The GMW Interview: Deborah McFadden, Selectman-Nominee
Following the resignation of selectman Ted Hoffstatter, the Wilton Democratic Town Committee has nominated Deborah McFadden to serve out the remainder of Hoffstatter’s term on the Board of Selectmen (ending Nov. 2015). The BoS will consider that nomination at their regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 20. Typically, those party nominations are not challenged, and McFadden can expect to be sworn in by the Town Clerk on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
GOOD Morning Wilton spoke with McFadden just yesterday for “The GMW Intverview.”
What made you say, ‘I’m up for this challenge, I want to take this on?”
Deborah McFadden: I’ve been thinking about it for years. I’ve been heavily involved in whatever community I’ve lived in. I’ve been active in Democratic politics for over 35 years, and involved in a lot of community organizations. Not to mention my work experience has been in municipals as well. I’ve always said that when my family ‘grew up’ that I wanted to serve more.
The ‘baby’–my son Joey–just turned 16. [Selectman] is a position that requires a lot of night meetings, so I felt he’s reached an age where I’m comfortable if I’m at meetings and my husband isn’t available, it’s okay for him to be home alone. It was time for me to do more.
I’ve been a very active member of the community, from Boy Scouts, to my church–at the YMCA, we work in conjunction with them with a breakfast with Santa and the Dr. Seuss Birthday to raise funds for the Melissa McFadden Scholarship in memory of the daughter we lost, who was an employee of the Wilton Y. If you’ve noticed the bench in front of the Y, it says, “Melissa McFadden, you are the sunshine of our life.” It’s in memory of our daughter who we lost to leukemia. She was a senior at Wilton High School when she passed. She had Down Syndrome and had a higher possibility of contracting leukemia. The breakfast we do benefits the scholarship that goes to WHS seniors who either are developmentally disabled or serve that population.
Because of her we’ve been very involved in organizations like STAR, Lighting the Way–they work with the developmentally disabled in Fairfield County. I’ve also worked with the Leukemia Society of CT, serving on their board doing fundraising.
I have a son who’s a jock, so I’ve been a football booster and I’m still the secretary of the Scout committee for Boy Scout Troop 186.
GMW: Knowing some of your background, it seems like you have an ability to be in touch with a broad spectrum of the town residents.
DM: I really bring a unique perspective. When you go to town meetings, the town can seem to be divided into two camps: the seniors and those that have children in the school district. I have a foot in each camp because my husband is mature and my son is 16 in the schools. Our household fits both of them.
I’m hoping I can bring a fresh perspective because of my experience working for the mayor’s staff in Salt Lake City. I do have a very strong background in municipal services.
I am somebody who has always been an activist at heart, that when I see something that needs doing, I’m the kind of person who volunteers. I’ve been involved in the leadership of many organizations: I’ve held many leadership responsibilities in my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and very active in our congregation.
I’m vice chair of the Wilton Democratic Town Committee and have served under the last four chairs. I am the campaign chair for the DTC–I do the slate promotion, from candidates for President down to registrars of voters, I work on that. I’ve had an opportunity to have a lot of contact with people in the community.
In this new capacity, I’m eager to listen to what people have to say, and learn from others, and do what I can to help make Wilton a better place.
GMW: Former selectman Hal Clark had many subcommittee assignments–I think he had the most out of any selectman. Are there areas in which you have a particular interest and assignments you’d like? Whether it’s Ambler Farm to the Wilton Security Task Force, I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to discuss that with the selectmen?
DM: It’s a little premature because I am still “citizen Deborah.” I have not been voted on yet [by the selectmen]; I am the nominee of the DTC, so I am still not a member. In a few weeks I’ll have more clarity on that. Just because I may have an interest in a particular area doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to get that. We’ll have to see what happens.
Even though Mike Kaelin and I are new members, I’m still lowest on the totem pole, once I’m sworn in on Jan. 21. But I’d be happy to serve in any capacity.
I do have a background in some areas that are a bit unique. Having worked for Salt Lake City in community relations, I interfaced with all the departments, as a trouble shooter and communicating information to the public, both in and out of city hall. Prior to that I worked for the Salt Lake City Police Department for a year. I managed a fire prevention grant [there]. In my current capacity, I am a subcontractor to 911 Consulting, performing director of communication responsibilities. That’s an organization that develops emergency training plans, developing exercises and drills for corporations and campuses nationwide. So I do have a background in that type of thing. I’ve always had a strong interest in the environment. My husband is on Wilton Go Green, and that’s been an interest.
But I’m happy to serve in whatever capacity the town needs me. I am pretty adaptable; I’m a quick study. I’ve done such a wide variety of things. My background is not necessarily typical of your average mother raising a family.
GMW: Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It’s been a while since a woman served on the Board of Selectmen.
DM: It’s been a number of years since a woman has served on the BoS, so yes, I think I will bring a fresh perspective.
