Family & Community.

 
Craig_KatieBo_Charlie_Mead_03.jpg

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

- Helen Keller

Built by a decades-long influx of commuters, artists, young families and more, New Canaan is truly a community for all ages. A town that long ago existed mostly as a part-time vacation destination has grown stronger thanks to waves of newcomers who made New Canaan their permanent home. Early residents clearly felt strongly about building a robust community that future generations could enjoy: from education and public safety, to a thriving arts guild, to endowed nonprofit organizations that today provide inestimable support throughout the town — all around us, tangible proof of how much individual citizens cared about New Canaan.

Unfortunately, local leadership has not matched our forebears’ commitment to proactive engagement and long-term planning; as a result the town has failed to keep pace with the changing needs and preferences of those who live and work here. The demographic realities facing seniors, urban emigres, corporate transplants, empty-nesters, and young families are not the same as they were 20 years ago, and it is unreasonable to expect our nonprofits to fill the gap in services…especially without more explicit cooperation and coordination on the part of elected officials.

Town government is responsible for setting a responsive and respectful tone, for putting forth a vision that emphasizes the importance of an inclusive culture, and for ensuring that New Canaan will continue to attract new families and retain long-time residents. I am ready to answer the call.


LandisGoresHouse.jpg

Call to Action: “Re-imagine Residential”

Can New Canaan meet modern housing needs without sacrificing local character & charm?

we can answer that call.

Nearly 70 years ago, a cohort of visionary architects known as the “Harvard Five” understood that progress and tradition go hand in hand. Thanks to their insight, New Canaan is a prominent destination for fans of mid-century moderns. We would do well to follow their example.

PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH

 

+ DEVELOP A COMPREHENSIVE HOUSING STRATEGY

Current and future New Canaan residents deserve to know that the town has made thoughtful provisions to protect the value of their most significant asset: their homes. A comprehensive housing policy focused on inclusion, flexibility, and affordability could simultaneously ease short-term burdens faced by seniors and young families and create more predictable long-term value propositions for all homeowners.

+ PROMOTE INTERGENERATIONAL HOUSING

We don't have to choose between senior housing and starter homes, rentals and condos, affordability and luxury. As AARP astutely notes in its 2018 edition of Where We Live, "a truly livable community should and can be intergenerational." Let's focus on where the housing needs of those seemingly disparate demographics overlap. There is evidence to suggest, for instance, that downtown rentals would not only be attractive for young professionals opting for a "try, then buy" strategy, but would also appeal to downsizers for whom it makes more sense to maintain liquidity rather than tie up the bulk of their assets in another property.
The recent Newcomers' Survey was a step in the right direction; we should augment that data by conducting similar inquiries among empty-nesters and others approaching retirement age, as well as reach beyond our borders to solicit input from prospective buyers in the NY metropolitan narea who are still looking, or indeed those who decided NOT to move to New Canaan. A comprehensive analysis of responses among all these groups can aid the town in promoting residential options that will attract and accommodate a range of constituencies -- both near-term and in the future.

+ SIMPLIFY PERMITTING FOR "ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS"

Our homes are shaped by more than just the memories we make there. As our parents age, our kids graduate from college, and as we ourselves look for a way to age-in-place, the construction of an "accessory dwelling unit" may solve a number of challenges we face. While New Canaan does allow the construction of ADUs subject to special permit approval, there may be ways to make the process less painful. Neighboring towns such as Ridgefield have recently reviewed the local rules governing construction of ADUs, aiming to reduce overly-burdensome restrictions that stand in the way of modifications that, although relatively minor in the scheme of things, could make the difference between being able to stay in New Canaan or being forced to look elsewhere.
 

Fire-Dept-03.jpg

Call to Action: “Streamline Safety”

Can New Canaan be more proactive about public safety?

WE CAN ANSWER THAT CALL.

New Canaan is already one of the safest towns in one of the safest states, but we should always strive to be proactive rather than reactive, embracing evidence-based best practices in municipal health & safety management.

PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH

 

+ ESTABLISH A PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSION

While the Police Commission is an important law enforcement oversight tool, a Public Safety Commission would ensure more streamlined coordination across townwide entities including Police, Fire, EMS, Transportation, and HHS. This commission would act as a project manager around safety initiatives involving multiple town agencies -- such as the installation of cameras at Waveny and other public spaces, where both NCPD and the Parks Department are key stakeholders. A centralized Public Safety Commission acting as the liaison between departments would provide a greater measure of accountability, as well as enhance efficiencies that can save the town time and money.

