With no Democratic candidate for first selectman running this year, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, a Republican, and frequent independent candidate Chris Noe recently faced off again at a Darien League of Women Voters candidates forum at Town Hall.
The audience watching and listening to the two candidates were presented with a window into their thinking: each candidate gave an indication about how they approach local issues and what they see as important.
The candidates were on the stage for about 15 minutes during the two-hour forum. They answered several questions and made opening and closing statements. Lengthy excerpts of their statements are at the end of this article, and you can watch them on Darien TV79 (video below).
Asked about the controversial Pear Tree Point Beach renovation, Noe said he was outright opposed to it. Stevenson said the planning is still in the early stages and she would wait for a proposal to come before the Board of Selectmen before deciding what she would support.
Noe said he was also opposed to the idea of town employees having a four-day work week. Stevenson said that town officials are looking into ways that the times Town Hall is open might be changed in order to make it easier for town residents to go there: “So any enhancements that we may or may not make to the Town Hall schedule would have as its highest priority services to our town residents.”
Stevenson did not indicate how close town officials were to deciding on any changes, and didn’t mention the possibility of a four-day work week, which would extend employees’ working hours earlier, later or both on the days when they were working.
Asked a seemingly disjointed question, “How would you address the walkability and safety of our community?” Noe brought up various observations, including that Darien is relatively a very safe community and that serious crime still happens in town and residents need to be mindful of it.
Stevenson said she’s working with the Board of Education on making the replacement building for Ox Ridge School as secure as possible for schoolchildren and adults, and that sidewalk improvements prioritized routes that students take to and from school. Making the town an easier place for walkers (and people on bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles, even skateboards) to use is a big safety issue and a priority for her, she said.
Each candidate at points talked about their lives on a very personal level, with Noe saying that he’s had two girlfriends raped in town and Stevenson noting that during her 10 years in office, her family has gone through significant transitions — with both her parents passing away, three children graduating from college and the birth of a grandchild.
Darien TV79 Video of the Candidates Forum
The forum, which took place Oct. 23, included many candidates. Stevenson and Noe took the stage between time stamps 41:00 and 55:49 on this video:
The candidates also sharply contrasted in the way they presented their ideas. Stevenson, the longterm incumbent, was the smoother of the two speakers, marshaling facts and ordering them into reasons why her policies would be good for the town and reasons for voters to support her.
Noe, who isn’t a public officeholder, rambled more and, like many people who don’t often speak before the public, talked in a more disjointed way, often making several statements on the subject he was questioned about that seemed more independent of each other.
Here are descriptions and some extended excerpts of what each had to say:
“I’m running again. You know, I read the paper, I drive through town, I see things happening. I see our taxes going up. I see changes in the wrong direction. I wish the current leadership was more proactive instead of reactive. I think what’s happening in Hartford is going to crush most of the state — and us.
Supposedly we can afford it, but the reality is, we need to be proactive in what Hartford’s doing to us, and I just don’t see it happening, so I will continue to run.
Each and every day brings new challenges and opportunities for our town. Darien’s success story is 200 years in the making, because of town leaders and volunteers who share common values and who work together toward common goals.
As your first selectman, I’m Darien’s most vocal ambassador locally and at the regional and state policymaking tables. By building trusted relationships, I’ve been elected by my bipartisan peers to chair our regional planning agency and our municipal insurance company, giving me a very unique platform to advance Darien’s interests statewide.
I think strategically for ways to deliver quality services more efficiently by exceptional staff and at limited cost.
Darien is entering a time of transformation. There’s much more we can do together if we row in the same direction, keeping the long-term interests of our town squarely in sight.
Pear Tree Point Beach Renovation
Question: “Where do you stand on the Pear Tree Point Beach renovation? Do you think the project should go forward, given the outspoken opposition to the structure and its cost?”
So, I concur with all of the selectmen candidates we heard already. I truly believe the process needs to go forward. The Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to seat a building committee at the request of the Parks and Recreation Commission. That process is really in the beginning phases.
I won’t be repetitive with what we heard earlier. I hope by the time it comes back to the Board of Selectmen, we will have all the necessary information to make a well-informed, fact-based decision on whether it’s a project that will be supported by our town residents.
The Pear Tree Point [project] is in its final stages. The people I speak to are speaking very loudly against it. I hear support for it as well.
I personally launch my boat down there, and I know there’s times when it’s difficult for me to find a spot to pull in my boat and trailer. And this plan was clearly written or drawn by someone who has no knowledge of the beach, because that parking lot does fill up frequently. To lose 45 spaces is insane.
I’m not surprised that some of the locals are protective of their space, as they should be, as I am. I don’t think the town should be engaged in using our property as a commercial rental for someone else.
If this thing is built, it’s our property. We paid for it. We’ll continue to pay for it, and why should we be pushed out of that space? Because the town is going to rent it?
That doesn’t make any sense. The town’s not in the business of doing this. I think we need to think about this. That beach is one [where the] elderly can co down on a winter’s day and drive their car up and look at the water. It’s therapy.
[At] Weed Beach they planted grasses, and now you have to get out of your car [to look at the water], unless you’re driving […] a jacked up F-250 [a pickup truck] or something, which I don’t think the elderly are driving. So it doesn’t work.
You know, we have to really hire the right people, and if we see that plan, we’ve just got to throw it out from the start. […]
I think there’s parts of this plan that are good, but for the most [part] I would throw it out.
But unfortunately it’s closer to being done, you would think.