GMW: Maybe this is editorializing a bit, but I think there’s something to be said for residents seeing new, different faces in public service. Sometimes it seems hard to attract new volunteers, fresh blood, different faces and demographics. Having residents see new people involved is good–do you agree?
DM: Oh, I think so. It may be somebody they may be able to relate differently to. I think it’s good to have some diversity. Not to say that we haven’t had excellent selectmen in the past, but different types of people bring different viewpoints. I think I can contribute by bringing a fresh viewpoint.
We have been really fortunate to live in this town. We chose to live in Wilton–we could have lived in other Fairfield County towns. In fact we have a number of friends in another community who strongly encouraged us to move there. We chose not to because we like Wilton. It’s a great place to raise a family. Wilton has excellent schools, it’s very family oriented. It’s a little lower key than some of the surrounding towns in terms of one-upping one another and social pressures.
It’s a really good community, not only in terms of living here as a resident, but the town government itself has always been well run. We’re really blessed to have the high caliber of employees that we do. The departments are well run; if you look at the services that are provided in this town with the limited number of employees we have, Wilton is a very efficiently run town. It provides excellent services–look at the Parks & Rec services. When we had Hurricane Sandy and our town literally had gridlock from all the wires and trees that were down, Public Works was extraordinary in all the work they did in clearing out and cleaning up our town–I wish the utilities could take a lesson from how well Wilton did.
There have been a lot of people who have come before me on the BoS that have done a good job in helping to manage us to get us where we are today. I’m hopeful that as I step in that I will be able to continue to contribute positive things with helping us to be the strong community that we are today.
GMW: What are the biggest issues facing Wilton right now?
DM: I think helping our seniors to be able to stay in the town has been a challenge. We live in an expensive part of the U.S. It’s sometimes difficult for people when they retire and go to a limited income to be able to stay in this community. I see that as a challenge we face in keeping our seniors in our community. Having a well-rounded community involves having that type of diversity.
Keeping our taxes down.
I don’t see us facing any really major issues, like we faced with Sandy.
GMW: Since we are coming into budget season, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to look at–
DM: I’ve already been to my first budget meeting. Even though I’m not a sworn member of the BoS yet, I’ve probably put in at least eight hours already in meeting with various people. I’m hitting the ground running. Before I’m sworn in, believe me, I have my budget book, I’m having another meeting tomorrow, I’ve been meeting with people in Town Hall to get more information so that I can be more conversant with the issues that we’re facing. I’m working hard to be somebody that can really hit the ground running.
GMW: Your predecessor was fond of calling himself a ‘fiscal conservative.’ I don’t know if you want to label yourself, but is there a stance you take in approaching the budget?
DM: I’ve never put a label on myself. I do think that I am conservative. As I said, I want to have our taxes down so we can keep our community members here. I guess I would consider myself a fiscal conservative but I have never given myself a label. I also want to listen to the community and make sure that I understand what the residents of Wilton are interested in, and that I’m not coming to the Board to represent my personal viewpoint; but to be an advocate for those who may not have a voice in town government. I want to be clear that my door is always open for people to communicate with me on what their concerns and interests are. I hope to be somebody that can be an advocate for any citizen on any issue.
GMW: Right now, one of the hot button topics is the Miller-Driscoll renovation. Can you offer your thoughts and take on that and the complaints that Sensible Wilton and others have had?
DM: I’m speaking as ‘Citizen Deborah,’ I’m not an elected official on the BoS yet. So I couldn’t comment on the Board’s position or the town’s. From my view as a citizen, I attended a number of public meetings; I attended the public hearing where we voted; I actually spoke at it, as well.
I think that when we have a town vote, if some citizens don’t like the outcome of the vote, we can’t revote if it’s not to our liking. That would create chaos.
I would like to see an increase in voter participation on all the votes we have in town. The last couple of Wilton town budgets were passed automatically because we didn’t hit the minimum threshold of 15-percent [turnout] to defeat them. That’s a sad commentary of voter participation in the process. It would be good for Wilton on all issues–whether it’s a special issue like Miller-Driscoll, where we’re bonding, or the regular budget, or any election–to have citizens participate in the process, because it makes the whole community stronger when more participate.
That would be one of my goals, to increase voter participation in the process, and more awareness of when we do have special elections, and see if we can do a better job of communicating so that people do come out and participate.
GMW: Is there anything else you want the residents to know about you?
DM: I’m ready to work hard for the people of Wilton, and I’m glad I live in this community. We have loved living here, and we’re very involved. We love Wilton, we’re here by choice and I’m excited to be part of the BoS so that I can continue to–in the strong tradition we’ve had of community service–to step up and be one of those counted to serve our community.
If you look around, this town is run by volunteers. All of the town should be commended for producing the high caliber of volunteers that we have serving on all the boards, committees and commissions in town, whether they are elected or appointed.