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Weston Candidate Q&A: Dan Gilbert

WESTON, Conn. – The Daily Weston sent a questionnaire to candidates in the Nov. 8 election to help voters as they make their choices. The following answers were provided by Dan Gilbert, Republican candidate for Weston's first selectman.

1. Why should people vote for you?

As first selectman, we’ll have true bipartisanship in town government. We’ll have a Board of Selectmen that respects every person we engage, especially at board meetings. I have no hidden agenda and no desire for higher office. I love our town and feel privileged to live here. I want Weston to realize the vision most of us have for our town: a great school system, ethical and effective town government, well controlled property tax increases, protection of open space and support for our neighbors in need and for our seniors. I’ll always tell the truth and never fudge the numbers. For me, it’s about community service.

I’ll have three primary goals as first selectman. First, control property tax increases. Second, promote quality education for every child in our schools. Third, assure the effective delivery of town services.

Controlling property taxes over the long-term starts with a financial plan. As we move through our first budget cycle, I’ll ask each department head to look at their department’s needs over two- and five-year time frames. Our budget process will be based on a zero base.

After we complete our first budget cycle, we’ll create a team that includes public members to develop two- and five-year financial plans for our town. It’s important to note that the current Board of Selectmen chose not to develop financial plans.

As first selectman, I do not have purview over the actions of the Board of Education. That having been said, I will be a solid partner with the board and Superintendent Palmer. My family moved to Weston over 25 years ago because of its great school system. My two children graduated from Weston schools. I’m committed to a quality education for each and every child who enters the Weston school system. I’ll work with the Board of Education to find an effective balance between quality education and budget control.

The effective delivery of town services will be a high priority for me. I have a great working relationship with Tom Landry, our town administrator, and each of our department heads. I have great respect for each of them. I’ll work with them to assure the services we provide meet your expectations.

I have the experience necessary to lead. I’ve been a selectman for two years and was on our town’s Planning and Zoning Commission for six years. I was a U.S. Army first lieutenant, artillery firing battery commander, who commanded 150 men. Also, I spent over 25 years working on the corporate staffs of GE and RCA.

I have a solid educational background: BS (accounting), MBA (management), MA (organizational psychology), Ph.D. (educational psychology). My three graduate degrees were earned over 25 years at night. I know how to work hard and balance priorities.

Finally, I believe the first selectman’s role is about community service. I’ve been serving Weston ever since I retired from GE in 2003:

  • Kiwanis – Split wood for Weston’s WarmUp Fund and collect food for Weston’s food pantry
  • St. Francis – AmeriCares home front projects in Weston and Bridgeport, eucharistic minister, emergency shelter volunteer – at Merritt Avenue in South Norwalk; I’m also on the St. Francis team that prepares and serves food on the second Wednesday of each month to Weston seniors at Norfield Church.
  • Westport Weston Health District medical reserve corps volunteer

2. What are the biggest issues facing Weston?

It’s clear that high taxes are the most significant issue facing our town. Ever-increasing taxes push people out of Weston. They decrease the chance of us continuing to be a three-generational community. They threaten the quality of our schools.

Most people talk about the need for us to control property tax increases. It’s a high priority for me. We need to find the right balance between controlling property taxes and properly funding our schools to provide a great educational opportunity for each of our children. More and more people are talking about the recent income tax and inheritance tax increases from our state government, making it more difficult for people to not only stay in town, but to remain in Connecticut.

The other issue is the need for bipartisanship and basic respect for each other. We’re a small town where it’s important that each of us knows that town government wants and needs our input. I welcome and encourage constructive criticism. None of us always knows the best way to address a challenge. But if we work together and listen to each other we will find the best way.

3. Is Weston going in the right direction — If you are an incumbent, what were your biggest achievements? If you are a challenger, what has your opponent done wrong while in office?

For me it’s not so much whether we’re headed in the right direction or what my opponent has done wrong. It’s about what’s right for Weston’s future. There are a number of challenges we must address effectively if we’re going to be a town with a great school system, ethical and effective town government, that controls its property taxes, protects its open space and supports its seniors and neighbors living in town who are in need.

There are several issues I’d like to address: the need for the Board of Selectman to develop financial plans for our town, the term of our first selectman and regionalization.

With residents telling us that high taxes are the most significant issue facing our town, the need for the Board of Selectmen to develop a financial plan for Weston has never been greater. To date, we have not developed a plan.

