As part of its ongoing coverage of races across the region, CT Examiner spoke with candidates for selectman endorsed by the local Republican and Democratic parties in Old Lyme.
We begin with the Republican ticket.
CT Examiner met with incumbent Old Lyme First Selectman Tim Griswold, a Republican, who is running for re-election with Matt Ward, who is unaffiliated and has been endorsed by the Republican Town Committee.
Griswold first held the office of First Selectman from 1997 to 2011 and successfully ran against Bonnie Reemsnyder as a petitioning candidate in 2019.
Ward retired last year after 20 years as a state trooper, serving as resident trooper in Killingworth and then Deep River and Chester. He is currently a part-time police officer for Old Lyme and Deep River.
What do you see as the main issues of your re-election campaign?
In terms of our platform, I don’t think we’re really aspiring to do more stuff initially, we have so much going on. I think that we need to complete some of these things, but we do have a couple of things that we’ll be starting, such as the Halls Road improvements — he public portion of that — the sidewalk from Lyme Art Association over the bow bridge… that’s still a twinkle in the eye, that’s not a reality, but that’s the vision. The public side of the project is something that the town with grant help could embark upon. And then there’s the private side, which would be the village district, and all the property owners would have to agree to do their own thing at their own pace, and even the committee admits that will be a multi-year thing.
We have a sewer project that’s been going on for years. The bids came back for the shared infrastructure — the collection pipe, the pump station, the force main, and an odor control element — and the prices were very high. The supposition was that the project had different elements and it’s too much for one company to be specialized to do it all. So the decision was to cancel that, redo the RFP in smaller parts.
That’s complicated by the fact that you have 156 being paved from Fox Hopyard down to Essex Bank at Halls Road and DOT wants to pave it all the way over to East Lyme. So they are pawing the ground saying, “Get your in your pipe in the ground.”
We don’t want to wait much longer. It really better happen next season — at least get the force main pipe down Route 156 to East Lyme. If we can get a successful bid for the shared infrastructure, then that can go, and following that each beach would do its own internal sewer system.
The 25 percent Clean Water money is there on eligible stuff, but we’re actually talking with Courtney’s office about potential extra grants because if we have another high price, it would be helpful to have another grant source. If we could run up a second pool of money, some of the Biden infrastructure money, that would be nice.
It sounds as though you’re in favor of building the bow bridge across the Lieutenant River.
I think a lot of people think that would be terrific. But, the DOT owns some of that property and a restaurant property owns some of that. You’re gonna need a right of way from DOT and the property owner. The Halls Road Improvements Committee is going to try to get [the zoning] changed to a village district. If the whole idea of proceeding with the public park is embraced, you might have to do it in segments — you’re probably looking at a million dollars or more, I don’t know, nowadays, it’s hard to tell.
How does the town plan to use the American Rescue Plan Act funds?
We have a committee that will be assembling fairly soon to bring together people representing social services, emergency management facilities, and others. It’s a little intimidating, because you could conceivably give money to businesses, nonprofits, and individuals — so how does the little town say, any person, any business that’s been hurt by the pandemic, send in your paperwork? I mean, we don’t have a banking underwriting staff here to sort through all of that stuff.
So I think the mission initially will be to say, we want to do the most good with the money. I don’t think it would be wise for the town to say we’ll give the Florence Griswold Museum half a million dollars, and we won’t give the Lyme Art Association anything. How do you be fair? If you want to be fair, that means you better know the needs and the finances and everything else, and that would be an impossible task for a town like this. So we’ve got some smart people that will hopefully come up with a proper way to do this.
It’s certainly a nice problem to have, but we have got to manage it carefully. It doesn’t have to be spent overnight, but you still want to make progress as well. We have two years to figure out what to do and two more years to do it. If you wait for two years, you’ll probably get criticized. The need is now, it’s not two years from now, not four years from now.
Tell us about your background, your experiences as a state trooper.
I’m originally from Massachusetts. I’ve been living in Old Lyme for almost 16 years. I have five children. In two months, I’ll be married for 20 years to my beautiful wife, Tara. We have three kids in high school — senior, junior, sophomore — and then I have a sixth grader in the middle school and I have a fourth grader at Mile Creek, so I’ve got all the schools covered.
I was a trooper for 20 years out of the Westbrook barracks… been a trooper first class my whole career. I retired last April. For 12 years I was a resident trooper for the Town of Killingworth. In my last few years of my career, I was resident in Deep River and Chester.
I just loved being the resident trooper. It was just being part of the community. You had a budget, you met with the Board of Selectmen weekly, the Board of Finance, the Fire Department, the Ambulance Association, and businesses. You became part of the community, and you helped them reach the goals they needed to reach and you addressed the problems.
I think it kind of gave me my first true look at the political side of things because I didn’t try to get into politics because I was a police officer. I just did what I had to do and that was it. As I was getting ready to retire, I was looking to get more involved in my own community and try to take what I learned as a trooper as far as being like a peacemaker and negotiator and just trying to bring it to a new level.
What skills and experiences do you bring to being the position of selectman?
Being the resident trooper, it’s similar to being a selectman. People are always emailing and calling you and complaining about things in town — problems, issues, saying good things and bad. You’re involved in all the community events, public safety, building relationships, all that stuff is very important.
That’s what I did over the years and I still have a lot of friends and relationships with those two towns that I previously served. I’m a part-time police officer in Old Lyme and Deep River. I’ve been on the LYSB board of directors for the last two years and Little League for 12 years, as treasurer for the last six years — so I’ve been super busy. My kids are all involved in a bunch of sports and different activities in the community. I just was recently appointed last year as an alternate on the Planning Commission.
