Petitioning First Selectman Hopeful Pledges Better Stewardship Of Taxpayer Dollars
Having volunteered for local service on the Board of Education, the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers, each iteration of a Community Center advisory panel, and even supporting a post-12/14 recovery project, Douglas Andrew "Andy" Clure has seen an awful lot of expenditure of private funds and public tax dollars, and he believes as Newtown's first selectman, he can do better at stretching those dollars further.
The petitioning Republican qualified for a November 7 municipal ballot position along with endorsed GOP candidate and current Selectman Will Rodgers, and endorsed Democratic challenger Dan Rosenthal by soliciting several dozen petition signatures after receiving only a handful of votes at a July Republican Town Committee caucus.
Mr Clure toldÃÂ The Newtown BeeÃÂ that instead of engaging in a three-way September 12 primary, which pitted Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob against the eventually successful Mr Rodgers, he was opting to gather the relatively few petition signatures required to lock a ballot slot.
He is also distinguishing himself in several other ways - by not choosing a running mate and vowing to serve effectively with whomever the voters might choose as his Board of Selectmen colleagues, and by instead choosing a costumed panda bear mascot to stand with him at public events like the Labor Day Parade.
So, what is with that panda?
"It's just a cute and unique way of being different," Mr Clure said during a September 26 interview. "The kids love the panda, and I first used it to kick off my campaign for the Board of Ed two years ago. We had the panda take pictures at each of the schools, so it kind of represented my campaign. The panda is going to be a big part of my campaign in October - people have been asking us to release the panda, so we will be having the panda out. I can't thank Lisa Fenneroli enough for helping. She and her entire family have been big supporters in the campaign."
Much like his panda mascot has changed the face of local political campaigning, Mr Clure says his candidacy also represents a quest for change.
"I can't tell you how much support I've gotten since I announced my intention to be a petitioning candidate," he said, adding that he will be facing the challenge of being identified on the ballot by his full legal name, Douglas Andrew Clure.
"It's a long tradition on my mother's side of the family that the kids are known by [some representation of] their middle names, so everybody has always called me Andy," he said, "But voters will not see the name 'Andy Clure' on the November ballot."
Explaining And Educating
As a result, Mr Clure has found himself explaining and educating voters about his petitioning status, as much as he is engaging them over concerns about how their taxpayer dollars are spent.
"I'm still a registered Republican, but since I'm petitioning, I'm not going to be held to any specific party philosophy or platform. I'm going to be open and listening to everybody regardless of their political party, or the scope of their concerns," he said. "I believe in a lot of the different things that both major parties represent - probably the biggest is being fiscally responsible, and maximizing how those tax dollars are spent. Newtown collects more than $100 million from its residents, and I think it can go a lot further than it is going today."
Mr Clure sees his aspiration to the first selectman's office as a great opportunity for local voters to endorse a more politically centrist candidate for the town's top elected office. He also is exhibiting a refreshing lack of restraint as a candidate who apparently has no qualms about calling his own fellow elected leaders out when he believes they are making a bad decision.
For one, he believes the school board should be holding information sessions ahead of each local budget referendum clearly explaining the difference between the budget proposal sent forth by his board, and the final spending plan that is approved and sent to referendum by the Legislative Council after additional vetting and potential reductions made by the Board of Finance.
"Let's just say hypothetically that [the Board of Ed] puts out a budget, and through the subsequent process it is reduced by $1 million. If that is approved, we then have to go and cut $1 million," he said. "But maybe if people knew that million [dollars] involved cutting their child's elementary Spanish program, fewer bus routes that mean longer bus rides, curtailing some of the sports programs, or some of the important classes that high school kids are interested in because it's tied to their career pursuits like the culinary program, then they wouldn't have voted to pass that budget on the first try. We need to educate the voter."
Mr Clure continues to stew over the fact that besides himself, the rest of his board voted to waive their own rules, voting to not put the school transportation contract out to bid and extending All-Star Transportation a new five-year no-bid contract.
"Now we're having a challenge with the whole transportation issue, and I voiced it before we decided to make the whole school start time change," he said. "And I'm thrilled to be part of a school transportation task force that begins meeting this Friday. We're going to do our best to fix the whole transportation end of it. We trusted what [All-Star] had to say. They said they could handle it, we trusted that, it's not working, and now we're trying to fix it," he said.
"Last summer I was the only one who voted against, and was very, very disappointed that the school board has a policy to go out to bid for something like a $4 million-plus bus contract, and they voted to suspend that policy and award it to All-Star again," he said. "I'm not against All-Star, but it was a move against all the other transportation companies out there. Why couldn't we at least entertain the thought of speaking to some other companies to see how they would do it? It all goes along with my plans to listen to more people."
If ultimately successful in November, Mr Clure plans to increase his public visibility and access by holding more flexible office hours, staying later some nights and coming in earlier on certain mornings, or on weekends.ÃÂ
"I will also go to them wherever they want me to be to hear their concerns, even if it means going to their home," he said.
The Great Divide
When it comes to administering hot community topics that may equally divide constituents, Mr Clure points to his work with the various community center advisory groups he served on, where he was faced with factions demanding a competition-sized swimming pool and an ice rink.
"We had some very-well attended public forums, and we went with what supported [a facility that would serve] the vast range of ages in town," he said. "You always want to accomplish everything that you can, but you can't please everybody. And the community center should not be a political thing."
He also believes the town should have explored exactly what kind of community center it could have gotten for just the $10 million gift General Electric gave to the community after the 12/14 tragedy, then perhaps looking at bonding to add on to the facility later.
"I really feel we should have hired someone to mock up plans that included everything the town wanted, then went out to bid to see what that would have cost," he said. "The town just approved $15 million to build the project and we asked the builders what we could get for the money - that, to me, sounds backwards."
From his work with the Board of Managers, Mr Clure said he has learned to not just be a voice of dissension if he disagrees with something, but to come to the table with alternative or constructive ideas. One of those ideas he discussed involved the protracted and costly renovation to the high school auditorium.
"I'm thrilled we're spending $3 million to build our seniors a brand-new senior center from the ground up, but we're spending four-and-a-half million to just renovate the high school auditorium," he said. "I know the school has some needs, but why couldn't we possibly knock it down, or build something new... at the high school? It's these questions I want to be able to answer and explain to town [residents]. I'm told it looks beautiful, but we didn't explore knocking it down. Could we have saved there?"
On a much smaller and narrow scale, Mr Clure is also excited about an idea to hold rollback Tuesdays at the Edmond Town Hall, with movie tickets for seniors rolled back to $2, and giving trade-ups at the concession stand.
"So if somebody orders a small popcorn or fountain drink, you get the next higher size," he said. "Seniors are a group we should be supporting in town. It's not just getting an idea, but following through with it and getting it done."
The petitioning candidate has just launched his campaign website at andrewclure.com - as well as a Facebook page where he plans to post often, including several meet-and-greet activities where residents can discuss the concerns they would like to see him address if he is successful in the race for first selectman.
He is inviting residents to meet with him in the Mary Hawley Room at Edmond Town Hall Tuesdays from 11 am to 1 pm, and Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 pm from next week up until the election. They do not have to schedule a time.
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