Joseloff, just an 'observer,' says Westport better now than he found it
Updated 6:01 am, Friday, November 15, 2013
Although he won't say if his suitcases are already packed, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who leaves office Monday after eight years as the town's chief elected official, says he plans to travel.
First on his list are visits to see his three grandchildren, who all live out of state. He also wants to see a play or a movie, now that he won't have to attend the series of municipal meetings that he regularly has, or to take care of the numerous other civic responsibilities routinely expected of Westport's first selectman.
"In my years as selectman, I think I only took two days off to see my sister in California," he said. "You can't travel too far or for too long," he said. "If something happens in town, the first person they ask for is you."
Joseloff, 68, said there are definitely challenges to the job, especially when a major storm -- like Superstorm Sandy -- hits or when you get buried under several feet of snow -- which happened last February.
"The first job of governing is protecting the people," said Joseloff, a Democrat who has devoted 22 years of service to the town, including time as a Representative Town Meeting member.
The town weathered four major storm events during his tenure, one that resulted in a fatality, when a tree crashed down on a vehicle killing the woman inside, he said.
"I think that after each storm we learned something," he said. In particular, it's that when it's a state-wide event, each community must be prepared to do as much as possible on its own. "You can't wait for the National Guard to arrive if all the other towns are expecting the same," he said.
Joseloff said he enjoyed the job of first selectman, though there were times of frustration. "It's not being able to help all those who need help that's most frustrating," he said.
He said he would like the completion of a residential complex for the town's senior residents on the Baron's South property to be his greatest legacy to the community -- although the final chapter on approval and construction of that complex has yet to be written. However, he credited much of the progress to date on the proposal to Selectman Shelly Kassen, who has been his Democratic running mate in each election. "It's been a marathon, not a sprint," he said, in getting plans for the project to move forward.
There has also been significant progress in planning for a revitalized downtown. "When we took office eight years ago, there was a high vacancy rate there," said Kassen, adding that's changed. Joseloff also led efforts to coordinate plans for several major capital projects downtown by establishing the Downtown 2020 Committee, which recently won approval to conduct a master plan for the area.
Joseloff said ending the 1,500-foot rule between outlets serving liquor and approving outdoor dining both helped bring new restaurants to town over the last few years.
Joseloff hasn't decided if he will continue working in other fields after he leaves office next week. But, the one-time CBS news man said, he will continue to publish the community website, WestportNow, which he founded in 2003. When Joseloff took office in 2005, he said he turned over the editorial control to others but retained a financial interest in the company.
Joseloff said he may take a look at launching similar websites in other communities.
He will also continue as a Fire Department volunteer. "I roll the hose," he said. And while he's been asked to stay involved in other community activities, right now, he said, he's "happy to be an observer" for a change.
As for the new first selectman, Republican Jim Marpe, Joseloff said he feels he is capable of handling the job's challenges. "I just hope he recognizes the importance of our town employees before he does any reorganization," Joseloff said. "Our success is what these people do."
He said that while he has had to address complaints from residents over the years about town services, few concerned employees themselves. "That's a testimony to the quality of people we have here," he said.
Joseloff, whose office this week had been cleared of almost all his personal possessions, will be leaving Marpe a folder of town-related information. "I think right now, he's about as prepared as one could be," he added.
"It's been a great honor, and I've been humbled, to run the town I grew up in," he said. "When the opportunity arose I took it," he said.
"I think we left it better than we found it."