+ MAKE NEW CANAAN MORE PEDESTRIAN- & BIKE-FRIENDLY

We should follow the lead of neighboring towns whose recent embrace comprehensive safer streets initiatives have earned them widespread praise. In 2015, Norwalk entered and won a federal "Mayor's Challenge" thanks to a collaborative Bike/Walk task force made up of stakeholders including residents, businessses, and town leadership. This group successfully developed a bicycle master plan, planned out safer crosswalks, and encouraged healthy activity by making dozens of neighborhood walking and biking routes available online. New Canaan could and should undertake similar efforts.
Residents of all ages would stand to benefit from additional sidewalks (where practicable), apps that make reporting damaged road and sidewalks simple, ordinances requiring the timely repair of walkway hazards, clearly marked bike paths, and more.

+ ESTABLISH A TOWN COMMISSION ON AGING

New Canaan's seniors are some of our most engaged community members, volunteering their time and talents -- often in leadership roles -- at nonprofit and civic organizations throughout our town. Residents over 60 also represent nearly 20% of New Canaan's total population (as of the 2010 Census), and that demographic is only expected to increase in size: by 2035, the US population aged 65+ is projected to outnumber children under 18 for the first time in US history.
If it's true that "demography is destiny", then we can't afford to be reactive rather than proactive when it comes to making sure that New Canaan is a community where seniors can safely and securely age in place. We should follow the example of peers including Greenwich and Darien and establish a Commission on Aging, which would be responsible for maintaining an active dialogue with New Canaan's retirees and using their feedback to design thoughtful propsals that town leadership can act upon in support of healthy seniors.
In addition to the housing innovations and safer streets initiatives described above, a commission on aging could serve an important efficiency fucntion, acting as a dedicated liaison between Town Hall and the outstanding senior-focused nonprofits operating in New Canaan. The commission could also stay on top of successful models piloted in other municipalities, identifying those that might work well here: in some towns, seniors living alone can provide the police department with a house key to be used for quick emergency access should a daily check-in call go unanswered; other towns have started teen-senior lunch exchanges, with seniors acting as mentors and teens providing non-judgemental tech support. Solutions are out there, we just need to be intentional about finding and implementing them.
 
 

Grace-Farms-02.jpg

Call to Action: “Embrace Nonprofit Value”

Can New Canaan create a more collaborative relationship with local nonprofits?

WE CAN ANSWER THAT CALL.

So much of the work done by New Canaan’s charitable organizations may be invisible to us, but their services provide enormous value — both on a societal basis and a financial basis. As First Selectman, I want to ensure that our community is as supportive of our nonprofits as those nonprofits have been of our community for so long.

PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH

 

+ ENSURE A SEAT AT THE TABLE FOR NONPROFITS

New Canaan's nonprofits are dedicated to addressing the needs of our communities -- including (but BY NO MEANS limited to) food security, educational access, transportation, behavioral health, job training, social advocacy, housing, ecological stewardship, arts & recreation. Sadly, Town Hall has not reciprocated by addressing the needs of our nonprofits in a comprehensive manner.
As First Selectman, I will make it a priority to establish a meaningful way for local nonprofits to participate in the design and implementation of New Canaan's longterm vision and goals. This could be achieved by the creation of a Nonprofit Alliance that would be to charitable organizations what the Chamber of Commerce is to small businesses, elevating the concerns and ideas of the nonprofit sector. Additionally, Town Hall could incorporate a Nonprofit Liaison function so a continuous dialogue could be established, creating efficiencies between the work being done by the town and our nonprofits.

+ ESTABLISH A NEW CANAAN ARTS COUNCIL

Details to follow
 

Details coming soon!

 

Growth & Prosperity.

 
Mead-01.jpg

“A society grows great when its people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”

- GREEK PROVERB

New Canaan can and should be proud of its legacy as a well-heeled community in a strong financial position. But without long-range financial goals and the planning to achieve those mutually agreed-upon goals, budget discipline is difficult to achieve and maintain. No town can completely immunize itself against the potentially negative impacts of external factors (i.e. financial market retrenchment, broad economic slowdown, demographic shifts) — New Canaan can no more avoid the effects of cyclical markets and consumer sentiment than it can the weather. We can, however, buffer ourselves against outside shocks to some degree if our decisions around short-term capital expenditures are viewed through a long-term risk/reward lens.

