Board of Selectmen candidates willing to work together

Tuesday night's Selectmen debate highlighted candidates' similarities across party lines. All three candidates for the Board of Selectmen -- Democrat incumbent David Bayne, Republican Jerry Nielsen and Republican Jayme Stevenson -- said the No. 1 issue to be addressed by the board is taxes. The three candidates agreed on other issues throughout the course of the League of Women Voters' Candidates' Night event at town hall.

Though there are only three official candidates for the four seats, this year's race is technically still a contested one. Since there are three candidates for first selectman, the two runners-ups will be dropped down into the pool for the general board, according to Town Clerk Donna Rajczewski.

"There will be five candidates"� It's a contested election," Rajczewski told the Darien News. The four candidates with the most votes after the first selectman is decided will then be elected to the Board of Selectmen.

Throughout Tuesday's debate, the candidates alluded to working with each other, instead of referring to their peers as the competition. The ability to work together across party lines is something that Bayne pointed out as a key to success in the current board.

"We have demonstrated that much can be accomplished when the selectmen put the interest of the town ahead of party politics," Bayne said during his closing statement. "Consequently, few towns in Connecticut can boast the kind of record of accomplishment in this economic environment that our board has amassed."

While the candidates agreed on more than one front, they shared differing opinions on some of the hot-button issues in town, like affordable housing and flood mitigation.

David Bayne told the more than 150-member audience that his strategy for addressing affordable housing is laid out in the Affordable Housing Plan, which the Board of Selectmen adopted in August of 2008.

"The essential elements of that plan is that the town needs to control this issue," Bayne said. "We need to put affordable housing where it makes sense for the town -- places such as 35 Leroy, which is in the downtown area -- and we need to address 80-30G proactively. I think that if we ignore it, we ignore it at our peril.

"We are a town that is 98 percent developed. There are no good places to put a lot of affordable housing in one area. We don't have a lot of open space for this. "� The bottom line is that to fight 8-30G makes us vulnerable to, as Jerry [Nielsen] said, predatory developers," Bayne said.

Nielsen said he does not think 35 Leroy is the right location for affordable housing, given the fact that it will only provide 21 units on a property that cost the town more than $4 million to purchase.

"The town has other needs," Stevenson said.

"I think that the affordable housing plan really needs to be balanced against all the other needs that we have in town," she said. She cited seniors' needs as one of the many competing interests that should be considered during conversations about funding for affordable housing and 35 Leroy.

The second question addressed lights on the stadium fields, which the candidates agreed was not a matter for the BOS.

Next, they discussed flood mitigation efforts in town.

"There is no easy, there is no cheap, there is no painless fix for flooding," Bayne said.

"My personal opinion and my position as a selectman on Baker Field is that we as a Board of Selectmen have a responsibility to this town to bring solutions forward that can work and be permanent. Whether the town wants to adopt those or not is a decision, not only for the Board of Selectmen, but ultimately for the Board of Finance and the RTM and maybe even for a referendum. These are community decisions," Bayne said.

Stevenson said she does not like the Baker Park flood mitigation plan as it is currently proposed.

"I feel strongly that we are moving a problem from one side of I-95 to the other. And we are alleviating a problem for a few commercial property owners, and creating an environmental and property value disaster for all the neighbors of Baker Woods," she said.

Permanently cutting down 380 trees -- the equivalent of three-and-a-half football fields -- does not seem like the best option, she said.

"It's not very often you hear a Republican trying to save some trees, but we are talking about 380 trees," Nielsen said.

The fourth question to the candidates was when they think the town will be able to give the green light to the $3.5-million Weed Beach renovation project.

Stevenson and Nielsen both spoke about the need for fiscal restraint during a tumultuous economy. Both Republicans said it is important to create a list of priorities with voters' input and evaluate the priorities before coming up with a plan for spending.

Bayne, who is a member of the Weed Beach Building Committee, said he advocates holding major capital projects such as the beach and police station renovations until the spring, and then re-evaluating.

Nielsen then said that Weed Beach should be weighed against the $18-million renovation of the police department and the $5.5-million Baker Park flood mitigation project.

"You can't do it all at once," he said.

Candidates went on to talk about ways to keep taxes down and their unanimous opposition to imposing bans on plastic shopping bags throughout town before describing experiences they think will help them serve on the board and supplying a two-minute closing.

"The issues we've discussed are complicated and difficult to completely address in our time together this evening," Stevenson said. "Dave, and Jerry and I are eager to continue the conversation."

Stevenson then discussed her business skills, and 19 years as a volunteer, which she said she thinks will help her serve the town on the Board of Selectmen.

"Your vote for Dave, and Jerry and me on Nov. 3 is a vote for responsible government -- government based on accountability, respect, resolve and results," she said.

Nielsen used his final two minutes to discuss the recent "front-page news" about his company's tax appeal against the town. He said that there are currently 58 legal actions against the town, regarding the recent re-assessment.

"This is a sign that something is wrong," he said.

"There was a breakdown in government that Dave, Jayme and I will not let happen if we are elected," he said.

Bayne talked about some of the actions the BOS has taken during his two-year term, including drainage studies, the affordable housing plan and incentive parking.

"This Board of Selectmen has not been afraid to tackle some of the most complex and difficult issues faced by Darien," Bayne said.

"There is more to do and the economy remains fragile. Now is simply not the time to have our first selectman `learning on the job,'" he said. "I, therefore, hope that you will join me in supporting Callie Sullivan as our next first selectman and will vote for me for selectman."