STONINGTON — If elected first selectman, Republican John Prue said he will focus on improving the town’s aging infrastructure, completing capital projects that have already begun and promoting an atmosphere of unity and trust among the town’s three villages.
Prue, 57, has served for two years as selectman. He also served for two years on the Zoning Board of Appeals and six years on the Planning and Zoning Commission including one as chair.
“Our Grand List has been growing slower than municipal expenditures, which means our taxes have been rising — therefore, no matter what, we need new development to keep property taxes affordable”
In a conversation with CT Examiner on September 20, Prue said the town’s three sewer treatment plans and their collection systems were the best example of the need to address the town’s aging infrastructure. In addition, he said, “we need to stay committed to the maintenance and repair of our road system and jump-starting two stalled inter-municipal bridge projects.”
His second priority will be the completion of unfinished projects, including the collapsed Stillman Mill and the Mystic River Boathouse Park. He said he would also work to advance the Pawcatuck sidewalk project from the engineering phase into construction, and replace the fuel tank at Town Dock.
The third priority on his list could be “best described as tone,” said Prue. “Stonington is a healthy multi-generation community with ties to the past and future. We need to act to foster trust that we are one town with shared goals and challenges, even though we are three distinct, interdependent villages.”
The departure of Jason Vincent, Director of Planning, will present new challenges, Prue said.
“Climate change 101 is really simple, the earth is warming, sea levels are rising, humans are impacted and that’s easy. Steps beyond that for public policy, that’s a minefield,”
“Our next Director of Planning will need to create a framework that will help to reduce approval risks in land use applications, to better protect the public and applicants,” he said. Prue added that he would instruct the new director to “pursue any policy that made the process of land use applications more transparent, consistent and fair.”
Prue said his philosophy on growth and development in Stonington is to grow the grand list in a manner consistent with the Plan of Conservation and Development and in harmony with the community .
“Our Grand List has been growing slower than municipal expenditures, which means our taxes have been rising — therefore, no matter what, we need new development to keep property taxes affordable. That said, development must be appropriate in scale and scope and fit within the surrounding area,” he said.
Prue also pledged to encourage the redevelopment and preservation of historic properties, especially by obtaining historic designations for properties in flood zones.
Climate change, as-builts, timing
According to Prue, the Mystic River has issues that are anomalous and go far beyond the NOA gauges on State Pier tide gauge readings, “the only true data point of what is happening, of where that slope is.”
“NOA has been reporting regularly since 1938 and the Mystic River is so far in excess of that gradient,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s not this gradient of sea-level rise, but the impacts are different than they are anywhere else.”
Prue said his beliefs about climate change have been misunderstood.
“Fifteen years ago, we were regularly administering 10- or 20- or 30-lot subdivisions and those days are gone and I’m okay with that. Residential subdivisions eat up open space in a tremendous way, and so the higher density with the big green space set aside is wonderful provided we have a sewer system.”
“It’s a challenge … people have said I could never vote for John Prue, he doesn’t believe in climate change. No, I’m just seeing it on a different level, not just the basic what tribe are you in, but what happens, what is the planning that we need as a town?” he said.
Prue said the problem is the timeline for replacing critical infrastructure such as the Mason’s Island causeway.
“Is that a 10-year replacement or a 40-year replacement? Because when we do replace it, we’re going to conform with the [state’s] 2050 scenario… but when do we need to put that money up there?” he said. “When you deal with the as-built, you only have two options, you abandon or you adapt. And adaptation has to be done equitably or one person will fortify their property and adversely affect their neighbors, so these are policy issues.”
Prue said climate change is happening at an uncertain escalation rate, making it difficult to decide what to do when.
“Climate change 101 is really simple, the earth is warming, sea levels are rising, humans are impacted and that’s easy. Steps beyond that for public policy, that’s a minefield,” he said.
Development, affordable housing, boathouse park
“I don’t want to see development greatly increase or greatly decrease, but whatever happens, I want the character of the town to be preserved. I want it to be compatible with the Stonington brand as we know it,” Prue said. “Fifteen years ago, we were regularly administering 10- or 20- or 30-lot subdivisions and those days are gone and I’m okay with that. Residential subdivisions eat up open space in a tremendous way, and so the higher density with the big green space set aside is wonderful provided we have a sewer system.”
“The town will never be in a situation where we’re not controlled by [the state affordable housing statute] 8-30g, because of the cost of some of our higher-end real estate which skews our numbers. We’ll never reach 10 percent.”
According to Prue, sewers and utilities play an important role in siting affordable housing and explain why most of the town’s affordable housing is in Pawcatuck.
“Unfortunately the underlying dynamic there is that there was space and there was land available and the utilities that were needed and it landed there not by design but by default because of the characteristics. In other areas of town, there’s no sewer, no utilities,” he said. “The town will never be in a situation where we’re not controlled by [the state affordable housing statute] 8-30g, because of the cost of some of our higher-end real estate which skews our numbers. We’ll never reach 10 percent.”
Prue said he will follow through on completing of the Mystic River Boathouse Park.
“It’s been challenging, and due diligence wasn’t done ahead of time and we’re going to work through that, because that’s part of the strategic vision… at least turning it into a park,” he said. “The boathouse part… I think if we get through some of these hurdles they will be in a much better position to raise the funding that they need.”
Experience — professional and governmental
Prue and his wife Teresa have two children, ages 22 and 23. For 20 years, he has been the owner and operator of Mystic Group LLC, a trade show fabrication company.
He said he differs from his opponent, Danielle Chesebrough, an unaffiliated candidate who is endorsed by the Democrats, in business and governmental experience.
“I think I’m coming at it from having more experience in the private sector and in the government sector. I don’t have the educational background, but I’ve got much more experience, and I’m much more prepared at this point to lead the government,” he said.
The first selectman depends on the town’s department heads but does not need to micromanage them, he said.
“My professional life has been managing projects in the private sector but it’s also been 10 years of involvement in Stonington government and understanding how Stonington government works and where all the pieces and knobs and buttons are and what happens if you turn that and how adjusting here changes this.”
“It’s important that the first selectman be there to support, to guide, to mentor and to be the senior manager if you will, but the first selectman does not need to direct the tax collector, the tax assessor, the town clerk, because they are trained, experienced and very capable in their jobs — so 95 percent of the administration of municipal government is happening at the director level,” he said.
Project management is “my strong suit — it’s the project tracking, the time tracking, all those things I do to make it come together for a three day or a four day event on the trade show floor, the logistics and meeting critical deadlines,” he said. “My professional life has been managing projects in the private sector but it’s also been 10 years of involvement in Stonington government and understanding how Stonington government works and where all the pieces and knobs and buttons are and what happens if you turn that and how adjusting here changes this.”
If elected first selectman, Prue said he will close his business. “I’m fully committed. To me it is much more than a full-time job, it’s a 60-hour per week position.”
Family legacy of service
“I grew up in a household where public service was just part of who you were — the commitment to working at the church or the fire department, that was just who my parents were. There was never any desire to seek elected office,” said Prue, who grew up in Preston. “When people first approached me about running two years ago, I thought, I’m not a politician. And I still don’t feel I’m a politician, but I feel strongly about public service.”
With First Selectman Rob Simmons stepping down, Prue said he feels ready to step into the job right away, day in and day out.
“And that’s just how I’m wired, I wouldn’t do it any other way,” he said.