Second debate focuses on Shuffle; third debate today
At the League of Women Voters' candidates night on Tuesday, much of the focus continued to be on the Shuffle, the plan to move the senior center to Town Hall and the Board of Education to 35 Leroy Ave.
Estimated cost for the Shuffle is now at $7 million, but that cost is one of the many points that parties disagree upon about the plan, which has split the Board of Selectmen down party lines. Democratic Selectmen David Bayne, who is seeking re-election, and Callie Sullivan, who is not, remained adamantly opposed throughout the process.
Republican First Selectman Dave Campbell, who conceived of the Shuffle after taking office in 2009 and is seeking re-election as a selectman, along with fellow GOP selectmen Jayme Stevenson, now seeking re-election for the top office, and Jerry Nielsen, are adamant supporters of the plan, saying the senior center has been studied for too long with no action.
The Democratic ticket, including first selectman candidate John Lundeen, along with Bayne and current Planning & Zoning Commissioner Vickie Riccardo, now seeking a selectman spot, argue the cost of the 35 Leroy building should be included in the costs, bringing the Shuffle to over $11 million.
Campbell, Stevenson and Nielsen say no other capital project costs have included the cost of the land and the town has owned the property for years.
At Tuesday's debate for first selectman, Stevenson, Lundeen and Ultra-Conservative Chris Noe initially discussed what their priorities would be if they were elected.
Stevenson said she had already learned so much spending the last two years on the board, and said "you can put as little or as much time as your schedule allows."
She said she has given 150% to the job as she does with all her volunteer work, and said her first priority would be getting to know town employees, as well as getting a further understanding of the delivery of the town's services. "I have come a long way, but I have more to learn," she said
Stevenson also said public health and safety was a foremost priority, as well as being "a careful steward of your tax dollars."
Noe said his priority would be to "stop some of the runaway spending" as well as putting forward an 8-30g project that would get the town 500 points.
State statute 8-30g allows developers to possibly overstep local zoning if the town doesn't have 10% of its housing stock classified as affordable.
Noe said he has already talked with the state's Department of Economic & Community Development about his project, which would be targeted to young adults ages 18 to 25.
Lundeen said his priority would be to look at the cost implications of all capital expenditures "the current board has left us with," and how they would affect town tax increases.
Lundeen referred to the Shuffle "nearly doubling the senior center in size" and the obligations that would go along with that long term.
"We are very serious about assessing what our abilities are going to be," he said.In addressing affordable housing, Noe again talked about his 8-30g project that will alleviate the current legal costs incurred by the statute, will be built in time to achieve a second moratorium from the statute and said the project would be "phenomenal."
The town received a four-year moratorium from 8-30g projects in October 2010, after receiving 136 points for Avalon and Clock Hill Homes.
Lundeen said it is "great that we have a moratorium" but said the town needs to plan for how to get the next one.
He said the town also needs to make sure that affordable housing is not concentrated in one neighborhood or section and should be spread throughout town.
Lundeen also said the town should have a plan for affordable housing and use the inclusionary zoning to work with developers.
Stevenson said the town could have applied for the moratorium since 2004, when Avalon was completed.
"I think we could have saved the town a great deal of angst and taxpayer fees if we had pursued that when we could," she said.
But Stevenson pointed out that the moratorium is only a short-term solution, as the town can only get one more.
The candidates also talked about how they planned to work collaboratively together.
Lundeen said he plans on making sure he is working collaboratively with the entire board.
He added he would start off by making sure all board members are sworn in together, saying he was "shocked" that the newly elected board majority was not sworn in together in 2009.
"It flies in the face of civilized government," he said.
Stevenson had another idea for kicking off a collaborative working relationship.
"We're going bowling. I think bowling is the great equalizer," she said.
But for full disclosure's sake, Stevenson said "I have my own bowling ball."
Stevenson also said she tends to "over-communicate" and said "I'm not worried about us collaborating."
Noe said if he is elected to the board, he see himself as the babysitter of the two parties when they disagree.
"They're not going to get away with it anymore," he said.
The candidates debated on the merits of the Shuffle, with Lundeen continuing to oppose the solution to the dilapidated senior center and Stevenson supporting it.
Sidewalks were also discussed, with Lundeen and Noe supporting more sidewalks including one leading to Talmadge Hill train station. Stevenson said the board has discussed the Talmadge Hill issue and it has gone further under the current administration than the last several years, but the Department of Transportation's involvement, because Hoyt Street is a state road, means no simple solutions.
Other discussions included flooding issues and the town's response to storms.
In her closing statement, Stevenson talked about how some may say she's unapproachable to the point where she's "developed a thick skin against harsh letters to the editor and belittling political cartoons."
"In fact, I haven't," she said.
Stevenson talked about feeling compassion for the many town employees and residents she's gotten to know throughout the last two years.
"I'm not perfect, and I don't know everything, but I care enough to listen with an open mind, learn what I need to learn a and fight for what I think is fair," she said.
In Noe's closing statement, he again talked about baby-sitting the two parties who are promising to work together.
"I would really like the opportunity to straighten out the town's finances," he said.
"Someone's got to get our financial house in order and I don't see it happening on either side," he said.
Lundeen said the town residents know what the issues are.
"I would ask all the voters tonight to think about your sense of priorities, think about which candidates come as close as they can to tracking with your sense of priorities," he said.
Lundeen said quality of life is important, not just for seniors but for all town residents.
He also said other capital needs must be weighed when considering the Shuffle, like sidewalks, and possibly acquiring open space.
"Think about your priorities and make a choice, and we must all agree to move forward and work together," he said.
The final debate among the first selectman candidates is Thursday morning, Oct. 27, at 11:30 a.m., in the library's community room. The round-table discussion will be moderated by Darien editors.