Issues ran the gamut from pension reform and affordable housing to management styles and ethics Monday night during a forum for candidates in the Nov. 5 election.
The event in Town Hall auditorium, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Westport, featured candidates for first selectman, selectmen, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Asked about qualifications and goals, if elected, Garten said she's not looking to make sweeping changes in Westport, but to take a fresh look at how the town is governed. The Board of Finance member said the town needs a financial policy that will ensure it will have the resources for schools and projects in the future. Garten, who formerly was the finance board's chairwoman, said during the recent recession it "fell on us to fund schools and town services," which she said the panel did without inflicting major pain. She said it's important to "manage the town's finances effectively" and to "create long-term savings." She also advocated for reform of municipal pensions.
Marpe said he has a four-point plan that he would implement if elected, including better communication and reform, as well as particular attention to reforming the town's pension plans. He said he wants to assure that the town's amenities are kept "up to standard." Other goals are to "minimize taxes," maintain the excellence in the town's schools and help senior residents continue to be able to afford living in town.
Kaner, the Board of Finance chairman, said he and his running mate are "two CEO-level candidates" with more than a half-century of managerial experience between them. Kaner said that a first selectman is like the CEO of the town and "that's something you can't learn on the job.
"We are a town, not a business," said Kane, a Representative Town Meeting member. "The town's not looking for two CEOs. We have constituents, not stockholders."
She said she and Garten would have a more holistic approach to managing town government.
On the issue of ethics, both Garten and Marpe agreed that transparency in government is important, and that ethical standards must be upheld. Marpe said he would "make sure all department heads and employees are aware of what is ethical behavior."
Garten said all town employees are given handbooks on ethics guidelines and are aware of what is expected of them.
The six candidates for the Planning and Zoning commission also took part in a forum. They included Alan Hodge, Audra Vebell and David Lessing, all Democrats who are also cross-endorsed by the Save Westport Now party, and Glen Payne, David Press and Denise Lassman Torv, running on the Coalition for Westport, a new bipartisan party fielding candidates for the first time.
Torv said she believes the top problem is that the town government is "overly partisan in nature, especially the P and Z, and that prevents a lot from getting done." She also said she's opposed to having Westport become "a metropolis," but added it shouldn't be a "backwater town, either."
Hodge said he's "not in favor of the notion of multi-story" buildings in town. "Building high -- I'm absolutely opposed to that," he said.
Payne addressed the traffic problem. "We know there's problems on the Post Road, but it's a state road and there's not much we can do about it," he said. Payne also said he was glad that funding for the town-wide traffic study was funded, saying that could give some insight into the problem.
Press said downtown parking, in particular, is an issue, especially if the town wants to attract smaller, local businesses there. "Mom-and-pop stores need parking right near their stores," he said. Without enough on-the-street parking, "we won't attract that kind of store downtown," he added.
Lessing said that whatever the zoning commission identifies as a problem today, should not be an issue down the road. "The biggest risk is not what we do, but that we do it wrong," he said.
On regulating signage in town, Vebell said there are already regulations "on the book and they are working pretty well." She also said that one of the roles of the P&Z is that its members be "fully educated" on issues, "so what we do won't add to the problem."
Save Westport Now had cross-endorsed the three Democrats in September, but a failure to conform to a 2011 state election law that requires a minority party candidate to sign their certificate of endorsement filed with town clerks prior to the election led to the removal of the candidates from the SWN ballot line.
A reversal of that decision, however, came Sept. 30 in a stipulation from state Superior Court in Norwalk, where a judge ordered names of Vebell, Lessing and Hodge also be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot on the SWN party line.
Several dozen people attended Monday's debates and questions asked of the candidates were submitted by audience members. The moderator was Charlotte Garrell, an LWV official.
The LWV will hold another candidate forum at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 in Town Hall that will feature candidates for the Board of Education, Board of Finance and judge of probate.