Election 2017: First selectman candidate Rob Richards answers The Darien Times' Q and A
This week, The Darien Times submitted the same questions to all three first selectman candidates. They are presented largely unedited in the candidate's own words.
Give a brief bio of yourself — family, length of time living in Darien, kids, ages, did they attend Darien schools?
When I was 19, I held my first professional job as an automotive designer in Detroit. By the time I turned 20, I was promoted to Senior Designer at Ford Automotive. Upon turning 21, I was accepted at Parsons School of Design in New York. My second year at Parsons, I became an assistant art director for the famed artist Peter Max and received a scholarship of excellence from the Art Directors Club of New York.
Before receiving a BFA in communication design at Parsons School of Design, I was hired by Calvin Klein Advertising and worked on the much-publicized “Marky Mark” campaign.
In 1994, I founded Pin Design Inc., as president and creative director I maintained a Fifth Avenue office for over 20 years.
Ten years ago, my wife, Julie, and I moved from New York to Darien. We now have two children. Taelyn age 11 and our son Rhys, age 7. Our children will be attending Middlesex and Holmes this year. Both are actively involved with the Darien Art Center.
I was a member of the Darien Democratic Town Committee for 6 years and recently had a very successful term as a Selectman.
Why do you want to run (or run again) for first selectman?
During my term as Selectmen I have shown that I can serve our town. I have a unique ability to connect with people, empower our policy makers, and unite our community around common goals. We need leadership that can conceive ideas that solve problems and whom possess a temperament to respectfully engage those who disagree.
My involvement in Darien politics began with the simple goal of making life better for my family, friends, and neighbors. My motivation has always been to do the right thing, be fair and do what is best for the town. Now I can see how important it is for me to serve my community and I’ve gained an understanding that there are many people in Darien that need a voice. They need someone to listen to their concerns and they count on government to provide solutions with action. It has become clear to me that I can be more effective serving as Darien’s First Selectman.
What is the most important thing you can do for Darien as first selectman?
Aside from maintaining a fiscally balanced budget, preserving our quality of life, and insuring town needs are met, I think its time to focus on helping local businesses prosper and continue to find new ways to make Darien attractive to new homebuyers without significant impact to our taxes. One way to accomplish this is to find innovative ways make Darien more family-friendly and a fun place to live.
What are your priorities should you be elected/re-elected?
In regards to governance, I wish to expand our tax base by reducing our property tax dependency by diversifying revenue sources. We also need to work more closely with Boards, Community, and State Legislators towards fiscally responsible solutions.
We need to improve our quality of life by working with local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce to improve economic growth, vitality, and accessibility. By increasing local art and music festivals downtown we can help ensure their success. In the coming months I plan to introduce ways to reduce wait list times for parking permits. And launch infrastructure improvements that include better lighting at the train stations and find new ways to fund construction for a Canopy and enhancing pedestrian safety.
In addition, Darien needs to establish green initiatives that explore green energy options for all Town and Board of Education buildings. As well as implement policies protecting the Sound and improve our environment.
Do you think the state is currently being run well? Why or why not?
One of the biggest contributors to our state fiscal crisis is the Tier 1 benefits package. Most of the details of the current system were set in a 20-year contract struck in 1997 between the unions and Republican Gov. John Rowland. Then in 2008 Republican Gov. Jodi Rell signed away any ability to defer contributions to the teachers’ pension system when it borrowed $2 billion to bolster the teachers’ pension fund back in 2008. Rell left office with a $3.7 billion deficit in the next state budget. Needless to say Democratic Gov. Malloy was handed an unprecedented fiscal crisis but unfortunately his tenure has not resolved the issue. This is a bipartisan problem that requires a bipartisan solution.
Why do you think people choose to live in Darien?
We moved to Darien because of the excellent schools, including the special education programs. It’s extremely safe and family oriented. In addition, Darien’s comparatively low taxes, beautiful coastline and boating access make Darien wonderful. But it’s the people who live here that set Darien apart. But it’s our generous community of volunteers and kind-hearted residents that make Darien the best place to live in the world!
As the town faces important developments downtown and in the Heights coming up, what do you think the role of the first selectman is in that development and what is important to preserve about Darien during those developments?
The First Selectmen acts as an ex officio member of Planning and Zoning. Therefore, must anticipate infrastructure concerns and ensure the Plan of Conservation and Development is followed. If public concerns arise, it’s the job of the First Selectmen to address those concerns directly.
What is something positive you can say about your opponent?
Jayme Stevenson has always been professional and articulate. She has served Darien well for eight years. Chris Noe has always fought for his ideas and stands up for what he believes in. He provides criticism and constructive conflict which are vital to testing the value of ideas.
What is your philosophy when dealing (or may be dealing) with criticism of the job you are doing?
Every decision I make is carefully considered with the Town’s best interest in mind. So whenever I hear criticism, I listen carefully to what was said and then reflect back to see if there’s something I miss or could have done differently. And I always want to do better.
What is something that residents/voters would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m allergic to gluten. So if I say no to your muffin during a fundraiser, don’t take it personally.