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Meet the BOE and P&Z Candidates: November 2017

Municipal Elections 2017

Candidate Questions-Board of Education and Planning and Zoning candidates

Haddam Now/Haddam News reached out to both slates of candidates in the upcoming November elections – Democrats and Republicans. This week, we publish responses from candidates for the Board of Education: Brenda Buzzi (D), Gerry Matthews (D), and Joanne Nesti (U). We also publish responses from candidates for the Planning and Zoning Commission: Peter Baird (D); Gina Block (D); Mike Farina (D); Bill Iselin (R); Wayne LePard (R); and Ralph Livieri (D). We also publish responses from candidates for the Zoning Board of Appeals: Jason Esteves (D); and Robin Munster (R).

  • Getting to know you – personal information/family life, etc.
  • Getting to know you – professional/work – qualifications, experience for position
  • How do you see your role on the specific position/board for which you are running 
  • What changes would you like to see and enact if elected (what things would you like to improve and how) 
  • What things would you like to see preserved (what things are working well) if elected
  • Final thoughts to leave residents with


Brenda Buzzi, Board of Education candidate (D)

I have lived in Higganum most of my life. My mother attended the local schools. I graduated from Haddam-Killingworth High School in 1984. I have two daughters who also graduated from HKHS and are now both attending graduate school. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

My entire career has been working with children. I have owned, directed, and was a teacher at my business in Higganum, The Children’s Garden Preschool for ten years. For the past six years, I have been employed by RSD#17 as a substitute teacher and as a Special Education Para-educator and I have worked in every school in the district.

Volunteerism: Past: Sunday school teacher; various church leadership positions; Girl Scout Leader; PTO President; school/parent volunteer; and Mason Youth Corrections Facility Chaplin Intern. Current: Middlesex Hospice and Palliative Care on the Bereavement Team; Haddam Democratic Town Committee, Secretary; and Haddam Elderly Housing Committee, Vice President. I am also a Justice of the Peace.

My role on the BOE, as I see it, is the budget, which is a huge concern of many people that I have spoken with. Our taxes really need to be lowered, hence the need to lower the school’s budget. How do you do that? By looking at the staff, faculty, and administration and purchasing. There needs to be cuts and changes made. We have an amazing school system where the children must always come first. I will do my best to help find ways to reduce taxes without compromising high quality. Our teachers are awesome and top notch. They all have received their Master’s in Education and do NOT need role models or expensive programs like Teacher’s College to teach them what they already know. Stop wasting money and let the teachers teach! Upper management barely knows what the teachers and para-professionals actually do on a daily basis.  Cuts need to come from the top, that’s what I would like to see. I would like to preserve the high quality of teachers and para-professionals. We have so many dedicated and high-quality people who give their heart and souls. They need more appreciation and validation.  I have firsthand experiences as a student, parent, volunteer, teacher and employee of RSD#17. I believe my enthusiasm and pride for children, the town and the school system qualifies me to serve you on the Board of Education. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and do what is right for Haddam!

Gerry Matthews, Board of Education candidate (D)                                           

My name is Gerry Matthews, and I’ve lived in Haddam for thirty-six years. I am proud of my two grown children and four talented, good-looking grandchildren, all of whom accompanied me in running the Haddam Neck 5K road race this Labor Day weekend where I came in first in my age division. I have served on the Haddam Historical Society Board of Directors, was a founding member of the Farmers’ Market and Higganum Vision Group and currently serve as President of St. Peter Church Parish Council and hold the office of Lecturer with the Knights of Columbus. I’m the oldest of five kids. My father was a noted stained glass artist; Princeton’s chapel, West Point Academy, the UN Building and Bewley’s in Dublin, Ireland  are a few of the windows he created.  Before raising our family, my mother was executive secretary with a law firm. She concluded her career as secretary to the President of St. Joseph’s University in PA.