Four-Day Work Week for Town Hall
Question: “Do you support a four-day work week at Town Hall? Why or why not?”
I absolutely do not support a four-day work week and I am appalled it’s even gotten this far. We have a group of employees here who work really hard and who are appreciated for the most part. Some of them are not, I know they have to punch a time clock and you know, that’s really not fair. I think our employees if they had to make a phone call to call their kids for a doctor’s appointment, and they took five minutes, that they would give us back the five minutes, you know.
We have people who run businesses and who need the Town Hall open five days a week.
If you’ve ever had to sell a house, and you have a closing, you’re scrambling to get building permits and things signed off. if you don’t get it done by Thursday you know, it’s going to be four more days before you’re going to close on that house, so it shouldn’t have even been considered at all.
And I know the town employees have already voted on it, and there’s some alarming things. It’s a four-day work week. Currently they have — you know, it’s two weeks vacation, two weeks sick. And in current negotiations right now, they are going to get 10 days sick, 10 days vacation, even though they work a four-day week.
The union hasn’t looked at it yet, and they are supposedly going to work an 8 3/4-hour day. The unions are going to demand overtime for over eight hours. And so what are we going to do, you know, the town employees are already working a 35-hour work week.
And so I think in the final hour, that’s going to drop to 32. You know, the mail is delivered six days a week […] seven days a week now. The town needs to be open seven days.
And this thing has come too far already. And you’ve got to kill it. And it’s been taken off the table until after the election. And that’s just what they did with the Shuffle. They picked it up after and pushed it through, and I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen with this, too.
I’m astounded at the depth of knowledge Mr. Noe claims to have on this particular topic.
What I can share with you is that the town administration’s made inquiry with our departments to see if there’s a flexible schedule opportunity that would actually benefit our town residents. We know that a lot of people work long hours. They work in New York City. It’s difficult for them to come back and take care of their town business during the typical 8:30 to 4:30 Town Hall day. So any enhancements that we may or may not make to the Town Hall schedule would have as its highest priority services to our town residents.
Question: “How will you address the walkability and safety of our community?”
Well, those are two big and largely separate questions.
First, I’d like to talk about safety in our community. Government has certain primary roles. We have tremendous expectations on the things we think that government should provide to us, and we’re very blessed here in Darien that we have generous taxpayers that fund a significant amount of services that are not really fundamental but the fundamental roles of government are public health and safety and the education of our children, so in regard to safety, we make sure that we have the very best in our law enforcement personnel.
We fully fund the three volunteer fire departments that we have. We’re very, very lucky that we have volunteer fire service here and not paid fire.
High on my priority list is to work very collaboratively with the new superintendent and Board of Education on school security. I know that that is top of mind for all parents in Darien, and we have a great opportunity with the new Ox Ridge elementary school to build into that facility best practices, school security measures, along with security infrastructure.
In regards to walkability and pedestrian safety, we have continued to make improvements on adding new sidewalks, again prioritizing walking-student safety to our schools. That needs to be the priority, and we are engaging in a bicycle plan that will build safe bike routes between our town and New Canaan, and we’re also looking at a regional bike plan. So I’ll leave you with the idea that public safety, which includes walkability and bicycling and scootering and the like is probably the most primary role for government.
We’ve got the safest community around. I think we’re really lucky. I think that’s why our property values — ah — are trying to stay up. I think you know there’s problems that we’ve had. There was a jogger that was raped.
My girlfriend was raped. Another girlfriend of mine was raped. So rape happens in this town. And you know, I don’t want to go into it here, but you’d be surprised if you knew.
But you have to be careful. I think all of us have to be careful about where we are at all times. You know, it’s not that we are immune to this. You know we’re surrounded. We go to New York City, it’s in the news every day. Someone’s raped, someone’s murdered, so we’re very aware, but as a community Darien residents are extremely lucky, and we’re proud to live here.
Public Comment at All Public Meetings
Asking for a one word answer: “Do you agree that public comment should be allowed at all public meetings […]? Yes or No?”
[…] “Absolutely, guys like [the late] Walter [Casey]. God, they have to come.”
For the past 10 years, it’s been truly an honor serving our town on the selectmen team. Along with life’s unexpected ups and downs, during my tenure on the Board of Selectmen, you probably don’t know that both my parents and my mother in law passed away. John [her husband] and I celebrated three college graduations and the birth of a grandchild — and, yes, I did bring a picture, because I know you’d want to see her. She’s adorable!All the while, my family stood firmly behind my unwavering commitment to putting our town first. I want to thank my husband, John, who’s back here [in the room] and my family for their sacrifices and support.
Gone are the days when your first selectman could serve part-time. The job has changed significantly as state government searches for local solutions to state problems.
My experience, ability to think strategically, my commitment to good governance and fair process, my large network of trusted relationships and mindfulness of the proper role of government sets me apart from my opponent. I respectfully ask for your vote on Nov. 5.
I continue to run, again. I wish I saw things that my opponent sees in herself. You know, we have some real problems here. We’re a wonderful town, but we’re in a bankrupt state, and we have to do many things to change the way we do business. So really, we’re not victimized by our state.
I don’t see that happening here. At the same time, we have many infrastructure things to maintain, such as that old sewer line that I always bring up.
But we have a wonderful life here, and it’s going to remain.
I wish I could do like a 30-day test for first selectman to see what I would get done, but it’s a two-year term. She’s been here for 10, already. It’s really time to let someone else step in and do some different work.