May 20, 2013
Written by Macklin Reid
Wednesday, 27 April 2011 00:00
Now the voters get their say.
Ridgefield’s more than 16,000 registered voters are all eligible to cast ballots today in a special election for a Board of Selectmen seat.
Republicans Marty Heiser and Maureen Kozlark and Independent Party candidate Tony Di Preta are all vying for the seat longtime Selectwoman Joan Plock resigned from last November for health reasons.
Voting will be from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. today in an unusual Wednesday election. Voters cast ballots at the three regular polling stations:
• District I at East Ridge Middle School;
• District II at Scotts Ridge Middle School;
• District III at Yanity Gym.
While the politics of the campaign has the look of a contest between differing camps of Republicans, “any registered voter is eligible to vote,” Ms. Bruno said. That includes Democrats. “That definitely seems to be misunderstood.”
Republican Registrar Hope Wise reported that as of last Monday, there were 16,049 registered voters eligible to cast ballots — 5,986 Republicans, 4,512 Democrats, 5,439 unaffiliated voters, 77 members of the Independent Party of Ridgefield, 23 Libertarians, and 12 from other small parties.
Elections and referendums are generally held on Tuesdays. This special election’s Wednesday date was chosen as local officials tried to squeeze it into a calendar window set by the state, while avoiding conflicts with this week’s school vacation, late April religious holidays and the May budget referendum.
The special election will fill a Board of Selectmen seat for the next six months — until the November election.
It stems from a series of events late last year. In November longtime Republican Selectwoman Plock resigned. Following the charter, the selectmen filled the vacated seat by appointment, interviewing Mr. Heiser, Ms. Kozlark, both Republicans, and unaffiliated voter Jan Rifkinson. They chose Ms. Kozlark 3-1, with the board’s three Democrats in favor and Republican Andy Bodner in dissent.
The Republican Town Committee, which had recommended Mr. Heiser, expressed outrage and launched a petition drive for the special election, collecting more than 1,000 signatures outside supermarkets and coffee shops on frigid December days.
An election calendar was set. And at a GOP caucus on a snowy January night Mr. Heiser outpolled Ms. Kozlark, 118 to 100 for the Republican nomination.
Ms. Kozlark chose not to go to primary — sparing the town an estimated $10,000 in costs — but collected signatures to get on the ballot as a petitioning candidate.
The Independent Party nominated Mr. Di Preta, who owns the American Pro Soccer and Lacrosse store on Danbury Road, has served on and chaired the town’s Alcohol and Drug Commission, and had previously run for the school board on the Independent line.
In a League of Women Voters debate April 9, Mr. Di Preta differed from both Ms. Kozlark and Mr. Heiser by opposing town plans to buy 28 acres near the high school as open space, and rent part of it as a cell phone tower site.
He has advocated having “the school board take a more active role in the problems of bullying and substance abuse.”
Mr. Di Preta has raised fiscal concerns, including the town’s roughly $100 million debt, and taxes which can make it hard for people to remain in town. He has called for a volunteer commission to oversee bidding on town purchases and work projects.
“The balance is this, you need to keep everyone in Ridgefield — retirees, school system, people with families,” Mr. Di Preta told the Rotary last Wednesday night.
He has suggested giving senior citizens a bigger tax break.
“The seniors, they should not be overtaxed. They should be given an additional $1,000 for their tax credit,” he said. “It should be $2,200.”
Ms. Kozlark, who served 10 years on the school board, has been out campaigning.
“I’ve been attending community events and been out in the public talking to people. My solid base of constituents are very supportive,” she said.
Ms. Kozlark said people she’d met had expressed concern about Mr. Heiser’s vote lower the school board’s requested 2.9% increase to 1.81% in the budget the finance board will send referendum — an $825,000 reduction.
“People are very unhappy with the reduction the Board of Finance made in the education budget, and not being allowed to vote on it without the cuts,” she said.
Mr. Heiser said an active campaigning had reinforced his commitment to a fiscally conservative approach to maintaining high quality schools and town services.
“I would definitely work to keep Ridgefield affordable for all its citizens,” he told the Rotary.
“I’ve been at the transfer station, Stop & Shop. I’ve been knocking on hundreds and hundreds of doors — I’ll take a different neighborhood every day,” he said. “I’ve been attending Chamber of Commerce meetings, Rotary meetings, fund-raisers for ROAR and Tiger Hollow, and pretty much anywhere three Ridgefielders have congregated...
“I’ve gone to the Western Connecticut Prayer Breakfast, where there was a great representation of Ridgefield leaders,” he said “It’s been an absolute joy to listen to residents of Ridgefield and what their concerns are...
“People want to have balanced representation on the Board of Selectmen, and feel somewhat slighted by the majority party in their attempt to pack the Board of Selectmen,” he said. “They’re also concerned about upcoming union contract negotiations that the town will be dealing with in the next six months.”
The state requires that a special election follow all the procedures of a regular election — regular polling places and polling hours, for instance — so conducting it has costs.
“We budgeted $13,000 to $14,000,” said Ms. Bruno, the Democratic registrar, “and the estimated breakdown, the costs, include the memory cards and paper ballots, supplies and poll workers.”
Estimated costs include $4,800 for memory cards and ballots, and $8,500 for 33 to 35 election workers, and some additional money for general supplies, Ms. Bruno said.
“It’s the cost of doing business. It’s the cost of democracy,” said Ms. Wise, the Republican registrar. “I don’t care what it costs, at least we can do it.”
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