Campbell marks 100 days
Last Tuesday, Feb. 16, marked First Selectman David Campbell's 100th day in office. The Darien News caught up with him in his Town Hall office this week to discuss how the first three-and-a-half months have treated the first-term Republican, who once likened his first month in office to being "like a kid with a learner's permit."
After 100 days in office, he no longer feels like a timid teen driver, and said he is shifting into the fast lane.
"I think one thing I noticed when I got into office is that things have tended to move slowly. There seemed to be a lot of meetings, a lot of studies, a lost of cost and hand-wringing, and not a lot of action," Campbell said.
"Just a little example: In the Town Hall itself, the stairwells, all the paint was falling off and it was just in terrible shape. The building hasn't been maintained since they moved into it, and the excuse is always, `no money, no money.' Well, there's money for different things, but the priorities have never been to maintain the building. But if you're going to have a facility, you have to take care of it. So we moved some money around to start maintaining these facilities."
"Moving around" and "facilities" have been popular words since Campbell first began his official duties the Monday after Election Day. Less than a month after he took office, he proposed the facility swap, which could potentially move the senior center to the Board of Education offices and the BOE to the former library site.
"The senior center is a dump," Campbell said. "It's a very inefficient building, and it's costing the town a lot of money to keep going, and it's not a good place for anybody to be in, including seniors.
"By doing this -- whatever we do -- we get rid of that whole building; we pick up a building that's in very good shape that we've already paid for, and use that for municipal use," he said. It all comes down to efficiency, he said.
"So I'm looking for efficiencies of public use and public space, and trying to spend our money cleaning up the public space that's been ignored during the last 15 years," he said.
But there's another building in town in need of renovation that hasn't been addressed by his facility shuffle: the police department. Plans to renovate the facility at 2 Hecker Ave. have not fallen off his radar, he said.
"I've asked the Police Department Building Committee to reconvene and start updating prices to today's market," he said. "The prices are lower than they were a couple years ago when they were put on hold. I've asked them to look at the plan, and what we really don't need to be doing, to come up with a new price, and then the selectmen will look at it and see if we should start moving forward.
"There's no question that at some point we need to redo the police department," he said.
"I would feel comfortable if we felt the economy was going to get better, or showed signs of getting better, to get moving on this, because the bonding rates are so low; we just rebonded for debt at 2.4 percent. ... If we wait a couple more years, and rates are up at 5 or 6 percent, I think we miss an opportunity."
This way of thinking doesn't necessarily apply to other renovations around town though, he said.
"Weed Beach is a luxury. Getting people out of the senior center to me is more important than Weed Beach," he said. "That's not to say we can't spend some money on Weed Beach to make some good improvements."
He's still uncertain how much money it will take to fix flooding in Noroton Heights; the answers to that puzzler will come when the studies are concluded, he said. He's certain about one thing though; unlike former Democratic First Selectwoman Evonne Klein, he doesn't want to see the solution at Baker Park.
"I think it's interesting, because my Board of Selectmen [is] three Republicans and two Democrats, and [Klein's] Board of Selectmen [was] three Democrats and two Republicans, and the holdover is her two Democrats, and we're all new. And we were elected by a large majority of people who obviously wanted to see a different approach to the running of the town," he said with a smile, using his hands to illustrate the board's transition in membership and affiliation.
"And we have been very methodical at looking at all of these issues -- maybe some people think too methodical. I think probably some people think we should have just stopped everything, but we haven't stopped anything. We're still looking ahead, and we've been looking at all the options," he said. "We ran as people who wanted to look at the issues that affected everybody in town, and do what people in town wanted us to do, and we've done what we thought was best. We're doing things without a tin ear."
Campbell said one of the most enjoyable parts of his job in the first 100 days has been getting to know people in the town, and listening to their ideas with a fresh ear. And he's learned some lessons along the way, he said.
"I think I've become more patient, and I think it's been good for me. I've learned that I can't rush decisions. I have to get consensus to get things done, which I want to work toward. But I also know that to get things done, you have to push and you have to bring people together to get consensus, which is not a lot different than it was at Rings End. But at least at Rings End, I could encourage a lot more strongly," he said with a laugh.
His 30 years of experience running Rings End Lumber have been an asset to him in this new position, he said. And he has applied some of his business background to his philosophies on running the town.
"I'm all about customer service," he said. "I kid around with people in Town Hall that everybody who walks through the doors is our customer and we have to treat them nicely. It's really important that we treat everybody with respect when they walk through the door. They're paying customers, and I think that message has been getting through well."