In order to maintain New Canaan’s fiscal stability, the town needs to be willing to review its own spending habits and assess how well our future is being served by current budget practices. As a member of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, can we achieve better economies of scale by partnering with neighbors to relieve common cost pressures? Are there redundancies within our own town that could be consolidated in order to streamline processes and spending? The answer to both of these questions is “yes” : a proactive search for cost reductions would be an important step toward weaning ourselves off of debt financing.

Even more crucially, resource-sensitive budgeting could significantly ease the tax burden currently shouldered by homeowners; had such an approach been in place over the last 15 years, the sustained real estate boom could have obviated the need for continual increases in the mill rate…at the very least, all that surplus revenue could have been used to bolster reserve funds. Unfortunately, the period since the housing crisis has seen even sharper increases in tax rates, as homeowners are tapped to plug the gap left by our declining Grand List. A more resource-sensitive approach to budgeting is not only beneficial to current taxpayers, but to future homeowners and business owners as well: a managed budget is a smoother budget, and fiscal stability is a critical factor when anyone looking to move their family or business to New Canaan is estimating whether or not they can afford this town in the long-run.

It is also essential that we view the revitalization of New Canaan not as a one-off project, but as an ongoing exercise that will safeguard the gains we make by continually identifying where further improvements or advances can be made. Growth for its own sake is futile if New Canaan doesn’t have the infrastructure and services to adapt as technology advances and our community expands.


money.jpg

Call to Action: “Budget Big-Picture”

Can New Canaan stabilize current spending in order to safeguard its own fiscal future ?

WE CAN ANSWER THAT CALL.

A stitch in time saves nine. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The concept of long-term financial planning is hardly revolutionary; we do, however, need to recalibrate the way we think about spending and saving. We tend to fall into the trap of the “false choice”, where we feel we must decide either to spend on current needs or to save for the future. The truth is that we can do both. A penny saved may be a penny earned, but we don’t want to be penny-wise and pound-foolish either.

We should be thankful for the relative financial stability of New Canaan, where we have built a legacy of charm and comfort. At the same time, we must be willing to self-audit to a certain degree, so we can determine whether our fiscal practices are sustainable in the long run.

PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH

 

+ MAXIMIZE EFFICIENCY WITHIN NEW CANAAN

We need to undertake an objective review spending and staffing structures throughout town government -- no small feat, to be sure -- in order to identify opportunities to reduce spending. A number of our neighbors have slowly but surely started this work already, achieving savings by various means: shared staff, centralized contract management, and other economies of scale.

+ ENGAGE NEIGHBORING TOWNS IN SENSIBLE PARTNERSHIPS

New Canaan should be leveraging our membership in organizations like WestCOG to actively pursue initiatives where common interests between us and our neighbors would lend themselves to a shared solution. Most recently, there has been discussion of combining certain emergency and police services including 911 dispatch, holding cells, and firearms training facilities; in light of how much could be saved by all involved if such a collaboration came through, Wilton has reportedly put its own plans to refurbish its police HQ on hold. We should seriously consider doing the same, as well as looking for other ways to combine our efforts with those of our neighbors.
 
 

Fire-Dept-03.jpg

Call to Action: “Plug In”

Can New Canaan make up for lost time and productivity in a town still lacking consistent cell service?

WE CAN ANSWER THAT CALL.

Neither time nor technology waits for any town. While New Canaan has struggled to expand basic cell service, the breakneck pace of technological advancement has exacerbated the extent to which we now lag behind the cutting edge. Faster networks and increased functionality have led to opportunities — and risks — for which we simply are not prepared. As First Selectman, I plan to make New Canaan the most 5G-friendly town in Connecticut, as well as the most cybersecure.

PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH

 

+ REINSTATE A UTILITIES / TECHNOLOGY COMMISSION

This is the body best suited to harnessing the town's extensive knowledge base in service of implementing 5G service and other technological upgrades.

+ REVIEW AND ADDRESS ANY CYBER-WEAKNESSES

In light of the widespread ransomware attacks on small towns across the country (170 and counting in just the last few years), we need to make sure that we conduct a proactive audit of the cybersecurity measures already in place, taking steps to remedy any weaknesses we find before they can be exploited.
 
 

Vine-Cottage.jpg

Call to Action: “Define Asset Value”

Can New Canaan manage its portfolio of town-owned buildings using a strategic framework centered around the best interests of the community?

WE CAN ANSWER THAT CALL.

For better or worse, the town of New Canaan has built an unusually robust real estate portfolio with a variety of origin stories: bequests from lifelong residents, commercial transactions, expansion of open space, preservation of historical structures, etc.

