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Tuesday, October 15 News

Woog’s World: Vote as if your Westport life depends on it

The signs are all out there. I mean that literally.

Political signs swamp our traffic islands. They’re stuck in our lawns. They’re everywhere already, and they’ll multiply exponentially by Election Day.

I don’t know anyone who makes decisions based on yard signs. If you mark your ballot that way, you probably also think that the robo-caller who has been “trying to reach you” with a deal on your pre-approved credit card actually knows who you are.

It is important that we know who and what every candidate stands for, and figure out who we’re voting for based on our own interests and values. We have over a year to decide on a president, but there’s just a month left before our local election.

National and statewide races are important. But so are elections for Westport-only offices. This year’s offices might seem minor. We’re voting only for boards, commissions and RTM members — not even first selectman. But the decisions those organizations make have a vital, immediate effect on life in Westport. The decisions they make flow directly from the decisions we make, as voters. Elections matter.

The Board of Education is one of those town bodies with an outsized influence on local life. Nearly every family with children that moves here does so in large part because of our schools. And whether you have kids or not, every Westport resident pays for those schools.

The next Board of Ed faces a host of issues. Many are related to Coleytown Middle School, from how to manage the renovation to how to reintegrate it into the district. Redistricting/rebalancing elicits intense passions and emotions. Each decision affects every other school too, even Stepping Stones preschool.

The Board of Education sets the annual budget (it’s separate from the town one). The board will also choose a new superintendent (unless they convince Dr. David Abbey — who has brought stability and common sense, following the district’s chaotic three years — to stay on permanently).

The Board of Ed is one of the two most visible bodies in town. The other is the Planning and Zoning Commission. Their visibility is literal: Every new home, condo or apartment building, retail or office complex in town is a result of their decisions. So is every lot where one of those is not built.

The P&Z rules on the heights of buildings, they determine whether a marijuana dispensary is good or bad for Westport, and whether a Tesla facility (no) or a child care center (yes) can go into a vacant space on Saugatuck Avenue.

They figure out how many housing units are okay on a particular piece of land and how many would be overwhelming. They balance the need for elder care and affordable housing with the demands of private developers. They weigh confusing, sometimes contradictory, state and local regulations. All the while, they’re cognizant of the impact of every decision on our tax base.

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The Board of Finance is another board with crucial influence. Working with the selectmen, they determine exactly how much we’ll pay in taxes — which influences, directly or indirectly, not only which families and individuals move into (and out of) town, but which businesses do so.

Some decisions involve major money (how much will we pay for Coleytown Middle, and how?) and some are minor (the eternal dilemma: are the Westport Transit District shuttle buses to and from the train station worth it?). But all come back, ultimately, to one basic question: What does it mean to live in Westport?

All of those five- and seven-member commissions — and others, like the Zoning Board of Appeals — are vital to the smooth (or at least uncontentious-as-possible) running of town. But one other group plays a key role, and it’s at least as big.

The Representative Town Meeting has the ultimate yea-or-nay say on town and education budgets. They approve appropriations over $20,000, they review zoning changes and labor agreements. And, because they are our legislative body reacting to citizen requests, they vote on matters like banning plastic bags and (like the P&Z) marijuana sales.

It’s a daunting task to figure out who gets our vote. Fortunately, the League of Women Voters helps. This Sunday, Oct. 6, there’s a meet-the-candidates brunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call 203-293-7687 for details.

There are two debates too: Oct. 21 (Board of Education, Board of Finance) and Oct. 28 (P&Z, Zoning Board of Appeals, Board of Assessment Appeals). Both begin at 7 p.m., at Town Hall.

Oh, yeah: Be on the lookout too for the LWV Voters’ Guide. It comes in the mail around Oct. 25.

Then vote as if your Westport life depends on it. Because it does.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.

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