Tetreau aims to shed 'interim' from first selectman title
Updated 6:57 am, Saturday, October 22, 2011
When he took office in June, interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau ran right into a huge mess -- construction costs for the Fairfield Metro train station were way over budget and the town was on the hook for that money because of a modified agreement signed off on by his predecessor, Kenneth Flatto.
Some might see that as a less-than-ideal time to take over the town's top job, but not Tetreau.
"It was an opportunity to demonstrate my leadership skills, my communication skills and to demonstrate this is a very different administration than had been here in the past," the 59-year-old Democrat said in a recent interview.
Tetreau hopes voters approve of the way he handled the Fairfield Metro problems and other town issues over the past six months, and elect him Nov. 8 to a full four-year term.
He faces a challenge for the first selectman's post from Republican Robert Bellitto Jr., vice chairman of the Board of Finance, and Fairfield firefighter Hugh Dolan. Tetreau had served on the finance board with Bellitto before his appointment as first selectman.
In a crash course to familiarize himself with all aspects of town government, Tetreau -- most recently a real estate agent and sales vice president at the Raveis realty firm -- has made sure he has visited every municipal department in Sullivan-Independence Hall, old Town Hall and the Department of Public Works garage.
"I think it's a great strategy for improving communications with everybody who works in the organization," Tetreau said, and it's a strategy he said he's using in his campaign, as well. "You're definitely getting out and knocking on a lot of doors."
Residents, Tetreau said, are town government's customers, and "one of the things I've learned is how valuable it is to talk to our residents and my commitment is to spend time every summer doing just that."
Being the town's chief official has been a boost, although it allows less time to get out and campaign.
"What it has done is basically give the voters a chance to see me in action," he said. "I've had a chance to show them how I manage, how I communicate, how I solve problems and how I deliver results."
Tetreau and his supporters point to his handling of the Fairfield Metro situation as an example of his leadership style. Tetreau made extensive presentations to town boards on the $7.5 million in overruns; unraveled how it happened, and secured from the state an agreement for another $3 million to help pay for those extra expenses. He hired an outside legal firm to review the approval process followed by Flatto and the legality of the amended contracts the former first selectman signed. As a result of the legal review that found the revised pacts had not been properly approved, Tetreau asked for Richard Saxl's resignation as town attorney.
The one-time Roger Ludlowe High School quarterback said he doesn't think that voters will view his administration as a continuation of the Flatto's.
"I think I've clearly demonstrated a new, different and fresh approach with how I handled the train station," he said, "with more communication, more details and more public involvement than ever before."
He also points to town officials' preparations and response to Tropical Storm Irene, and subsequent efforts to improve that response in the future.
"Our approach is vastly different than how we've done things in the past," Tetreau said. "And I think how we've moved quickly to answer questions about the train station and the contract approval process shows you my break from the past, that it's not business as ususal."
During his brief tenure, Tetreau also has had the town launch a Facebook page as another way to keep residents informed.
It is his business experience, not just in real estate but also as vice president at Clark Security Products and later at Medeco High Security Locks, that Tetreau feels will help him build a strong working relationship with the Board of Education and superintendent of schools, as well as identify ways to control taxes while maintaining the town's vital services.
Tetreau said that having a business' employees rely on an executive to provide more growth and productivity -- a position that he has been in -- "is the type of leadership experience that I'm bringing to the table."
He has said his degree in civil engineering from Princeton has been a plus in his business career, teaching him how to break down issues and problems to find solutions.
Another plus, according to Tetreau, is his six years on the Board of Finance, where he said he led the charge to stop deficit budgeting, as well as his tenure on the Representative Town Meeting and the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.
Though he currently owns no property in town and rents his Pleszko Place home -- which has been questioned by critics -- Tetreau previously owned both a condominium and a home in Fairfield. His family has deep roots in the community and his father, Fern Tetreau, was well known as the football coach at Andrew Warde High School for many years. The field at Warde is named in honor of his father.