Brennan bids farewell to town hall

Next week’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting will be the last for First Selectman Bill Brennan, as he closes out his 10-year term. Nov. 30 will be his last day in office.

In a sit-down with The Bulletin earlier this fall, Brennan reviewed his term with satisfaction.

“I looked at my election cards [from each campaign] and I accomplished all my objectives,” he said. “I’m proud of it. If you run on that, you have to deliver on it.”

Before continuing he said he was helped immensely by a “great town staff, the employees here are terrific.” He also acknowledged “so many good-quality boards and commissions.”

Brennan is most satisfied that he is leaving the town in a financially strong position, noting at the end of each of the last 10 fiscal years money has been returned to the general fund.

“We maintained our triple-A rating through the recession and our pension is 94% funded,” he said. “Our employees will get their retirement benefits.”

When he first came into office, Brennan spurred a cleanup around town hall — where boxes and unused furniture had lined the hallways — and he expanded on that to improvements in Wilton Center from installing lampposts and flower baskets, encouraging the donation of trees and benches, proposing the Scarecrow Festival, leading the installation of the Veterans Memorial Green to finding funding for new curbing and sidewalks and welcome signs. He also championed the new municipal sculpture program that has brought two outdoor and one indoor sculpture to Wilton.

One initiative Brennan pursued for years — that will come to fruition after he leaves office — is the pedestrian walkway and bridge over the Norwalk River, connecting the train station and downtown area. The project is in the design phase now and he expects it will be done next spring or summer.

Brennan has received support from many people and town organizations, but it has not all been smooth sailing — there have been critics of many of his endeavors — but Brennan said leadership is having “vision and doing what you need to do. You have to be comfortable that what you are doing is good for the town.” He never lost a night’s sleep due to his job, he said.

Considerable effort has been spent improving the physical aspects of Wilton’s schools, which he called “our greatest asset,” and Comstock Community Center.

Before the recession there were plans to pursue a new senior center, but they were abandoned during the economic downturn. Brennan described the place Wilton seniors had to gather as a “one-room hole in the wall.” Under the leadership of Peg Koellmer of Realty Seven, a portion of the community center was transformed into several rooms devoted to senior activities, and the current renovation will result in a bathroom in that area as well.

“When you see [the new community center] you will be blown away,” Brennan said. “And we did it for $10 million. It’s going to be exciting.”

Recession


Much of Brennan’s term was spent guiding the town through a severe recession, and that included producing budgets.

Between his corporate and municipal experience, Brennan said he had been producing budgets for 35 years. “They force you to plan,” he said. “The key thing was reorganizing. We eliminated a lot of things to save money.”

The town instituted a hiring freeze and for one year seven of eight town unions agreed to no raise. To this day, Brennan said, the town’s headcount is flat.

Improvements


Over the course of 10 years, Brennan oversaw many improvements to the town, some were capital projects and some achieved with private money.

One private-money project, the Veterans Memorial Green, “pulled together so many parts of the town,” he said. “It is a great testimony to those who gave their lives in service.”

With the help of others he saw the Wilton train station renovated and reopened. He also pursued Eversource — then Yankee Gas — to extend its natural gas lines to reach the schools and Comstock Community Center.

Under Brennan’s stewardship, the high school was renovated, improvements were made at Middlebrook and Cider Mill schools, 55 acres were added to Wilton’s inventory of open space, affordable housing was increased through Wilton Commons and a forthcoming project on Old Danbury Road, and the following were formed:


  • Charter Commission (2008);

  • Energy Commission (2008);

  • Economic Development Commission (2012);

  • Security Task Force (2013).


Substantial upgrades were made to the town’s Emergency Operations Center and the Code Red emergency notification system was put in place in 2008. Brennan was at the EOC during 2006 blizzard conditions, Hurricane Irene in 2011, and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

While many people agreed Wilton’s roads were in a sorry state several years ago, not everyone agreed on how to bring them up to par. Money for repairing and repaving Wilton’s roads was a prime source of cutting during the recession.

“Tom (Thurkettle) would say he needed $800,000, and that would get cut to $550,000 or $600,000, meaning we could only do two to three miles,” Brennan said.

To ensure there was enough money to make meaningful progress, Brennan proposed making road restoration a five-year capital project. There are those who do not believe operating expenses should be bonded, but the measure passed and three-and-a-half years into the project 30 to 35 miles have been paved.

“We have one and a half more years to go and we’ll do 55 miles all told,” he said of the project that will cost roughly $6.4 million. “We can’t go back to a pittance every year.”

Brennan is also proud of the municipal sculpture program he initiated that first brought Peter Rubino’s Nurture to Wilton Center in 2014, and this June brought Konnected by Carole Eisner, on loan for a year on River Road. Gifford Proctor’s Valley Forge Washington was unveiled at Middlebrook in September.

Things not done


One goal Brennan was not able to achieve was the creation of a riverwalk in Wilton Center.

“We have the potential, but there are a lot of problems,” he said.

The NRVT will go along the (Norwalk) river near Schenck’s Island. That will get us up there, but the parking lots are a problem.”

Perhaps one thing Brennan won’t miss is the controversy wrought by the Miller-Driscoll renovation project. He noted that Miller-Driscoll Building Committee co-chairmen Bruce Hampson and Karen Birck “have spent two years of their lives on Miller-Driscoll” adding “they have been terrific on these projects.”’

One unfortunate result of the controversy, he said, is the litigation bill that will cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Retirement


Brennan said, “I will not be bored in my retirement,” adding now it is “just time to go.” Ten years was more than he expected to serve, following time spent on the Board of Finance.

But, he added, with Board of Finance Chair Warren Serenbetz and Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly as next-door neighbors, “I’ve been working with friends.”

He expects to spend time on artistic pursuits and is not planning on extensive travel or moving.

Of the job he is leaving he said, “The one thing to appreciate is it is an enormous amount of work and it comes at you from every direction. You have to come in with a smile on your face and keep a sense of humor. Every day is a new day.”