2015 in Review
Memorial Groundbreaking, Dedication
On the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, family members of lost loved ones gathered in Cos Cob Park for the official opening of the 9/11 Memorial Greenwich.
They walked up a new pathway replicating the Fibonacci spiral—a mathematically perfect curve found in nature—to the centerpiece of memorial, two glass towers recalling both the Twin Towers and the Tribute in Light that shines annually in remembrance of those lost in the attacks.
“Today is bittersweet, and we’re all so proud of what we’ve done here,” James Ritman, co-president of the Greenwich Community Projects Fund, said. “It’s been an incredible grassroots effort and a combined effort. It’s really remarkable and we’re so honored and proud of what we built here.
The glass towers at the top of the pathway are engraved with the names of those with Greenwich ties who died on 9/11. The 32 names on the glass memorial run vertically, and are aligned to form the words “Love,” “Freedom,” “Liberty,” “Courage” and “Forever” as acrostics running horizontally. A 33rd name, Donald Freeman Greene, is set among the paving stones to represent his death in the crash at Shanksville, Penn.
“All I can say is that your design is truly genius,” Ritman said to the designers, Charles Hilton Architects and Doyle Herman Design Associates, the Greenwich firms who conceived the memorial and the landscaping, respectively. “When I look at this memorial, I am in awe of what you created. I think one town resident summed it up best when he said there are no words to describe how beautiful this memorial is.”
Tesei Wins 5th Term
Republican First Selectman Peter Tesei cruised to a fifth term in November with his highest-ever margin of victory, garnering 74 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat challenger Frank Farricker by a margin of 7,369 votes to 2,428. Independent candidate James Reilly took 119 votes.
Joined by his wife Jill and his two children, Tesei addressed a jubilant audience of supporters at the Milbrook Club on Election Night: “I remember I once asked [the late Greenwich businessman and civic leader] Malcolm Pray what advice he had for me, he told me: ‘Just be you.’ To that point, I am who I am, and I’ll rise and fall on that for the rest of my life.”
All 12 town districts were unanimous not only in re-electing Tesei, but in giving him strong majorities. Tesei joins John Margenot as the only five-term first selectman since the position became a paid one in the late 1970s.
“We will continue to put the people of Greenwich first,” Tesei said in his acceptance speech. “This election is not about me, it’s about we.”
The election also saw the return of the two other incumbent members of the Board of Selectmen, Republican John Toner (who took 5,254 votes in his first election following his appointment to replace the late David Theis), and Democrat Drew Marzullo (who won 4,384 votes).
Greenwich Turns 375
This year marked Greenwich’s 375th anniversary. The milestone birthday was celebrated all year long with a variety of events, including a party at Innis Arden Cottage, historical bus tours, and a parade of more than 800 marchers through downtown Greenwich. Parade day—Sept. 27—also featured the unveiling of an American flag the size of a basketball court.
“You have the whole sphere of what makes a community vibrant and I think that is the real beauty of today and celebrating the history,” said First Selectman Peter Tesei. “You can’t loose sight of the history. Having the founding descendants here with us is truly a special component of today.”
Mary Ellen LeBien was one of those descendants. “I am an 11th generation lineal descendant of Elizabeth Feake, who purchased Greenwich Point from the Native Americans and her husband, Robert Feake, who with Daniel Patrick the land that we celebrate today,” she explained.
On July 18, 1640, Patrick and Robert Feake, late of Watertown in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, paid the local Indians 25 English coats for what we now call Old Greenwich. Elizabeth Feake, a niece and former daughter-in-law of Gov. John Winthrop, bought Greenwich Point with her own money and called it “Elizabeth’s Neck.”
A Bridge for Dave Theis
In July, the Mianus River Bridge was renamed in honor of the late Greenwich Selectman David Theis.
Theis, who died suddenly in late December 2014, used to love going out every year around Memorial Day and, with help from volunteers, bedecking the bridge with American flags in a display of the town’s patriotic spirit.
