When the holidays get started in earnest next week, the town will again embark on a season of heightened sensibilities with a celebration of Thanksgiving. Elsewhere, the fulsome holiday spectacle of twinkling lights and jingling cash registers seems to go a little farther over the top with every passing year. But in Newtown the sense of what we have, etched as it is in high relief by what we have lost, has an authentic value worthy of our deepest thanks. It is this extra awareness of the fragile boundary between having and not having that made a report this week by the United Way of Connecticut about the extent of economic suffering in this affluent state, county, and town so unsettling.
The work of Newtown’s finance authorities is axiomatic: seek economy in the increasingly expensive enterprise of running a town. And in watching the early work of the Board of Finance and the Finance Department impacting the next budget cycle, some actual axioms come to mind. Waste not want not. A penny saved is a penny earned. Less is more. For some residents who may, for example, suffer a bone-jarring commute along some of the town’s more pothole-pocked byways twice a day, the economic zeal of budgetmakers may seem more like parsimony. (More about those potholes later.) It is beginning to look, however, like Newtown’s shrewd financing may be yielding some tangible benefits.
Election day is welcomed and celebrated in this country as the culmination of the democratic process — a system that is supposed to make our representative government accountable and self-correcting. It ensures a government of, by, and for the people. Having just endured yet another election campaign marked by a dizzying amount of spin, misdirection, and hyperbole, however, we understand that the modern practice of democracy may be getting most of its vigor and power not from “the people” but from vast sums of money with indistinct sources and purposes. We take consolation, though, from the words of Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.”
Newtown approaches Election Day this year with a perspective on federal and state government it did not have two years ago. Hartford and Washington, DC, do not seem quite so removed from our community life this time around; our elected representatives both in Congress and the legislature have had many opportunities to come through for Newtown, and for the most part they have done so, often expending significant political capital to secure grants and to enact legislation that directly benefited this community as it worked to recover from the tragic events of 12/14. The performance of these elected officials in the crucible of tragedy has informed our choices in the 2014 election more than the pro forma campaign promises and rhetoric.
There are few times of the year when we are reminded more of the passing of time than the end of October. The astonishing beauty of the landscape is always a surprise, even though we see it every year. We get to bask in the saturated colors only briefly, since the inspiring scene comes and goes so quickly, giving way to the next season and the next. It is best to satisfy our endless appetite for Octobers by savoring it with immediate appreciation and gratitude. So it seems appropriate that a group of people working in the town’s government, its Health District, and in the Visiting Nurse Association have chosen this time of year to invite the community to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon in appreciation, and in the presence, of two astonishing and inspiring men of medicine. Both, in their long careers, have brightened the outlook of Newtown with a brilliance rivaling any October.
The Legislative Council approved the transfer of $29,000 from contingency to contractual services last month to cover cleanup costs for private property at 31 Great Hill Road. A 3,400-square-foot home there was destroyed by fire, June 24, 2011. Neighbors have complained for three years about the unsightly mess, saying it attracts vermin, wildlife, and poses a safety hazard because of an uncovered and rain-filled swimming pool on the property. Demolition was completed last week. (See story.) It would be unremarkable, except for the fact that the town bankrolled the cleanup.
Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act has been on the books for nearly 40 years. A couple of generations of public servants have been operating under its provisions. Yet after decades of illumination by the state’s Sunshine Laws, our elected and appointed representatives in government continue to wander into the shadows, where they stumble over provisions of the act that should be well known to everyone by now.
We like to think of young adulthood as a time when the world is an exciting place in which to be. But for one out of five Connecticut residents, that world is fraught with anxieties and fears as mental health issues cloud the scene. That population includes teenagers and young adults. According to TurningPointCT.org, 14.6 percent of Connecticut high school students have had serious suicidal thoughts this past year. Count Newtown’s youth in that statistic. Suicide attempts and suicide by people under the age of 25 are not just anecdotal here. They are a reality.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, conducted his first Parent/Community Forum September 18 in a packed lecture hall at Newtown High School. The evening’s topic was a question brimming with engagement and hope: What must take place for your son/daughter to have their absolute best school year? Our initial response to the question was not a direct answer but a general observation: How far we have come in how we communicate with our school officials over the past three years.
The governor’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission has heard testimony from an array of experts on school security, mental health, and gun violence prevention in the past year and a half, but none spoke more authoritatively on the impact of sudden chaos on the orderly life of a community than Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra. She addressed the panel last Friday. Commissioners sat rapt as Mrs Llodra described what it was like in the days following December 14, 2012 to keep a local government functioning in the eye of a storm of 6,000 phone calls, 200,000 pieces of mail, 65,000 teddy bears, the spontaneous proliferation of memorial funds, cash and material donations, wave after wave of relentless media, and volunteers showing up with therapy dogs, massage tables, and professional mental health services. One impressed commissioner told the first selectman, “You have set a new standard.” Mrs Llodra’s message, however, was that what Newtown went through shouldn’t be the standard.