This week, The Darien Times submitted the same questions to all three first selectman candidates. They are presented largely unedited in the candidate’s own words.
Jayme J. Stevenson
Give a brief bio of yourself — family, length of time living in Darien, kids, ages, did they attend Darien schools?
My husband John and I have lived in Darien since 1991. John is a lifelong Darien resident, attended Darien Public Schools and graduated from Gettysburg College. I grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania and graduated from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Telecommunication and Business Management. Before leaving the workforce to raise our 5 children, I served as Vice President, Asset-Backed Finance at Standard & Poor’s Corporation. We have 4 daughters and one son ages 18-27. All attended Darien Public Schools. My son, our youngest, graduated from Brewster Academy. Three of our five have graduated college and are “launched”. Our two youngest are in college currently. We are expecting our first grandchild in January!
Why do you want to run (or run again) for first selectman?
I am seeking re-election because over the coming two years, perhaps more than ever before– Darien will require experienced leadership locally and strong representation at the state level. Our town (along with all financially stable municipalities) is in the crosshairs of State leadership who are looking for new revenue sources and service delivery options to address the state’s $5 billion dollar financial crisis. I want to be sure Darien’s voice is heard, and help lead our town in making prudent, responsible decisions as we shoulder the weight of the state’s deficit. I sincerely believe that my professional background, experience serving as your First Selectman and in executive positions on our regional boards along with the strong professional relationships I’ve developed statewide, make me the most qualified candidate to lead Darien through this difficult time. I want what is Best for Darien – for our families, our schools and our businesses.
What is the most important thing you can do for Darien as First Selectman?
First and foremost, as Darien’s First Selectman I will continue to ensure that Darien is a safe and healthy place to live and raise a family. Crisis leadership requires unique skills. Darien’s emergency operations team and I have managed well through Hurricane Irene, Super Storm Sandy and several significant snow storms and are well prepared to manage the town through the next crisis. Championing Darien locally, regionally and around the state protects our town’s interests. Whether in my role as Chairman of Western Connecticut Council of Governments, Board member of Connecticut Council of Municipalities or building relationships with our state legislators and utility partners, I put the needs of our town first. Keeping my door open to hear the concerns of our community and my mind open to new ideas is vital to the success of our collaborative government structure.
What are your priorities should you be re-elected?
It’s more important than ever to elect experienced, trusted leaders to manage the ever-changing needs of our community and influences from state government. Susan Marks, Kip Koons and I understand that our number one priority for the coming term must be Managing Risks posed by the state budget crisis, state-mandates and regional government expansion. Maintaining local control and Darien’s strong financial position is foundational to preserving our excellent schools, a vibrant local business climate, well-maintained parks and roads and supports for seniors and our more vulnerable residents. Darien taxpayers deserve leaders who understand the appropriate role of government and who support policies and initiatives that will Ensure a Sustainable Darien for years to come. Our team is poised to Seize Opportunities when they arise like our Ox Ridge, Short Lane and Hecker land acquisitions, natural gas expansion and the recent energy-saving LED streetlight conversion. Our goal is to continue to Make Life Better for All by continually improving pedestrian safety, commuter convenience, championing business growth, supporting strategic housing development and taking care of our residents who need a helping hand.
Do you think the state is currently being run well? Why or why not?
The primary job of the Governor and the legislature is to manage the state’s finances by crafting a balanced budget every two years. This year, we are nearly 3 months past the deadline for approving a new biennial budget with no consensus in sight. Some cities and towns risk being unable to sustain services without state aid. Uncertainty is at an all-time high among businesses, hospitals and the non-profit social service provider network. Partisan gridlock has crippled Connecticut’s budget process in Hartford mirroring the gridlock in Washington. The fiscal challenges of our state are monumental…70 years in the making and exacerbated by both major political parties over that time. The state will be considered “well run” when and only when the Governor and legislative leadership put party-politics aside and make the difficult, yet necessary, decisions to cut and prioritize government spending, invest in core infrastructure (railroads, highways and information/communication technology), reform state tax policies and fix the substandard urban public schools so that all children have access to high quality education. These are the first and most fundamental steps to putting Connecticut on a path to financial sustainability. Darien is fortunate to be able to weather this storm better than most. The state would be well-served to study and role model the conservative fiscal policies of well-run towns like Darien.
Why do you think people choose to live in Darien?
Everyone has a unique reason for living in Darien. I often ask our residents and prospective residents this question. Most people live here because taxes are low and our town is well-managed; we are family-centered and offer an unparalleled array of activities for children and families; we have excellent public schools; we offer two train stations and a reasonable commute time to Manhattan; we have beautiful, well-maintained parks, beaches and a vibrant downtown and small business community (soon to be even better!). Our challenge going forward is how to preserve our status as a first-class, family-centered community that remains attractive to new families and businesses for decades to come.
As the town faces important developments downtown and in the Heights, what do you think the role of the first selectman is in that development and what is important to preserve about Darien during those developments?
It’s important to understand the need for appropriate process. The Planning and Zoning Commission has the primary responsibility to fully vet development proposals and to seek public input before rendering a decision. The role of First Selectman, as with any town initiative, is to help ascertain the community’s level of support for projects, facilitate a community conversation to air concerns and then to provide executive management and policy direction for the town’s role in related infrastructure improvements, funding strategies and provide liaison to other government agencies and our utility partners. The First Selectman should have well-educated insight into the long-term benefits and/or impacts of any proposed development. Welcomed grand list growth must be balanced with impacts to traffic, schools and other town services. New business and housing opportunities should enhance our unique town character.
What is something positive you can say about your opponent?
Chris Noe has unique opinions and ideas. Rob Richards is a thinker and seems to be a compassionate man.
What is your philosophy when dealing (or may be dealing) with criticism of the job you are doing?
Criticism is inherent in political public service, particularly at this time in our nation’s history. The job of all elected officials is to be knowledgeable on the issues at hand and to balance the diverse opinions of our residents and taxpayers to do what’s best for the majority and to avoid the pressures of special interest. I try, at all times, to make very well-informed and collaborative decisions. When disagreements arise, I look to find the kernel of truth in the criticism and analyze the situation from varied viewpoints.
What is something that residents/voters would be surprised to learn about you?
Folks might be surprised to know that I’m an adventure-seeker. I’ve climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, skydived and completed a Tough Mudder over the past several years. Music is a passion and some of my favorite artists/bands are Pink, Adele, Switchfoot and Florida Georgia Line. My calm and serious demeanor belies my seriously silly and deeply compassionate nature.