'Concerns' are few on Flatto's constituents' day
Published 4:52 pm, Thursday, May 6, 2010
Nine out of 56,000.
That's the number of Fairfield residents -- one of the state's larger towns with total population over 56,000 -- who showed up for the Constituents' Concerns Day that First Selectman Ken Flatto hosted Thursday afternoon in his office.
In other communities when the public is invited to forums where they can voice concerns directly to local officials, the rooms are often packed.
Maybe the low turnout of "concerned" Fairfield constituents was unsurprising since the town was designated one of the nation's top residential communities by a Money magazine/CNN survey a few years ago. Fairfield was ranked the ninth best community in the nation and the No. 1 community in the Northeast for overall quality of life. Factors in that survey ranged from beauty of the community to quality of schools, public safety, financial standing, and the level of vitality and volunteerism.
The residents who met Thursday with Flatto spoke about specific issues they feel may detract from the quality of life in town, such as a blighted house in the Osborn Hill/Fairfield University area; access for the disabled to town open spaces, particularly Lake Mohegan, and concern over a sidewalk planned in the beach area that two people oppose. The meeting was not technically open to the press, but Flatto allowed a Fairfield Citizen reporter to sit in provided details and names were not published.
"It's a chance for the public to really talk about their personal stories," Flatto said of the meeting. "When you get in a group people don't open up to you. We try to keep it friendly, personal, small. Some people aren't comfortable talking in front of groups."
The last Constituents' Concerns Day hosted by Flatto took place several months ago. Attendance typically averages eight to 10 people.
Why don't more people show up, the first selectman was asked.
He believes it's because most people are more comfortable e-mailing their complaints or concerns to him and other town officials.
"We get probably 10 to 20 constituent information requests -- complaints about something in a department to lobbying for an issue the Board of Selectmen is reviewing -- on a weekly basis," Flatto said, adding that he usually provides a personal response within a couple of days.
Typical complaints or questions may include concerns about a tree to a planned school project to road paving schedules. Citizens however, aren't limited to asking Flatto questions on a Constituents Concerns Day. If someone spots him in a public place like a restaurant, he said, "I always give them time."
The constituent events are part of what Flatto said he likes most about the job.
"It's a great opportunity to help citizens individually," he said. "A lot of times when you're a mayor or a first selectman, you're doing it for the big picture, in big groups. But this is more a one-on-one, and we have different people each time."