Well, it’s not really the town’s portfolio, is it? Those assets have been purchased and maintained with taxpayer money, which makes them taxpayer-owned assets. Recent actions taken by the First Selectman with respect to certain properties, however, seem to cut residents — that is, the central stakeholders — out of any decisions to sell, repurpose, rehabilitate, or demolish these buildings.

Because these are community assets, we need a community solution.

PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH

 

+ ENGAGE THE COMMUNITY IN SETTING POLICY GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS

Before any action is taken, residents should have a chance to provide input on what the community's overall cultural, financial, and practical vision is for town-owned assets.

+ ADOPT A STRATEGIC PROPERTY MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK DESIGNED TO ACHIEVE THE COMMUNITY'S VISION

Luckily, real asset management is an area that has been well-studied by multiple experts; as such, we can take our cues from established best-practices around designing and implementing policies that are alighed with our long-term goals. These guidelines often include the following elements:
  • Assign a dedicated property evaluation & management committee - A dedicated committee will be responsible for coordination and oversight of community engagement, policy and strategy development, and ongoing implementation.
  • Information gathering and review - compile and disseminate a comprehensive inventory of all town-owned properties, their current use, deed restrictions, potential use in accordance with community goals, cost of ownership, estimated market value, etc.
  • Hold public workshops to inform policy design - Committee members, working side-by-side with residents, would establish key criteria defining "best and highest use" of any community property under evaluation to determine its overall value to the town. Additionally, workshop participants would contribute to draft policies that would standardize the processes governing actions including bid solicitation and review, design and cost approvals, etc.
  • Refine policies according to public input and set strategic implementation priorities - As the standardized process is refined and finalized, the committee will initiate discussions around prioritizing assets according to near-term, medium-term, and long-term review; followed by a projected implementation timeline.
 

Transparency & Trust.

 
CDonovan-JVollmer_Silvermine.jpg

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the most common — and emphatic — refrains I hear from local residents is a call for town government to be more transparent.

There’s nothing in New Canaan’s town charter mandating that our elected leaders keep citizens in the dark. Freedom of Information provisions were designed to create more access and transparency, not to keep the community at arm’s length.

If town business feels adversarial or opaque, it’s because our officials have too often chosen to conduct it in such a manner. While this has eroded trust between the town and its residents, the good news is that we can choose to do things differently going forward.


CDonovan-Doorknocking.jpg

Call to Action: “Clarity of Communication”

Can New Canaan count on a top-down culture of transparency?

we can answer that call.

As a campaign buzzword, “transparency” has gained traction over the last few years. As a sincere effort to provide local residents and businesses with clarity around Town Hall’s priorities, policies, and initiatives? Not so much. I find that unacceptable.

Despite FOIA regulations that should be used to keep the media and the public as informed as possible about what is happening in their government, it’s sad how often public officials try to hide behind various loopholes in the law as a way to avoid providing the information that residents have a right to know. Perhaps it’s a failure of imagination on my part, but I just cannot conceive of any above-board reason why anyone holding office would resist being as radically transparent as possible (setting aside, of course, the important exemptions meant to protect individuals’ privacy as well as any ongoing law enforcement matters).

As First Selectman, I want residents to receive proactive communications providing status updates on projects in motion, projects in the pipeline, and the latest news from our regional and statewide peers…and if there is anything beyond that they would like further information on, I plan to make reaching out to me as easy as possible

PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH

 

+ REGULAR COFFEES AND MORE PUBLICLY-NOTICED MEETINGS

By providing more opportunities to sit down with me in small conversation groups, I hope to encourage residents to bring issues large and small to my attention without fear of judgement or disregard. Further, I will always welcome feedback regarding my live communication strategy: are there topics that aren't explained clearly? Is there an issue I haven't covered for some reason? Feedback is the only way to improve.

+ RESET THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TOWN HALL & FOIA REQUESTS

From all available evidence reported in both of our local papers (and beyond), it appears that the current approach to providing information is "begrudging" at best. Whether a request for information is made by a local resident, a journalist, or from one committee to another, the most frequent dynamic tends to play out like this:
  • Request for information is officially made, and after a somewhat drawn-out timeline the petitioner will often receive the bare minimum that the town body is required to provide by law. - We can't forget, however, that there can be a pretty wide discrepancy between the "minimum required" and "maximum allowed" information, and it's disheartening to see people opt for the least transparent path.
    As your First Selectman, my day one directive to all departments will be to approach every request for information as an opportunity to provide as much information as quickly as possible; we will no longer be using FOIA loopholes to wriggle out of providing any useful infomration. Public info should be just that. Public.