We first interviewed Bill Kelly, candidate for Greenwich First Selectman in July when he was nominated by the Democratic party to challenge Republican incumbent Fred Camillo.
On Friday we caught up with both Mr. Kelly and Mr. Camillo to give each a chance to elaborate on or address topics that didn’t come up during their two debates.
Mr. Kelly listed numerous volunteer positions he had held during his 30 years in Greenwich, including Representative Town Meeting (RTM), Board of Estimate and Taxation (8 years) and the Board of Education (4 years). He also served as the BOE liaison to the board of Parks & Rec.
“All of my background meshes with the requirements for First Selectman very well,” he said, noting for starters he holds a finance degree from the University of Notre Dame and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. He has been a litigation attorney for 40 years.
“One of the obligations of the First Selectman is to oversee the law department. I think I could do that very well.”
“I have clients who repair the steam pipes in the City of New York,” he said. “My construction background would help us with all the projects involving the schools, flooding and infrastructure. That’s the knowledge I bring.”
He recalled before he served on the town’s Claims Committee (1994-99), which involves litigation against the Town, lawsuits were routinely settled. He said he encouraged the town attorney John Meerbergen to take some cases to trial.
“The whole perception of Greenwich changed in Stamford superior Court,” he said.
Mr. Kelly said his decision to run for First Selectman was partly inspired by the ceiling collapse at North Mianus School last February, resulting in students being relocated to a former private school campus in Stamford.
“My granddaughter attends North Mianus School,” Kelly said. “At first people thought it might just be a few ceiling tiles, but then we saw the devastation.”
“I think we’ve started to change the narrative, which is good,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot to do, not only with respect to capital, but with the maintenance budget for the Board of Education – we have to give Dan Watson (public schools facilities director) what he needs and hold them accountable….You can’t slash the budget for maintenance and ask, ‘Why are these schools in such poor shape?'”
Noise and Air Pollution
Kelly said he’d been studying the impacts of the upcoming multi-year I95 improvement project, which features extensive tree clearing and will increase noise pollution.
“There seems to be a relatively simple fix, and it makes sense because we start with the proposition that we assess houses in town on the land value, in addition to the building,” Kelly said. “So when an assessor goes and figures out the value of your house is, the assessed value is 70%. They also apply ‘influence factors’ in determining your true assessment. One of the influence factors is, for example, whether your property is oddly shaped or whether your property include wetlands. Another factor is I95 noise for properties close to the thruway.”
“If you’re effected by that, you either get a reduction or you can apply for one – it’s potentially a 10% to 20% reduction on your land value,” he continued, adding that with roughly 3,000 homes along the 12 miles of both sides of I95, sound barriers could prevent decreases in assessed land values to the tune of millions of dollars annually.
“I think the residents would benefit throughout town all the way from Byram to Old Greenwich, and the town benefits because the assessed values would eventually move up,” he said. “There’s also air pollution and the sound barriers help dissipate that.”
Further he said if elected he would address the noise and air pollution emitted from gas leaf blowers.
“Talk about noise pollution,” he said. “We need to limit the time you can use blowers and have people convert to electric leaf blowers. Why do we tolerate this? Besides, they just spread the allergies all around.”
Round Hill Volunteer Fire Company
As for the Round Hill Volunteer Fire Company, Mr. Kelly noted there is no coverage there on weekdays from 9:00am to 5:00pm, when the volunteers are generally working their paid jobs.
He said the history of the Round Hill Volunteer Fire Company was significant.
The volunteers used to be farm hands and landscape laborers who could get to the station in minutes.
“That dynamic has shifted, and even the Chief, Rick Strain, understands that career firefighters are now necessary to provide the full protection that the back country is entitled to,” he said.
Noting that the building features five dorm rooms upstairs, Kelly suggested adding two or three additional career firefighters to work the day shift, and offer volunteers free housing in the building.
