On Tuesday night the Greenwich Republican Town Committee voted unanimously on a slate of candidates to compete in the municipal election on November 7.
The result was just in time to submit the candidates to the state on Wednesday.
Joe Solari led the nominating committee, and there were some new names among the nominees, including local accountant, David Alfano for the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
For Board of Education, four candidates were nominated for two openings.
Incumbent Karen Kowalski’s term is expiring and she seeks a second term.
BOE chair Joe Kelly declined to run again.
The four candidates are Ms Kowalski, Adele Caroll, Rich Niemynski and Wendy Vizzo Walsh.
RTC chair Beth MacGillavray gave a rousing speech to kick off the meeting, noting the Republicans were united in their mission, there was dissent at the previous RTC meeting, with differences in opinion on the appropriate size of a new Central Middle School.
“We have RTC members with differing opinions who have competed with each other at some point or another. But, above all that, we are united by our love of freedom, family, faith, opportunity and our country,” MacGillavray said.
“This election is a fight for truth against the web of lies being spun by Democrats,” she continued. “They are saying that Republicans do not support education. This is a lie.”
“They are pushing high-rise construction around town, which Greenwich residents do not want,” she added. “They are unabashedly promoting higher taxes to drive hard working, real people out of Greenwich.”
Board of Selectmen
The nominees included incumbents Fred Camillo for First Selectman, Lauren Rabin for Selectwoman, Jackie Budkins for Town Clerk and Heather Smeriglio for Tax Collector.
Icy Frantz nominated Mr. Camillo, opening with a joke about “bump-outs,” a reference to the controversial intersection improvements on Greenwich Avenue that were ultimately voted down by the RTM after a property owner appealed the MI for the project.
“Fred knows that running a town takes compromise, give-and-take, and finesse,” Frantz said. “And while each of us may not agree with him from time to time – as in to bump or not to bump, out – Fred ultimately does what’s right for Greenwich today.”
“Fred is willing to roll up his sleeves and get messy,” Frantz said. “Whether it is a park or beach cleanup, or working through a controversial decision, or leading us safely through the pandemic or a historic flood. He does not back down.”
Housing Authority (Greenwich Communities) chair Sam Romeo seconded the nomination, noting that Camillo had been a public servant many years, including on terms on the RTM, RTC, as a State Rep representing the 151st district, and on the Parks & Rec board.
Camillo listed the challenges in the past four years, including 100-year pandemic, 500-year storm and mandates from Hartford.
“We’ve fought them. We’ve beat them all. But they’re still going to keep coming,” he said.
“Things like public-private partnerships, where we’ve gotten longstanding projects done; pedestrian and public safety – we’re the first,” he said, adding that Greenwich was ranked highly in a recent survey.
The reference was to MoneyGeek a personal financy company that analyzed crime statistics and quantified the cost of those crimes to identify the safest and least safe small cities and towns.
“Thanks to our great working members of the BET and members of our BOC we work together to keep the lowest mill rate in the state,” Camillo added.
Camillo said the passing of a blight ordinance he championed as an accomplishment that had resulted in the clean up numerous properties.
“With your help and hard work, we can work together, everyone on this ticket, to continue to make Greenwich the premiere place to live in America,” Camillo added.
Andrea Blume from district 4 nominated Lauren Rabin for another term as Selectwoman, praising her for being an active listener who holds herself accountable to all constituents.
“And she is proudly hailing from the west side, my side, the best side,” she joked. “She has faithfully served our town as an RTM member. She is on the Board of Human Services, BOE member and is now in her fourth year serving alongside Fred.”
“There are always challenges to meet, and the current economic and political environment will require leadership, experience, unity, hard work and a commitment to civil discourse,” Blume added. “Lauren will continue to implement solutions to our most critical needs, such as our public school buildings, traffic, over-development, affordable housing and an aging population.”
On that note, Ms Rabin noted Greenwich had been recognized as being both an Age-Friendly and Dementia-Friendly Community.
“Greenwich is the premiere community to live, work, and – my favorite word – stay,” she said. “At my age, I want to stay here. People move and stay here because we are the safest town in Connecticut. We have the lowest mill rate in Connecticut.”
Former State Representative Lile Gibbons who represented the 150th district, nominated Town Clerk Jackie Budkins for a second term.
