The Race for Selectmen: Clune, Kaelin
David Clune (Unaffiliated)
David K. Clune, an unaffiliated voter in the town of Wilton, is running as a candidate for the Board of Selectmen in the Nov. 3 municipal election. He petitioned onto the ballot in August and was listed after collecting the 14 signatures required by the secretary of the state.
Clune grew up in Wilton and returned here in 2003 to raise his family. He is the son of a wellknown Wiltonian, David F. Clune, the superintendent of schools from 1986 to 2004 after whom the Clune Center at Wilton High School is named.
A lawyer, Clune is employed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as a compliance and ethics officer. He serves on the Economic Development Commission, and his priorities for the town if he is elected to the Board of Selectmen will be to further that development, and thereby reduce the taxes paid by individual residents.
“If you can hold costs relatively steady, and then increase the tax base, that is a way to prevent the taxes from going up,” Clune said. “As a town, you have a limited amount of land and a limited amount of development. You have to look at things like what’s the best use of the land? What can we do to capitalize on the empty space?”
“Finding a way so that taxes will not always be increasing is the thing that we have to be cautious of,” he added. “One of the ways to do that that has been effective in other places is bringing in businesses that can help relieve some of that pressure. You’ll always have that battle of costs going up, but if you can balance it with increased tax revenue, I think that’s something that we should focus on.”
As a suggestion for increasing that revenue, he offered an idea for economic development that he said is being discussed at present by the Economic Development Commission.
“We need to indicate that as a town, we’re open for business,” said Clune, “that we’re supportive of business and want to help businesses come into town. One of the ways to do that that we’ve been discussing on the Economic Development Commission is when a business comes into town that wants to make any changes to the building, they have to go through the Planning and Zoning department. You could create a group of members of the Economic Development Commission, the Board of Selectmen and the Planning and Zoning Commission that could help to smooth the way for those incoming businesses, working closely with them to expedite the permit application processes by preparing them for the questions they will likely be asked to answer. The town has done some of those things, but the next step would be to have a more formal group charged.”
Clune is all for private-public partnerships within the town, but what he really wants to do is outline a process for those partnerships to form.
“The town has used some private-public partnerships to fund projects within Wilton — the turf field they’re considering over at Middlebrook, for example. There’s interest in the turf field; there’s people who will take care of financing if it is approved and a mechanism in place for providing costs for future maintenance. Maybe one of the things we should be doing is mapping out a process for the formation of private-public partnerships. I know there is a process now, but perhaps we should make it something that people can more readily avail themselves of if there’s sufficient interest. With private-public partnerships, the town has the benefit of not picking up extra costs,” Clune said.
And whether it’s a proposal for a private- public partnership or an idea for economic development, Clune wants to help bring those ideas to the forefront of the municipal discussion here in Wilton.
“Within town, we have a lot of great ideas about ways to improve the town or to maintain what the town currently has,” he observed. “As a member of the Board of Selectmen, one of the things I’d like to do is help people move those ideas forward. I’d act as a champion for good ideas that are brought up, and find ways to help people move those projects forward.”
Clune is not hopeful that service consolidation, both within the town between departments and between Wilton and the neighboring municipalities, can be made possible, but he does not consider that as a reason to leave the idea out of future Board of Selectmen talks.
“The town and the Board of Education have collaborated to try to save costs on expenses such as heating fuel bids before gas was introduced, electric generation bids and bids for property and liability insurance,” Clune said. “The single largest expense in the Board of Education budget is personnel, which is an area where it is difficult to share costs. That being said, the town should continue to look for ways to save by combining purchasing power where possible.”
“The regionalization of town services is something that has been discussed in the past and the question to consider is whether regional sharing of services actually saves money and maintains quality,” he said. “It seems to be something that is very hard to do. People generally are concerned with the idea of consolidation. They wonder, Does that mean I get less service or slower response times for something like an emergency? Those types of questions have made it difficult, but I don’t think that is a reason to stop talking about if it can be done. If it saves costs without reducing people’s safety, it should be something that is continued to be looked at.”
Before his present position, Clune was an assistant district attorney at the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Before enrolling in Fordham Law School in New York and earning his juris doctor degree, he worked for Operation Smile, a nonprofit association that provides medical services, specifically reconstructive cleft lip and palate surgery, to children in developing nations. His job was to travel to countries that would request Operation Smile’s services, meet their government officials and assess their situations to see if they warranted philanthropy.
Clune graduated from Wilton High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Boston College.
He now coaches youth lacrosse in town with the Wilton Youth Lacrosse Association. Clune has coached his son Charlie’s team for three years, following it from grade one to grade three. He will coach the fourth grade team in the spring.
