from school-age families and the families without any children. Then we can craft a plan that has both top and second-tier priorities. And then crafting that plan will go hand in hand with sitting down and making a concerted effort towards improving [commercial] economic development.”
But does the Rosenthal/Crick Owen team have the juice to bring previously apathetic residents out to engage, when both local elections and budget referendums continually pass with only two to four out of every ten eligible voters making time to come to the polls?
“This isn’t going to change overnight,” Mr Rosenthal admits, adding that the challenge for busy residents could also be that Newtown simply has “too much government” to attract its otherwise occupied residents to engage.
“We definitely have a lot of government. You have the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Finance, the Legislative Council — and we have those last two because of a botched charter revision when I was on the council,” Mr Rosenthal said, referring to a past charter revision committee petitioning to get initiatives on the ballot that resulted in the town having two elected panels, which typically do not exist together in most similarly sized communities.
“Think about the budget process; the town budget originates with the Boards of Selectmen and Education, then there are public hearings for that. Then it moves to the Board of Finance, and there is a public hearing for that, then it goes on to the council, and people have to come out for that. And add to that the town staff who may or may not have to come out to each step in the process to present. So I think maybe our approach wears people down and is an impediment to engagement,” Mr Rosenthal said.
An App For That
Mr Rosenthal said in cases where more public engagement is desired, and the timeline permits, he might be more inclined to table board votes in an attempt to attract more public input on certain issues.
“Sometimes, if you don’t get the level of public input you need, you have to stop and try new ways to get it,” he said. “One idea that is not widely used yet in municipalities, is the use of a mobile app that you can use to tie everything in. That way you’re not using all kinds of other social networks like Facebook and Twitter to get the word out. And there are those people who aren’t on social networks, but most people have mobile phones now. We have the resources in the community and the school system to develop that. We also have to continue traditional communications practices, but we need to be innovative.”
Part of being successful in community engagement means that Mr Rosenthal is committed to “being out there,” wherever and whenever he can to be sure he is able to hear from, and talk to various groups in town like seniors, and school communities.
“We really find new and better ways to reach people and get their input,” he said. “And then you can’t be afraid of what people say. It’s part of being a good leader to reveal your ideas, then accepting the answers you get, and be responsive to people even if your first instinct is to not move in that direction. When people think they are talking to a wall, and not being heard, they feel it doesn’t matter and it becomes more and more of a challenge to get people to participate.”
At the same time, Mr Rosenthal believes there are much greater priorities than calling for a charter revision to eliminate the finance board or council.
“We’ve had a 20 percent contraction in the grand list over the past 20 years, but spending continues to go up,” he said for example. “People feel the pinch when grand list growth is going down, and the only way to meet that budget is pushing the mill rate up. So we need to be more aggressive in building our commercial base, and use that growth to mitigate the residential burden taxpayers are facing in our community.”
To that end, Mr Rosenthal is still not embracing a current idea to help provide nominal or temporary tax breaks under Newtown’s Business Incentive Plan for residential development.
“I’m in favor of a variety of housing availability. But I’m not sold on the concept that housing is economic development,” Mr Rosenthal said, adding that multiuse or mixed-use incorporating a commercial/residential mix, “I could get behind something like that.”
Another related area Mr Rosenthal has a growing concern about is the recent move to combine the town Land Use and Economic Development departments under a single department head who may have to be responsive to both interests under the umbrella of a single project.
“I’m not sure that is 100 percent good idea to have both under the same leadership, because there is an inherent conflict in that,” he said. “[Department Director] George Benson is a quality individual, but George Benson is land use, and I think sometimes you have land use and economic development issues that are in conflict. So I think economic development rises to the level where it should be a direct report to the first selectman, not lumped in under the Land Use department.”
Learn more about the Rosenthal/Crick Owen team by visiting the Dan Rosenthal for Newtown First Selectman Facebook page.