Guilford will vote on charter

Friday, October 31, 2008 5:55 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The charter revision process that has been in the works for more than two years could come to a close Tuesday when voters will see two charter questions on the ballot.

The Board of Selectmen decided in February to allow voters to decide on five changes to the charter, the town’s governing document. The most significant change would be a move from the town meeting system to a representative town meeting, which would include 25 elected representatives.

The RTM would be the town’s legislative body. The plan calls for five representatives from each of the five voting districts.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said that the town often sees low turnout at town meetings — which any resident over the age of 18 can attend and vote at — prompting the recommendation to move to the representative system. Other area towns, including Branford, have representative town meetings.

“You would have 25 representatives from the five different districts in town who would meet monthly, monthly at a minimum, and they would study the issues,” Balestracci said. “It would be part of their responsibility to be much more educated about the long-term plans.”

The other proposed changes to the charter are: increasing the term of office for selectmen from two to four years, specifying that appointees to a vacant seat will fill out the remainder of the unexpired term, establishing a public works commission and eliminating the position of town treasurer.

The Board of Selectmen has already passed an ordinance setting up the public works commission, but would like to see it codified in the charter. Balestracci pointed out that both the current and a former town treasurer favor the move to eliminate the position, as most of its responsibilities have become part of other departments.

The charter revision items will appear in two separate questions on the ballot, one of which will include the RTM proposal with the other four changes making up the second question.

The Board of Selectmen and members of the Charter Revision Commission recommended splitting the changes into two questions so that if voters decide against the RTM, the other revisions could still pass.

Two selectmen, Joseph Mazza and Sal Catardi, voted against the RTM, largely because of concerns about the process for selecting the representatives. There was disagreement about whether they should all be elected, or whether the town Republican and Democratic committees could appoint members.

“The only (recommendation) that was controversial was the RTM,” Balestracci said. “Both Charter Revision and the Board of Selectmen thought that it would be less confusing to people to have just the two questions rather than to have five or six, just to simplify the ballot really.”

Advertisements

Candelora unopposed

Thursday, October 30, 2008 2:45 PM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — Wrapping up his first term in the state House of Representatives, Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, is eager to build on his work.

Candelora is running unopposed for re-election in the 86th District, but he said he is still working to reach out to voters during election season.

“I think it’s important that even though I’m running unopposed that the people see what my positions are on the issues,” he said. “It’s their opportunity to educate me if I’m wrong, and if I’m right, they can lend me support.”

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Candelora said he thinks one of the biggest challenges facing the legislature in the next few months will be the budget.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office is projecting a $300 million deficit in the current budget, and further deficits in 2009 and 2010.

Candelora said he hopes the legislature will hold a special session after the election to address the budget issues.

“The majority party (Democrats) refused to adjust the budget and we’ve continued to see the economy decline and the majority party has still not called us into session and every day that passes it’s costing the state more and more money,” he said. “It compounds the problem and the budget is our responsibility.”

He said that the legislature could move to stop funding programs out of any budget surpluses that occur and cut certain programs that have not yet been implemented.

As a businessman — he is chief executive officer of the Connecticut Sportsplex and co-owner of a wire manufacturing company — Candelora said he thinks he brings a fresh perspective to Hartford. Before his election to the legislature, he served three terms on the Town Council.

“I think that we don’t have enough business owners in Hartford; we don’t have enough people with practical experience in local government,” he said. He added that he thinks Connecticut could become more “business-friendly” by not passing legislation with provisions that apply only to companies with more than 50 employees.

“Connecticut has really fostered an environment for only small businesses, and large businesses will not come here, and those are the ones that create the good middle-income jobs,” he said. “We’re seeing a wider revenue gap between the haves and the have-nots.”

Smith library sign shot down

Thursday, October 30, 2008 6:20 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — Negative reactions from some residents of the Northford section of town have scuttled plans for a sign over the door of the newly renovated Edward Smith Memorial Library.

The library, which is set to reopen in December, included a sign over the main entrance reading “Smith.” There are also two freestanding signs with the library’s full name.

Town Manager Richard Branigan said that some people had expressed concerns with the “Smith” sign, and the Permanent Project Building Committee decided at its meeting Monday to remove the sign.

“It looked out of character to some people,” he said. “(They thought) the lettering was too large. It didn’t fit with what they thought it should look like.”

