Town management, economic stimulation, building maintenance and environmental leadership were some of the issues on the minds of those who attended a candidates’ forum on Oct. 22 at Wilton Library.

Answering those questions were candidates for first selectman: Republican incumbent Lynne Vanderslice, Democrat Deborah McFadden and petitioner Michael Powers.

They were joined by Board of Selectmen candidates: Democrats Ceci Maher and Ross Tartell, Republican incumbent Josh Cole and Unaffiliated incumbent David Clune.

Asking the questions and moderating the event was Jean Rabinow of the Connecticut League of Women Voters.

Town manager

Both Vanderslice and McFadden were open to the idea of a town manager or administrator, which was presented by one of the questions submitted by an audience member.

Vanderslice pointed out the town’s top official is responsible for municipal employees, budgeting, and bonding projects. “You have to have a great deal of experience to be a first selectperson,” she said, adding she had the necessary qualifications coming into office. “You might not always find that,” she said, adding it would be worth looking at the position of a town administrator, as is the case in Weston, where the first selectman is part-time position.

McFadden said she was not opposed to the idea either, but pointed out it would require a revision to the town charter. “When you open the town charter, anything can happen,” she said. “If the town wanted a town manager, I would be OK changing it,” she said, adding she’s seen the position in other communities where those elected may not be up to the job.

Powers was opposed. Because they are appointed, town managers have no accountability, he said. “They are not elected. It is not what you want,” he said. Being “first selectman makes you accountable. We have to ask you for re-election,” he said.

Vacant storefronts

Another question dealt with limited retail and dining options here.

Powers acknowledged diminishing retail space and suggested “one of the keystones Wilton has is we’re a small New England town. We should bring in that look and invite it.”

McFadden championed collaboration to bring about a strong vision. “We need to focus more on arts and cultural events and working with our nonprofits,” she said. “We need to work with our local businesses and Chamber of Commerce and property owners in executing our Plan of Conservation and Development and master plan. We must proactively work on economic development.”

The town must also seize opportunities for better communicating “what Wilton is about.”

Vanderslice said her vision for Wilton Center, presented when she was first elected, is coming to fruition with the opening up of the Norwalk River. More density around the train station and Wilton Center, as is included in the POCD, will bring more people and vitality, she said.

“We need more people living in the center who will use our restaurants and retail more,” she said. The town also “needs a commitment by the community that you will support local businesses and restaurants.”

Maintenance

The first selectmen candidates were joined by candidates for the Board of Selectmen when a question about facilities maintenance came up.

McFadden said that during the recession the budgets were balanced at the expense of road maitenance and now some facilities, like the police station, are ailing. “We need to have a conversation on what we can afford and prioritize,” she said.

Tartell, who is a fire commissioner, said, “ You have to look at longevity. Good maintenance helps you prevent problems. We do that at the fire department and the equipment works.”

Clune said the board has made inroads, particularly by establishing a real estate committee that has looked at town buildings.

Taking an inventory of town facilities is the first step, Cole said, adding work is progressing on the police station and town hall campus. “We are going to have to prioritize and look at what you have to spend and space things out,” he said.

Having had to deal with maintenance “all the time” while executive director of Person-to-Person, Maher said she has experience setting a schedule and then raising and allocating funds. “It goes back to growing the grand list to do the things you need to do,” she said. Commenting on a story in The Bulletin about the police station, she said she found the conditions “horrifying.”

Vanderslice told the audience “the good news is we do planning and long-term planning.” The improvements she identified included an artificial turf field, a new roof on the high school, new tennis courts, roof work on town hall, and a building committee working on the police station and town hall campus.

Powers pointed out some of the positive work being done, such as street scans to determine the condition of town roads but said there should be a similar system in place for town buildings. He specivcally mentioned the vulnerability of the town clerk’s office and vault to flooding.

Energy

A question on solar and sustainable energy elicited similar responses from the candidates.

McFadden and Tartell both said the town’s energy commission needs to be reinvigorated to move ahead on sustainable initiatives.

Clune and Cole said Wilton is a leader in sustainbility through solar panels and the virtual net metering program it has entered into with Weston. Cole also commended the schools for its Zero Waste program.

Maher focused on recycling, saying “we need to support Sustainable Wilton and Wilton Go Green. There is so much more we can do to make this a really sustainable town.”

While he believes sustainable energy is “an absolute requirement,” Powers said the cost benefit needs to be examined. “We need to start a town initiative on what really is recyclable,” he said.

Vanderslice said 70 percent of the town’s electrical energy will be generated through solar by 2021. She also lauded the Zero Waste program and Wilton Go Green. “The town introduced carry in and carry out, we have e-cycling and we got rid of plastic in town hall.”