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Two Bethel First Selectman Candidates Will Not Agree to an Interview or Debate But They Sure Have a Lot to Say on Social Media Instead

Report by Paula Antolini, September 16, 2019, 10:05PM EDT

Two Bethel First Selectman Candidates Will Not Agree to an Interview or Debate But They Sure Have a Lot to Say on Social Media Instead; The Problem is, Not Everyone Can View Their Comments.

This past weekend there was a rather lengthy thread of comments under a post on a local Bethel Facebook forum. Bethel resident *Donald Borsch Jr. asked the three candidates vying for the office of Bethel First Selectman an open question in the forum: “Why should I give you my unaffiliated vote?”

The answers were surprisingly lengthy from all three candidates, but especially surprising from the Incumbent First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker and challenger Pat Rist, because they took a stand in the past month refusing to do an interview or participate in a debate via a neutral moderator, with the other candidates running for the same office.

As previously reported in our article entitled, “CANDIDATE UPDATE: Only 78 Days to Election and Pat Rist Declined a Candidate Interview or Participation in a Debate, Read What Other Candidates Said,” Pat Rist at first ignored our emails but then stated, “At this time, I have to respectfully decline both the interview and debate.  My schedule is very full and it will be difficult to carve out the time to participate,” and that is all she stated.

So far Rist has appeared out in public at a few Bethel ribbon cutting ceremonies. Also, individuals will need to pay $30-a-head to get to talk to her at her first ‘meet and greet’ event on September 24th in town. They (her campaign) are calling it a ‘fundraiser.’

Incumbent First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker said on August 12, 2019, “The campaign is not ready to discuss at this time.” Then on August 19, 2019 said, “Campaign related requests need to be directed to our campaign manager, David Olson.” Olson never got back to us.

Finally Knickerbocker said questions will need to be submitted by individuals to a local Bethel forum. He would not say which forum when we asked but said it would be done in few weeks. He said he will then have a video made (or do Skype) where he will answer some of the questions, similar to another year when he ran for office. He obviously has access to most local Bethel online forums which would mean he sees the questions ahead of time. Is this really a way to see what a candidate is really all about?

Candidate Bill Ochs was always open to an interview and is also willing to do a debate. Ochs eventually posted his answer to Borsch’s question, along with the other two candidates, when he realized the question had been posted. Note: Ochs interview to come shortly, it was only delayed because we were waiting for an answer from the other two candidates.

It is now a mere 50 days until election day and people have not had live access to the candidates in a public ‘realtime’ forum and residents are still unsure of the candidates’ platforms. Voters still have many questions.

Why are two of the three candidates, Knickerbocker and Rist, refusing to interact in real time with residents at a planned public event, specifically to answer questions that everyone can witness? Why won’t they be interviewed without knowing the questions ahead of time?

Is it a proper format for candidates to be heavily discussing politics and hot topics that concern residents, ONLY on a social media forum that is not available to ALL residents?

Considering what we hear from residents, they are wanting a one-on-one communication or a live interview or debate. They are presently unclear if some of the candidates are actually posting their own words on social media forums, they said, and we report this based on the social media comments.

It is time for residents/voters to reassess the communication process and participate to change it. Yes, there have been some improvements in Bethel but there are also many problems negatively affecting residents and businesses and they feel their voices are not being heard.

Perhaps this is no time for any candidate to be in hiding or to just make prepared statements only.

The LONG candidate answers to Borsch’s question of, “Why should I give you my unaffiliated vote?” for those who are not in a facebook forum to view it, are as follows:

*****

INCUMBENT FIRST SELECTMAN MATTHEW KNICKERBOCKER:

I would like to rephrase the question this way:

“Why should I give you my vote, regardless of my political affiliation?”

Because what our town needs, and what we all want, is the most qualified person for the job, no matter which party they belong to. No one becomes qualified to run a complex, dynamic multimillion-dollar municipality by virtue of the letter than follows their name on the ballot. The only things that matter are training, experience and a vision for the future.

In moving our town successfully into the future, vision and goals are important. Voters need to have a clear understanding of what the aspiring candidates hope to accomplish. They need to have confidence that the candidate’s goals are in line with their own.

But vision and goals are pointless without the skills sets to realize them. Running a town is a demanding profession. It is not a part time job, nor is it a retirement job. It requires an enormous amount of management experience as well as deep knowledge of public finance, labor law, logistics, human resources and general management. It is not a job the average person can step into easily or quickly.