Branigan said he does not know whether the sign will be replaced.

“I think (the building committee) felt at least temporarily that the two freestanding signs would be sufficient.”

The Smith Library, at the intersection of Old Post Road and Middletown Avenue, has been under construction for about a year. The work will renovate the existing 5,200-square-foot building and increase the total size to more than 10,000 square feet.

The facility dates from 1956, when Clara Smith donated money for the library’s construction to honor her father, Edward.

With construction at the Atwater Memorial Library scheduled to begin construction once the Smith Library reopens, there were also plans for a sign there reading just “Atwater,” Branigan said.

“The architect I think had it as part of a theme that they would put ‘Atwater’ over the Atwater library,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the theme.”

The total cost for the two library expansion projects is about $9 million.

Cast, crew return for state premiere of horror film shot here

Thursday, October 30, 2008 6:20 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

A year after shooting scenes in North Branford and other locations around the state, the cast and crew of “Plague Town” are returning today for the movie’s Connecticut premiere.

The horror film, which is set in Ireland, has already been shown at film festivals in Cannes, France; Los Angeles; and Dublin, Ireland. Tonight, it will be featured in two showings at Criterion Cinemas in downtown New Haven.

Daryl Tucker, the movie’s co-producer and a Guilford native, said the filmmakers had always planned on a Connecticut event.

“We’re very excited to have the film back here in Connecticut where it all started,” he said. “The majority of the cast, including a lot of the children, come from Connecticut, and that’s why we’re pretty thrilled to have the Connecticut premiere.”

Co-star Josslyn DeCrosta comes from East Haven, Tucker added, and his own daughter, Sierra, had a role.

The movie focuses on an American family visiting Ireland to explore its roots.

“They get a bit turned around out in the country, get lost and miss the last bus,” Tucker said. “In an attempt to find shelter for the night, they stumble upon a forgotten village where the adults are not what they seem, and the children are deformed, and all sorts of madness stems from that.”

In addition to North Branford, the filmmakers shot scenes in Kent, Meriden, Durham and Middlefield to replicate the Irish countryside.

Tucker said tickets are still available for the 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. showings today. For more information, contact Criterion Cinemas, or visit its Web site at http://www.criterioncinemas.com. A preview for the movie can be seen on the movie’s Web site, http://www.plaguetown.com.

The event is “a way to give something back to the Connecticut people,” Tucker said, but “more importantly, it’s the day before Halloween, and this is the scariest thing you’ll see this year, guaranteed.”

The film is also scheduled for release in 14 cities across the country later this year. Tucker said it will most likely not play in Connecticut, but will be in New York and Boston.

“It’s probably the best horror film that you’re going to see this year, and we’d love to have people come down and support arts and filmmaking that has been done indigenously in Connecticut,” he said of tonight’s showing. “If you do love film and you do love the arts, then come down and support it.”

Pearl Harbor survivors’ group holds final reunion

Sunday, October 26, 2008 5:44 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH HAVEN — The men and women gathered around a table reminisced, as they do every year, about the event that had brought them together: the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

In past years, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association’s annual conference for the New England and New York district drew dozens of people. This year, however, only about 10 survivors were able to attend Saturday’s event at the Holiday Inn. And as they exchanged stories about “a date which will live in infamy,” the members marked another occasion: the association’s final annual meeting.

With many of the members having died or becoming less mobile, the 8th district group decided to bring the tradition to an end.

“Most of the men are getting on in years and can’t travel,” said Ernest Arroyo, a historian who called himself an honorary member of the association.

In 2006, 4,000 to 6,000 Pearl Harbor survivors were alive nationwide. According to the Pearl Harbor Survivors Project, survivor chapters are closing across the country as members die or begin to be too infirmed.

But on Saturday, the group’s members did not dwell on the finality of the meeting. Instead, they joked and exchanged stories about an event that survivor Jack Stoeber, 91, of Milford, called “a day I’ll never forget.”

“It’s great just to be with some of the fellows that were there,” he said.

Clark J. Simmons, 87, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was stationed on the USS Utah, which sank during the Japanese sneak attack that killed 2,388 service personnel and put the United States into World War II. He said that many the shipmates had been on leave the night before and thought they would have a chance to sleep in Sunday morning.

“We were under attack and they said, ‘Man your battle stations,’” he said. “It was too late — within eight minutes we were history. In eight minutes the Utah was sunk.”