I am thankful for having received an excellent education.  I worked my way through college, completing my undergraduate degree at a liberal arts university with a major in physics and a minor in math.  I hold nine electronics/computer-related patents, started three companies and in 1980, received the “Instrument of the Year” award from Science magazine for a product I developed. In 1995 I became an apprentice for a master woodworker in New London and currently enjoy making special furniture and woodwork pieces for friends, family and special installations.  In 2013 I created six Flying Monkey whirligigs for the Florence Griswold Museum’s “Wizard of OZ” Faerie Village exhibit.

I am interested in representing the interests of the people of Haddam as a member of the Board of Education.  I highly value the benefits of a good education for the individual, the family and the community. Everyone in today’s fast-moving society needs to understand how life works in order to survive and thrive.   In addition to the benefits for the individual, education advances the interests of the community by developing citizens who will enhance the greater good for everyone.  My extensive educational experience has confirmed for me the paramount importance of gifted teachers. I intend to be a strong advocate for teachers and their empowerment.

Haddam spends over seventy-five percent of its tax revenues on its school system; a huge amount.  Just a walk through any of our school buildings and grounds demonstrates how our kids are treated to the best education facility and resources that money can buy.

I believe it’s important to measure this very sizable ongoing community investment by the benefit it provides our town.  Our taxes are meant to insure that our town has the resources to provide a safe and satisfactory life and future for its citizens.

However, most of the kids we generously nurture leave town. Why? Often it’s because the lack of jobs and the high taxes makes living here very expensive. Then their parents, empty nesters, leave too, to follow the kids and/or to reduce their living expenses.  Our lavish investment in these kids’ futures becomes some other community’s asset and, at the same time, presents a deterrent to Haddam’s economic growth.  This has become a vicious cycle in our town.

This dangerous spiral we face is intensified by the failure of the state to treat Haddam fairly through an equitable allocation of the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) support.  The state has its own financial burdens which it is attempting to lessen by reducing expenses.  We need to adopt a similar approach by making sure that our funds are spent wisely and eliminate expenses that do not benefit the education of our kids.  Despite a declining student population, the administrative layers in our education system have increased.  We were spoiled by the nuclear power plant largess and need to carefully examine the advisability of adding to the spiraling administrative layers we have built up in our education budget.  We need to restore the frugal New England habits of our heritage and concentrate our spending on assuring teaching excellence for our kids.

Although SAT Math score is weaker than I’d like to see, Haddam does enjoy a good reputation for a quality school system. This reputation must be maintained.

Haddam is confronted by an imbalance that must be addressed and fixed.  We need to focus on essentials, emphasize a return to the basic needs of students and avoid ever spiraling levels of administration. I intend to work hard as a member of the Board of Education to thoroughly examine the cost structure of our education system while enhancing the education benefits provided by our schools. I urge every Haddam voter to turn out and show by your vote for me that you want your Board of Education to concentrate on rewarding teacher excellence while reducing administration expenses so that our town can thrive into the future.

Joanne Nesti, Board of Education candidate (U)

Having worked the night shift for twenty-five years as a 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news anchor at WVIT-TV – what they now call NBC Connecticut, but which I will probably always call Channel 30 – I left that job in 2006 and, with evenings free, became interested in the work of our Haddam town boards. I started attending Selectmen, Finance and RSD 17 Board of Education meetings and was amazed, first of all, at the work involved, and then at the level of commitment demonstrated by the members. As time went on, I found myself wanting to be part of that work, and in 2013 was elected as a BOF Alternate.

Two years later, when a resignation occurred on the Board of Education, I was elected at a town meeting, as an Independent, to fill out the remainder of the member’s term. I’m very pleased to say that I had support from both political parties, including Bill Bowles, Ed Munster and the Republican Town Committee, and then-First Selectman Melissa Schlag, Sean Donlan and the Democratic Town Committee.

