Election 2017: Meet the candidates for the Board of Finance
FAIRFIELD — When voters go the polls in November, they will find two of the Board of Finance candidates are running unopposed, even though there are technically five seats up for election.
Three full, six-year terms are up this year, but two other seats that were vacated need to be filled for their unexpired terms on the finance board, too.
The seats were filled by appointment earlier this year with Democrats Sheila Marmion and Elizabeth Zezima. Under charter rules, they serve from their appointment to the next scheduled municipal election — this November.
Republicans Michael Herley and Edward Bateson were initially nominated to finish out the two unexpired terms, but opted to withdraw, not wanting to possibly deprive their fellow Republicans — two incumbents — a seat on the board.
Chairman Tom Flynn and Chris DeWitt, both Republicans, are seeking re-election to two of the three six-year terms.
The finance board is comprised of nine members, and due to minority representation rules, there can be no more than six members of one political party. There are four seats on the finance board that are not up for re-election this year, and all of them are held by Republicans.
Board of Finance candidates
289 Davis Road
Kaman Corporation, director of business development
Fairfield University, bachelor’s degree; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, MBA
Married, two children
Board of Finance, member
U.S. Air Force/Connecticut Air National Guard veteran
Connecticut Air National Guard Airman of the Year
American Legion Post 143, member
Fairfield Fury 14U girls softball team, coach and treasurer
87 Coral Drive
Married, three children
Board of Finance, chairman
Alvarez & Marsal, senior director
Former corporate chief financial officer and chief operating officer
Syracuse University, Whitman School of Business, Newhouse School of Public Communications
Beardsley Zoo Board of Directors, member
State of Connecticut Green Bank Board of Directors, member
Gaelic-American Club, member, past treasurer
214 Fairfield Woods Road
Married, three children
Trinity College, bachelor’s in political science; Columbia University, master’s in public health; Sacred Heart University, master’s in occupational therapy
Board of Finance, member
Board of Selectmen, former member
Representative Town Meeting, member 2010-15
Senior and Disabled Tax Relief committee, member
Deputy Minority Leader for the Democratic RTM Caucus
Democratic Town Committee, vice chairman
National Charity League, Fairfield Chapter, Board of Directors, member
21 Surrey Lane
Married, two children
Practicing attorney since 1987, specializing in municipal law, employment and labor law; and collective bargaining
Board of Finance, member
Representative Town Meeting, member 2011-13
Fairfield Board of Education, chairman and vice chairman, 2005-11
Fairfield Warde PTA, former member
Fairfield Woods PTA; Fairfield Music Parents’ Association; Warde Gridiron Club, member
School building committees for Burr and McKinley School projects, and Pool Task Force, former member
350 Brookside Drive
Married, four children
160 Fairfield Woods Road
International commodity trading
University of Connecticut Board of Finance, member
Representative Town Meeting, member 2013-17
LifeBridge Board of Directors, member
Strathmoor Association Board of Directors, member
Women and Philanthropy UConn Foundation, founding member
Since the winners of the 2019 and 2021 terms would be seated first, had Bateson and Herley won, it would have meant Flynn and DeWitt would not be able to sit on the board, even if they had won.
“At the end of the day, instead of running against each other, Fairfield Republicans are united and are working to get each other elected,” Herley said.
Herley, who like Bateson is still on the ballot for a seat on the Representative Town Meeting, said while he’s still “quite interested” in serving on the Board of Finance, “Republicans could only win two seats this go-around, and since Tom Flynn and Chris DeWitt have done a good job, I didn’t want to displace them from their six-year seats by winning a four-year seat.”
Marmion and Zezima are on the ballot, now unopposed, seeking election to fill out the terms.
Marmion’s seat expires in 2019, while Zezima’s is up in 2021.
Flynn and DeWitt, on the other hand, do have competition for the full-term spots, as Democrats John Mitola, an incumbent, and newcomer Christopher Skoczen are also vying for the three open seats.
DeWitt, 52, is the director of business development for the Kaman Corp. On the finance board since 2007, DeWitt said the board has been urging the first selectman to create and implement a strategic plan.
“Strategic plans can help the leadership of the town execute alternate strategies in times of crises,” he said. “The budget challenges we face in Fairfield are a crisis, and one that comes from Hartford.”
Those budget problems won’t be around for just this year, DeWitt said, and are not going away, which means long-term structural changes are needed in this town. He said a recently formed Board of Education ad hoc committee, on which he serves, has not had time to offer any changes.
DeWitt is critical of a town Strategic Planning Committee, because of a lack of representation from the Board of Finance, and said while First Selectman Mike Tetreau has used strategies to fill 2018 budget gaps, including a hiring freeze “and random operational savings which directly affect services” for taxpayers, those moves fail to address long-term funding cuts on the state level.
