Westport ceremony inaugurates new officials
Updated 5:50 pm, Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Two weeks after voters went to the polls, the candidates they elected to municipal office were sworn in Monday night at an inauguration ceremony in Town Hall.
Before administering the oath of office, Town Clerk Patricia Strauss told the audience of about 150 people that she would swear in 20 first-time elected officials and 31 incumbents, although a handful were unable to attend. The ceremony began with honor guards from the Westport Police and Fire departments, a rendition of the National Anthem in harmony by four Staples High School choir members, and an invocation by the Rev. Thomas Thorne of the Church of the Assumption, who told the audience to remember the congregants of Saugatuck Congregational Church, which was damaged in a fire late Sunday.
"As a comparison to the 2009 election results, we had just six first-time elected officials and 47 incumbents at this same ceremony," Strauss said.
Three new members were elected to the Board of Finance; two new members will join the Board of Education, and four new members became part of the Planning and Zoning Commission. The ZBA and BAA were not contested, Strauss said. Additionally, she said, only one Representative Town Meeting district looks the same the today. "District 7 will continue its representation with four seasoned members," she said.
RTM Districts 1, 2, 3 and 8 added two members each and Districts 4, 5, 6, and 9 each got one new member.
Michael Gordon, newly elected to the Board of Education, brought the eldest of his three children, 5-year-old son Ethan, on stage with him as he took the oath of office, and the young boy enthusiastically raised his right hand along with his father.
"It was more emotional than I expected and that's because he was standing there with me. I was running first and foremost as a dad. That will be the lens I'm looking through on the board," Gordon said.
"You can see people take it seriously," said Bill Harris, one of three unopposed members of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Harris said he remembers how it was the first time he was on stage years ago to take the oath. He said the first-timers are a reminder to him of the importance of grassroots office holders and their close ties to their communities.
"They're not professional politicians," he said.
"It was inspiring to learn there were 20 new people that wanted to step forward into public office and community service," said Janis Collins, newly elected to the Board of Finance.
Michael Rea, who had been an RTM member and chairman of its Finance Committee, was elected Nov. 8 to the Board of Finance Board. He said his candidacy gave him a chance to interact with a wider segment of the town's population. "When you run townwide you deal with varied interests and concerns," he said.
Strauss told the crowd that administratively, "this year's election process unfolded with very few issues ... I don't remember any election that hasn't produced some drama."
The "drama" this year is provided courtesy of the Secretary of the State's office, which randomly selects 10 percent of the state's 523 polling places for hand-counted audits of balloting. Westport's District 7 and 9 are among that 10 percent. The audit will begin at 10 a.m. Monday in Room 201 in Town Hall. "The public is invited to observe," Strauss said.