Simmons said the New York chapter of the Survivors Association used to meet twice a year, in addition to memorials on Dec. 7, and hold dinners and dances. At the group’s last meeting, he said, eight survivors attended.

He noted that the organization had allowed many people to reconnect with fellow soldiers or sailors they had not seen since the war.

“At the first meetings they would attend and some of the fellows they haven’t seen since boot camp and some of them were in the same unit,” he said. “The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association brought them together — it was like finding a lost relative.”

Harold Slater, 87, was in the Army and stationed near Pearl Harbor. After the bombing, he was ordered to direct traffic, he said. As he motioned for a military convoy to pass, he ran his hand across his bayonet, cutting three fingers.

“Later on they wanted to give me a Purple Heart and I refused it,” Slater said. “It wasn’t enemy action — it was my own fault!”

Slater said he has been a member of the Survivors Association since the 1950s. The Connecticut chapter was formed in 1958, while the New York chapter followed in 1962.

Daniel S. Fruchter, 90, said that he was scheduled to leave Hawaii on Dec. 8, 1941.

“Needless to say, my plans changed without my permission,” he said.

Fruchter was stationed atSchofield Barracks near Honolulu.

“They dropped four bombs actually on the barracks, and fortunately for me they were all duds,” he said.

Before the release of the movie “Pearl Harbor” in 2001, Fruchter and Simmons met with Ben Affleck, the movie’s star, and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw aboard the USS Intrepid in New York.

Simmons said that, with the group’s annual meetings ending, it will be up to the children and grandchildren of Pearl Harbor survivors to continue the memory of the events.

“It’s come upon we survivors now to sort of reach out to them and get them to carry on,” he said. “We set the foundation to remember Pearl Harbor, which basically is our motto: Remember Pearl Harbor and keep America alert. It means something to us and hopefully it means something to our sons and daughters.”

Slater said he will miss the conferences.

“It’s kind of like losing your best friend,” he said.

Political sign thefts stir plenty of anger

Sunday, October 26, 2008 5:45 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

When Woodbridge resident Rob Kravitz bought eight signs supporting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama earlier this year, he expected to use one for himself and distribute the rest to friends.

But he said that so many signs disappeared from his yard that he used up almost all of his back-ups and ordered another six to give to other Obama supporters.

At the same time, Kravitz became concerned about a hand-made sign in front of a house in Woodbridge that told whoever stole their “Nobama” sign to “please die.” The plywood sign with a plastic “Nobama” attached with dozens of staples now reads, “Morons stole our Nobama sign.”

“I think that’s a little over the top, but I understand the anger because I’ve had six Obama signs taken from my lawn over a six-month period of time,” Kravitz said, noting that all of his signs disappeared Sunday mornings when he was taking his children to Sunday school. “My sister, very hopeful, said, ‘Well, it’s probably someone who is taking this sign for their own lawn.’”

Local police officials say it is the time of year when they see a steady stream of complaints about missing or vandalized political signs. And while they concede that the crimes are difficult to investigate, they are reminding people that the acts could bring a larceny or criminal mischief charge.

Despite the heated presidential race between Obama and Republican contender John McCain, officials said they have not noticed an increase in political sign complaints. Signs for local political races are also frequently stolen, which can erode a small-town candidate’s campaign budget. Thick plastic signs cost an average of $30.

Shelton police sent out a news release saying that the city has had several incidents of vandalism and theft of political signs and noting that the department “takes this matter seriously because it infringes on a person’s right to voice their political opinion.”

Shelton Sgt. Robert Kozlowsky said there have been half a dozen formal complaints about political signs, which is “on par for” a normal election season.

“It is a criminal offense,” he said. “Some people kind of forget that, and they think that the signs are just placed out there and they can do whatever they want with them.”

Guilford Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson said the town has not had many thefts this year.

“You have some every year, every election season,” he said. “It’s not an abnormal amount.”

Guilford has had a handful of filed complaints about yard signs in the past month, according to police reports, and one man who lives on Route 80 came in twice to report the ongoing theft of Obama signs from his lawn.

But Hutchinson said he does not think many of the thefts have political undertones. Rather, he said, they may be pranks or the work of teenagers out at night.

While the majority of the thefts reported in Guilford have been of Obama signs, that may be because more people in town have those signs in their yards.