I believe I have demonstrated that I have the skills, the track record and the vision to keep our town moving forward. My management philosophy is one that bars politics from the office. I and my running mate and colleague, Rich Straiton, have established a long history of non-partisan town management. As New York’s most famous mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia said, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to clean the streets.” We believe that.

Our record speaks for itself. We have improved the town’s financial health, even during the worst recession since the 1930’s, earned the highest possible credit rating, renovated the entire water system, repaved more than half of our roads, reconstructed three key bridges, supported our Johnson and Rockwell school renovations and created a unique management arrangement that allows the town to accept a multimillion dollar donation of track and field facility at Bethel High School.

We also have a vision for the future. This includes further expansion of Clarke Business Park (already under way) to bring new jobs and boost the Grand List, new online “eGovernment” online applications to improve service to the public and lower costs, create a long range plan to improve our parks, support our schools and ensure successful completion of the renovations and continue to focus on quality of life with events like the free Sunday concerts and Food Truck Friday.

I am extremely grateful for the trust Bethel voters have placed in me, and I sincerely ask for the opportunity to serve another term.

Thank you for reading.

*****

PAT RIST:

Why am I asking for your vote?

As a 35-year resident of Bethel and involved with P/Z for 21 of those years, 9 years as its chairman, every decision I make as a P/Z commissioner impacts me as it does you, which is why I chose the platform I did.

1. Manage tax-sourced funds more effectively to avoid cost overruns, and improve efficiency. This means not only have a committee oversee Bethel’s projects but it does require the leadership to periodically review the projects so there are no surprises.

2. Lobby legislators to change State mandates for affordable housing (8-30g), which allows developers to bypass local Zoning Regulations.

This is the bane of every land-use commission and the guidelines created by Hartford hurts development as an 8-30G development will be much larger than local zoning regulations allow. I will work with our legislators – Republicans and Democrats – to continue to push for a change in the State Statute, to provide relief from greedy developers.

3. Offer commercial and industrial incentives to bring businesses and jobs back to Bethel. This requires meeting with the EDC to understand the barriers they face preventing businesses from coming into Bethel. This also requires meeting with the Realty Group who primarily lists the business spaces open in FJ Clarke Park. It is important to Identify meaningful and motivational incentives without breaking the bank.

4. Address property taxes through managed efficiencies, zero-based budgeting, and cost cutting, while maintaining quality levels of service. For a few this statement translated to downsizing and that could not be further from the truth. We often perform tasks over and over never taking inventory of how we do it and why we do it. Once we review tasks, we often find some are unnecessary or a more efficient way to accomplish the task is found. This is often initiated by the employee/manager themselves.

I was chairman of the Route 6 Study Commission setting guidelines, with public input, for mixed use. You can see the growth that has occurred there. I’ve been involved in two 10-year Plans of Conversation and Development which establishes the wise use of public and privately-owned land; I was involved in the Bethel Forward/Transit Oriented Development plan which is a master plan creating a vision for the TOD area with supporting/revised zoning regulations and focuses on incentiving redevelopment, creating cultural and social opportunities, and infrastructure improvement.

Who am I as an individual?

Professionally, I bring a business background having retired after 15 years with Oracle Corporation as an Operations Manager with Oracle University. Prior to that I was an Operations Manager with Siebel Systems, and Director of Client Services with MOHR Development, a consulting company to the financial services industry. From MOHR to Siebel to Oracle, all acquisitions, I moved with the acquisitions. I was also with Xerox Learning Systems, a division of Xerox Corp., for 18 years. I have a BS in Management and an MBA in Marketing.

My community service is very important to me. I’m very active in the community as a Director with the Bethel Chamber of Commerce working with local businesses. I’ve run the Historical Society for over 24+ years which includes 24 years of working with Bethel’s school system educating 2nd graders on their town’s history and working with 3rd graders conducting classes in the Plumtrees Schoolhouse. I brought the statue of PT Barnum to Bethel; I approached the Bd of Selectmen for the funding and sent the Spirit of the American Doughboy to the foundry for restoration work; my group created and are installing Walking Tour Boxes downtown, encouraging people to walk past businesses and restaurants, hopefully spending money. We created the film Bethel Vets Go to War honoring Bethel’s WWII veterans, as well as the film, The Swans Still Swim – History of the Stony Hill Inn, honoring the Rubino family. I’m a member of Friends of the Library and work on their book sales. I’ve worked with the JROTC providing community service work for them and currently working with two scouts going for their Eagle Scout Badge. The unaffiliated voter, the largest voting block, is a very important part of any local election and I am asking and would be honored, based on you now know who I am, you will consider voting for me. Thank you.

