Conservation issues are the main motivator for Cathy Wick to enter the political arena. Though registered as an unaffiliated voter, she heads the Republican ticket for first selectman in the Monday, May 4, municipal elections, challenging incumbent Ellen Scalettar for the second time.
For Wick, it’s first and foremost a question of preserving a quality of life, which she and her ticket are engaged to uphold. “We are for open space and the integrity of the zoning regulations,” she said in a recent two-hour conversation about her campaign platform which is spelled out at www.woodbridgegop.org. Open space not only contributes to the quality of life, but supports property values as well. “It’s good business for towns,” she said.
Wick grew up in Watertown, where her parents were the first to practice organic gardening methods back in the mid-1960s. They were also founding members of the Watertown Land Trust. No surprise then that Wick now serves on the Woodbridge Land Trust Board of Directors as well as the Woodbridge Park Association and Massaro Farm.
She moved to Woodbridge in 1997 with her husband Dr. Robert McLean, and gave up a career as editor at an international publishing company to become an involved citizen, bringing up two sons, and serving on the Woodbridge Soccer Club and the Woodbridge Board of Education Facilities Committee, on which she still serves.
It’s the opposition to the Toll Brother proposal in 2011 for the Country Club of Woodbridge that brought her into contact with the Republican Party. “We realized that we agreed on many town issues,” she said. By the time the next elections came around, in 2013, she changed her party affiliation from Democrat to Unaffiliated and headed the Republican ticket.
In fact, she is not the only Unaffiliated voter on the Republican ticket. “Our slate includes five Unaffiliated voters, three of whom are former Democrats,” a campaign flyer reads. The Unaffiliated candidates in addition to Wick are Maria Kayne for the Board of Selectmen, Garett Luciani for the Woodbridge Board of Education, and Hal Smullen and Diane Urbano for the Amity Board of Education.
Nepotism: Wick criticizes the local Democrats for “nepotism,” with a relatively small group of people running the town. For example, Jeanette Glicksman is serving as the town’s Youth director and at the same time the Democratic registrar of voters. Mary Lou Barker is the chairman of the Human Services Commission and assistant registrar. “They are each other’s bosses,” Wick said. “I would like to see the circle of influence broader.”
Even though the town by law has to have minority representation on every board and commission, “they appoint their political allies,” she said. Very few of the candidates suggested by the Republican Town Committee get to participate in town government, and of those who do, many are “not providing an alternative point of view,” she said.
Opposition to developing the Country Club: Selling off a part of the country club for a Toll Brothers development would quadruple the density allowed under current regulations, Wick said, and that could have significant impact on the town, not only in terms of population, but infrastructure needs and more. It would require a zone change, and the concern among opponents is that if the town decides to change the zoning for this piece of property, developers could demand the same for larger properties as well.
In addition, the neighbors of the country club property have collected some 400 signatures in opposition to the proposed development. “I would not change the zoning if it’s not desired by the neighborhood,” Wick said. Such a move would erode the confidence in and predictability of zoning laws.
Asked what she would suggest to do with the country club land, she said she would like to see a broader exploration of options, for instance by approaching area colleges some of which are looking for expansion, such as Southern, Quinnipiac or the University of New Haven, which recently acquired the Hubbel property in Orange. Another option often quoted is for a small boutique hotel and conference center to move into the clubhouse. Even if no such proposals have come forward, Wick suggests to have an agent work on the town’s behalf to reach out to desirable businesses or entities.
Either of those options would require a zoning change as well, she said, but should be more thoroughly investigated. In any event, if the golf operation does not prove to be profitable, the town should not hold on to it, she said.
Economic Development: Wick said she would focus on improvements in the town’s business district. For instance, by removing the age restriction on the Woodbridge Village Associates proposal for a 55+ development on Bradley Road, the town could diversify its Grand List. If the developer would build one-and two-bedroom apartments instead, the development would attract young professionals and the influx of children would be limited, making the impact on Beecher Road School manageable, she said.
By moving away from the 55+ concept, the town could attract younger people to a walk-able neighborhood with public transportation. “A more diverse population is a more vibrant community,” she said. “We have the advantage of the location,” she said, referring to easy connection to Hartford, New Haven and Stamford, “but we do not take advantage of it.” Thinking of ways to diversify the Grand List makes more sense than building on the Golf course, she said.
Budgeting: Wick criticizing the town for using its “rainy day fund” to shore up the operating budget. Every year for the past eight years the town has been taking $400,000 to add to the operating budget, drawing down the fund balance from 12.5% to 9.4% (projected by the end of this fiscal year). “We should be controlling our spending instead,” she said. The town should be looking to institute a retirement incentive similar to the one practiced by the Woodbridge Board of Education. It could also offer an incentive for employees to opt out of the health plan.
During the two years since the last election, Wick has completed a graduate certificate in public administration from the University of New Haven, and used Woodbridge topics to study municipal governance.
Controlling spending is not just about cutting line items, but can be achieved by applying human resources management practices. She is hoping to produce value for the townspeople. Generally she would recommend for the town to institute “zero based budgeting” like both school districts do. It could be instituted gradually, she suggested, but could be a significant money saver.
Beecher 2025: The Republican platform suggests creation of a committee to study educational trends such as expanding pre-K education and the use of technology for the very young. The committee’s task would be to “think about where we want to be ten years from now,” Wick said. It could consist of some Board of Education members mixed with community members at large, and operate as a subset of the Board of Education.
As for her own role, if elected, she plans to be moving the town forward with “non partisan, transparent leadership.” “Civic engagement is a value I grew up with” she said. “It’s not like I’m going to make a difference on the national scene, but I CAN make a difference in my town.”
In addition to land conservation Wick found she and the Woodbridge Republicans agree on fiscal issues. “I don’t like any waste,” she said. One example of waste in town government is the $75,000 the town spent for a consultant to lead the town through the process of updating its Plan of Conservation and Development. Ten years ago, the Plan and Zoning Commission, then chaired by Donald Celotto, fired its consultant and wrote the plan itself, coming up with a document that has served the town well and needed only minor updates, Wick said.
She said she would be pursuing state grants for farm preservation much more rigorously than the current town government. “The first selectman does not have a good open space conservation agenda,” she said, referring in particular to Baldwin Farm — a picturesque piece of property on the Woodbridge/Derby town line, with the bigger part of the property located in Derby’s industrial zone.