Photo: Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media
Supporters attend the Trump Rally at Sacred Heart University Aug. 13 in Fairfield.
Supporters attend the Trump Rally at Sacred Heart University Aug. 13 in Fairfield.
Photo: Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media
FAIRFIELD — With 2016 in the rear-view mirror, for many, it’s time to look back and review what transpired over the past year.
While there were the bright spots, like the reconstruction of Penfield Pavilion finally getting underway, the news was often jarring, even on the local level.
Here is a look at some of the top stories in Fairfield in 2016:
Officer involved in shooting
It was a cold and icy morning Feb. 16, when there was an early morning 911 call about a domestic disturbance on Mountain Laurel Road.
Officer Sean Fenton arrived at the home, only to be confronted in the driveway by Christopher Andrews, 51. Andrews was wielding a knife, and refused orders to drop it, and was shot and killed by Fenton. Andrews, police said, had attacked family members, including his wife and youngest son, with a bat and a knife.
An investigation by State Police and the State Prosecutor’s Office cleared Fenton of any wrong-doing, ruling the shooting was justified.
Fairifeld Police Chief Gary MacNamara said autopsy results failed to help provide clues as to Andrews’ actions that morning.
Fairfield reacts to student using slur
After a video of a Fairfield Ludlowe High School student using a racial slur directed at black students went viral in the school community in October, Ludlowe and Warde high schools hosted discussions about tolerance and race relations.
One student said he spoke at his high school’s assembly to point out the instance was not an isolated occurrence.
Another Ludlowe senior said she was surprised by the number of students she saw complaining and irritated by in-school discussions following the incident.
“Being conscious of our history and morals, that along with self-discipline, that needs to be exercised. Otherwise people just stop caring about everything,” she said. “At the least, the attitude that day was an example of that.”
Superintendent retires in August
Superintendent of Schools David Title announced his retirement in January, with his departure becoming effective at the beginning of August.
Title had been at the helm of the school district for five years, and though leaving the town’s employ, stayed in Fairfield, taking a position at Sacred Heart University. He’d been teaching a course at the college, and would begin working there full-time, continuing to teach education leadership, and helping to create a doctoral level program in educational leadership and superintendent certification.
His shoes were filled by Toni Jones, who came from the Falls Church school district in Virginia. Jones was chosen from an initial pool of 27 applicants.
District names Jones new Superintendent
Toni Jones took over the top leadership role for Fairfield Public Schools Dec. 5. The Board of Education announced her hiring as superintendent in early September, after David Title announced his retirement from the role earlier in the year.
Jones had served as Superintendent of Falls Church City Public Schools in Virginia since 2011. An Oklahoma native, she began her career teaching in Nevada and holds several degrees from American and Australian institutions.
“The best thing about Dr. Jones is her willingness to really get her hands dirty,” a former colleague said. “She’s someone who really has her finger on the pulse.”
The new superintendent’s contract will pay a base annual salary of $232,000 for her first year on the job, along with $6,000 in annuity and $24,000 in deferred payments.
Racial imbalance plan passes
After several heated debates this fall, the Board of Education passed a plan to address the racial imbalance between McKinley Elementary School and other town elementary schools in November.
The state requires that all schools within a district teaching the same grade spans be within a similar range for racial diversity. Each school must be within 25 percentage points of the district average for minority students in the same grade spans.
McKinley has been more than 25 percentage points above Fairfield’s district average for elementary schools for five of the past six school years.
The board’s finalized plan calls for a pre-Kindergarten program and the addition of 18 Open Choice students each year for 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years to equalize racial diversity across the schools.
A magnet program at McKinley and redistricting remain future possibilities in the plan if other methods are not sufficient.
At a town hall meeting in October, some residents raised concerns about the Open Choice portion of the plan, while at later meetings, McKinley parents endorsed the plan, telling stories of how the school’s racial diversity has provided positive experiences for their children.
“We owe it to our children to encourage diversity in every form, to encourage global thinking, to challenge them to look beyond race, ethnicity, religion to get to know their peers,” a McKinley mother said.
Now President-elect Donald Trump confounded the tea leaf readers with a rare general election cameo August in Connecticut, where the real estate mogul became the first Republican since Bob Dole in 1996 to make a foray into the true blue state this late on the political calendar.
It came on the hottest day of the year in the state and just 48 hours before a $33,400-per-plate fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in Greenwich.
There was thunder and lightning — not just from Trump — during his visit to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. A passing storm cell forced thousands of Trump’s supporters to take cover in the school’s steamy basketball arena after the presidential hopeful’s rally.
A mail carrier, a landscaper, a Sturges Highway jogger and a Sycamore Lane resident out for a walk are among the growing number of town residents reporting attacks by hawks in March.
The reports to police prompted animal control officials to call in the Fire Department to help dislodge the birds’ nests.
The attacks, most of them in the Mill Plain Road area, revived memories of similar incidents four years ago, when five people, including students at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, were targeted by dive-bombing hawks. Several people suffered bloody head wounds from the attacks.
The Angus Steakhouse, a Fairfield landmark that anchored Dolan’s Corner at Black Rock Turnpike and Stillson Road for 66 years closed in August.
Day care owner arrested in death
September brought the arrest of Carol Cardillo, a local resident who for 11 years had run an unlicensed day care out of her of Edgewood Road home.
