Seven candidates—four Republicans and three Democrats—are vying for six Town Council seats that are up for election on Tuesday.
For reasons listed below, I am endorsing three Republicans—John Engel, Rich Townsend and Tom Butterworth—and three Democrats—Sven Englund, Colm Dobbyn and Liz Donovan.
Two candidates, incumbents Engel and Englund, most clearly have earned re-election to the legislative body.
Engel is an insightful, articulate councilman who brings a singular perspective as a lifelong resident, community volunteer, open space advocate, parent and Realtor. His also is a common-sense voice in a body that can be derailed by overreach and politicking. During a tortured December 2014 session, for example, he was one of just two Republicans to vote in favor of listing Waveny on the National Register of Historic Places. The Council’s narrow vote saw the yet-to-be-created Waveny Park Conservancy written into a resolution for the first time.
Englund, another New Canaan lifer who has served 40 years in the New Canaan Fire Company, is in some ways the conscience of the Town Council. In the same 2014 meeting, he rightly asserted that Waveny as a gem of the town has earned the national designation then up for consideration. As the Town Council considered a proposal that would’ve seen the former Outback Teen Center building used to house a day program for local adults with developmental disabilities, Englund asked out loud just what councilmen were doing if not trying to help those in town who need it most. For the last two years, he far and away has had the best attendance record among Democrats serving on the Town Council, and diligently attends subcommittee assignment meetings—not all do—reporting back to the full body.
The next Town Council candidate most deserving of New Canaanites’ votes is Dobbyn. He has served for more than one decade on what is known today as the Inland Wetlands Commission, an important government body that exists in relative obscurity as it is dramatically under-covered by local media. An attorney on the commission, he diligently looks out for New Canaan’s best interests. For example, in early-2016, as the commission contemplated publishing a “Do’s and Don’ts” brochure on environmental regulations, Dobbyn cautioned that New Canaan could face a liability issue if it published a document too specific to the violating landscaper who had inspired it.
Committed to town and active in community discussions, Butterworth also deserves a seat on the Town Council. Like fellow GOP hopefuls, he had been under-prepared during an initial Republican Town Committee debate over the summer to answer basic questions that spoke to the workings of the Council. Yet Butterworth, a retired businessman, improved to a point where last month, during a discussion of town-owned buildings at the League of Women Voters’ Candidates Forum, he was the only candidate for Town Council in either party who cited, astutely, a recent finding that 20 percent of those municipal structures are vacant. “I don’t think we have a right to maintain” that vacancy rate, Butterworth said. He’s right.
Rich Townsend by a wide margin (and following a well-executed social media campaign that has continued into the fall) earned the most votes of any Republican at the party’s July caucus. A local businessman, Townsend served on the Charter Revision Commission and has run on a platform of protecting New Canaan’s property values. His friendly, civil demeanor will be an immediate plus on the Town Council—he would be a strong candidate for chairman. And his vow to approach the budget process with an eye on 5 percent reductions—though unlikely, given contracted wage increases—captures a fresh perspective on town spending that New Canaan must embrace. He should be voted onto the Town Council.
The sixth and final Town Council vote should go to Liz Donovan, a Princeton-educated entrepreneur from a prominent local family who has dedicated her free time to community service. Specifically, she left a successful corporate career to launch a business that helps seniors safely “age in place.” Returned to her hometown of New Canaan three years ago to help care for her own elderly mother, Donovan will bring a fresh perspective and sunny outlook to the Town Council, a legislative body that benefits from new blood.
The odd candidate out this year would be Penny Young, a widely respected community volunteer whose resume of civic accomplishments, compiled over two decades, would rival anyone’s. Young possesses deep institutional knowledge and New Canaan would be lucky to avail itself of her expertise in some way. Yet members of the Town Council, the single most-powerful body in New Canaan, must operate with transparency in order to represent the electorate most fully. Young was the low vote-getter among Republican candidates for Town Council in 2013, and though she is a shrewd politician who will land on a ballot this year alongside massively popular Engel and Townsend, she should not be sent back to the legislative body.