I became BOE Vice-Chairman in December of 2015, and it has been a great privilege to work alongside fellow officers Joel D’Angelo, Board Chairman; Kathy Brown, Board Secretary; and Suzanne Sack, Board Treasurer.

Over these past two years, I have been a member of the BOE’s Finance Committee, the Facilities Committee, the Strategic Capital Planning Committee and the Public Building Committee overseeing the renovation project at the high school. I have been committed to the work of our Board and our schools and am ready to renew that commitment if elected to a full four-year term.

In trying to answer the question about my role on the Board, it’s possible to feel like one voice among eleven. But I am also someone who can find common ground as the Board tackles the delicate task of balancing educational innovation with a responsible budget. To that end, the Strategic Capital Planning Committee will be a major focus for the new Board that is seated in December. I have been part of that effort for many months, as we reviewed the District’s assets and the utilization of all its buildings. I want to finish the job that we have started.

We have also created a healthier dialogue with our two communities, some of it driven by the state’s struggle with its own budget. Superintendent Howard Thiery and the BOE have joined with the First Selectmen of Haddam and Killingworth, as well as the Boards of Finance from each town, to make sure we understand that we are all in this together as we deal with the unpredictable future. This dialogue must continue as we grapple with what appears to be declining enrollment and an increasing budget. That combination is not sustainable.

I am ending the way I probably should have begun, by introducing myself. I grew up in Wallingford, where my 95-year old mother still lives, I’m happy to say, as do my sister and brother and their families. I am a graduate of Mercy High School and of Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont, which no longer exists. (Trinity, that is. Burlington is still there). And it might take another six hundred words to explain how someone goes from being a French major who meant to be a teacher to a career in radio news and then a local TV anchor job. I’ve decided that luck is the best explanation I can come up with.

Finally, I realize that running as a petitioning candidate is not the easiest path to have chosen. I’m grateful to all of the Haddam voters who signed my petition to get on the ballot. I look forward to getting their support and yours on November 7.

Peter Baird, Planning and Zoning Commission candidate (D)

I was born in Connecticut and, except for college, have spent my whole life living in smaller towns in New England. My wife and I moved to Haddam 16 years ago, for its lovely landscapes, great schools and sense of community.  I am a social policy researcher who studies issues related to poverty, veteran’s affairs, disability and health, and while I travel a fair amount for work, I work mostly out of my house and you’ll often see me frequenting the various shops in Higganum Center, near where we live.  I live in Higganum Center with my wife of 26 years.

My oldest son is now a college junior living in Vermont, and my youngest son is an eighth grader who plays on the school’s soccer and track teams and in the school band. You will also often find me hiking the many trails of Connecticut with my dog, Maple, or bicycling on our hilly roads with my wife and son.

In college, I studied issues related to urban and rural planning, and was fortunate to previously serve six years on Haddam’s Planning and Zoning Commission, before the demands of a new job and younger children reduced my available time. Now that my sons are older, I am looking forward to once again serving the people of Haddam!

Helping to ensure we enforce our zoning laws as written, while getting public input on all decisions!

P&Z Commissions by law must adhere to their zoning regulations, and should only make exceptions to regulations in extreme cases.  While the Town Planner plays a critical and valued role for the P&Z Commission, because board members have historically had such limited time to commit to planning and revising the zoning regulations to meet the needs of an evolving community, we are often facing difficult and even unexpected decisions regarding new construction, businesses and property rights.

If elected, I would commit myself both to upholding our zoning regulations as written, but also urging my fellow P&Z members to a renewed emphasis on careful planning, working with the Town Planner, and with the public’s significant input.  Many of our zoning regulations remain out of date, and do not account for modern development options or changing public norms and desires.  If the Planning and Zoning Commission cannot find time for careful, community oriented planning, we should consider separating the functions out in some way.

Haddam is at a crucial point regarding planning and zoning.  Increasing demands on local taxpayers, in the face of a difficult state budget and increasing educational and infrastructure requirements, means we must be thoughtful in how we plan for the future and ensure a balance between development and preserving the unique character of Haddam.

