Meet your neighbor.. Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron at the helm in the Darien TV79 studio.
Jim Cameron at the helm in the Darien TV79 studio.Justin Papp / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — Jim Cameron is a fixture in Town Hall. He’s a member of the Representative Town Meeting, chair of the Parking Advisory Committee, program director at Darien TV79, and a founder of the Commuter Action Group.

Before settling in Darien, Cameron was a Peabody Award-winning journalist at NBC and president of Cameron Communications, where he offers media training to executives.

He took time out of his busy schedule to talk to the Darien News about Metro-North, commuter parking and his commitment to democracy.

How did you get into journalism?

I went to Lehigh University and thought I was going to be a civil engineer because I was always fascinated with trains. I thought, I’ll go to school and I’ll learn how to design the trains of the future. Freshman year I encountered chemistry and calculus and ran screaming to the arts college. When I graduated in 1972, I started working on air as a disc jockey. And around 1975 I realized there was no particular future in that. So I got into doing radio news. First in Hartford, then in Boston. In 1979 I got hired by NBC to help them start a new young adult radio network called “The Source.”

What prompted the career change from journalism to founding your own communications training business?

I hated working at NBC because it became clear to me that they were not really about the news product. They were more interested in working with stations as affiliates to carry advertising. There was no effort to carry the newscast that we produced every hour. So that’s how I transitioned into doing the media training work. Because I realized that over the years I had interviewed a lot of people and some of them were better guests than others. I decided there might be a business in actually teaching people how to do interviews.

You’ve referred to the Metro-North as “our aging, complaint-prone railroad.” Other than old age, what are some of the problems facing the railroad?

We didn’t realize three years ago how dangerous the operation of the railroad was. We had always asked at the Commuter Council, how do you grade the railroad? What do you look at to say, are you doing a good job? The only criteria that we had at the time was on-time performance. Quite justifiably they were proud of the fact that the trains ran on time 97 percent of the time. But we didn’t realize how dangerously they had been running the railroad to achieve that on-time performance until the derailment in Bridgeport, until the federal government came in and started looking at it and said, ‘this is a disaster waiting to happen.’ A lot has happened in the intervening two years. I think service is definitely improving.

What can commuters expect from the Metro-North in the near future?

I think part of my job is to explain to commuters why the trains are running slower, why on-time performance may drop. They’re doing it to be safe. Trains are delayed because they identify a piece of dangerous track, they need to take it out of service and repair it. That will improve when they finish fixing the infrastructure. The speeds will come back, the train service will improve.

Aside from the Metro-North, what do you view as the town’s major transportation issues?

I think the biggest single challenge we’ve had is there’s not enough parking at the train stations. In Darien, until recently, we had an eight-year wait to get an annual parking permit. The towns don’t own the stations or the parking lots, they’re owned by the state. The towns regulate the rates and the hours and issue the permits for the parking at the stations, but they don’t control the capacity. I’ve long maintained that if we want to get cars off I-95 and get people to take the train, we have to give them a way to get to the train in the first place.

Considering the size of the wait list and the relatively low cost of annual parking in Darien, is there any thought to raise the cost for a permit?

There definitely is. That’s a discussion that the parking authority will have probably toward the end of the year. Around October, November I think they’ll start facing those decisions. You don’t want to raise them too much, but you may want to raise them enough to squeeze out the people that have passes and aren’t using them.

You helped to establish Darien TV79 in 2006. Why do you feel it’s so important that full coverage of government activity be made available?

I believe passionately in open, transparent government. I was not born in this country, I was born in Canada. I came to the States as a teenager, naturalized, became an American citizen and I really love this country. I love the democracy that we get to enjoy. But, it has to be as participatory as possible. If you can allow people to see town government in action, I think that they will then become more engaged as citizens in how the town operates. And while the newspapers do a good job of covering town meetings, there’s nothing like actually watching them. Whether it’s Congress or the Legislature or the Board of Selectmen, these are elected bodies that are making decisions that affect our lives, our schools, our taxes.;