While he was not the ultimate winner, Alex Ruskewich, who spearheaded the Sensible Wilton campaign to hold the line on spending for the Miller-Driscoll School renovation, was a nominee for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy’s inaugural Unsung Hero Award.
The award, which went to Sarah Jorgensen of Newington, honors, in the words of Yankee Institute, someone who is willing “to step beyond their comfort zones in order to make a difference. Their work has promoted less government intervention in our lives and advocated for a Connecticut where everyone is free to succeed.”
As the winner, Jorgensen was awarded a $1,000 cash prize at a gala in December. Yankee Institute is a Hartford- based nonprofit that focuses on reducing taxes and the size of state government.
Ruskewich, who was nominated by Ed Papp of Wilton, formed Sensible Wilton in the late summer of 2014. The group’s opposition to the process that brought about the school renovation — budgeted at $50 million — was brought forth just before the Special Town Meeting in September 2014 when voters approved the project by a narrow margin.
Claiming irregularities by town officials in promoting the project to voters, Sensible Wilton filed with the town clerk petitions signed by 1,300 citizens in April 2015 demanding a special town meeting to reconsider the vote. When the Board of Selectmen refused to do so, the organization filed suit in Superior Court on June 1, 2015, seeking to compel the selectmen to call a special town meeting to vote on whether to repeal the $50-million bonding authorization. After a judge denied the town’s motion to dismiss the suit, a pre-trial conference was set for Aug. 9, 2016, with a trial start date of Sept. 20, 2016.
With shovels in the ground and a trial date so far in the future, Sensible Wilton withdrew its lawsuit Jan. 30, 2016, but Ruskewich promised “it will not go away.”
True to his word, Ruskewich has been back before the Board of Selectmen arguing that declining enrollments were not taken into account in the design of the renovation, and urging that possible financial savings be explored both in the school project and upcoming budgets.
In a press release issued by Yankee Institute, Ruskewich said the real result of Sensible Wilton’s work is that “we were able to get more people motivated to stand up and say, ‘This is not right for our town.’” He reiterated that sentiment when speaking with The Bulletin on Jan. 6. “My feeling is the more people get involved with this, the better off we are,” he said. “People have to get involved. If they don’t, they have nobody to blame but themselves. It doesn’t have to be a nasty confrontation. It should be based on data and actual facts.”
In nominating Ruskewich, Papp said, “Alex, Curt [Noel] and other supporters were severely rebuked for speaking out at the time, and their sincerity is just now being recognized.”
Ruskewich also told the institute that people need to follow through on their objections. “It’s important that you get involved in the politics of your town,” he said. “You can’t just stand up and shout.”
To The Bulletin, he said, “Citizens have to realize they have the power, but they’ve got to use it.”