Debate tests candidates for Fairfield Board of Finance, Board of Ed

The four candidates for Board of Finance faced off at Wednesday's debate.

The four candidates for Board of Finance faced off at Wednesday’s debate.

Rachel Scharf / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — Candidates for the Board of Finance and Board of Education faced off Wednesday night in the second debate of the campaign season.

Audience-generated questions asked candidates about issues including funding building projects and potential redistricting.

The debate, hosted by the League of Women Voters and moderated by veteran member Charlotte Garrell, followed the Oct. 2 PTA debate for Board of Education candidates.

Wednesday night began with the four candidates for the Board of Finance discussing their visions for the town’s fiscal stewardship.

Two incumbents and two newcomers are competing for three seats on the Board of Finance; Mary LeClerc (R) and Elizabeth Zezima (D) are seeking re-election, with Jack Testani (R) and Lori Charlton (D) rounding out both tickets.

The candidates agreed on a number of general town needs, such as responsible budgeting and marketing Fairfield to new business. In response to a question about how to avoid increasing taxes, all the candidates refrained from hypothetically choosing any town service to cut, saying doing so would have to be a strategic, deliberate decision by the Board.

On more specific issues, however, the candidates split along party lines. Republicans LeClerc and Testani both defended the Board’s June vote to approve Mill Hill as a 441-size school rather than the Board of Education’s requested 504, citing the cost of maintaining extra space that they said was not supported by enrollment projections.

Democrats Zezima and Charlton, meanwhile, both said they should have voted for a 504-size, noting the minimal cost difference and the need to plan for long-term town growth.

“I believe that it was a decision that was pennywise and kind of foolish,” Charlton said of the vote.

The candidates’ closing statements, too, differed by parties, with both Republicans bringing up the financial ramifications of the town’s ongoing fill testing process.

“I will continue to oversee the review into how our internal control procedures allowed the issues related to the fill pile to occur,” said LeClerc, who currently chairs the Board of Finance’s Audit Committee.

Neither Democratic candidate, meanwhile, brought up the fill pile in her statement. Instead, both Zezima and Charlton discussed the need for the Board to foster a greater bi-partisan atmosphere of collaboration.

On the Board of Education side, the six candidates for five seats discussed issues facing Fairfield Public Schools.

Incumbents Jennifer Maxon Kennelly (D), Christine Vitale (D), Jessica Gerber (D) and Trisha Pytko (R) are running for re-election, along with newcomers Bonnie Rotelli (R) and Suzanne Cox-Testani (R).

The candidates discussed many of the same issues they had at their Oct. 2 debate, including student mental health, special education and school safety.

The hot-button issue of redistricting came up again, with all the incumbent candidates saying they are hesitant to redistrict but open to reviewing all options presented by the consultants currently enlisted to study the situation.

Rotelli and Testani both expressed more aversion to redistricting and spoke in favor of maintaining neighborhood schools.

“I believe in neighborhood schools, and I believe that if you can walk to a school you should be able to do that,” Rotelli said.

They also addressed the schools’ feeder patterns into middle and high school, with all candidates agreeing that they should strive to maintain the status quo and not break up communities.

The League of Women Voters’ next debate, featuring the candidates for First Selectman and Selectman, will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Fairfield Woods Middle School.