Led by State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151) and Department of Consumer Protection commissioner David Scribner, and with the support of the entire Greenwich delegation, a bill was passed and signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy to officially name the bridge over the Mianus River on Route 1 the David N. Theis Memorial Bridge.
The official bridge renaming took place on a very meaningful day, as both Kerrin Coyle, Theis’ longtime partner, and First Selectman Peter Tesei came up with the idea of having the ceremony on Aug. 30, Theis’ birthday.
“I am just so proud of all of them coming together and doing this for David,” said Coyle. “I know he’s up there saying ‘Wow, this is fantastic.’ I’m really very touched, because David loved those flags.”
Floren Received Theis Award
On Oct. 22 at the Tamarack Country Club, Livvy Floren, a Republican who represents the 149th district in the state House, was recognized for her outstanding service to the community with a new award named for the late Selectman David N. Theis.
John Mastracchio, a Host Committee member of the ceremony, said Floren was the perfect person to honor.
“Dave Theis was all about community service,” Mastracchio said. “This is a good chance to recognize Dave’s contributions to the town and his commitment to the community. And who better to receive the first award than Livvy Floren, who is everybody’s family member.”
The event was also a fundraiser for the Glenville Volunteer Fire Department, with proceeds going toward Greenwich’s first brush truck, which will enable firefighters to reach the sort of brush fires that tend to occur in mid- and backcountry Greenwich.
International Film Festival Debuted
The inaugural Greenwich International Film Festival took place in June, kicking off with a special advanced screening of the “Entourage” movie at Bow Tie Cinemas.
Doug Ellin is the creator and director of movie, which began as an HBO series about an actor and his best friends from Queens living life in Los Angeles.
Ellin is close friends with Greenwich resident Mark Teixeira, the New York Yankees first baseman, who made a cameo in the show and is on the board of the Greenwich International Film Festival.
“He told me about it (GIFF),” Ellin said. “I thought it would be cool. I’ve heard great things about Greenwich and I have a lot of friends here.”
The second GIFF is scheduled for June 9-12, 2016.
Sidewalk Sales Drew Thousands
The Chamber of Commerce’s annual July Sidewalk Sales were once again a big hit. More than 150 stores in downtown Greenwich took part in the four-day event that attracted shoppers from near and far.
“People come from Long Island—in fact three sisters just said they are staying overnight,” said Marcia O’Kane, the chamber’s president and chief executive. “We’ve got people from Boston and we have people from all over the Westchester and Connecticut area.”
Town Party Rocked Again
Local bands who made the cut also performed at the fifth annual GTP, and over a dozen food vendors kept the crowd happily fed; local favorites Corbo’s Corner Deli and Garden Catering helped cater this event for their first time.
In 2016, Rock and Rock Hall of Famers Daryl Hall and John Oates will perform for the all-day family music festival planned for Saturday, May 28. Grammy award winners John Fogerty and Tedeschi Trucks Band will also perform.
Held annually on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, the GTP brings multiple generations of Greenwich residents together to celebrate town pride and the spirit of giving through live music, local food favorites and family-fun activities.
Kids In Crisis Loses State Funds
After 37 years of taking in troubled youngsters, Greenwich’s Kids In Crisis program was dealt a blow when the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) abruptly cut off its $750,000 yearly service contract with the private, non-profit agency in October. The funds represented 15 percent of Kids In Crisis’s total budget. According to the DCF, the decision was driven by a lack of need for emergency-shelter beds in Fairfield County. That contention was strongly disputed by Kids In Crisis Executive Director Shari Shapiro.
“The funding’s not there, but the children definitely are,” she noted. “There’s a desperate need for the services. We need to find the resources so that happens.”
Founded as a shelter for troubled teens and runaways, Kids In Crisis expanded its array of services over the years to include family counseling and school intervention programs for teens and pre-teens. But the 20-bed shelter on Salem Street in Cos Cob remains a critical centerpiece of Kids In Crisis services, according to Shapiro.