Michael Kaelin (Republican)
Republican Michael Kaelin was appointed to fill the seat of Hal Clark when Clark stepped down from the Board of Selectmen in November 2014, and he is now running for election after having finished the remainder of that term.
His priorities are increasing economic development and decreasing taxes.
“We are at a crossroads in Wilton and we have to make some significant changes in order to maintain the quality of life in Wilton that brought us all here. The No. 1 issue is taxes,” he said. “We cannot tax people in Wilton any more than they’re being taxed now, and we have to find a way to reduce the tax burden so that we are more on a par with our neighboring communities. The reason I say we are at a crossroads is that only recently our mill rate has exceeded both Ridgefield and Norwalk. That’s just not sustainable for the town of Wilton. Right now, we have a higher mill rate than all of the surrounding towns except Weston, and we’re going to have a very difficult time convincing new people to come here unless we are able to change that.”
“We need to rethink the way we’re doing things and start from a clean slate, on what we pay for and how we pay for it,” he added. “We need to look into consolidating and sharing services within town, particularly between schools and the other town departments and with our neighboring towns. We also need to increase economic development, and by that I don’t mean simply advertising and marketing; I mean taking a more personal approach to the many citizens who live in Wilton but own and operate businesses in the surrounding communities, particularly Stamford and Greenwich, and convincing them to move their businesses to Wilton. The kind of businesses I’m looking to attract to Wilton are the kind that employ people who would like to both live and work here, and if we attract these kinds of businesses, we are going to help all the other small businesses — the retail stores and the restaurants — that are already here. It’s going to benefit everyone.”
While Kaelin is not necessarily for or against it, he believes the idea of consolidating services within the town should be further discussed by the community’s leaders.
“Right now we have one chief financial officer for the town and one for the Board of Education. The question I have, which I’m saying we need to look into, is should those two offices be consolidated? And should the financial reporting systems be consolidated? I’m not necessarily saying that they should. What I’m saying is that we should have an open, inclusive process where everyone interested is given an opportunity to be heard, because my work experience has proven to me that the more input you get on any decision, the better decision you make.”
As for the consolidation and sharing of services between Wilton and the neighboring municipalities, Kaelin took a similar stance, but he disclosed that he sees the renovation of Fire Station No. 2 in north Wilton as a prime example of where something like that could happen.
“Take, for example, the firehouse up on Ridgefield Road,” he said. “What I am not in favor of is redoing that fire station to make it do what it does now without considering what the alternatives are. And the different alternatives I would like to see explored, even if that’s not what we ultimately decide, is should that fire station be both a fire station and an ambulance depot? Should it also be a station for Wilton EMS, so we have ambulances better positioned in town? And the really big idea that would be a much more dramatic change: Should we look into doing something with the town of Ridgefield with that fire station? We already have very effective mutual aid and cooperation between the surrounding towns to provide fire services. Can we and should we take that one step further and have a common fire station?”
“Where I’m coming from is an assumption that the overall costs will be less for both towns,” Kaelin added. “Both towns will be able to save if they’re sharing the expense of one fire station, and I can tell you, because I’ve raised this idea with people before, they will give you a million reasons why this cannot be done, but what I want to do is find out if there’s a way it can be done.”
Kaelin has lived in Wilton since 1993, and is an attorney by profession. He was a principal at Gregory and Adams PC from 2000 to 2007, and has been a principal at Cummings & Lockwood LLC since then. He earned his bachelor’s degree in public policy studies from Duke University and obtained a juris doctor degree from the Duke University School of Law.
Kaelin is a past president, vice president and Executive and Finance Committee member at the Wilton Library Association, where he was also on the board of trustees from 2006 to 2014.
He is a recipient of the Wilton Distinguished Citizen Award as well as a Community Service Award from Connecticut Legal Services Inc. in 2014 for his volunteer service on its behalf.
When asked what he hopes to accomplish if elected to the Board of Selectmen, Kaelin replied, “We have to do something about the taxes.”
“Because everything flows from that. If we’re not competitive with our neighboring communities with respect to taxes, we’re not going to be competitive with respect to selling our houses and maintaining the value of our houses. It’s all connected and it’s all interdependent. But at the same time, and I’ve said this repeatedly, you cannot cut your way to prosperity. I’m not advocating we just cut taxes and cut spending if that means cutting services to the point where we’re not an attractive place to live. And that’s why I’m looking for alternative ways to finance things, like sharing services and economic development to increase the tax base so we don’t have to increase the taxes. But I don’t believe we’re just going to be able to go in there and cut and give people what they want. It’s just not going to happen.”