Year in Review / A never ending election and a financial roller coaster highlighted Fairfield news in 2017
FAIRFIELD — From a seemingly never-ending election to a roller coaster financial ride, the town saw a lot of news in 2017. Some of it good, some of it bad, and other news that was just sad.
As the world gets ready to look forward to a new year, take a moment to look back on some of the bigger news stories right here in Fairfield, listed in no particular order.
Contested special election
It’s a story that began in December of 2016 and will continue until next January when the issue of the Board of Selectmen special election is expected to be heard by the state Supreme Court.
When Republican Laurie McArdle resigned as of Dec. 1, 2016, one year into a four-year term, fellow Republican Edward Bateson was appointed to fill her seat. However, a group of Democrats, citing state statutes, collected petition signatures to force a special election.
Bateson and Selectman Chris Tymniak, the other GOP member on the three-member Board of Selectmen, refused to schedule a special election, claiming it was not allowed under the town’s charter.
The whole matter ended up in court, and a Superior Court judge ordered the special election be held June 6. It was, and Kevin Kiley, a former selectman who switched his party affiliation to Democrat, easily beat Bateson.
That didn’t end matters, though, and Bateson and Tymniak want the Supreme Court to void the election results and put Bateson back on the board.
Penfield Pavilion reopens
In March, after months of debate, discussion and construction, Penfield Pavilion officially reopened to the public. The pavilion was shuttered in 2012 after damage from Superstorm Sandy made it unusable. The $7.4 million project was funding with a combination of town money, a 75 percent reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and a $1.75 million insurance settlement.
To install a new, and better foundation of pilings, the main part of the building was moved off the foundation and into the parking lot. The east wing of lockers was demolished and later rebuilt and attached to the existing pavilion. The building was also elevated and new stairs and ramps constructed.
But before the pavilion could be rebuilt, a building committee waded through 11 different options and even considered the option of not replacing the structure.
Democrats take back control
When the municipal election results were counted in November, Democrats found they had retaken control of the 40-seat Representative Town Meeting.
Until the election, the GOP held a slim, two-vote majority on the legislative body, but that flipped in a big way to the Democrats’ favor, with a 23-7 majority. The results, which also saw the Democrats pick up seats on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the majority on the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, led former RTM Moderator Pam Iacono to describe her party’s losses as a "Trump Tsunami."
Fire damages historic home
In September, newly-installed Fairfield University President Mark Nemec and his family were looking for a new place to live after the historic home they rented on the Old Post Road was heavily damaged in an early morning fire.
During the fire, Nemec’s 10-year-old son jumped from a second story window to escape the Sept. 2 blaze.
As they were leaving the fire station at 1:30 a.m. firefighters could see a column of smoke from the fire. When they got to the house, there was heavy smoke and fire coming from the back of the house.
Man killed on train tracks
On August, Daniel S. Kurimsky, 33, of Shelton, was killed after he was struck by a MetroNorth train around 12:45 a.m.
Kurimsky was struck by the train not far from Geronimo Tequila Bar, where he worked. He had gone up onto the tracks after he finished his shift.
An eating contest leads to college student’s death
Caitlin Nelson, a Sacred Heart University student, died in April after choking during a pancake-eating contest at the college.
Nelson, 20, was from New Jersey, and her father died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. According to police, she had eaten four or five pancakes before she started to choke. The contest was held during a Greek Life dinner.
A nursing student came to her aid, as did an officer on duty at the college. Nelson was taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center, but later transferred to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, where she died.
Police arrest one of their own
Former Fairfield Detective Stephen Rilling, 40, was arrested May 26, charged with third-degree computer crime, second-degree larceny, second-degree forgery, possession of narcotics, false entry by an officer and tampering with evidence.
A 19-year veteran of the department, Rilling is also the son of Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling. As a detective in the narcotics unit, Rilling led a number of raids. He was placed on administrative leave and later resigned.
The case against Rilling includes the misappropriation of drug evidence, with the alleged thefts occurring from June 2016 to February 2017.
Hired in 1999, Rilling was promoted to detective in 2009. During the promotion ceremony his father, then Norwalk’s chief of police, pinned the badge on his son’s chest.
While a patrol officer, he worked undercover for the Statewide Narcotics Task Force.
Community Theatre on the market
Shuttered for the past five years, fans of the Community Theatre cheered when the building’s owner finally put the iconic landmark on the market.
David Pollack is asking $5.9 million for the theater, located at the corner of the Post and Unquowa roads.
When the movie theater first closed in 2011, local resident Leo Redgate Jr formed a non-profit foundation that ran the cinema using volunteers. But after 10 years, the circa 1920 movie theater needed a lot of work. When he could not get Pollack to agree to a long-term lease, Redgate closed the theater again.
Since then, it has sat empty, despite efforts by town officials to broker a deal between local developers and Pollack.
A petition drive was started earlier this year by a then-member of the Economic Development Commission, and earlier this month, the property officially went on the market