It looks like the setting for a post-apocalyptic summer thriller, though Newtown has been less than thrilled about having this blighted property sitting unused for decades in the heart of Botsford. The 30-acre former Batchelder site at 44 and 46a Swamp Road is a scary place, and not just because of its aspect of desolation and abandonment. It is environmentally scary.
Commissioner Dianna Wentzell has been on the job just over a month at the helm of Connecticut’s Department of Education. She has been welcomed with a debate over the future of education in the state that is thick with challenges and fraught with political controversy. Pick an agenda item: Common Core Standards implementation; teacher evaluations; narrowing the achievement gap between rich and poor districts; meeting and funding the growing demand for special education; and the perennial conundrum of how to fund education in the state. Any one would be in itself a full-time job. Fortunately, the new commissioner knows her stuff. With a 25-year career in the state’s public school system — 12 years in the classroom — she served most recently as the chief academic officer for the state education department. Experience counts for something — except, apparently, for Governor Dannel P. Malloy.
The Fairfield Hills Authority’s latest flirtation with economic development at the spacious campus home of Newtown’s seat of government hit a snag, as have so many of the other potential liaisons with commercial suitors that have come calling. US HealthVest, a developer of behavioral health facilities, had expressed interest in creating a 100-bed psychiatric hospital at Fairfield Hills. After three months of exploring that idea, however, the FHA chairman and HealthVest CEO announced late last month that the developer would be looking instead at other sites in Newtown for the facility. The sudden diversion, they said, was “in the interest of avoiding potential challenges the project might face” — a casual reference to emerging questions about the wisdom of having a mental health facility with its special security needs in an area that aspires to be a hub for public life and commerce.
In the hours before the deadline to pass a state budget on Monday, July 27, legislators shifted their attention briefly to quickly approve two major bills affecting the criminal justice system in Connecticut.
One was the Second Chance Society legislation proposed by Governor Dannel P. Malloy designed to reduce the rate of incarceration in the state (338 per 100,000 people in 2013) by reducing penalties in drug possession cases and simplifying the process for paroles and pardons. The other was “An Act Concerning Excessive Use of Force,” more commonly known as the body camera bill, which encourages and helps municipalities fund the use of body cameras by police. The bill was formulated in the context of the national discussion about the use of police force in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and North Charleston, S.C.
We all know that feeling when the daily planner has filled up with obstacles, and e-mail and voice mail is overflowing with conundrums and impossible requests. Nothing is easy, and the day is too short. We really could use someone with the energy, the imagination, and the connections to get things done. Someone with the fresh and youthful approach. Someone like a couple of ageless women we know.
Spring is a season of celebration in Newtown’s schools. The goals set by educators and the educated last September finally come within grasp as May warms into June. The achievements are logged, the achievers listed, bands play, choruses sing, performers take their bows, and awards are bestowed. It all culminates with the Newtown High School graduation ceremonies, which took place this week on Tuesday afternoon at the O’Neill Center at Western Connecticut State University. This is the time when the educational excellence we talk about all year long comes out to be measured and appreciated.
For nine hours on Saturday, June 13, there will be a great circling of compassion, companions, and caring both on and off the track at Newtown High School’s Blue & Gold Stadium for the 2015 edition of local American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. For 11 years, the community has gathered in this way in late spring for some consciousness- and fund-raising on behalf of ACS. More than $2.5 million has been raised in that time in a spirit of celebration in the face of all the trouble and grief that every cancer struggle entails.
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe’s announcement this week of his retirement seven months from now comes at a difficult time for the Newtown Police Department. Whenever a law enforcement agency faces allegations that one of its own has been flagrantly breaking the law rather enforcing it, as happened to the NPD in April, those in charge have some explaining to do. Of course, there is no explaining away criminal activity within a police department, which is supposed to be the heart of vigilance, discipline, and integrity in a community. As a veteran law enforcement professional with a long career marked by responsibility and duty, Chief Kehoe understands this as well as anyone.
The future does not arrive all at once by overnight express but emerges bit by bit through the often-overlooked interstices in our routine administration of the present. Take, for instance, Item 5 of new business on the agenda of the Board of Selectmen’s June 1 meeting, sandwiched between consideration of the latest update from the Permanent Memorial Commission and a resolution for adopting a Newtown Hazard Mitigation Plan. The “Electric Vehicle Charging Stations” discussion yielded authorization for the public works director and the Sustainable Energy Commission to begin work on a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection grant application for a two-bay charging station for electric vehicles, probably at Fairfield Hills.
By the spring of 2014, Officer Thomas Bean had been off the duty roster of the Newtown Police Department for more than a year. The post traumatic stress disorder he suffered following the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings had disabled him to the point where he could no longer work in his chosen career as a police officer. He had struggled with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts since responding to the mass murder of 20 first graders and six educators. He told the General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee at that time that he faced an uncertain financial future — a future that would be far more secure with common sense workers compensation laws on the books covering PTSD for first responders.