ESSEX— Democrat and Republican nominees for first selectman and board of selectmen faced Wednesday in a cordial debate that displayed few differences on most local issues, including unanimous rejection of a municipal blight ordinance and sewers for any section of town.
About 100 residents turned out on a rainy night for the session in the town hall auditorium. Essex Library Director Richard Conroy posed questions that had been submitted in writing in advance, with separate sessions for incumbent Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman and his Republican challenger, Selectman Bruce Glowac, and the two candidates for board of selectmen, incumbent Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby and Republican Phil Beckman. Needleman was elected in 2011 and unopposed for a second tern in 2013. Glowac served as first selectman from 1991-1995, and returned to the board of selectmen in 2013.
All of the candidates rejected the idea of a municipal blight ordinance, which had been discussed, but not pursued, in the fall of 2013. Both Needleman and Glowac rejected the idea of a large sewer system for any part of Essex, while also agreeing the town should be open to what Gloawc described a “new innovations,” such as a small community system that would focus on any possible problem location for on-site septic systems.
The two first selectman nominees rejected the idea of adopting a town charter, which Glowac said would represent “an expansion of government,” and Needleman described as an unnecessary effort and expense. The candidates also agreed on deferring any new effort for a full kindergarten through grade 12 regionalization of Region 4 schools to include the elementary schools in Chester, Deep River and Essex. A K-12 regionalization plan was considered earlier this year, but dropped amid opposition from Chester officials.
Glowac, who currently works as director of facilities for Region 4 schools, predicted a full regionalization, which requires voter approval from all three towns, would eventually occur because of declining student enrollment, but suggested any new proposal “should come from the communities to the schools and not from the schools to the communities.”
One possible difference in perspective emerged as the two selectmen candidates responded to a question about economic development and efforts to grow the grand list of taxable property. Libby said the current administration last year hired a part-time economic development coordinator to assist the town’s appointed economic development commission, but Beckman suggested efforts to attract and retain businesses in Essex “can be improved on.”
Beckman said a review of permit procedures and zoning regulations should be part of any new focus on economic development. A recently retired U.S. Navy officer, Beckman said he could bring a new perspective to the board of seemen.
The top three vote-getters Tuesday will be elected for the 2015-2017 term, with a losing candidate for first selectman also in play as a candidate for board of selectmen depending on the vote totals.