Southbury first selectman breaks in new tradition
SOUTHBURY, Conn.—Neither rain nor sleet nor heat or gloom of night will stop First Selectman Ed Edelson from walking.
Well, maybe the weather, but not the night.
Edelson is breaking in a new tradition as Southbury's first selectman. He doesn't grab his car keys before heading for work in the morning. Instead, he sets out on a hike.
Despite the relatively short distance, his commute will take a little under an hour.
Edelson pulls on a neon vest, JanSport backpack, brimmed fleece hat and flat-soled tennis shoes before he makes the 2.2-mile walk to work.
"Usually I would just do the walk around Settler's Park, but my commute has gone up 100-fold," Edelson said jokingly. "It was 100 feet. Now it's 10,000 feet. "
Edelson has made it a goal to walk the 4.4-mile round trip every day to his office at the Town Hall on Main Street South, so long as the weather is cooperating. His town-owned car remains parked outside the Cornucopia at Old Field, the bed and breakfast he owns with his wife.
He said he's making the walk both for health reasons and to get a sense of the town's walking spaces.
His morning starts around 7:30 a.m., following the dirt portion of Old Field Road, down the winding path to where it becomes paved. From there, he walks past Gainfield Elementary School just before school buses arrive and passes the occasional dog walker.
As of Dec. 9, he had completed the there-and-back-again circuit three times in the week.
Most of the trip is off road and not on sidewalks because they're simply not there. In the coming months, Edelson said, he wants to review where the sidewalks in town are and where they could potentially be expanded.
"I know that's been part of our plan of conservation and development, but it's difficult to do. Ownership and liability issues come up from time to time," he said. "Like so many things, we have to keep talking about it, hear people's concerns and focus on it. I think we'll get there."
The mission is two-fold -- he hopes to encourage others who live in town to get out and do the same, following the town's green spaces and finding a healthy dose of exercise. While he won't do it always, it's an early regimen he's hoping sticks.
"We've moved in a direction that there's so much entertainment inside everyone's home that there's much more inclination to stay inside and never get out and see people," Edelson said. "We have to give more folks opportunities to get out, see each other and feel like they are part of one community. I feel like that really improves everyone's quality of life."
The walks may provide an informal forum for some residents and officials to bring their concerns to Edelson, but he noted that he's also planning brown-bag lunch sessions to address concerns outside of formal meetings. On Friday, Robin Lucas, who works for the Pomperaug District Department of Health, took advantage of Edelson's walk to tout a new program called ACHIEVE, which seeks to make more residents active.
"Walking through here, it's clear we need trails and more spaces," Lucas said. "This is a great way to see what we have."
Once Edelson arrives at Town Hall, he checks in with Carol S. Hubert, who is serving as Edelson's assistant. Hubert has flipped from her role as a selectman to managing more of the town's day-to-day tasks. She said she enjoys the new challenges, but appreciates the perspective her 14 years as a selectman have provided.
"Ed and I talk to make sure we're on the same page and have the same goals in mind," Hubert said. "We want to make sure we keep all of the plates spinning. We don't want anything to fall through the cracks."
Edelson's first week has been filled with meet-and-greets with town employees, briefings on various legal matters, and working to devise a new information technology plan. Board of Selectmen meetings will also change to include presentations from town departments and town organizations.
That forum is important for the town's budget process, which will be the first major task Edelson faces.
"We know these are very difficult times for a lot of residents and homeowners," he said. "We have to be very careful about looking at any tax increase, but on the other hand we've had very loyal employees who've gone two years without a pay increase. There's a lot of pain going on, but it's a challenge to come up with a proper balance."