When Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein reflects on the year just past, she said it was “the year that defined how our town government operates. When she looks to what 2013 likely holds in store, the focus is going to be on facilities.
“We did a lot of planning this past year. This coming year, it’s going to be about implementing those plans,” Ms. Weinstein said.
The events of Dec. 14, 2012, when a man shot and killed 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown after first killing his mother in her home, are apt to radically change the way town officials prioritize. Taking a fresh look at security in Weston schools and other municipal buildings will undoubtedly be a part of the facilities plan moving.
Charter review was “the overwhelmingly big issue” in 2012, the first selectman said. The town charter defines every aspect of town government, and a Charter Review Commission spent the entire year interviewing, holding public hearings, and going over the charter article by article, line by line — essentially word by word.
The town charter was not simply revised, it was ultimately re-written. And then it was presented to the voters at the November election, where it was approved by a three-to-one margin.
This year, Ms. Weinstein said, is the one where “we’ll see how most of those changes play out.”
Some of those changes have had an immediate effect, such as a requirement to advertise more frequently for open positions.
“This makes for a more inclusive government as we try to get more people involved,” Ms. Weinstein said.
The charter now allows people to submit their names for consideration of appointed posts directly to the Board of Selectmen rather than having to go through town political committees. This is a “huge change,” Ms. Weinstein said, because “there’s now an avenue to include” those who didn’t want to get involved with either political party but still want to serve the town.
As the budget process gets into full swing in the upcoming weeks, other charter changes will be implemented. The most significant will be the budget approval process, which now requires a minimum number of attendees at the Annual Town Budget Meeting (ATBM) in order to reduce the budgets approved by the selectmen and the school board, and an automatic machine vote after ATBM voice vote approval.
Ms. Weinstein said the charter revision process was one example of how increased transparency in government was a priority this past year. Others include putting many public meetings online and working to post town ordinances and the town code online, as well as compiling them into a single document.
Another priority was improving efficiencies in town government, Ms. Weinstein said. This translated into more access to online services like CodeRed messaging, being able to pay taxes online, and online Parks and Recreation registration. The town also updated its Building Department software, which streamlines many processes for employees, the first selectman said.
2012 was a year that saw an increased participation in volunteerism, Ms. Weinstein said. There was a strong partnership between volunteers and town government, she said, which she believes made the community stronger and better.
The Weston Community Service Coalition increased its ranks last year, which was a distinct advantage when the town once again faced an extended power outage, this time after Superstorm Sandy.
Other examples of volunteers stepping forward, Ms. Weinstein said, included the formation of a Legal Review Committee and the creation of a trained volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
A lot of groundwork was laid this past year, Ms. Weinstein said, for upcoming facilities issues.
There was a space needs review done that now needs to be discussed and acted upon. The Police Department focused on initiatives to improve safety in town, such as trying to reduce speeding on Old Mill Road. A committee was put in place to oversee changes to the Lachat property. And projects like fixing Revson Baseball Field were finally completed, Ms. Weinstein said.
Facilities will dominate the political landscape in 2013, Ms. Weinstein predicted.
A large part of the first half of the year will be taken up with a space needs assessment for the police department and communications center, she said.
The town must also make some decisions about what to do with departments still housed in the temporary Town Annex building, which has reached the end of its life expectancy.
Jarvis House is another building that needs to be looked at for how practical it is.
“We’re going to need to keep talking about efficiencies this year,” Ms. Weinstein said. “We have to talk about what buildings it makes sense for the town to have or not have, whether we need to sell or purchase different ones, etc.,” she said.
Ms. Weinstein said she will work hard this year to make sure all of these discussions happen in a transparent way so there are no surprises for the public, and that all branches of the town government continue to work cooperatively to improve efficiency.
“Town government is not about me or any one person. We have all worked together to create a shared vision of what the town needs to do to move forward … and I look forward to continuing those relationships,” Ms. Weinstein said.