Last Tuesday evening, Jan. 3, the Wilton Democratic Town Committee (DTC) held its monthly meeting in a new location, Comstock Community Center. It was the second monthly meeting the DTC members have held in Comstock’s multipurpose room since moving from the much smaller Town Hall Annex, reflecting the increased attendance they’ve had following November’s election:  December’s meeting saw a packed room with approximately 60-70 attendees, and January’s gathering of 25-30 people was still larger than the DTC’s typical draw.

One other detail at this month’s meeting was different as well–namely, the presence of one non-Democrat. The guest speaker on Tuesday was Michael Kaelin, Wilton’s second selectman. The visit had the added frisson of interest given that Kaelin, a long-time member of the GOP and former chair of Wilton’s Republican Town Committee, recently let it be known that he had changed his affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated.

[Editor’s Note:  GOOD Morning Wilton will feature a lengthy Q&A with Michael Kaelin on Monday with some very candid, interesting thoughts from the town official.]

Kaelin sat next to DTC chair Deborah McFadden, who welcomed him by saying, “You are always welcome at our meetings, our meetings are always open.”

Kaelin told the DTC membership that he was interested in attending their meeting because while there may be one sole Democrat who sits on the 5-member Board of Selectmen, “You do have a representative on the BoS, you actually have five representatives on the BoS,” and that he was “more interested in finding out what your concerns are rather than communicating what’s going on the BOS.”

He also said he was inspired to come speak with the DTC after attending the DTC fundraiser last summer. “I really learned a lot about what your specific concerns were. I concluded from that it would be a good idea for me to come here.”

Kaelin also broke the ice by saying, “If you’re concerned I’m some kind of mole here sent to spy, I’m really not interested in taking part in partisan politics.”

Kaelin stayed for the entire hour-plus long meeting and spoke for about half of it; he talked about what he saw as the pressing issues facing the town and the BoS and then took questions from the group.

Among the highlights of his comments:

  • “The biggest thing we have to deal with midyear through the budget cycle is a $300,000 cut in the aid from the State of Ct.” He later added, “Where you can probably help the town as Democrats, this is something being imposed upon us in the town of Wilton by the state government of CT, of which your party has most of the control over the state government. Where the political parties lack control and so we’re on the same page, the biggest problem Hartford is confronting is a lack of income tax revenue.
  • “The one thing that would probably have the greatest economic impact on Wilton, and certainly the most direct impact of the value of your homes in Wilton, would be improving and electrifying the Danbury train line. That’s completely beyond our control. I did meet with members of the state government and the federal government last year. The state government clearly doesn’t have the resources to do it; the Federal government does, and it requires coordination and cooperation in particular with the states, New York and the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
  • “Our senator, your senator, Chris Murphy, has really taken an active interest in this. The obstacles–well we’re a blue state and the federal congress is controlled by the Republicans and they’re not going to provide funding to a blue state. But the incoming president, whatever anybody may think of him, has talked about infrastructure improvements. It will be interesting to see what our senators, both Murphy and [Sen. Richard] Blumenthal, and our congresspeople, Elizabeth Esty is very involved with this–we’ll see if everybody meant what they said during the campaign and if they’ll work together to do something positive.”

On local issues:

  • “The only real issue that’s brewing locally is a tug of war between the BoS and the Bd. of Education because we’re all fighting over scarce resources. My view is we’ve gotten out of balance. Specifically we got out of balance last year when we cut the BoS budget by $400,000 and we increased the BoE budget $800,000. What I’m looking at is, when I moved to town 20 years ago, the schools were roughly 2/3 of the budget and the BoS was 1/3 of the budget. In the last year it’s creeped up, before those adjustments were made last year, the BoE counted for 70.5 percent and the BoS counted for 29.5 [percent]. Just that one adjustment made it 71.5% and 28.5%. When you translate those numbers for the services we provide to the town, what you need to appreciate, is the BoS runs on an absolutely bare bones budget.”
  • Kaelin spoke specifically about the police and fire departments–the services they provide, how well-staffed and stretched thin they are, and the possibility of adding volunteer firefighters. We’ll have more on his comments in our exclusive interview Monday.
  • In answering a question about increasing the grand list and whether he feels satisfied with what the town has done, and if officials have a plan, Kaelin said:  “Yes, I’m satisfied. The EDC [Economic Development Commission] is really chugging away and doing concrete things to bring more businesses and economic benefit to the town. There’s also more realism, certainly from the first selectman’s [Lynne Vanderslice] standpoint. She seems to be having some influence on Planning & Zoning people too to understand that we just need more growth in the center of town. What I’m in favor of and I’m seeing concrete steps to realizing, is getting more apartments in the center of town.

We’ll have much more in our exclusive interview with Kaelin Monday.