“I’ve always been impressed by her friendliness, her intellect and her willingness to help,” Gibbons said, adding that Budkins had introduced and implemented new and innovative practices to help voters record their votes and the town clerk’s office count the votes.
Budkins said the town clerk’s office was known as the gateway to town hall.
“I have accomplished many of the initiatives I had set out to do by broadening our use of technology and redesigning the direction of the office,” she said.
“We have implemented e-recording, which is an electronic land record recording service. We are presenting a new, more user-friendly, iCloud based land record search system, along with a new property fraud alert system for our residents that goes live to our residents in a couple of weeks,” she said. “This was all done while overseeing three elections, one recount, and successfully navigating the new Connecticut online absentee ballot application portal which was introduced the week before absentees came out.”
Former Tax Collector, Tod Laudonia, nominated Heather Smeriglio for another term as tax collector.
He said he had originally hired Smeriglio for a part-time position, with the prospect of becoming full time.
“Heather dove in. She did everything that was necessary and more. She is a person who can step into any position in the tax collector’s office. She proved that during the Covid situation.”
He noted Smeriglio was elected the president of the Fairfield County Tax Collector’s Association, which he likened to herding cats.
“To pull that off and have the respect of all those people is quite phenomenal,” he said. “She has the dedication. She was here during the Covid situation every day, for a full day day, doing what needed to be done and seeing people who needed to be seen.”
Smeriglio said this year her office sent out tax bills on June 5 and had pre-collected $62 million before the July 1 due date, surpassing last year’s figure of $44 million.
“This puts our town in a great financial position,” she said.
Board of Estimate and Taxation
For the Board of Estimate and Taxation, where neither Dan Ozizmir nor Bill Drake are running for another term, there are some new faces among the nominees, including local accountant David Alfano.
RTC member Joe Solari, who chaired the nominating committee, nominated Mr. Alfano, noting that Alfano was a life-long resident of Greenwich.
“He’s a stalwart individual who believes in Republican principles, will fight for them on the BET and use his financial expertise, calm nature, congenial wisdom and way of being to make sure the BET works well together, for the party and for the Town of Greenwich.”
Michael Spilo nominated Nisha Arora for a second term on the BET, describing her as a seasoned problem solver who would keep the mill rate low while delivering first rate services for residents.
“I work with Nisha on the CMS building committee, and I know Nisha embodies core values of sensible, and fiscally responsible stewardship,” Spilo said.
“I have found Nisha to be a sound Republican leader, taking a stand and speaking out for us, even as some attempt to silence her voice – I’m familiar with that myself,” he joked.
“Nisha is an engineer by training, with an MBA from Yale University. Beyond her financial acumen and successful career on Wall Street, Nisha has been strongly involved in our community, serving on several non-profit boards, including the board at the YWCA, where she stood for conservative values.”
Leora Levy nominated Karen Fassuliotis for another term on the BET, describing her as a natural born leader.
Fassuliotis has served as chair of the RTM Health and Human Services Committee, and is an elected Justice of the Peace.
On the BET she has chaired the Human Resources Committee and served as vice chair of the BET and served briefly as chair when Mike Mason left the BET to take a job with the Town.
She is also the only Republican lawyer on the BET, which Levy said was important because of the complex legal and regulatory issues that the town faces.
“With Karen on the BET, the last four years have seen record low mill rates while maintaining the services and improving the infrastructure of our town,” Levy added. “Leadership is what Karen brings. She has a commanding presence and she knows her audience.”
Mike Mason nominated Harry Fisher for BET, noting that he had served on the board three times over three decades.
“From the very first time Harry served on the BET until now, he has never lost focus in communication with the BET on issues of Greenwich. It’s very important. And for all the years he wasn’t serving, he spoke at every public hearing. He always there for us.”
He noted that when Mr. Fisher filled a BET vacancy with no notice, he spent many hours in town hall, meeting with RTM members and town leaders, to get up to speed on issues quickly.
Phil Dodson nominated Lucia Jansen who has served on the RTM for 18 years representing District 7, saying her track record, work ethic and collaborative spirit were the qualities the party needed for its leadership.
“She is firmly committed to fiscal responsibility as demonstrated by her accomplishments as chair of the Budget Overview Committee. Her dedication to research and properly prepare for an issue is well known. I can confidently say she has all the qualities and dedication needed to excel as a member of the BET.”
He noted Jansen attended the all-day sessions of the BET budget committee.
