Hines Sight / An open letter to Michael Tetreau
Updated 5:20 pm, Thursday, June 30, 2011
I think I can call you by your first name since we have known each other for years now. Congratulations on being the third person in the last two months to make history in the first selectman's office.
First, there was the sitting first selectman, Ken Flatto, who resigned before his term was up to take a job with Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration. Then, in accordance with the town charter, Selectman Sherri Steeneck took over as acting first selectman. (By the way, she did an admirable job holding down the fort, but I suspect she was glad to relinquish the responsibility.) On June 9, you were "elected" by 17 Fairfield Democrats under the provisions of a state statute to become interim first selectman.
Of course, the road to get to that point was a bit bumpy and a little unpleasant. Since Flatto is a Democrat, and his spot had to be filled by someone from the same party, the Democratic Town Committee endorsed you as the person who should take over for Flatto, and Steeneck affirmed that vehemently. The Republicans -- led by Selectman Jim Walsh -- thought otherwise. Their contention was that since you are an announced candidate for the first selectman job in the November municipal election, you get an advantage over the opposing party. The two selectmen argued at more than one meeting because they couldn't agree. You have the distinction now of being the "incumbent" without ever having been elected.
I can't say I blame the Republicans for feeling this way, as it does seem to be unfair. On the other side, however, I wonder if they would have argued the same way as the Democrats did if they were in power and could have chosen the interim first selectman. To defend their position where you were concerned, the Republicans turned to how they publicly proclaimed that their colleagues Ralph Bowley and Walsh were not interested in running for the top job when they were appointed to fill vacancies on the Board of Selectmen. The interim first selectman, they believed, should be solely a "place holder" until the November election.
All that aside, I, for one, hope you are a bit more than a place holder. The day-to-day workings of the town and problems and issues needing attention don't go on vacation like many Fairfielders do. In the next five months, you easily can fail as quickly as you can succeed. I guess time will tell.
I read with interest the article in the Fairfield Citizen on June 24. You seem to have a pretty good grasp on some of what needs to be handled. You mentioned the third train station as an issue needing your attention. It seemed then like there wasn't much you'd need to do.
But that was before you dropped a bomb this week, announcing you'd discovered the town is facing as much as $6 million in additional costs. The facts still are being gathered and the fallout only beginning as I write this. So good luck with your first enormous headache.
You note the "open contracts with the bargaining units" as an item coming up that will need to be resolved. As you saw during the budget deliberations, quite a few Fairfielders are hoping the town administration will take a serious look at the union contracts as a way to reduce costs and thus their tax burden. But is that too lofty a task for a person who may only be in office for six months? I don't know the answer to that.
Then there's the meeting with one of the bond-rating agencies. With your several-years service on the Board of Finance, your knowledge and expertise certainly will be welcomed. As you know, Fairfield has been given warnings in the past for actions with or levels of reserve funds that could jeopardize the town's Triple A rating and its ability to borrow money. I'd say this might be one of your more important tasks this summer. With the train station debacle, I know you've got a lot on your plate. But since you'll be heading to the east end of town to monitor it anyway, slow down on your way over there to look at something that infuriates me.
I have written about this before, but I am still perplexed by the lack of action. I am talking about the blight on Kings Highway East, specifically the former furniture building, adult video store and "spa" and car dealership. And up the road a piece is the former gas station that I now add to my list. These sites are abominable.
I can't even bring myself to take photographs of the sites anymore. They infuriate me so. At one or more of the properties, the windows are boarded up, the graffiti is spreading and brush is overgrown. For those businesses in the neighborhood that make every effort to maintain their sites, the fact that these others are allowed to remain fallow is a slap in the face.
I contacted the town administration -- Flatto, Town Attorney Richard Saxl and Community and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart -- more than once with my concern. While they did respond to me, I never was satisfied with their answers. I felt I was given mumbo-jumbo-town-official-speak but no real interest in eradicating the blight. I understand that a downturn in the economy and Town Plan and Zoning Commission denial of redevelopment plans play a role in the stagnation of these sites. But they still aren't acceptable excuses for not demanding the sites be cleaned.
Although I first rejected the suggestion of filing a formal blight complaint, I eventually availed myself of the process. This was done some time ago. I have no idea what action was subsequently taken as the minutes from the Condemnation/Blight Board are not up to date on the town's website.
After all those years attending meetings at the Education Center at 501 Kings Highway East, which is across the street from two of the offensive properties, did you ever look around when you drove in and out of the parking lot?
I am hoping you did and that you are as appalled as I at the conditions of these sites.
I still cannot believe my town officials continue to let these properties deteriorate as well as be targets for graffiti artists (and I use that term loosely) and vandals. Our town's image is suffering.
I am hopeful that you will take a drive over to these sites soon and see what I am talking about.
And if you would like, I would be more than happy to meet you there and discuss what the town can -- and should -- do.