Independent Noe prepares to rattle first selectman race
Chris Noe is not your typical first selectman candidate. Preferring a leather jacket, T-shirt and Harley instead of a suit, tie and Cadillac, Noe's image of rebellion reflects his internal creed.
"We have to rethink the way government operates in this town," Noe told the Darien Times in an interview. "There's going to be a lot of changes if I'm elected" as Darien's next first selectman.
An independent candidate who does not own a television, Noe kicked-off his second campaign for the top executive spot by launching a YouTube channel on the Internet that highlights some of his opinions on state and town issues, such as the proposed plastic bag ban, flooding problems, union busting and municipal employee compensation. He also ran in 2009, garnering 58 votes under the slogan, "Vote yes for Noe."
As a member of the Representative Town Meeting for the past four years, Noe said his strengths lie in his governmental experience and the leadership skills he gained from being in construction for 30 years. Now divorced and with two grown children, 51-year-old Noe said he would treat the first selectman position as a full-time job, and only take one week off per year and a few three-day weekends for himself.
Noe's first hand experience as a union teamster when he was 20 inspired his current anti-union position, he said. "That was a low point in my life," he said. "I think labor unions are something that every employee should avoid. I would like to help town employees get out of the union, if they want, and dissolve the union."
After taking a few business courses from Mohegan Community College, Noe started New England Homes construction, and through his company he has dealt with a variety of people. "I can work anybody, I can motivate anyone," he said.
He also took a few college courses while serving two years and eight months in prison for first-degree assault in 1983. "I got involved in a situation where I used a firearm to defend myself," Noe said.
For many, Noe's recollection of time spent behind bars sounds more like a TV show than reality, but he said his incarceration experience gave him an insight into human nature that he never had before.
"Being in a prison environment is like a pressure cooker," he said. "It's like Sigmund Freud's experimental laboratory, you see people just come apart... There's no rehabilitation in prison. Nobody comes out of there better than when they went in."
Noe did gain leadership skills while serving time, working as a carpenter in charge of 14 men — all convicted felons. Together they renovated office buildings and even converted a chicken coop into a school, he said.
Noe went to high school with Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello, whom he said he respects. But Noe is not so keen on the American judicial process. "Cops are criminals," Noe said. "The whole justice system doesn't work well. It's the best we have, but I'm not here to change the cops. I'm not there to change the justice system."
He also said he disagrees with the $14 million police station renovations. "It's really not an asset to the town," he said, comparing it to the new library. "Everybody realizes after Irene how many people were" at the library, he said. "If we had the police station completed, and had another storm like Irene, what would it do for us? Absolutely nothing. With the new space they're going to hire more cops, and there's no reason for it."
Noe said he would also like to trim staff at the health department and at the Board of Education. "We have some real cost savings I think we can get from changing some things around at the Board of Education," he said.
Noe would cap the top town salary at $75,000, which is one-third of the current top salary of $229,500 held by the superintendent of schools. A crucial element to his wage-reduction program is breaking the unions, he said. "The difficulty in breaking the union, is that senior members really can't afford to leave," he said. "Junior members are the only ones you can really get."
He said he would buy back unused sick and personal days at 50¢ on the dollar so employees would have an incentive to cash-in on those days, rather than allow them to accrue and then use them sporadically, which limits productivity. "Some of them might be able to walk away with $40,000 at the end of the year," he said.
However, he knows this goal would be difficult to accomplish. "When you try to challenge the schools, it's a monopoly, it's too powerful, too big to change," Noe said. "Those are three reasons to me why they cannot exist in the fashion they are in now."
He added he would also like to cut out "wasted days" during the school year so children can have a longer summer vacation with their families.
At the core of his platform, however, is confronting the stagnant progress at Town Hall to solve long-standing issues such as flooding and affordable housing, he said. "I put myself through school on Connecticut statute 8-30g," Noe said. "That statute is very complex, and it's evolving as we speak... To learn that statute would be at least a three-credit college course."
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 a certain percentage of affordable housing. The town was granted a moratorium last year, exempting it from the statute, but Noe said the town's application was flawed and prevented the Cottage from earning the affordable housing points it warranted.
"The result was supposed to be we would get at least six points for that project," Noe said. "So, who do you blame? Is it Karl (Kilduff, town administrator), is it town counsel (Wayne Fox)? It's somebody. We should be able to somehow tweak that plan and get the points."
If elected, Noe said he would build a 200-bed facility in Noroton Heights for people aged 18 to 25, which would put Darien's affordable housing stock over the 10% threshold, as each unit would be counted as 2.5 affordable housing units, or points, toward the 10% goal. The project would cost around $20 million, he said, and federal grant money could provide from $3-$5 million.
The building would be similar to a residential co-op, where residents could work at the facility and earn credit toward their rent. The apartments would not have kitchens, but a main cafeteria would provide food. "It's similar to a college dorm," Noe said. The rent would be $100 a week.
He also disagrees with the proposed Allen-O'Neill redevelopment project — which would double the current 53 single-family home units to 107 townhouse-style units — saying it's a "bad plan" for Darien.
On the subject of the senior center, Noe said he would like to renovate the current building under a $3.5 million plan. He said the seniors could be temporarily relocated to New Canaan's Waveny senior center during construction.
Noe's proposed senior center would be partially revenue-generating, through skilled nursing, Medicare and insurance, which would subsidize services. "I think the current program it too narrowly focused and it seems to target residents with too little resources," he said. "For the new senior facility to be a home run, we need to realize we need to expand programs and services."
The current administration's Shuffle plan to move the senior center to town hall and move the Board of Education to 35 Leroy was "studied and dismissed as a bad plan," by himself and the RTM, Noe said, nine months before First Selectman Dave Campbell's announcement of the plan.
"The reason being was that you knew it was going to be expensive," Noe said. "Second, you must, in the equation, value the $4.2 million purchase price of the old library. We paid a premium for that property because of its location and to utilize it for the Board of Education is a total waste of that piece of land."
Instead, Noe said he would convert 35 Leroy into an "institution for higher learning."
"A place for geeks to get together," he said. "Where they can go to meet and facilitate their craft and share amongst each other and bring all of us along. It would be a space where people would develop processes and designs that would be patented."
As a member of the RTM's Public Works Committee, Noe said he's acutely aware of the flooding problems on Heights Road, and he has a plan to fix it. "The next time those buildings flood," Noe said, Building Official "Charles Saverine would condemn all those buildings. Businesses will have to relocate. Assuming they're insured properly, they'll get enough to move."
The only way to prevent the businesses from flooding would be for the town to purchase them for $5.5 million. "Buying the properties out is the better plan," Noe said. "The problem is, if the owners do not want to move, we have difficulty." If that happens, Noe said the town should step in and use its municipal authority to purchase the buildings.
He said the current plan to install a five-foot pipe under the railroad tracks "will do nothing" to stop the flooding, because it will replace a four-foot pipe, a solution that Noe said is "absolutely ridiculous."
When it comes to a dog leash ordinance in town, Noe supports the idea. "We should also have a dog park in Darien," he said.
Noe opposes banning plastic bags. "If you see anybody walking a dog, they are carrying it to pick up poop," he said. "That is its end use."
As first selectman, Noe said he's not looking to copy anyone. "I just want someone to do the job," he said. "I don't want it to have to be me. In a lot of ways, it's the last thing I want to do."
Noe runs against incumbent Republican Selectman Jayme Stevenson and Democrat John Lundeen. Noe said he knows his chances of winning are scant, and that he's likely to move to Florida if his second bid for the top town spot falls short.
"We've got a fabulous community," he said. "We've just got to change some things."
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