In coming years, some of the key planning issues in Haddam include access to clean water for businesses and homes in Tylerville and, to a lesser extent, Higganum, public access to the river and outdoor resources (including exploring better utilization of our fantastic but unused rail line along the shore), and finding ways to encourage appropriate business and commercial activity that enhances our employment and shopping experiences and attracts visitors and tourists, without negatively impacting the neighborhoods and historic villages which lend so much to Haddam’s character and quality.

Gina Block, Planning & Zoning Commission member candidate (D)

My husband and I moved to Higganum in 2009 and have been renovating our beloved antique home ever since. Last year, we welcomed a baby boy and look forward to raising him in Haddam.

Having spent the last 15+ years as a designer, I am committed to aiding smart development in the various town centers and am interested in preserving the inherent character that makes Haddam so unique. Most recently, I served as a board member of the Connecticut Art Directors Club and have served as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer since high school. I hold a Bachelor of Fine Arts in design from Alfred University and am highly interested in interior, exterior, and landscape architecture.

I am a proponent of ecotourism and would like to see Haddam recognized for its many natural resources. There is so much potential – between our proximity to waterways, our abundant hiking trails, and beautiful Land Trust properties – there are many reasons that we should promote Haddam as a tourist destination.

With regard to the key P&Z challenges that face Haddam, my main interest and focus lies in the development and zoning regulations for each of the town centers. There are many hurdles to overcome before downtown Higganum  and Tylerville can invite development, chief among them the issue of water. Each business is currently on septic and this is not a scalable option. With careful consideration of the type of town that the residents of Haddam desire, zoning and regulations can be fine tuned and implemented so that we can grow in a way that fits our collective vision. By keeping development concentrated to the respective town centers, we can create small downtowns, avoid sprawl, and encourage more pedestrian use within these zones.

As an advocate of supporting the local economy, I would like to encourage more people in town to spend locally by bringing more small business into town. If we can attract people and get them to stay by enticing them with attractive small businesses, we will be able to compete economically with surrounding River Valley towns. Additionally, I believe that historic preservation and forward progress are not mutually exclusive. I believe that Haddam can attract more commercial prospects and bring new business into town through careful development.

Of the many P&Z meetings I have attended, there is always a respectful dialogue and the board members work together – I would like to continue this trend. Decisions should not be made along party lines, but rather with the best interest of the town at heart.

Residents new and old can and should come together to create successful solutions for Haddam – and by serving on the Planning & Zoning Committee, I would like to help to facilitate this. I care deeply for this town and would be honored to give back in a meaningful way by serving as an elected member of Planning & Zoning. I respectfully ask for your vote on November 7!

Mike Farina, Planning and Zoning Board candidate (D)

Haddam voters and friends, I am Mike Farina, ready to become your next Planning and Zoning Board member. Although my immediate family were born and raised in Tylerville (a reason it is so special to me), I have resided in town for a short time compared to many of you.

Currently, retired from Walt Disney/ABC TV Network, as Director of Network Studio Operations. I have lived in and worked in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. I grew up in Wethersfield & Rocky Hill, always considering myself a “Nutmegger.”

Presently, I am serving on the Haddam Economic Development Commission. I also served in the same capacity in Coventry and Willington, Conn. prior to moving to Higganum.  I am a member of St. Peter’s Church, The Knights of Columbus, the Parish Council, and am Chairman of Christmas Fair Committee.

I run for this P & Z position  because I would like to see an end to the “spot development” which has started to pop-up in Haddam. I believe that we have a choice where development and commerce should be placed. Beside our zoning regulations, common sense, respect for the environment and surroundings as wells as neighbors and neighborhoods must be foremost in deciding and granting of permits.

