First Selectman candidates draw from varying experience

Experience was brought up several times during Tuesday night's first selectmen debate.

Democrat Callie Sullivan talked about her experience as an elected official; Republican David Campbell touted his years of business experience and Petitioner Chris Noe pointed to his contracting experience. Each candidate identified his or her experience as an asset that will help him or her serve the town as first selectman at the League of Women Voters' Candidates' Night event at town hall.

"When you're first selectman, you need to know your friends, you need to know what your constituents want and you need to know how to work through the political system," Sullivan said. "It is a political system. It is not, sadly, a business system. "� Having been an elected official for the last 10 years, I have a depth of experience in dealing with all kinds of politicians."

Campbell said his decades of business experience, including his current position as president and CEO of Darien-based Ring's End Lumber, have provided him the ability to converse with state policy makers and understand the way government works.

"I spend a lot of time talking to my state legislators and state senators, because my business is affected every day by state mandates and regulations. "� I communicate very often with the state politicians, and I enjoy it," Campbell said.

Campbell said the relationships he has created with state legislators will aid him in working with neighboring towns to tackle mutual issues. Sullivan said she will use her knowledge of the political system to achieve that goal.

Noe said he will work with local towns to fight 8-30G.

"8-30G was drafted 20 years ago, and it's not being used exactly as it was intended. It wasn't intended to be used as an assault tool in our neighborhoods. "� As far as 8-30G and affordable housing, we're supposed to have it and we are supposed to be in compliance. That's the key word: compliance. And we can do that with a moratorium. I intend to get a moratorium using every tool possible," Noe said.

He said he hopes to have accessory apartments approved through the Planning & Zoning Commission, which would increase the number of affordable housing units in the town without building new structures. He also said the town should focus on building affordable housing for adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

On the topic of Allen-O'Neill, Noe said he is disappointed in the shape of the proposed buildings, and thinks it is unfair for neighbors.

Sullivan said Allen-O'Neill can bring money to the town through a new tax abatement proposal, which, if passed, will increase the amount of money collected from the Darien Housing Authority, which owns Allen-O'Neill.

"My stance is that we should be exercising our thoughtfulness about the [tax abatement] proposal and we should support the Darien Housing Authority as it moves forward, but we need to also be sensitive to the neighbors, and understand that they may not want every piece of affordable housing in their community in one spot," Sullivan said.

Campbell said he plans to review the pros and cons of the redevelopment before taking a firm stance. While he said the houses look "very tired," he also acknowledged that they would be "very difficult and expensive to fix up."

The three candidates also discussed capital projects, such as a new senior center and the renovation of the police department's headquarters.

"Capital projects is a big issue," Campbell said.

"I think we have to step back, take a look at all the projects, take a look at all the properties we own and look at solutions that work for everyone," he said.

"I'm very concerned about the senior center. It's been let go "� it's been ignored really. So I think we need to address the whole senior situation," Campbell said. He also said it may be time for members of the police department to "change their wish list."

Noe said that, like Campbell, he would not re-design the police station at this time, due to cost, and noted that the senior center is in "disrepair."

"I would like to say that vis-a-vis the new senior center, or the existing senior center, the people in the senior center "� are very pleased with the improvements that have been made," Sullivan said.

"I asked a few of them, `Would you rather have a new senior center, or would you like your taxes to stay as low as possible,' and they all basically said `We are happy with what we have,'" Sullivan said

"While we treasure our seniors and we want them to have the best of everything, when we do have projects like the police station, in the often, those issues are going to be resolved at the level of the financial strategy and review board and on the Board of Selectmen as well," she said.

Sullivan said that if she is elected, she will continue to hold discussions about projects such as the senior center in an open, transparent way.

The candidates also discussed their views of flood mitigation, reiterating the arguments they made in last week's edition of the Darien News.

The discussion turned back to experience in the closing comments.

"I am the only candidate with experience balancing a town budget. "� I am the only candidate with experience crafting affordable housing solutions for Darien. "� I am the only candidate with hands-on experience helping to revitalize downtown Darien. "� I am the only candidate who has worked within Darien's town government, promoting shared services between the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education in the last decade. "� On Nov. 3, vote for me, Callie Sullivan, the only candidate with the governmental experience needed to lead the Town of Darien forward," Sullivan said during her closing remarks.

"My experience as a contractor, you get to do projects. And you have to do it from conception to completion. "� You have to know where "� every board you're going to cut, every nail, every piece. "� The contracting experience I have, I can see that some of the projects, and some of the ways the town handles things, is just an enormous waste of tons and tons of money, and I think I can bring some experience," Noe said.

"As CEO of Ring's End for the past 25 years, I've had the opportunity to grow the business. "� We've been successful because we've made sound financial decisions, invested in our business where it was appropriate and respected our employees and our customers. We need this type of business approach when running the Town of Darien," Campbell said.