“Furthermore, predicted 2018 budget gaps are currently being filled by prior year budget savings and delays in procuring noncritical items such as capital equipment,” DeWitt said. “These delays of noncritical items just ‘kick the can’ down the road until next year. This equals short-term benefits and long-term issues, exactly how Hartford got into their current mess and why they are pushing the burden to Fairfield.”
Marmion, a 55-year-old occupational therapist, thinks Tetreau, a Democrat, has been moving the town in the right direction. Before being appointed to fill a vacancy on the finance board, Marmion served on the Board of Selectmen and on the Representative Town Meeting.
“The Tetreau administration has taken a proactive role to both prepare for and protect Fairfield from the state budget crisis,” Marmion said. “In addition to budgeting conservatively last year in anticipation of potential cuts, the administration managed the town’s expenses to generate a surplus, put a hold on capital projects and initiated a hiring freeze.”
Rather than seeing it as “kicking the can down the road,” Marmion said, “these actions, in combination with working across town departments to share resources and maximize energy savings through green initiatives, demonstrate foresight and innovation in the face of uncertainty.”
Flynn, who serves as chairman of the finance board, agrees Tetreau has been proactive in preparing for state funding cuts, but argues the town is not looking at the long-term challenges. Most of the savings, he said, are one-time in nature and include moving unspent funds from the prior year to fill budget gaps, the anticipation of a tax sale to bring in revenue, and delaying purchases that will need to be addressed in later years.
While he said he’s not criticizing those decisions, given the uncertainty of the state budget, Flynn said the finance board is pushing the administration and the Board of Education “to plan more proactively for structural changes that can be made to operations that can reduce spending on a go-forward basis, that are not one-time in nature, as the state budget challenges are not going away.”
“The state is in this mess, largely, because they did not plan for the long-term, and we cannot make the same mistakes,” said Flynn, a 49-year-old CPA and senior director at Alvarez & Marsal.
Count Mitola as one who believes the town is making the right fiscal moves.
An attorney who previously served on the RTM and the Board of Education, Mitola said, “I believe we have taken measures in anticipation of the current state budget situation.” Taking note of the hiring freeze implemented by Tetreau, along with a freeze on capital purchases, Mitola said department heads have “closely scrutinized their budgets in anticipation of a tough budget year and the state’s budget issues.”
“Because of these steps,” Mitola said, “we finished last year with a surplus to help us out this fiscal year.”
Moving forward, the 56-year-old said, the board has asked both the town and school board to look at specific, new, innovative and effective ways to save money and maintain services.
Zezima, 61, who works in international commodity trading and joined the finance board earlier this year from the RTM, believes Tetreau and his administration have provided “outstanding leadership and excellent fiscal stewardship of our town.”
It’s been accomplished, Zezima said, partly by fully funding OPEB (other post-employment benefits) obligations and building up reserves to recover and maintain the town’s AAA bond rating.
“Tax increases have been going down, while still fully funding our schools and town services,” she said. “They have decreased town pension, medical and worker compensation costs, and expanded senior tax relief.”
Skoczen, an attorney, is a newcomer to town politics and said he thinks the Republican majority on the RTM made a mistake when they cut the contingency account in May.
“I believe that all Fairfield residents want to maintain the quality of life we enjoy in our town,” Skoczen, 52, said. “In the interest of scoring short-term political points, they have been gambling with the contingency fund to the detriment of our town.”
Given the difficulties at the state level getting a budget passed, “we need to be extra vigilant in maintaining fiscal discipline, while staying focused on our main assets: good schools and quality services,” he said. “The administration of First Selectman Mike Tetreau has done an outstanding job of balancing fiscal discipline with maintaining the quality of life, especially given this challenging environment.”
Residents will be able to ask questions of the candidates at the League of Women Voters forum on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Board of Education offices, 501 Kings Highway E. Candidates from the boards of finance and education are expected to participate.
Absentee ballots for the Nov. 7 election are available in the town clerk’s office in Old Town Hall.
A registered voter may be qualified to use an absentee ballot for any of the following reasons: The voter will be out of town during all the hours of voting; their illness or disability prevents them from voting in person; or religious tenets prohibit secular activity on the day of an election.
To vote by absentee ballot, a resident must first sign and file an application with the town clerk before a ballot can be issued.
Applications are available at the town clerk’s office Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or by calling 203-256-3090. Applications can also be downloaded at sots.ct.gov and sent to the town clerk at 611 Old Post Road, Fairfield CT 06824.
The town clerk’s office will be open Nov. 4, from 9 a.m. to noon, for absentee balloting.