The process should be open, involving not just owners and developers but, anyone who wishes to address issues concerning such projects no matter how small. I understand that the lack of business and a commercial base affects every tax payer and the mil rate. Regardless, however hungry  we are for such development, we cannot be too expeditious to push projects forward. Thorough, appropriate, yet prompt response is necessary for all parties concerned. Let us recall the mission of the Planning and Zoning Commission is first to the town of Haddam, its citizens and future. Luckily, two areas are already zoned,  and ready for additional business and expansion to help the Haddam tax base.

These two historical and commercial “Gateways”  are Tylerville and Higganum Village. Though they are under-utilized lacking the necessary infrastructure at the moment, they stand out as two of Haddam greatest assets .Both have been visioned, studied, surveyed, restudied and discussed. Have been ignored and rediscovered by the town hall and the community.  A majority consensus calls for their enhancement to serve this town’s population.

I believe that the most important issue facing our town is how to advance the potential of our  “Villages.” Water and sewer must be addressed or no true change will take place on our grand list. We must address this issue with an open mind and conviction to follow this necessary work through.

We live in a vast diverse town, not only in population but topography. Checkerboard zoning and development is not good for Haddam. We have two areas that are almost “shovel ready” sites, which will help a town facing higher property taxes. In the end, whatever is decided about these villages, all our goals should be to preserve the character of our community by respecting its past and work to protect and create a vibrant future for all.

This is a beautiful town and I feel privileged to live here. I have met and been befriended by some of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered in my travels. Please consider me for the  Planning and Zoning Commission when you vote in November. I will always keep an impartial, open mind not just to the regulations but for the betterment of all of Haddam and its citizens.

Bill Iselin, Planning and Zoning Commission alternate candidate (R)

Originally from Clinton, I have been a resident of Higganum for a year now and could not be happier with his new town and recently purchased property. After living in several states across the country, it is good to set down roots in beautiful Haddam.

I am very outdoor-oriented and is often found hiking the many trails in town or taking advantage of the great water life on the river and sound.

Military service as an 81mm mortar man in the 25th Infantry Division, Light, helped pave the way for an education at UCONN resulting in a BS degree in Finance. However, a passion for computer technology prompted a career change, and I have been an IT engineer specializing in information security for the last 20 years.

On the Planning and Zoning Commission as an Alternate, I will work hard for homeowners and business owners of Haddam. Upholding regulations will be a key priority in addition to keeping a keen eye on developments as Haddam continues to grow with attention to the Plan of Conservation and Development, and Tylerville Village Regulations. A good balance of residential and commercial development is necessary to continue the forward progress of Haddam.

Haddam is well known for its natural beauty resting along the banks of the Connecticut river. The government and residents of Haddam should work hard to preserve the historic aspects of the town, while responsibly striking a balance with business to continue to have the vitality necessary to thrive.

I am very excited to be a part of the wonderful community of Haddam and would like the opportunity to serve its residents as well as I have served the country with dedication in the US Army.

Wayne LePard, Planning and Zoning Commission candidate (R)

I have already served eight years on the Planning and Zoning Board and am willing to continue to serve for another four if elected. My experience on this board and other service on the regional school board, inland wetlands/conservation commission, cemetery association and other boards bring both the experience and insight needed to be a solid member of Planning and Zoning.

Planning and Zoning needs to work within the new POCD that will be finished this year while serving as a catalyst for fair and equitable treatment of all parties in zoning issues. This has been the forte of the present board and should continue into the future. The board needs to be proactive rather than reactive in future needs of our town.

Some of the issues coming up are: light industrial zoning-expand or limit, senior housing, affordable housing, expanded town access to the Connecticut River, town access to Silver Springs, limits to future housing, sewage and water, inclusion in the Valley Railroad expansion through Haddam, final phase of the mining operation, and village centers.

As your Zoning Commissioner, I am confident that any and all of the challenges that surface will be handled promptly, fairly and equitably.