Kozlowsky agreed that, while the thefts have a political impact, he does not think they are politically motivated.

“It doesn’t seem (like) someone’s doing it to attack a certain political group,” he said. “It seems more like kids taking them and wrecking the signs.”

Thomas Fowler, deputy police chief in Branford, said the town saw more of a problem with thefts and vandalism last year during the first selectman’s race between Anthony “Unk” DaRos, Cheryl Morris and John Opie.

Fowler said some people have called the department this year, but there have been no formal complaints.

“Obviously people have signs out front and during any election some disappear,” he said.

He added that the complaints can be difficult to investigate.

“Unless we catch them in the act or somebody sees them doing it, it’s very hard to pursue those,” he said.

With new technology, some people have turned to the Internet to monitor their yard signs after thefts. Web sites such as http://www.ustream.tv/channel/obama-sign-cctv-1 have sprung up to allow people the world over to keep an eye on the signs, and YouTube videos document vandals or thieves in the act.

Kravitz said he called town officials to complain about the “Nobama” sign — thinking that the language was inappropriate — but they told him that they would not get involved with a political issue. The owners of the sign could not be reached for comment.

“I said, ‘I don’t think it’s political in nature; I just think it’s offensive,’” he said. “The next day it was kind of painted over. … I’m sure the town didn’t do anything about it, but I think maybe the people that had the sign might have on their own.”

Guilford to preserve hundreds of acres

Saturday, October 25, 2008 7:32 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — A rafter of wild turkeys greeted visitors and an immature bald eagle circled overhead Friday as local and state officials extolled the qualities of the East River Preserve.

The town announced that it has completed negotiations to purchase the more than 600-acre property near Clapboard Hill Road. After about six years of talks, the Board of Selectmen recently voted to pay the Goss family more than $14.3 million for the land, $3 million of which will be covered by federal grants. The purchase still must be voted on in a referendum.

Officials said that 577 acres of the parcel would remain as open space, while the town could eventually develop about 70 acres as playing fields or other facilities.

Without the town’s purchase, the land could have been subdivided for more than 100 houses; the owners had submitted plans to do so about three years ago, Land Acquisition Commission Chairman Gary MacElhiney said.

“It took a great commitment on (the Goss family’s) part to give up this land to the town knowing that the town would use it appropriately,” he said. “Their stewardship of this property has been tremendous and I only hope we have the ability to maintain it for future generations as they have for three generations.”

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said that George and Estelle Goss began purchasing land in the area in the 1920s and ’30s.

“Without their vision, without their working so hard to establish this, we would not have the opportunity that is before us today,” he said. “This property is like a real outdoors science center, as well as very beautiful.”

According to the agreement, the Goss family will retain about 33 acres of the land, which has three houses, and will have the ability to add another two houses on that parcel.

Several members of the family attended the ceremony Friday.

“The 15 wild turkeys that were in the field this morning, the herd of nine deer, the falcons, the Eastern coyotes, the bluebirds who were here this spring, the teeming menhaden and snapper blues, all have asked me to convey their support for this deal,” Dirck Goss said.

The land — the largest privately owned tract left in Guilford — includes wetlands and about two miles of shoreline along the East River, which flows south through the Audubon Society’s Salt Meadows Sanctuary into Long Island Sound. Tom Baptist, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society, stressed the importance of the area for the health of the Sound and the salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow, a threatened species that has a strong population in Guilford.

“It is one of the most ecologically important coastal properties left in Connecticut,” Baptist said.

Balestracci praised U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, for her assistance in obtaining a federal grant through the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program. DeLauro and the town’s legislative delegation in Hartford attended the event.

“During what is a hard and frantic time these days, this is an oasis of serenity,” DeLauro said.

The town will go to referendum for the additional $11.4 million needed to complete the sale, although Balestracci said he is also looking for other sources of funding such as state grants. He added that the referendum will probably take place just after Jan. 1.

Balestracci said he hopes voters will approve the referendum despite the adverse economic conditions, adding that keeping the land as open space obviates the need for schools, police and Public Works for homes there. He said the town could go to referendum more than once if the measure fails initially.

“In order to maintain the quality of life in our community, we need to balance the development and this is without question the most important and momentous acquisition for open space and municipal services land that we could possibly have,” he said. “Forgetting the value of the conservation and the preservation of the land, if you just want to talk dollars and cents, Guilford would suffer dramatically.”