*****

BILL OCHS (also posted on his ‘Vote for Bill Ochs‘ page):

Why am I asking for your vote on Nov 5th?

Let me start with some basic background for everyone.

I am a lifelong Bethel resident, with deep roots going back 4 generations (80 plus years). My family has always been involved with the community for as long as I can remember. My parents Carol and Bill volunteered many hours by coaching multiple sports teams, running campfire and brownie troops and being active members of the First Congregational Church. Many longtime residents will remember my father as Bill the Ice Cream Man!!

I am one of 3 children in my family (2 sisters Alicia and Cathy) and we all graduated from Bethel High School and grew up in our family home on Wooster street that was built by my great, great grandfather (William H Ochs 1st).

I have worked at many of the great Bethel establishments growing up. First National Grocery store, English Drug and Dr. Mike’s Ice Cream.

I graduated from Western Connecticut State University with a B.S in Justice and Law Administration. After graduating bought a condo in Chestnut Hill Village, and joined the Condo Association Board and worked on many improvement projects and contracts.

My professional career has mostly been in the marketing field, working at some large companies like Acxiom, Infogroup, and Merkle. With large fortune 500 clients like (Chase Bank, Red Lobster, Liberty Mutual, CarMax and Fandango) All of these clients had multi-million dollar contracts, projects that I was involved with creating, managing or bringing to the company I worked for at the time. I have also worked at smaller local marking firms such as List Services here in Bethel and Impulse Media in Danbury.

I have also been active in the Bethel community by coaching softball, Basketball, Soccer and flag football.

I was a past elected town official, on the Police Commission for 4 years.

Top Issues that I would like to address as Bethel’s next First Selectman:

  • Have a balanced Town budget by controlling unnecessary spending of taxpayer funds, review Town contracts to make sure they provide what is needed for the community and at a fair and reasonable cost.
  • Look at all cost saving options available to control future long-term debt and renegotiate bad contracts to the best of our ability. I believe that Town spending needs to be done in an open and transparent fashion. I would look to have all financial transactions posted and easy to find on the Towns website for everyone to see, this would include money received also.
  • I would work my hardest to have a budget that keeps taxes low to almost no increase if possible. Bethel needs to start living and functioning within its means provided by the grand list.
  • Focus needs to be on bringing in more business to the town to help increase funds available to the Town and keeping taxes under control.
  • We also need to look at how we can help business currently in our town so they stay open.
  • Work with Town employees to make sure the Town is collecting all of the Taxes owed through Motor Vehicle taxes and Taxable personal property located in Bethel.
  • Establish new procedures to ensure only Bethel residents are enrolled in our public school system. This was discussed at the first Town budget meeting where I asked school leaders how many students were found not to be residents and was advised approx. $75,000.00 of Tax payer funds were used by non-Bethel residents. I feel this is just scratching the surface of a much bigger issue.
  • Look into all possible ways to slow and control the building of multi-family apartments and housing in the Town of Bethel. Work with other elected officials and Town employees to make sure that new developments are being approved in the best interest of the community and the residents surrounding such projects. Bethel has a small Town charm and feeling, we don’t want to loose what makes Life Better in Bethel !!
  • Review and keep close tabs on all major projects the town is currently doing or will do in the near future. Make sure the residents have up to date correct information about progress and all costs associated with the project, making sure qualified and competent individuals are on the committees involved with spending large taxpayer funded building projects
  • I will bring open government, customer service and transparency back to the office of First Selectman and all offices located in the Town of Bethel.
  • I will also work very hard to keep all of the great traditions Bethel has had for years such as the Nativity on P.T Barnum square. Sometimes hard decisions need to be made and not everyone will like them. I am not one to allow a small group of residents to decide what can be allowed on Town property, that decision needs to be made by the First Selectman.


I love this Town and I truly believe I am the best choice for First Selectman.

*****

Editor note: Donald Borsch is a Bethel resident who has decided to become more involved in trying to bring the town together in a more amicable way than the present situation. He recently formed the ‘Bethel Unaffiliated’ Facebook page because he stated that Unaffiliated voters comprise 42% of the vote and need to know they can have an strong impact in elections. Individuals of all political persuasions are welcome to participate in conversations held there, he said.

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