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Why Should I Give You My Vote? Three Bethel First Selectman Candidates Answer in Facebook Comments Only!

Report by Paula Antolini, September 27, 2019, 9:07PM EDT

Bethel Advocate’s interview with candidate Bill Ochs is delayed because of his medical injury this week, but will be forthcoming. Please note: Ochs has agreed to an interview without being given the questions ahead of time, and has also agreed to a debate with the other candidates. Ochs has also posted his information on numerous websites and social media pages.

As for the other two First Selectman candidates, First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker and Pat Rist, they still refuse a live interview or debate. It appears they have chosen to run their campaigns on Facebook, sometimes partly in a Bethel Facebook forum that not all Bethel residents can view. Their info. is also on Democrat and Republican/Independent campaign website pages but most interaction is on Facebook.

Knickerbocker recently told us he refused an interview because of our editorial on September 22, 2019, entitled, “OPINION: Bethel Can Do Better Than This.” The only problem is, he refused to interview before that editorial was even published, and his public relations person, David Olson, ignored our emails weeks ago.

Recently Bethel resident Donald Borsch Jr. asked the three Bethel First Selectman candidates one question on Facebook: “Why should I give you my vote?” Here are their answers below, so all can view (because these answers were posted only in one Bethel forum on Facebook, other than Ochs’ comments):

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Matthew Knickerbocker:

The question is “why should I give you my unaffiliated vote?”

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.

*****

Patricia 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:

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, I 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 am a past elected town official (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 Town’s 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. I will make 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.

*****

2nd post from MATTHEW KNICKERBOCKER on September 23, 2019:

Dear Friends,

I will be posting a series of short essays this campaign season to give readers an idea of what our team plans to do for our town over the next two years, should Bethel voters grant us another term of office. This is the first.

“MOVING BETHEL AHEAD”
OUR VISION OF BETHEL’S VIBRANT FUTURE

Bethel has become one of the most desirable and most livable towns in the State of Connecticut, recently being named one of the 16 most charming towns in Connecticut by lifestyle and culture website Local Connecticut (www.localconnecticut.net).

In a state that is losing population, Bethel has grown by nearly 6% in the last decade. Our unemployment rate is below the state and national averages and property values continue to rise.

With the strong support of this community, we’ve built outstanding public schools, recognized nationally and regionally for academic and programmatic excellence.
We have successfully addressed roads, buildings and other infrastructure needs.

We have brought new efficiencies to town government to improve service to our residents. We have corrected serious deficiencies from past financial practices, earning the Town a highly coveted AAA bond rating, a rating only 29 out of 169 towns have achieved.

We have improved the public water system with a bold 30-year capital improvement plan and put utility department finances back “in the black” after years of mismanagement.

But we’re not done. Here is an outline of the top goals for our town for the next two years.

Boosting Economic Development

Clarke Business Park Expansion: Unlike other parts of our state, Bethel is financially strong and growing. Our unemployment rate is below the state and national averages and Bethel is attracting young families.

To keep this momentum, we must continue to expand opportunities for new businesses to locate here. In 2017, we applied for, and won, a state grant to resume the development of Clarke Business Park. The grant covered design and legal costs of further expansion, and today, four new industrial lots are ready for development and under negotiations with potential buyers.

Property Tax Incentive: The Board of Selectmen worked with the town’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) for over a year to develop our first property tax incentive to help bring new businesses to Bethel, which was approved by the Board of Selectmen in 2018. It was carefully crafted to help current businesses stay in Bethel and move to larger facilities as they grow. The Board of Selectmen recently approved the very first new commercial development using this innovative new incentive.

Plank #1: We pledge to continue this success by working with our EDC to bring more businesses to Bethel.

Creating Government Efficiencies

We have a strong record of revitalizing delivery of public services. Bethel was one of the first towns in the state to begin combining internal town operations with our school board operations to reduce costs and improve service. We installed powerful new software budgeting packages to improve efficiency and visibility to the public.

The next step is to finalize an online permitting system which will vastly improve the permit application process for the Health, Building and Land Use departments. This will speed service and cut overtime costs. The permitting system is in the installation phase now.

Plank #2: We pledge to introduce cost saving “eGovernment” solutions to improve government efficiencies, reduce costs and speed delivery of essential services.

Support for Renewable Energy

Bethel was one of the first towns in the state to seek and win approval to construct a solar farm. The facility became operational in 2018 and currently generates over 1 million kilowatts of power each year, saving Bethel taxpayers thousands of dollars in the annual town budget. We are currently exploring the feasibility of more renewable energy installations, such as solar car ports in other areas of town. We are also studying the potential cost savings in fuel and maintenance by converting the town hall auto fleet to electric or hybrid, where appropriate.

Plank #3: Continue to develop clean, renewable energy systems that will cut the Town’s energy costs and reduce carbon emissions.

Support for Recreation

Except for two small practice fields, Bethel has not added to its recreational facilities for decades, yet the town population has grown by about 20% since 1980, putting a serious strain on our children’s opportunities to participate in sports and other recreational activities. In 2018 the Board of Selectmen began a study of our current inventory and is currently preparing a ten-year park improvement plan.

Plank #4: Present to Bethel voters a long term, affordable parks improvement plan to increase recreational opportunities.

Support for our Outstanding Schools

We are proud supporters of the Bethel Public Schools. Over the past decade, we have worked hand-in-hand with our school board to provide the resources that help our children excel. We championed the referendum to fully renovate our oldest elementary schools, Rockwell and Johnson, and we supported and worked closely with the generous donor who is constructing the multi-million-dollar track and field house on our school campus.

Plank #5: We pledge to maintain excellence in our public schools and ensure on time and on budget completion of the school renovation projects.

Quality of Life

There is a reason Bethel is one of the most desirable towns in Connecticut: this is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. From our excellent schools, to great Park & Recreation programs like “free family movie night” to the children’s room at the Bethel Public Library to Food Truck Friday and the free Sunday concerts in the summer months, Bethel is the place to be.

Plank #6: We pledge to continue to make Bethel the best, most welcoming community it can possibly be.

These goals will be accomplished, as we have always done, with openness and bi-partisan cooperation. We strongly believe that when it comes to public service, politics stops at the door. Meeting the needs of our town’s people comes first.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and questions.

Sincerely,

Matt K.

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