I’ll work with the other members of the Board of Selectmen to create a nine-person team. The team will be made-up of the selectmen, members of the boards of education and finance, town employees and members of the public. The team will develop a plan with two- and at least five-year financial projections.

We’ll share that plan with the public. The plan will give the Board of Selectmen and the town a good sense regarding future property tax increases, the need to bond capital projects, our future debt service, and expectations for future revenue sharing from the state.

The term of our first selectman has become an issue for the Charter Revision Commission. My position is clear. The first selectman’s position must remain a two-year position. A four-year term provides the first selectman with the opportunity to be less responsive to the community’s needs.

With a two-year position, the first selectman is forced to pay attention and respond effectively to the community’s needs. An unresponsive first selectman will not serve a second term. Also, a four-year term insulates a poor performing first selectman from the voters for too long.

Imagine electing a person only to find the person is inept at leading and governing? We’d have to live with that individual for three to four years. Also, a four-year term provides the opportunity to build a strong political base. I don’t want that opportunity. Neither you nor I want a life-long politician to be our first selectman. We want a volunteer who loves our town.

Regionalization is an issue that will have a major impact on Weston’s future. Our town government is currently engaged in a discussion that has major implications for Weston’s future. The first selectman supports transitioning our regional planning agency to a council of governments. Our Planning & Zoning Commission believes we should not and I agree.

Both the planning agency and the council of governments are comprised of eight municipalities (Weston, Westport, Wilton, Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Stamford and Greenwich). Currently, the first selectmen and mayors of the eight towns can address any regional issue. To move an issue forward, they must agree on the approach. Winning means finding common ground.

Under a council of governments, the majority rules. Winning means finding five of eight votes. Also, while no town is forced to follow the majority’s vote, the council can lobby Hartford and its position may be detrimental to some municipalities. In addition, the towns don’t control council membership. Municipalities outside the council can petition the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management for membership.

Finally, our state’s Plan of Conservation and Development promotes reducing the number of planning organizations and giving councils of governments taxing authority. Imagine a level of government sitting between Weston and our state government where Weston is one voice among 15-17 voices, where winning means a majority vote, and where that majority has taxing authority.

I’ve heard people say that if it doesn’t work out Weston can leave the council. That position just isn’t tenable. No town can leave the agency responsible for regional planning. We’d have no voice.

Simply put, in forming a council of governments the area’s chief elected officials would be forming a regional planning agency they can’t define, can’t control and can’t leave.

4. What is one change you would like made to the town’s charter? What’s one thing you do not want changed?

The town charter should provide property owners attending the ATBM with the opportunity at the meeting to vote using a machine ballot on items verbally passed at the meeting.

The use of a machine ballot to provide property owners who did not attend the ATBM with the opportunity to vote on items verbally passed at the meeting is a right that should be codified in the town charter. Also, the opportunity to file an absentee ballot on the budget items verbally passed at the ATBM should be codified in the charter.

I’ve always felt that government has the responsibility to make exercising the right to vote as easy as possible for qualified voters. Although at times government incurs expenses in facilitating the voting process, those expenses are a small price to pay given that each and every vote is precious.

5. What’s your plan for the future of the Lachat property?

I don’t have a plan, but I do have a vision. We’re quite fortunate as a town. Carol Baldwin stepped forward and gave us a vision that I support. I fully support creating a Lachat property that’s alive and honors Leon and our agreement with him.

Carol is in the process of creating a fund that would be used to refurbish the house. The house is basically sound. Bob Hatch, an expert on the maintenance and restoration of old homes, told us that no work is absolutely necessary at this time.

My goal as first selectman would be to give Carol more time to raise the funds needed to restore the house and develop an operating plan that assures the house and property are used to benefit Weston residents. I would hope that by next spring the needed funds would be raised and the operating plan well defined.

6. How will the town prepare for another natural disaster? What was done well during Tropical Storm Irene? What could have been done differently?

Town employees and volunteers worked hard to assure the safety and security of every Weston resident. The town and school system worked well together to provide a comfort station and access to the internet.

Natural disasters always provide learning experiences. We should conduct a full and public assessment of town government’s response to the storm. It’s clear that CL&P was ill-prepared. It’s also clear the town needs better contact with Ken Bowes. Ken’s the CL&P executive responsible for energy delivery services. We need to assure our voice is heard and responded to in a much more timely manner.

You can read The Daily Weston's questionnaries with other candidates and our other election stories here . A questionnaire with First Selectman Gail Weinstein will appear Tuesday.

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