I kind of understand some of the politics but not necessarily the everyday details that Mr. Griswold deals with as the First Selectman. But as a trooper, I definitely dealt with similar problems and aspects of the job as far as trying to ask, “What’s the problem? Let’s try to come up with a solution.” Ultimately the goal was to do what was best for our community. That’s what I always do for the last 20 years and under public scrutiny — that doesn’t faze me, I’ve been under scrutiny for 20 years.
My degree is in accounting so I am familiar with some accounting stuff, and I’ve done budgets, and I’ve done grants — I’ve done different things through my career — so I think that definitely helps in this position, potentially.
I am unaffiliated, but being endorsed by the Republican party. I’ve been unaffiliated my whole life, that’s pretty typical for police. The Republicans support certain things and the Democrats support certain things — I like a little bit of both sides. Just to let people know, everyone’s entitled to their opinion in the discussion and I just never wanted to change that, so I stayed unaffiliated.
How do you feel about running with an unaffiliated candidate as opposed to a Republican?
You know, sometimes Republicans have gotten clocked because of the national scene, not because of the local scene. So be it Bush or Trump, now some people have become very vitriolic about what party you’re in. Trump is not a factor in Old Lyme, really. And so I think it’s wholesome to have some unaffiliated candidates. It shows we’re not concerned about that, at least I’m not.
You were a petitioning candidate last election and the Republican party asked you to run. What made you decide to run again this time?
I enjoyed retirement for eight years and then because of circumstances, I agreed to come back. It’s been an interesting one with the pandemic — it’s difficult to keep the balls in the air. I think it would be very helpful for Matt to get more involved and if he wants to continue to do it, that might be a wonderful way to get indoctrinated and learn the ropes, and after a couple years, you’re getting comfortable.
Do you see 10 percent affordable housing as an achievable goal in Old Lyme?
In the short to intermediate term, that is probably not achievable. We have something like 4400 houses and we’d need 400, so I think that’s unrealistic.
One should also be aware that the definition is restricted —it isn’t what is affordable, it’s what’s deed restricted. So to be classified as affordable, it has to have a restriction on the deed, such as Lymewood, Rye Field, and even these three single family units that we have. So properties that are modest in value or have modest rents are not included in that total and I think that’s unfortunate because it makes the situation worse than it is. Meanwhile, there are two affordable lots that the McCulloch purchase provides for, and those would be developed by a developer yet to be identified.
There was a project initiated by Mark Diebolt up on Hatchetts Hill Road for affordable housing…
There are concerns about the cost of the sewer project, which is currently being rebid. If there is a gap between the benefit assessment and the cost of the project, how will the town proceed?
I think the thought was that, between the shared infrastructure, and the gravity sewer, in Sound View, property owners would have Clean Water subsidized funds at 2 percent for 20 years.
I guess the town would have to fund the gap, but that’s going to be basically an arm wrestling between the people who evaluate the increase in value versus the cost.
We had a conversation, very briefly, with the grant coordinator for Courtney’s office, Julia McGrath, who’s very helpful, and so there might be some additional grant possibilities. If there was some additional money from one source or another, that kind of help mitigate this. The ARPA money is a broad thing — you can give it to businesses, nonprofits, individuals, water sewer.
From the beginning, it’s been stated that the Sound View people need sewers because their lots are small and the conditions are not great for in-ground septic. If there’s something that says, the the town has to help out above a certain level of money, depending on the benefit assessment, then I guess the town would need to evaluate that. So it’s possible the ARPA money could be used for that —conceivably.
I just hope all of the beaches hang tight in the deal because if we lose a beach, then we could lose 25 percent of our EDUs [Equivalent Dwelling Units], it will make paying for stuff more expensive for the remaining parties.
Is there any indication that a beach is dropping out?
Not yet, but I’m not sure what their individual estimates are for the homeowners because it’s more than just what we’re talking about — it would be redoing some roads and installing water. Probably the DEEP would be furious, but if a resident were told it’s only going to cost you x and now it’s x plus 50%, they might say if there’s a vote, what are you going to do? I don’t know if that’s a legit fear at this point.
Why should people vote for you?
I feel based on who I am as a person, I have a career of integrity and I’m a trustworthy person. I feel like I have the same goals like any other person — I want to become more involved in my community, I want to keep our taxes low, be transparent and communicate with the community, and come together and continue the progress we’ve already made.
I have a lot of friends on both sides, based on my interaction with the community. I’m always doing something or involved with taking the next step. And I think with all the animosity nationally, and some locally, I felt this was my chance to say, I want to make a difference, or I want to be part of something. There are people who complain about it, but they do nothing to fix it. So I’m not saying there’s nothing to be fixed, I just want to be part of something so that I can help with the future of my children and my family. One of the reasons why I moved here was the schools and the community. I grew up near the water in Massachusetts and now I can do something to continue to make this town progress. It’s important.
I think that looking at the Democrat side, you have somebody that’s been on the school board, but has no municipal experience. Jim Lampos has limited local experience. I just think that with all that’s going on and all that might happen, it would be a very difficult road for Ms. Shoemaker to step in and handle this stuff.
When I came in, Bonnie [Reemsnyder] more or less exited. I probably wouldn’t just leave and say, ‘Have fun.’ I would try to have a little turnover and be available.
But I think given the lack of local experience on that side of the ticket, I think it would be important to have somebody who’s been around the block — there’s just a lot going on. Over the number of years, you have a pretty good Rolodex to know who to call. Just starting out in the chair on November ‘X,’ if you’ve never had any experience, it would be a very, very difficult position and I think the town could suffer from that. So I think it’s important to have a little “stay the course.”