“By attending all these BET meetings, she will not have the usual new-member learning curve and can immediately be a valuable contributor to the board,” he added.
Outgoing BET chair Mr. Ozizmir nominated Leslie Tarkington for another term on the BET, saying her experience was unparalleled.
“She was my vice chair, she chaired the budget committee. in the past she chaired the Law committee. She served on the audit committee.
“There is no one else I could have looked to with the experience and knowledge that Leslie did. She made it possible for me to get my job done as I believe the only first term member of the BET to be ever chair,” he said.
He also cited Tarkington’s work ethic.
“She takes on her own projects with unparalleled commitment and effort, but when someone is working on a project, whether they want her opinion or not, or want her insight on some situation that came up 10 or 15 years ago, you’re going to hear about it. It’s really an incredible resource.”
“Lastly, this is an election and we need to win,” he said, adding that while Karen Fassuliotis was a top vote-getter, Tarkington was “right there with her.”
Board of Education
Mita Spilo nominated Adele Caroll, saying the mother of two public school children had both courage and action. She has served two terms on D8 RTM and served on the PTA executive committee of the Central Middle School PTA until she was recently removed.
“When the executive committee of the CMS PTA silenced her and canceled her, Adele took it upon herself to stay on course and remain vigilant abut the school’s curriculum and our children’s education, and share the facts with Greenwich parents,” Ms Spilo said. “Adele on the BOE is what every parent and grandparent should want and support. Adele is a leader, a community builder, a parent, volunteer and a friend.”
George Hritz said fellow attorney Karen Kowalski was outspoken and not afraid to articulate her values. He referred to a BOE item back in January 2022 to codify Title IX for students, including protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“As one of the only lawyers on the Board of Education, she was offended that she was getting advised by a lawyer in a big firm in Hartford that the board was not only required to adopt a policy that would, in effect, require men to be permitted to play in women’s sports, and various other things – I won’t talk about bathrooms – Karen was offended by this. She began to look into the law and came up with a strategy,” Hritz said.
“She came up with the latest Supreme Court Case, the OSHA case, that said a federal agency could not overrule a law passed by Congress. This law made it true that despite the legal advice being given to the board by the lawyer from Hartford that the members of the Board would be personally liable if they did not pass this law, Karen was able to convince the board of the truth, which is that the law would have been illegal under federal law, and if they did this the individual board members would not be liable,” Hritz added.
Back in January 2022, the Greenwich Board of Education voted along party lines, with Republicans opposing a policy codifying Title IX, which meant it failed to pass. Then in February, an amended policy struck deleted a clause that stated: ‘Discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex includes discrimination or harassment on the basis gender identity or sexual orientation.’
Then, in May 2022, Democratic BOE member Christina Downey, from the Policy Governance Committee said that even without the clause, all students were protected under Title IX.
From there, the board did vote unanimously to approve the policy. (Revised BOE Title IX Student Policy Passed without Mention of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation)
Kristy Niemynski nominated her husband, Richard for BOE. She said they had moved to Greenwich for the public schools and low taxes 18 years earlier, but that over the past decade they had become increasingly concerned about what she described as an increased focus on politics and progressive ideologies in the schools.
“It is for this reason he has decided to run for the Board of Education,” Ms Niemynski said. “Rich brings to the table an unwavering determination to bring academic achievement to the forefront, and stop the progressive ideology indoctrination.”
“He will uphold parental rights, protect women’s sports, keep boys out of the girls bathroom, stop the sexualization of children, and never use preferred pronouns,” she added.
Nominating Wendy Vizzo Walsh to the BOE was First Selectman Fred Camillo described her as his friend and the ideal candidate for BOE.
“Wendy has spent over 20 years in the education field as a speech and language pathologist, and many years volunteering with PTA,” he said. “She is also a business woman.”
“She has an affable personality and great demeanor,” he added. “She will be a great voice for academic excellence, parental rights and communication.”
Board of Assessment Appeals
Kit Mill, Mark Pruner, and Jeff Reardon were nominated as a slate for the Board of Assessment Appeals.
The slate for Constables was Donna Malone, Dan Sinisi, Charles Edward Thivierge, and Tom Waurishuk were nominated.
At the close of the meeting, RTC chair MacGillavray said she was pleased to announce the unanimous endorsement of a full ballot of candidates.
“Terrific,” she said. “God bless our candidates. God bless Greenwich. And God bless America.”