Steele picked as new RTM moderator

The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) voted unanimously Monday, May 24, 2010, to elect Jeff Steele, R-2, as moderator of Fairfield's legislative body.
The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) voted unanimously Monday, May 24, 2010, to elect Jeff Steele, R-2, as moderator of Fairfield’s legislative body.Contributed Photo

In its first order of business Monday night, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) elected Jeffrey Steele, R-2, as the new moderator of the town's legislative body. Steele replaces James Walsh, the Republican who joined the Board of Selectmen two weeks ago.

Steele assumed the post after a unanimous vote from the RTM, ending a reshuffling of town-elected Republicans in the wake of former Selectman Ralph Bowley's death in early April. This is Steele's third two-year term on the RTM.

Steele, 41, was the top vote-getter in last November's RTM elections, which he credits with helping fellow members see him as ready for the leadership role.

"I know the issues here; I know how the process unfolds; I know the members of both parties, and I get along with both sides," he said.

While accepting the post, Steele said that it was Bowley's "unfortunate death" and Walsh's subsequent move that opened the spot for him, which he otherwise hadn't envisoned taking.

Following Monday night's three-and-a-half hour meeting, Steele said he intends to quicken the pace of RTM meetings, particularly following the recent budget meetings, which often extended past midnight.

His first night as moderator had 14 items on the agenda, some of which spurred lengthy debate.

"I want to make sure the meetings are more efficient and streamlined," he said afterwards, "yet allow for equal and full debate on issues. I certainly welcome anyone to debate the issues, but I want to avoid the repetition and editorializing that often occurs on this 50-person body. It's a little unwieldy at times, and there has to be good management and control from the moderator."

RTM Minority Leader Cristin McCarthy-Vahey, D-6, called Steele "fair-minded" and a "good listener."

"We started out on the RTM on the same term," she noted. "And working with him since has convinced me that he's very willing to do what's needed to do the [moderator] job well and to do it fairly."

RTM Majority Leader James Millington, R-9, wrote in a prepared statement on Tuesday: "[Steele] is a skilled public speaker who is very well-versed on the issues and parliamentary procedures. In keeping with the tradition of those who served before him, [Steele] will be extremely fair and balanced in his approach. I believe he is a perfect fit for the position and look forward to working with him in his new role."

Monday night's meeting brought two more shifts in the RTM. It welcomed Republican Michael Herley as Walsh's replacement in district one, and it introduced Ed Bateson, R-3, as the new deputy majority leader of the RTM, a position held by Steele since last November.

Steele is an 11-year resident of Fairfield, a member of the RTM's legislation and administration committee and a vice chairman of the Metro-North New Haven Rail Commuter Council. He has a master's degree in international economics and Russian studies from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a bachelor's degree in Russian studies from Lafayette College.

His wife, Brenda, and his three children, Alex, Ben and Julia, were in attendance Monday night for his election as RTM moderator. Alex and Ben are students at Jennings Elementary, while Julia is enrolled at Greenfield Hill Church Nursery School.