Kids In Crisis funding has support from local and state politicians, including the entire state legislative delegation from Greenwich. But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has thus far backed the decision of his Commissioner of Children and Families, Joette Katz. Shapiro has said she will continue to appeal for a reversal while working to raise the needed funds from other sources.
Back to the Drawing Board on New Leb
A plan for revamping and enlarging New Lebanon Elementary School in Byram was rejected by the Board of Selectmen in December in a unanimous 3-0 vote.
First Selectman Peter Tesei said the plan, approved by the New Lebanon Building Committee and the Board of Education in the fall, created a building footprint too far from parameters set by the Board of Selectmen last summer. He and the other selectmen, John Toner and Drew Marzullo, noted, among other things, that the proposed New Lebanon School building would be closer to Interstate 95, and would infringe on a state right-of-way for which condemnation permission could not be assumed.
Marzullo also made clear his opposition to any plan that located students on the New Lebanon property during new construction. The Building Committee and the Board of Education had touted this as a safe, cost-efficient step.
Building Committee Chairman Stephen Walko called the vote a setback, but expressed optimism based on the tenor of Tesei’s comments that another design could be submitted in time to keep to a timetable for opening a new school building by September 2018.
“It’s trying to fit a much larger building, transportation issues, and playgrounds on a site that is small,” Walko said. “We’ll sharpen our pencils and come back.”
Today there are 227 students at New Lebanon School, grades one through five. Another 41 kindergarteners use two spare rooms at the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center. The current 37,000 square-foot building, built along a rocky ravine, is described as too small to handle current or future needs.
New GHS Auditorium Opened
The first phase of MISA, or Musical Instruction Space and Auditorium, was completed in August. The brand new Greenwich High School Performing Arts Center opened in October with a ribbon cutting and concert featuring a piece composed for the occasion by 1981 GHS graduate Rob Mathes, an internationally known singer, songwriter, musician and arranger.
“The parents had a vision of a facility that would match the outstanding talent of our arts and theater groups,” said Board of Education Vice Chair Barbara O’Neill.
“The world comes to Greenwich, the world is educated in Greenwich, and now, the wonderful musicians and performers we’ve had in Greenwich for so many decades now have the venue that matches their capacities,” said Superintendent William McKersie.
Mathes, who had been advocating for a new performing venue for about 20 years, believes it was worth the wait. “It looks like a world-class New York arts hall,” he said of the new auditorium.
Earlier this month, the old auditorium was torn down, ushering in phase two. New music classrooms will be built in the old auditorium’s place.
Push for Later School Start
A growing movement around town is calling for changing public-school start times to allow students more time for sleep, especially at Greenwich High School and the middle schools.
An electronic petition recommending the high school and middle schools begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. gathered 1,400 signatures within two weeks of being launched in November. Presently, Greenwich High classes begin at 7:30.
Petition-drive leader Valerie Erde, a Riverside mother with a sophomore at Greenwich High, pressed the Greenwich Board of Education and Superintendent William S. McKersie to declare their positions on the matter. She cited a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicating that waking up teenagers at six in the morning is not beneficial to their mental or physical well-being.
“Many of us have come to feel with the board that the will is not there on behalf of many people, at least not yet,” Erde said. “That slows things down. If all eight board members said: ‘Let’s get this done,’ they would get it done.”
While individual Board of Education members have declared themselves in favor of later start times, the board collectively contends there is much still to discuss, particularly in terms of logistics and cost.
“Great ideas can be implemented badly,” McKersie said. “If we do it in Greenwich, we have to implement this very well.” Moving forward even after a decision, he added, may take from 12 to 18 months. Erde and others have pressed for a change by 2017.
GHS Band Director Reinstated
GHS band director John Yoon can look forward to using the brand new Greenwich High School Performing Arts Center after being reinstated in December, following several hearings concerning Yoon’s classroom demeanor.
