GMW Interview⎯Dave Clune: “I Want to Run for Selectman Because I Love This Town”
On Wednesday, Aug. 5, Wilton resident Dave Clune declared his intention to run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen. Clune, 41, grew up in Wilton and moved back with his family—wife Robin, daughter Drew (11) and son Charlie (9)—in 2003. His name may be familiar, as he’s the son of former school superintendent David Clune. Following a visit to Town Hall to deliver the signatures he collected to become a petition candidate, Clune the son sat with GOOD Morning Wilton for an exclusive first interview about why he’s running.
A little biographical information first: Clune is the son of Marylynn and David Clune, the former superintendent of Wilton Schools. In high school, Dave played football, ran track and was a member of two state champion WHS lacrosse teams, and was also a member of the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps. He met his wife, Robin at Boston College, graduating in 1996 and attended Fordham Law School, finishing there in 2002. He currently works for the Federal Reserve as a compliance and ethics officer.
Both Robin and Dave are involved in Wilton: he coaches youth lacrosse and serves on the Wilton Lacrosse board, while she coaches youth field hockey and is a member of the Wilton Youth Field Hockey board as well; Dave is a member of the town’s Economic Development Commission, and Robin works as the executive director of Ambler Farm.
GMW: Why do you want to run for the Bd. of Selectmen?
Clune: Wilton is a town that I love. It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do. Between my job, the age of our kids, and where Robin is, it seemed like good timing and a good opportunity to do something for a town that I really love.
GMW: What is it you love about Wilton?
Clune: How active people are in town. I had coaches who were parents, and saw people who graduated Wilton High School who came back to coach, so I saw those examples. Now as an adult, I see teachers I had and classmates who have moved back, and that community and the activeness in town makes it a great place.
I see so many people who move back to Wilton, they want to raise a family here and they get involved, like their parents were. And that’s why people want to stay here.
GMW: Having covered Wilton and its politics for several years, it’s evident that you’re somewhat different than a lot of other people who are serving on some of the main boards. There haven’t been many people your age in recent years on the Bd. of Selectmen.
Clune: The town has been very fortunate to have very active volunteers—most of the positions are volunteer. That tends to be people who have more time—maybe they don’t have children at home anymore or their careers are at a place that allow them more freedom to volunteer their time and service.
My job is allowing me more time. Our kids are still in school but we felt like they’re settled, they like school, they have their groups of friends. There was a good opportunity with this election to step forward as an unaffiliated candidate.
A lot of the people who have served on these boards have had children who have gone through the schools. The difference is that mine are in the schools right now, so I may have a more immediate sense of what some of those concerns are. By virtue of having friends and acquaintances with people who also have kids in school, are involved in some of the town organizations and activities, and with my wife working at Ambler Farm, it’s a different contingent that generally isn’t in town office right now. From that perspective it is a little different of a voice.
But not only do my children attend Wilton Schools, and my wife works and volunteers in Wilton, but my parents still live here as well. Through them, I hear the concerns of people who have been in town for a while as well and I’ve seen the changes Wilton has gone through from when I was younger. It’s a perspective that spans a wide spectrum.
I also hope it will attract more interest and participation in town issues and government, that it might set the example of stepping up to get involved.
GMW: You’re currently serving on the Economic Development Commission. What are your thoughts on what Wilton needs to do in this area?
Clune: The idea is to look for opportunities to grow the tax base by bringing in new businesses. There’s good opportunity there, the question now is, what is the mechanism you can use to draw people in. The EDC website is now up and running. That’s one piece, now what are the other pieces you can put in place to try and build on that.
For some of the smaller businesses in town, some of the Wilton Center businesses, I think what would be good would be, is there a way to take advantage of all the traffic that comes up and down Rt. 7, to help direct some of that to them on a more regular basis to support those businesses, whether people are just passing through town or people who come in to Wilton to work but don’t really go much past their office buildings.
On the bigger picture, it’s a recruiting process—you have to essentially sell your town to businesses that are looking to relocate. That is a lot of work. If there’s a way to continue to market the town or focus the marketing effort. Bill Brennan has met with different corporations in the past, I think that’s an effort we can continue to build on.
GMW: What other things do you bring to the position of selectman?
Clune: The professional roles I’ve had lend well to this position. One thing that’s important for a selectman is, can you take people’s different perspectives and pull them together to find solutions that are workable for the town and satisfactory for as many people as possible. That’s been a theme in many of the jobs I’ve had.
After college I worked for a group called Operation Smile, which provides surgeries for kids in developing countries. My role was to make sure the surgical teams could do their job, navigating through various foreign countries, and help as many children as possible.
As a prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office, you’re trying to make the best decisions with imperfect information. Prosecutions are adversarial by nature—you’re representing the interests of victims and of the state, there’s a defense attorney representing a client, and you’re trying to resolve a case in the best way possible. Working with people who are sometimes cooperative, sometimes not, you have to learn to investigate, work with people who have opposing interests, and work within that system to get the best outcomes possible. That is something that’s valuable skill.
I’ve been able to build on that at a law firm and now in my current role as a compliance and ethics officer at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. I do a lot of investigations, and it’s given me a chance to learn how a lot of businesses run–it’s a valuable perspective to have. It’s also understanding the rules and training other people so no one runs into problems. That involves a lot of training, outreach and communication, which is something that carries over to the BoS position.
