NORTH STONINGTON — Enhancing communication, promoting collaboration, attracting appropriate economic development and remaining fiscally responsible are among the top goals for First Selectman Michael Urgo as he prepares for his second term.
If he is to succeed in this mission, North Stonington Republicans said they believe he should should be more open with elected officials on all boards and expand public comment during Board of Selectmen meetings to include items that may not be on the agenda.
Urgo, a member of the Independent Party of Connecticut who was endorsed by North Stonington Democrats, said that is exactly what he intends to do.
"The election was very close and it sends a message that I need to a better job of earning the public's support, especially from those who did not vote for me," said Urgo, who beat Republican Brett Mastroianni by 30 votes. "This will require listening, considering their concerns and working to make the process more inclusive for everyone."
When he took office in 2017, Urgo sought to expand the town's presence on social media, improve the quality and quantity of information on the town's website, and provide email news blasts for interested subscribers. He also created a weekly video to discuss the latest trends and topics.
Urgo said Thursday he would continue to build on those efforts. He said he would offer weekly and monthly informal "drop ins" to anyone in the community who would like to talk. The sessions will be every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. and every third Monday each month from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
"Of course, anyone is welcome to stop by Town Hall during business hours or contact me to make an appointment, but I feel this is an opportunity to create a regular time and to make sure I am accessible to those who want to talk about any town issue," he said.
Urgo, 42, was also challenged during his campaign to be more inclusive at meetings. A change that is expected to take place at the next Board of Selectmen meeting will be to expand rules so that those seeking to speak publicly before the board will not be forced to speak only about items on the current agenda.
Mastroianni and Republican Selectman Robert A. Carlson questioned the public comment process during their campaigns, saying it was unduly restrictive. "We need to give the public an opportunity to speak about what concerns them, not just what is on the agenda," Mastroianni said in a post-election interview on Tuesday. "It creates an unfair restriction. The public deserves a voice."
Urgo said he understands those concerns and would change the policy. However, in the interest of fairness and efficiency, speakers will still be limited to just a few minutes, he said.
During Urgo's previous term, the town completed several long-term projects, opening the new Center for Emergency Services, the recreation center, and a renovated middle-high school. The elementary school project is also nearing completion, and Urgo said building a strong but appropriate economic base will be critical in allowing the town to remain progressive while not overburdening the taxpayers.
"Geographically, we have a very large land area. Our Planning and Zoning Commission has done a fantastic job of identifying and creating regulations that will allow us to expand development appropriately, and in the areas where we want to see it," Urgo said. "The next step in the process is to attract desirable businesses to the area, but there are still steps we need to take to make that happen."
Specifically, the town is seeking to expand in areas near Exits 92 and 93 off Interstate 95, as well as in a commercial zone at the northern part of town near Foxwoods Resort Casino. To do so, it will be necessary to improve and expand upon existing infrastructure, Urgo said.
With North Stonington facing reductions in state funding, Urgo said the Board of Selectmen as a whole will need to work closely with one another and use their skills without being partisan, and to collaborate with the town's other boards.
"There is no one, regardless of party, who wants this to fall on our homeowners," he said. "Infrastructure improvements will be a big part of the discussions in coming months and we need to work together in a way that will address the needs and make everyone comfortable. In the end we are all taxpayers who love the community and we all have the same goal."
Urgo said the town also needs to expand access to renewable energy without harming the character of the community, and to enhance sustainability in government operations.
During the coming term, both parties also expressed an interest in enhancing collaboration and said this week that they will work toward doing what's best for the community as a whole. Both parties said those efforts will begin on Monday, Nov. 18, when all elected officials come together at town hall for the first all-board swearing in ceremony in the town's history.
The event will include all officials from each of the town's elected boards and will take place at 6:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.