The Board of Education unanimously voted to reinstate Yoon after he was fired by the administration back in April. Yoon, who appealed his firing, had been accused of bullying and intimidating two students. Yoon’s many defenders said, in essence, that he simply ran a tight ship and held high expectations.
Nine hearings were held over the past few months, after which hearing officer M. Jackson Webber advised the school board to uphold Superintendent William McKersie’s termination of Yoon for breaking a “last chance agreement” stemming from prior incidents.
The Board of Education ultimately decided Yoon had been punished enough. The board disciplined Yoon with a paid suspension lasting from April 29, 2015 to Dec. 9, 2015.
“All along the line, violations of procedure, common sense, professionalism, union protections, it seems the whole thing is built on a very weak foundation,” said Board of Education Vice Chair Barbara O’Neill. The administration can appeal the board’s decision.
Substation Proposal Drew Fire
Eversource Energy’s proposal for a power substation to be built at 290 Railroad Ave., the current home of Pet Pantry, drew heavy criticism in 2015, including from First Selectman Peter Tesei, Town Planner Katie DeLuca and State Rep. Fred Camillo.
According to Eversource’s projections, the Cos Cob substation could overload in 2017, and the additional substation would add some 30 years before the overloading problem arises again. Construction of the substation and two new underground transmission lines—running through Bruce Park—would cost an estimated $140 million, and take at least seven or eight months.
In a letter to the Connecticut Siting Council, First Selectman Peter Tesei wrote, “At present, nothing offered by the Connecticut Light and Power Company doing business as Eversource Energy, confirms the necessity of such a project, which as proposed, is expected to cost $140M and would dramatically affect electric rates in the State of Connecticut (already the highest in the contiguous 48 states). I respectfully urge you to withhold any support of such an undertaking until a careful, thorough review of the project, based on the most current and accurate data is completed.”
The siting council plans to meet in January before making a decision, which is expected in the first quarter of the year.
Parsonage Cottage Issues Resolved
The town and the Housing Authority of the Town of Greenwich resolved a longstanding dispute over the financial terms behind the latter body’s management of Parsonage Cottage, a 40-bed assisted-living facility on Parsonage Road in mid-country Greenwich.
The terms of the arrangement, forged in December, would allow the Housing Authority to save roughly $50,000 a year in interest payments to the town, which owns Parsonage Cottage but leases it to the Authority under a 99-year arrangement.
Full terms have yet to be agreed upon; a confirmation vote by the Representative Town Meeting is still to come. But both sides expressed optimism the package represents a positive outcome.
“The financial aspect has been resolved,” said Sam Romeo, chair of the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners. “In the end, we’re going to put this in our rear-view mirror. We have great plans for Parsonage Cottage and great things in store for the Housing Authority.”
Both the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Board of Selectmen voted to approve the terms of the agreement.
Hospitals Feel the Pinch of State Cuts
Statewide emergency budget cuts totaling $102 million will hit hospitals the hardest. They will bear nearly two-thirds of those cuts, including a nearly $1 million cut to Greenwich Hospital.
As part of Gov. Malloy’s plan to ease budget woes, $63.4 million of the total cuts will be reductions in Medicaid reimbursements to the state’s hospitals. However, because matching federal reimbursement packages totaling around $128 million would also be lost, the overall loss to state hospitals would come to $192 million.
“This new round of cuts is pretty devastating to the entire hospital community throughout the state,” said Norman Roth, president of Greenwich Hospital, the town’s largest private employer.
For now, none of the programs at Greenwich Hospital have been eliminated, though some have lost funds. Roth says that while Greenwich Hospital employees will receive normal merit increases (averaging 3 percent) this upcoming fiscal year, it will become harder to balance an already thin budget in the future.
“I expect next year to be tougher than this year,” he said. “I feel empathy for every other hospital organization and the decisions that they are making to make their budgets work. It’s really heart-wrenching to see where some hospitals are positioned today.”