“The only requirement that Round Hill has is that the individuals who choose to live there would be certified Firefighter 1,” he said. “I think this would be very attractive to young people who could live rent free, become certified Firefighters in the town they live in for a period of time.”
“And you wouldn’t lose the 8 minutes it takes the volunteers go travel to the station,” Kelly said. “They would provide for those trucks, especially the tanker to get to any fire in a timely manner.”
“And it would be an opportunity that could lead you a permanent job in fire dept if you’re interested.”
“There are solutions. People need to sit down and talk and discuss them,” he added. “Again this is all negotiations with the union, but I think it’s a possible solution. If we don’t put out ideas, we can’t have discussions.”
“A second possible solution might be to temporarily move an engine company there during the day,”Kelly said. “When there is a fire at a particular location, you often times rotate engine companies.”
“So if the firefighters in Sound Beach are engaged in a fire and Sound Beach is uncovered, the fire department may move an engine from Cos Cob to Sound Beach. It’s called a rotation, so the entire town continues to be covered. Simply put, you could rotate an engine company up to Round Hill from 9:00-5:00pm.”
“We just have to be creative and talk to each other and find solutions. Everybody is concerned about a hit to the budget about hiring another 15 firefighters. That’s the essence of the debate. Let’s find solutions short of that and see if it works.”
Town Contract Negotiations
Mr. Kelly said last week the Teamsters contract came before the RTM.
“The RTM was put in a position of approving a deal that they were not properly informed about. In the end they voted to postpone a vote on the contract indefinitely. That means the contract will go into effect. However, the RTM didn’t want to vote an approval of the contract because they weren’t happy with several issues including the presentation of the contract – no benchmarks were provided.”
Kelly said the BOE had not been consulted on the deal, even thought their custodians are part of that union.
“We need to have a professional process with respect to negotiations and a professional presentation with respect to the contract,” he added. “To clarify, this contract was negotiated over a long period of time and the actual terms were negotiated by others, but the presentation was made by the present administration.”
Kelly said there were no design criteria for energy savings in the present plans for Eastern Greenwich Civic Center.
“There was a report by an energy committee of the Conservation Commission two years ago that said you could build the Civic Center at net zero energy cost, saving $90,000 a year,” he continued. “None of those savings are built into the plans.”
Kelly said the BOE and BET must establish a trust.
“If that relationship can be fixed we’ve gone a long way toward getting back to where we were,” he said, having noted that when he served on the Board of Education, there was collegiality.
“The BOE has to have credibility with the BET. It’s so important. It’s building bridges and relationships. It’s part of the First Selectman’s job, as far as I’m concerned.”
Extended Park Hours at Tod’s Point and Greenwich Pool at Byram Park
Kelly said one of his pet peeves was one he would address immediately if elected. He said the hours at both Tod’s Point and the Greenwich Pool in Byram Park were limited.
“It’s a brand new pool in a beautiful complex and yet during the summer it opens at 11:00am,” he said. “It should open at 7:00am so people can do laps and the kids who get up early can go play in the splash play area. We open it up earlier for one teaching lesson, which is fine, and that can continue, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. I went there several times before 11:00am this summer and saw people sitting around waiting to go in. It’s silly.”
Kelly said that at Tod’s Point residents enjoy watching the sunrises and sunsets.
Yet, he said, “As soon as the sun sets, you hear the horn and someone on the loud speaker telling people to get out,” he said. “Enough with that. We’ll be open for a half hour after sunset so people can actually enjoy the sunset because some of the best colors are 5-7 minutes after sunset.”
“You cannot see a sunrise from April to August because the park opens at 6:00am and the sun rises well before then in the summer. So why do we open at 6:00am? Oh, because we’ve always opened at 6:00am.”
He said if elected the beach would open a half hour before sunrise or 6:00am, whichever is earlier, he promised.
“People line up in their cars at 6:00am. It’s daylight and there’s sometimes 20-25 cars waiting to get in,” he said. “Everybody has excuses, but very few people have solutions. That’s one of my pet peeves that’s something I’d do right away.”