Election 2011: Stevenson says she's ready to lead
When Selectman Jayme Stevenson took office in Nov. 2009, she said she gave it the same commitment she gives anything she puts her mind to.
“I took it, as I take any job, knowing full well I would commit 150%,” Stevenson said.
Now as the Republican nominee for first selectman, Stevenson said being “very hands on, and not afraid to ask the questions,” will make her a great leader for Darien. That includes visiting the Department of Public Works to learn about the town’s waste disposal with regard to the proposed plastic bag ban, or Parks & Rec, to talk about the senior center, or learning more about the town’s sewer facilities.
“There’s nothing I’m not interested in,” she said.
Stevenson said she’s been doing this since she took the job — even before she considered a run for first selectman.
“It’s incumbent on me to understand the workings of my town, so when I’m faced with a policy decision on Monday night, I know what I’m talking about,” she said.
The Pennsylvania native attended Albright College, where she studied psychology and biology, and graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in telecommunication and business management.
Stevenson and her husband John, who was raised in Darien, have been married for 24 years. They lived in Brooklyn Heights initially but moved back to Darien in 1991.
Stevenson worked as an assistant to the president of Manhattan Cable Television Corp. and at Standard & Poor’s Corporation as a vice president in asset-backed finance until 1991, when her first child, Alexandra, was born.
Stevenson and her husband, a managing director for Silvercrest Asset Management, have five children: Alexandra, 21, DHS Class of ‘08, currently a senior at University of Vermont; Samantha, “Sam,” 20, DHS Class of ‘09, currently a junior at the University of Richmond, starter for their women’s lacrosse team; Charlett, 17, senior at DHS, recruited to play lacrosse at University of Richmond; Mckenna, 15, sophomore at DHS; and John, 12, in seventh grade at Middlesex Middle School.
Before running for the Board of Selectmen in 2009, Stevenson served as president of the Darien Nature Center’s Board of Directors from 2006-08, as co-chairman of the Darien High School Parents’ Association from 2006-08, and as the co-chairman of the Royle School Parents’ Association from 2004-06.
She has served on the Darien High School Guidance Advisory Council since 2006, served on the Community Fund Allocations Committee in 2009, as co-president of The Depot teen center since 2009, and on the Thriving Youth/Connected Community Communications Committee since 2010.
While on the Board of Selectmen, Stevenson has served as the chairman of the Facilities Study Task Force, and as board liaison to the Commission on Aging, the Human Services Planning Council and the Thriving Youth Task Force.
Stevenson is running with current First Selectman Dave Campbell, who is running as a selectman candidate this election, and Jerry Nielsen, both her running mates in 2009. Both Campbell and Nielsen own two of the largest family businesses in town, Ring’s End and Nielsen’s Florist.
Earlier this year, Campbell announced he was opting to run for selectman in November to give him more time to dedicate to his business.
In addressing the issues facing the town, Stevenson said the current administration has “done an excellent job addressing affordable housing.”
The town applied for and successfully achieved a four-year moratorium from state statute 8-30g, using points earned by Avalon and Clock Hill Homes.
State statute 8-30g allows developers to overstep local zoning laws in towns such as Darien that do not have 10% of its housing classified as affordable. A developer may get around zoning laws if a proposal includes affordable housing.
The town is eligible to apply for another four-year moratorium in 2014.
“We believe affordable housing that gets built in Darien should be with Darien residents in mind,” she said.
Stevenson said she is “not in favor of chasing a moratorium,” or building affordable housing just to earn a second moratorium, because it is only a temporary solution.
“I like to think more long-term, what is in the best interest of the town of Darien in perpetuity,” she said.
Stevenson said projects such as the Allen O’Neill redevelopment, which the current board supported, and Garden Homes make sense for the town, as well as local developers making use of inclusionary zoning.
But she added she was “very proud we were able to make an application for the first moratorium.”
“I’d like to remind people Avalon was completed in 2004, and upon completion, we could have and should have applied for it,” she said.
Stevenson said Dahac, the Darien Affordable Housing Advisory Commission, formed under former First Selectman Evonne Klein, “made that recommendation, and it was ignored.”