I may not have as much experience in town government roles, but I think I bring a fresh perspective with key skill sets that allow me to step into that role.
GMW: Communication and transparency have been big buzz words lately, with some people saying they wish the town did a better job. What do you think?
Clune: The town right now does a good job of posting information, making agendas and minutes available. Meetings are online and on Ch. 79, and people do have to make some effort to see those things and track down information they want. But there are additional ways to communicate, increase the frequency and make more of a push of information rather than requiring people to pull information out.
It might help people get more involved, to realize there are opportunities to get involved in issues that are being discussed. People sometimes feel there are issues they’re interested in but it’s already gone down a path and the outcome is already set. If we can make people aware when issues are being considered, that would help get more volunteers and also help people feel they had a full view of what’s going on.
GMW: Some residents feel our taxes are rising faster in Wilton compared to other towns. That there is too much spending, that our services and amenities are more limited than in other towns. What do you say to people who say it’s expensive to stay in Wilton and there’s not much return on what they’re paying?
Clune: If you look back at older articles, that’s long been a topic in town, whether it was back when I was in school–there were always people saying that Wilton taxes are too high and they drive certain people out; questioning if we’re getting enough for what we’re paying.
You have to strike a balance between the taxes people are able or willing to pay for what they’re getting, and the needs and wants of the town. One thing Wilton is very well-known for is the schools and how well people do graduating from Wilton schools. That’s a big portion of the town budget, but it’s very important—the town has a lot of attributes but that’s one that Wilton is well-known for so you have to maintain that.
One of the challenges, perhaps more recent, is that people see in places like Westport, New Canaan, Darien and Ridgefield, they have newer facilities, or they’ve built new schools. There’s concern that other towns may have invested more. It’s valuable to have people who have lived here for a long time–they know a lot about the town, they’re great volunteers and they provide a valuable input and knowledge. But you also need to continue to attract new people–people who are looking at the facilities the town offers.
That’s probably the main challenge the town faces. One thing you can do is bring in more revenue-producing businesses, but that takes time. But it’s an area to focus on. It costs money to try to bring in those businesses—it’s a recruiting effort and that costs money. The town has to be willing to put some effort in to bring those in.
GMW: What do you think about some of the changes the town has gone through?
Clune: There have been the physical changes, but the idea of the town, the foundation of the town is community. residents care about other people in the community. The town relies heavily on volunteers—Ambler Farm, the Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the Library, the Historical Society—all function on a volunteer base. It makes Wilton unique and I hope it stays that way. People say Wilton is more low-key than some other towns, but that’s because people are willing to get involved.
GMW: Your dad worked for the town for so many years. [Clune’s father is David Clune, former superintendent of Wilton Schools.] How does he feel about you running?
Clune: He’s very supportive. He has a very unique perspective—working for a very long run (22 years) as the superintendent. He enjoyed it very much, and for us growing up here, it was great to be able to see him and my mom involved in town. My mom was very involved in the ABC A Better Chance and other organizations. Part of my interest in doing this comes from them.
He’s a great listener and has provided some thought on things to consider.
GMW: Has he given you any advice?
Clune: That it’s important to listen to people and take time to understand what the concerns and views are, and then base your decisions on that. He’s a great listener and a very hard worker. We always saw him working to understand the issues and concerns and figuring out what’s the best thing to do for the people you represent. That the best decision, although it may not be the easiest one for you as a person or the most popular, that you have to what’s best for that group.
GMW: Why are you petitioning as an unaffiliated candidate?
Clune: As an employee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, there’s a code of conduct clause that prohibits you from participating in partisan politics. You’re not allowed to run for elected office as a member of an established political party. The Federal Reserve wants to maintain their independence from the political process. They do allow you to participate in public service. Because a selectman is an unpaid position, they view this as public service, so they said it’s an okay thing to pursue—as an unaffiliated candidate.
It’s exciting and also nerve-wracking to run as an unaffiliated candidate. It’s essentially me, period. There’s no one else. It make it unique and also a little challenging.
GMW: Does that mean you can’t register with a party?
Clune: You can register with a party, but I have, for the most part, always registered as an unaffiliated voter. I tend to vote based on what candidate I like, not based on what party. That’s where I’ve been anyway, and it’s not unusual within both Wilton and CT.
GMW: Why should someone vote for you?
Clune: I love Wilton, I think I have the best interests of the town, and I want other people to live here to have a similar experience—to enjoy the town, its many resources, like the schools, Ambler Farm, the many parks and trails, the way I’ve enjoyed them growing up here and living here now.
There are so many good things about the town, I think we can do a better job about marketing them and help people be aware of all the things in town. A new website, using social media, and an active public relations campaign that is ongoing and forward thinking. Sometimes it helps to think beyond the immediate question, what are all the considerations. And get input—”if we do x, what are the other things people would like to see?”
It’s not that Wilton needs ‘fixing,’ it’s not necessarily that we need to think ‘new,’ but think in new ways. People say, if you want to change things and have an impact, step up—so I’m doing that. We see this as our long term home, so it’s exciting to be able to help the town while we’re here and also for the future.