Ralph Livieri, Planning and Zoning Commission candidate (D)

My name is Ralph Livieri, and I am running for the Planning and Zoning Commission. I have lived in Higganum for more than sixteen years. I am a graduate of the University of Connecticut  School of Law, and have been an attorney for thirty years, during which much of my practice has focused on real estate law. I have also taught courses in real property law at the post-secondary level for more than twenty years. As an undergraduate, I studied history, and I have a great appreciation for the history of our town. I am a member of the Haddam Historical Society. Both my stepfather and uncle were long-time members of the Planning and Zoning Commission in Killingworth, and my family has been in the real estate development business for more than fifty years. I hope to make use of this experience on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Planning and zoning go together. In making decisions, it is vitally important that the Planning and Zoning Commission keep in mind the planning portion of its mandate. Each proposal should be addressed on its own merits, but also with a view to how it fits into the long-term interests of our town. Residential, commercial, and industrial development are all needed, but we must avoid the short-sighted, haphazard approaches that have plagued other towns. Nor do we want to repeat the mistakes of the past when it comes to things like the environment. We must strive to find a balanced approach, for it is the role of the Planning and Zoning Commission to help manage the future growth of the town. Expediency is rarely if ever the basis of good policy.

In closing, it would be my great privilege to serve on the Haddam Planning and Zoning Commission. This November, I ask for your support.

Jason Esteves, Zoning Board of Appeals candidate (D)

My wife and I have lived in Haddam for more than 26 years and have raised our three daughters here. Now, one of my daughters has two children of her own, and now my grandsons will benefit from our beautiful town.

We decided to settle in Haddam because of its excellent school system and rural setting. As part of the zoning board of appeals, I hope to preserve Haddam’s quiet, small-town feel while being sensitive to the need for business growth.

I graduated from Middlesex Community Technical College and spent the last 22 years as a sales representative for a company that would become Grupo Bimbo.  As a former small business owner, I know how important it is to work with businesses to ensure their needs are met within the guidelines of our zoning codes.

I see my role as the “concerned neighbor,” taking into consideration any impact the issuance of any variances would have on adjacent landowners.

If elected, I will bring a fair and balanced approach to Haddam’s zoning board of appeals and will improve the communication link between the residents and the board’s public hearings with social media. I would also take into careful consideration any objections by neighboring property owners when deciding on potential zoning changes to ensure we are not creating disorganized spot zones.

It is critical to research and discuss each appeal carefully in order to preserve and protect our rural town from spot zoning, industrial development, and sprawl.

Appeals should not be taken lightly as they have been in the past. As a zoning board of appeals member, I will do my duty to uphold Haddam’s zoning codes and work with the applicants to find creative ways to work within our existing planning and zoning regulations.

Within this position, I would seek to ensure that the needs and desires of all Haddam residents are given equally consideration with regard to any decision that might impact the enjoyment, value, and use of their properties.  I will work hard to mediate any discrepancies between the opinions of our town’s inhabitants and outside business interests, which may hope to find a viable marketplace within Haddam. Working together, we can create a healthy atmosphere that takes into account both our residents and those people who hope to bring vital businesses into our quaint town.

I will be honest, open, and serve the residents of Haddam with integrity. I would be honored to have your vote.

Robin Munster, Zoning Board of Appeals (R)

As a resident of Haddam since 2000, Robin has served on the ZBA for 16 years and has served Chairman for the past six.

I grew up in Clinton where I served on the Clinton Shellfish Commission which managed and developed oyster beds. During my term on the Shellfish Commission, I was a key person in reproducing historic oyster beds within the Indian River. Giving back to the community and the environment has always been important to me. I have a BS from Eastern Connecticut State University in Biology with emphasis on Ornithology.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience on the Zoning Board of Appeals and know how important it is to review all applications with respect and fairness, using common sense with zoning rules.  One might think variance applications are the same when coming in front of the board, but each one is truly unique and has to be reviewed in detail to make the best decision possible.

I would appreciate your support in the November election.