The three candidates for the town’s highest leadership position participated in a forum to discuss town issues Monday. The forum is a regular event hosted by the during every First Selectman election season.
Current First Selectman (Democrat); current Vice Chairman (Republican); and Fairfield firefighter (Independent) answered questions posed by the Rotary Club and members of the audience.
Here’s what each candidate had to say regarding the following topics:
- Rob Bellitto: “You have to be someone who is honest, fair, and listens.” Bellitto said he is that someone for Fairfield.
- Hugh Dolan: Dolan believes the town must utilize the “2,000 well-trained employees in this town,” and his ability to manage the town’s resources to “maximize return to taxpayers” – and he said he is the candidate who can do that.
- Michael Tetreau: Tetreau touted his 25 years of experience in project management in the private sector: “the town is a $260 million operation…like any CEO, you need planning and vision.” He added, “it starts with having a serious plan that addresses where we are going, and what numbers we have to hit to get there.”
- Rob Bellitto: “Flatto put the town on the hook…additional income? Haven’t seen it yet…that being said, there is a lot of potential.” He added that the town needs to lure businesses into the space and to market its proximity to mass transit. “We need, in the future, to have project managers manage these projects from beginning to end and all points in between.”
- Hugh Dolan: “All of town government is responsible for this,” Dolan said, regarding the cost overruns. “We should put a hotel there, retail space must be rented.”
- Michael Tetreau: The Metro Center presents an opportunity to “market the whole town – not just the center. This is about Fairfield.” He added that there are smaller costs ahead, but it will in the end bring a lot of revenue – a “golden egg” for the town. “It’s a model for commercial space,” placing commercial interest and transportation together.
Economic Development (framed as each candidate’s vision for the town, five years from now)
- Rob Bellitto: “I see Fortune 500 companies on Commerce Drive.” He wants the town to be a place where people work and live.
- Hugh Dolan: “We don’t need just burger-flipping jobs; we need careers.” He wants to see Fortune 500 and NASDAQ companies investing in the town. “We can become the technological center of the U.S., right here in Fairfield County,” – thanks to the location between Hartford and New York, which can be maximized, he said.
- Michael Tetreau: “While we’re out getting new businesses, we need to keep old businesses.” He said the town can learn from businesses currently in town, learn what they value – that will help lure new businesses in.
Education (framed as each candidate’s vision for the town’s school system, five years from now)
- Rob Bellitto: “I have three children…I want to see a day when there’s no overcrowding in the schools and redistricting is a thing of the past.” He said that he wants to look back and make sure “my children and your children go to high quality schools” – at lower costs to taxpayers.
- Hugh Dolan: His mantra: “Reduce costs and maximize cost savers.” He added, “get money to the teachers, and it will get to reading, writing, and arithmetic that goes to the kids.”
- Michael Tetreau: “We’ve got a high quality education system,” he said, and added that is prepared him to be a competitive student at Princeton University. “We want to be a model for quality and productivity.”
and Prioritizing Capital Planning
- Rob Bellitto: “We’ve had a limited budget since I was elected to the Board of Finance in 2007. We can’t keep asking taxpayers to pay more and more and more.” The capital projects he would address first are those falling under the categories of public safety (i.e. buildings that need renovating) and capacity (such as overcrowded schools). Another issue to address with spending is the collective bargaining process: “The First Selectman is the representative of the taxpayers” during collective bargaining, he said. “That’s been a little forgotten over the past few years.
- Hugh Dolan: “We need to do an operational audit from top to bottom that stakeholders and own and participate in.” When he worked for American Can Company, he helped run audits that resulted in $350 million in savings. He believes audits are necessary “in order to reduce cost of expenses and burden on taxpayers.”
- Michael Tetreau: “It all starts with a plan and a strategy. We suffer from a lack of a five-year plan.” He said officials can’t put together a plan “unless the and the town are working together.” He also said “we need to put together workshops for our citizens…get their input and advice.”
Services for Seniors
- Rob Bellitto: He promoted expansion of the senior tax relief – “give them a straight-up credit…reward them for their longevity in the town.” He said seniors are the “backbone of town” and the town needs to maintain services that cater to seniors.
- Hugh Dolan: “I want to invite seniors to contribute to the cost-saving [strategies]…they know what’s wrong with this town.” His bottom line: “I want to make it affordable…want to deliver services required at a lower cost.”
- Michael Tetreau: Tetreau wants to survey seniors to find ways to improve the senior center, and to find out what seniors who don’t use it want to see there. “We need to go to other towns, find out who’s doing it better” for seniors, he said, and learn from them. He agreed with expanding the senior tax relief program. “The bar is set too low – we can do better.” He added that there must be more affordable senior housing and the town needs to plan for it.
- Rob Bellitto: A proponent of youth recreation, Bellitto said, “kids need to stay active; it’s good for the town, it’s good for them.” He said it keeps their minds sharp, their bodies fit. Playing sports and other physical activities teaches kids responsibility, Bellitto said.
- Hugh Dolan: “I will work with parents, teachers, and kids to deliver the same services at lower costs.”
- Michael Tetreau: “Sports are important,” he said, “but youth activities are more than just sports.” He added that programs that included the arts, cultural topics and non-athletic nutritional activities are important and need to be expanded. Also, having children volunteer “teaches students to be more active in the community.”