Madison First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons is running for a second term in the town’s top elected office, facing challenger Republican Bruce Wilson, a Republican and member of the Board of Selectmen. Lyons was elected first selectwoman in 2019, upsetting Republican Tom Banisch by a few hundred votes. Lyons sat down with the Connecticut Examiner to discuss her goals for a second term.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What have you’ve learned from your time as First Selectwoman?
We have an incredible staff that is so dedicated to serving our community, and there is a huge support network in our town to make sure things get done through volunteerism and charities. Having been First Selectman during an unprecedented state of emergency, I’ve gotten to see the many faces of Madison in a time of crisis.
What progress do you think you could make with Academy and other empty school buildings during a second term?
With Academy and the school renewal plan, the board really wanted to move forward on it, and voted on it literally weeks before the pandemic hit. I think it was the right decision at the time to press pause, because the public couldn’t really focus on such big decisions at that stage, but we’re trying to revitalize all that and move things forward again. I’m hoping that it can be voted on by the end of this year or early next year. The board doesn’t want to do something premature, and they want to make sure they’re conscious of lessons learned in the last year and be certain that the plan that goes to voters is the right one.
How has Passport to Parks impacted residents’ access to Hammonasset Beach, and what role does the first selectman have in dealing with that challenge?
Passport to Parks had a huge impact on us. People in Connecticut have discovered Hammonasset, so visitor volume has gone through the roof. Last year, when the state restricted how many people could be on the beach, it was really difficult to manage. Hammonasset can have 30,000 people on one day, so it’s a small city within Madison. I actively started a huge campaign with DEEP, which oversees Hamonassett, about adding additional public safety resources and alternative transportation options. The town has really been vocal and in constant communication with the state about Hammonasset since spring, and we’re working on long term plans so the community can get better access to it.
What have been some of the toughest decisions you’ve made as First Selectwoman?
My leadership style is about trying to bring people together, and I see myself as taking more of a collaborative approach to drive consensus, though I also have had to make a lot of tough calls. A lot of the decisions last summer with the beaches were really difficult. What first selectman in history has ever had to restrict how many people could walk on the beach? Along the same lines, canceling or restricting events took some really tough calls, but I think we tried to do what we thought was in the public’s best interest. I know some people were not happy with some of those decisions, and I tried to get everybody’s perspective, but ultimately I had to make a decision. Ninety-nine percent of votes on the board have been unanimous, and in the last two years we’ve passed two bipartisan-supported budgets, so we’ve had a town government that has been working well together. I think if you have people talking and working together to find consensus, it’s a real win for the community.
Zoning was a big topic in the state legislature this session, and I know that trickled down to towns, too. What role did you play in expressing the town’s perspective on zoning proposals?
Madison has been more forward thinking than other towns, so some changes started back in 2017 to create more flexible zoning in our community. The town recognized that we needed to be more adaptable, more welcoming, and more flexible in our zoning, so the town already started that process. With some of the lightning rod issues in discussions at legislative level, we had already kind of started to go down that road. Zoning is very local, it’s about where you live and what your community looks like, so my advocacy throughout the whole thing was that local communities needed to have a say in this. Everything shouldn’t just be dictated from Hartford. Still, as a state and a town, we need to reflect upon inequities that exist, and how we can get rid of them. I’ve been in regular dialogue with representatives in Hartford to discuss these issues, and I think there was a lot of listening that happened, so things ended up significantly watered down than what had been proposed.
What’s a goal you have for your second term, if you’re reelected?
I’d like to go after a lot more grants. We need to have as many shovel-ready projects as possible to start tapping into these federal funds for infrastructure. With American Rescue Plan funds, I’m looking forward to coming up with a community-supported plan that allows us to use that money so we get a long-term benefit out of it and so the town really feels it got something of significant value from that money.