Stevenson also talked about the “facilities move,” commonly referred to as the Shuffle, which would move the senior center programs to Town Hall, into the current space occupied by the Board of Education, and the Board of Education into the former library space at 35 Leroy Ave.
Initial estimates were approximately $4.5 million. Recently, architects came in at $7 million, which Campbell said included “nice-to-haves,” not just needs, and that cost would come down.
The Democrats have been calling it a $12 million project, including the purchase price of approximately $4 million in the total.
Democratic first selectman candidate John Lundeen recently attacked the plan, echoing his running mate, current Selectman David Bayne’s, and fellow Democratic Selectman Callie Sullivan’s criticism of the cost and lack of information.
“We are full speed ahead, and I am as passionate today as I ever was,” Stevenson said of the plan.
Stevenson added the architect’s presentation reinforced to her that it was “a home run of an idea.”
She said there have been 30 studies on what to do about the senior center, and she, Campbell and Nielsen have looked at “the big picture.”
“We are looking at long-efficient solutions to a variety of problems,” she said, including the need for the senior program to find a new home, and the “white elephant” of 35 Leroy, a “well maintained building we purchased without an appropriate use.”
As far as accusations by Lundeen that the current administration was spending too much money, Stevenson said projects such as Weed Beach and the police station renovation were approved by former administrations.
“We take full responsibility for this facilities project and to justify every dollar we spend, we are looking to make sure this project is what we need to have, and avoid the nice to haves,” she said.
Stevenson described the move as “innovative thinking,” and said “it takes some open-mindedness to embrace it.”
“I will not allow another study to go back on the shelf. It is time for action,” she said.
Stevenson said in her opinion, the town owes it to the seniors, and “the time is now.”
As far as town flooding, Stevenson said that any time someone’s personal property is damaged by flooding it is a crisis for them.
“We have been vigilant in making sure are drainage systems are cleaned in a very aggressive schedule that’s made an important difference in Noroton Heights,” she said.
Stevenson, Campbell and Nielsen all objected to the former flood mitigation plan to level 300 trees in Baker Woods and build a retention pond, which she said was “very expensive” and also would mean the loss of one of the town’s scarce parks.
She praised watershed studies done by the Klein administration and said the current one has moved forward with solutions brought forward by the Flood Mitigation Strategy Committee, including the approval of Flood & Erosion Control Board. That board awaits Representative Town Meeting approval.
“I feel as though we have, at this juncture, done what we can,” she said, which includes encouraging Noroton Heights businesses to open a dialogue with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In terms of open communication, Stevenson said she “will continue to be as hopeful as I was when I took the job in 2009 that reasonably employ common sense to their decision making.”
“I think the only reason we end up in positions of bickering is that certain members of the board have strong partisan opinions of certain projects. That is a past practice that can’t continue,” she said.
Stevenson said if elected to the top job, she will probably err on the side of sharing too much, and will be open with “any and all information.”
Stevenson said should she get elected, she will ask all selectmen to be available on Monday nights from 6:30 on in case of the need for scheduled executive sessions.
“It’s important for you to make yourself available. You shouldn’t run for the board if you aren’t willing to commit that small amount of time to the town,” she said.
As to why she’d make a good leader, Stevenson said she’s been honing those skills over the last 15 years, working with PTOs and as president of the Nature Center and of the Depot.
“I had to build a consensus, had to collaborate, and work with sharing the ideas of people who are volunteers. I feel as though I am very well practiced,” she said.
In talking about her running mates, Stevenson said “We are a team in all respects.”
Stevenson said she’s been particularly gratified to spend time getting to know town employees and “feel I have been a good right hand to our first selectman.”
Stevenson added that the selectman’s job has a certain flexibility that allows one to make it what they want.
“I made the commitment more than two years ago that this would become my full-time passion, and I have acted on that ever since. That’s been my choice, and I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.
“As a result of that choice, I have gained tremendously valuable experience that sets the stage well for me to become Darien’s first selectman,” she said.
More info: weareunited2011.com