Cardillo was charged in connection with the death of March of a four-month-old, Anthony Seagull, who had been left in her care. According to the police investigation, Cardillo gave the infant an overdose of Benadryl, causing his death.
Benadryl is not to be given to children under the age of two and an autopsy showed extremely high levels of diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl, in the baby’s system.
Andrew Seagull died in March, and, at the time, it was assumed his death was due to sudden infant death syndrome. However, because of his age, state regulations mandated an autopsy.
The month of March meant the Penfield Pavilion reconstruction project was finally under way. The facility had been closed since Superstorm Sandy hit in October of 2012.
The $7.4 million project, which is eligible to receive 75 percent reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was nearing completion at the end of this year, and is expected to be turned over to the town early in 2017, under budget.
After the east wing of lockers was demolished, the remaining west wing was moved off its foundation and into the parking lot. A new foundation was created, and the west wing was moved back into place. A breezeway connecting the west wing and a newly-built locker wing was then created.
Legislative body quickly adopts 2016-17 municipal budget
There was no debate at the Representative Town Meeting’s budget session in May, with the $293.5 million spending plan adopted unanimously and the meeting over in less than a half an hour.
The approval came despite the state’s financial crisis, which guaranteed that the town would lose expected state funding that had been included in the town’s revenue projections.
The GOP argued that adopting the municipal budget, without making cuts while awaiting the state’s decision, “sent a message” to Hartford to restore funding.
Anonymous online TIPS
Fairfield Public Schools recently added an anonymous online incident reporting form, offering students and parents a way to pass along tips about bullying, self-harm or cheating, among category options.
As of June 30, 2016, the TIPS program had received 200 reports for the preceding year, a slight rise from the year before. The largest portion of reports were in the bullying, harassment or intimidation category, totaling 79.
“Kids think all adults see everything, and often bullying happens when adults aren’t watching or listening,” a school official said. TIPS is “giving us a chance to better understand and to address those kinds of things and protect kids before bullying starts to dramatically impact them and their self-esteem and depression and all those things that can come with it.”
Not all tips are viable. Fairfield Ludlowe High School Headmaster Greg Hatzis said as more students have become aware of the program, there have been more false reports.
“It’s still very valuable for the tips that we get that lead us to know some more about things that are going on,” he said. “But there are sometimes some hours spent doing some research or digging in or investigating a certain claim that we find out is not so true.”
in oyster experiment
Just off Fairfield shores, Connecticut’s first oyster shell recycling project has gained momentum this year, an effort spearheaded by the town’s Shellfish Commission.
The commission, with aid from the Conservation Department, has collected thousands of pounds of discarded oyster shells from local restaurants, many of which were dropped into the water to host baby oysters and build up recreational beds off Sasco Beach.
Tessa Getchis, Extension Educator for the government-funded Connecticut Sea Grant, said shell recovery is important to the Long Island Sound’s ecosystem. Fairfield’s project is serving as a pilot program, with the hope of possibly expanding similar recovery projects across the state.
“Fairfield’s testing the waters and we’re kind of sitting, hoping that it’s successful,” she said.
The past year saw the departure of five department heads, a trend First Selectman Mike Tetreau attributed to an aging senior staff.
Putting in their retirement papers in 2016 were Human Resources Director Mary Carroll Mirylees, Twig Holland, purchasing director, Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo, Assessor Don Ross and Cinda Buchter, the tax collector.
General Electric property sale
Although a local developer, Kleban Properties, had been pursuing the purchase of General Electric’s former global headquarters on Easton Turnpike, GE announced in November that it had sold the 60-acre site for $31.5 million to Sacred Heart University.
The sale to the private college means the loss of $1.5 million in tax revenue. Although the town receives money from the state under the Payment In lieu of Taxes program for the nonprofit school’s property tax, it does not cover the full amount the tow would have received.
According to the town’s finance office, Fairfield receives about $2 million in PILOT funds to cover Fairfield University, Sacred Heart University and state-owned property.
Just a year into her four-year term, Republican Selectman Laurie McArdle resigned her seat as of December 1, citing business obligations.
Under the town charter, Democrat First Selectman Mike Tetreau and Republican Selectman Chris Tymniak, voted to appoint Edward Bateson to fulfill the remainder of the term. Bateson was recommended by the Republican Town Committee, and was sworn in at the Dec. 7 Board of Selectmen meeting.
However, as is allowed under state statutes, Democrats collected over 3,000 petition signatures to force a special election, a move that left the GOP crying foul.
GOP Chairman James Millington cited a long-standing gentleman’s agreement on filling elected positions. But the replacement process has not always been smooth. Most recently, then Selectman James Walsh, a Republican, blocked the appointment of Mike Tetreau to interim first selectman in 2011. When he refused to vote for Tetreau’s appointment, the next step in the charter process was followed - all Democrats holding elected positions voted to appoint Tetreau.
Assisted living facilities a new trend
Just a year ago, there were no assisted living facilities in Fairfield. Now, two such facilities have been approved, and one of them is currently under construction.
A third facility, proposed for synagogue property on Stratfield Road, was recently denied by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission. A fourth application, slated for Stillson Road and dedicated solely to memory care, is still under consideration by the TPZ.
Construction has started on the 88 units run by Benchmark, on property behind the Carolton Convalescent Home on Mill Plain Road.
Although it was the first such facility approved, construction for Maplewood of Fairfield — 98 units on Mill Hill Terrace — has yet to begin.