The Democratic candidate for first selectman is Deborah McFadden.
A Wilton resident for 18 years, McFadden currently sits on the Board of Selectmen, completing the unfinished term of Ted Hoffstatter, who resigned in December 2014.
Prior to being appointed to fill that vacancy, she served four terms as a constable for the town of Wilton. She has been the vice chair of the Wilton Democratic Town Committee since 2003.
On a national level, McFadden voted as a member of the Electoral College in the 2008 presidential election.
Since 2006, McFadden has been self-employed, independently contracting her communications services to 911 Consulting, a Wilton-based firm that specializes in emergency preparedness planning and training for corporations and campuses nationwide.
Before moving to Wilton, she worked as a troubleshooter for the community affairs division under two consecutive administrations in the office of the mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah.
“One of the things that I worked on in Salt Lake City,” said McFadden, “was economic development, so I have experience in that area, and I would like to bring that experience to bear here.”
While some might argue the only way to broaden Wilton’s tax base is to draw new businesses into the town, McFadden sees revenue more as a function of the grand list — the whole list, not just one part of it.
“We can add business and commercial properties; we can also increase housing,” she said. “As I’ve been knocking on doors and talking to people in the community, a number of residents have suggested that, as they get older, when they’re ready to leave their single-family detached home, and they’re not ready to go to some place like Ogden House or Wilton Commons, there are not a lot of opportunities for a step-down. If we had, say, a 55-and-older senior housing, where you didn’t have all the big grounds, and you didn’t have the huge house, so that it was a simpler housing opportunity for them, that’s an example of a type of housing that would be desirable in this community. The advantage of that is, not only is it meeting the needs of seniors, it’s not adding extra children to the school system, because the majority of our taxes go to pay for our schools. The town budget is a much smaller component.”
And while some look to commercially develop only Wilton Center, McFadden acknowledged that the town of Wilton really isn’t centralized.
“Wilton is also challenged by the fact that we’re not centralized. We have Georgetown, we have Cannondale, we have the town center, we have the Route 7 corridor. We have multiple business districts, and they all need to have attention paid to them,” she said.
In McFadden’s own words, taxes are the No. 1 issue people talk about in Wilton.
“Our town is supported by property taxes, and it’s a challenge. We need to work in economic development, but we also need to work on holding the line on our expenditures. I see us working on where we can find increased efficiencies, where, say, the town and the schools can do things together. For example, they’re currently merging their payroll system for a cost savings, but I think there are other efficiencies we can seek out,” said McFadden.
She took a stance of honesty regarding whether or not taxes can in fact be lowered, but pledged to give herself wholly to the effort of maintaining them at the current rate and to indeed lower them if at all possible.
“I don’t know if we can actually lower taxes. I’m committed to doing everything I can to lower them or hold the line, but I’m realistic. We have to provide public safety and police and fire. If we’re able to lower them, I’m all for it, and there’s some opportunities where we might be able to do some things, but we need to recognize that, No. 1, the majority of the budget is schools, not town, and No. 2, that the majorities of both the school budget and the town budget are for personnel, and most of that personnel is under union contracts. There is a limitation on how much we are able to do. I really think it is important that we do everything we can to hold it down, but I’m being realistic when I say that we have to honor our contracts,” McFadden said.
Fiscally conservative, McFadden believes the town should refrain from going out to bond capital projects, even when the budgets fall below the bonding threshold.
“We actually, according to Moody’s, have room where we could bond more. I think it’s prudent that we not. I think we need to tighten our belts as much as we can, but we need to be realistic. We do have infrastructures that are going to need some work. But we need to plan it in a way that we space projects in increments, so that, as we pay off something from the past, only then do we introduce something new,” McFadden said.
“We have a AAA bond rating,” she added. “One of the things we need to be very careful of is not losing that status, because it helps us not only when we go out to bond but when people look at our community, if a business is considering relocating here, that’s one of the things they look at. How fiscally responsible are we as a community? We can’t run our budgets so tight to the line and cut services so much that we risk [our] being fiscally responsible.”
With respect to Wilton’s schools, McFadden envisions a strong working relationship between herself as first selectman and Superintendent Kevin Smith, and she added that Wilton’s recently buzzed-about subpar Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test scores are not indicative of any poor quality of education to be found here.
“In my vision for Wilton, we need to maintain the strong schools,” McFadden said. “I would work to be supportive of our superintendent in achieving that. I have full confidence in Dr. Smith. I think that he’s got a good grasp on the district and I think he’s going to do good things. Clearly, Wilton was not as aggressive in converting to Common Core curriculum as some of our neighbors were, and that’s reflected in some of the test scores. However, if you look at most standards by which schools are assessed, Wilton is stellar, if you look at our graduation rate, who goes on to college and the kinds of colleges they go on to.”
According to McFadden, underpinning the rest of her platform is a commitment to improving townwide communication.
“We need to have enhanced communication in and out of town hall. I think part of the whole controversy surrounding the Miller-Driscoll renovation is a lack of communication, because people had a sense that they didn’t know what was going on. And I think that communication needs to flow in both directions, so that if a citizen has an issue, they have a clear place they can come to to express their issue and see if we can find a resolution. We can’t solve everybody’s problems, but we can certainly see what we can do to address them. And if it’s not us, maybe it’s referring them to the state, or another organization,” McFadden said.
Despite her skills in leadership, McFadden sees her true highlight as a person to be her strong work ethic.
“I’m a doer, and I’m not taking this job because I want a title,” she said. “I want to roll up my sleeves and go to work. I’m a worker. I think that’s probably been demonstrated by the situation with the Democratic Town Committee. I’ve been the vice chair under five chairmen — I don’t need a title; I just do the work. It’s not about the title; it’s about getting the job done, and that’s the kind of person I am. When I see a problem, I want to fix it. When I see a wrong, I want to right it. I’m a bit of a social activist.”
When asked if she was confident in her ability to win the race, McFadden replied, “Absolutely.” When asked why, she answered, “Because I’m working harder.”
“I’m knocking on doors; I’m making phone calls; I’m going to events,” she said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a real, serious, competitive race between a Republican and a Democrat in this town. We’re talking decades. It’s time. It’s time for a change, and I’m going about this in a really serious way. I’m raising money, I have a committee, and you may have noticed, I announced [my campaign] before the process started, because I wanted to hit the ground running. So I’m all in. I’m in this to win it, and I don’t think I’m tilting at windmills. This is winnable, because even though the Democrats have the minority registration, the biggest group in this town is the unaffiliateds. It’s not the Republicans.”