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Following Branford's municipal election on Nov. 5, Ray Dunbar is ready to put his skill set to work as the 2019-21 Democratic selectman for the Town of Branford. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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In this year's uncontested selectman's race, following the municipal election on Nov. 5, Democrat Ray Dunbar will fill a seat vacated by Jack Ahern (D) on the three-person Board of Selectman (BOS).
Dunbar said he's ready to put his skill set to work as a 2019-21 Democratic selectman for the Town of Branford. The newly retired Branford police captain of 34 years also brings 10 years' experience on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), including four as moderator (through 2005). He represented District 4 from 1997 to 2005. After moving to District 2, he ran for the RTM again in 2017 and was elected to his current post.
New Selectman, New Directives
Dunbar said one of his directives as a new selectman will be to open the flow of communications from Town Hall, to allow more information to reach the RTM ahead of voting on important decisions impacting the town. He also wants to work fill any funded, vacant Town Hall positions.
"The flow of information is important to me," said Dunbar. "Two years ago, I ran on wanting information to be available to us, so we could flow it back to the townspeople for input before we're voting on something."
Noting votes often come before the RTM carrying a sense of "urgency" and "deadline," Dunbar asks, with many projects in pipeline for a long time, why does that urgency exist?
"I don't know if it's a logistical issue. I have no idea what it is, but that doesn't seem to be happening for certain things. A lot of things come up last minute. Maybe that's just happens—maybe that's the way things are just working at Town Hall right now," said Dunbar. "But when I'll be in there, I will know. Selectmen's meetings are twice a month. They're at the beginning, where it starts, so I certainly can ask questions there."
Dunbar said citizens can help by staying engaged and involved after elections. He points to this term's RTM voting successes of funding $5.2 million for the Blackstone Library expansion/renovation and passing a new town ordinance restricting plastic bags at retail checkout.
"The plastic bag ban was something that was out there; people knew about it. It wasn't a secret it was coming," he added. "They had the opportunity to engage, and then they show up [before the RTM], and you truly see what the people want. That's when it works well."
Working Toward More Information, Open Government
As an essential part of the police department's budget team for decades and as a RTM member, Dunbar said he's learned the internal workings of the town from both sides, "first as a requester for things needed, and second as a member of the RTM, granting or not granting requests from others. It has taught me to look carefully before making decisions that will affect others."
He also wants to work toward a more "open government," he said.
"I believe you make better decisions when you absorb and ask questions," said Dunbar. "And you can't do that in 10 minutes on floor of the RTM, where [an item] went from Selectman's Office to the Board of Finance to a chairperson who picked it up for a [RTM] subcommittee. That seems to be happening more often than not. To me, that's not open government. I've seen people try to bring it to the RTM and push it back to Town Hall. Crescent Bluff is one of those."
In June, the BOS voted unanimously to "initiate condemnation proceedings" for the town to take, by eminent domain, privately owned property on Crescent Bluff Avenue. While the BOS was following Town Charter, voting and then forwarding the item to the RTM and Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC), when the item reached the RTM, the property owner "went to the subcommittee to try to get the sub-committee to move it away. That, to me, says there's something not working, because as we know, it's supposed to go the other way, and it didn't," said Dunbar.
The property owner also went before the PZC with concerns. Ultimately, the town withdrew its request and instead re-entered discussions with the property owner, which are still underway.
Dunbar and his wife, Cindy, have been married 41 years and raised their two daughters here. Dunbar also served as the police union's president for many years and also served his hometown for many years as a volunteer firefighter. In addition, in 2011, Dunbar was appointed Branford's director of emergency operations. That gave him the chance to create "good working relationships" with department heads he collaborated with during emergencies, he said.
Dunbar said he's found much support from the community in his role as a public, appointed and elected servant.
"People are willing to help you help the entire town," Dunbar said. "Really, that's what this is all about. At the police department, I was always someone that did things behind the scenes, but I'll do everything I can to see that its successful. To me [becoming a selectman] is just a continuation of what I've been doing. Now I'm retired and I can do this, for as long as the people let me."
As a selectman, Dunbar also wants to offer his experience and assistance to the first selectman, the town's CEO, with any issues that could use assistance.
"Being CEO is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week job. So there has to be a willingness to try to let other people help. He may say 'No' but I'll still ask. To me, that's important," said Dunbar.
Tackling 'Town Hall Corrupt' Signs
Early in his tenure as a new selectman, Dunbar wants to help clear up the ongoing issue of "Town Hall Corrupt" lawn signs spread around town, he said. They signs are being posted by resident Wayne Cooke, who in April brought a lawsuit against some town representatives. The suit claims that a violation of Cooke's rights led to the withdrawal of Costco's proposal to build on Cooke family land off I-95 at Exit 56. Litigation remains underway.
"If Town Hall's corrupt, then we should do something about it. If not, take the signs down," said Dunbar. "I know everybody involved [at Town Hall] can't give an answer because it's being litigated. That seems how we just tuck things away. Being litigated does not make the Town of Branford look better; I believe it makes it looks worse. Because I believe the more something is showing, it creates this legitimacy, even if it's not there."
As the wait continues for the town's "day in court" Dunbar said there has to be a way to streamline the process.
"If [the town] can streamline everything else, you should be able to find a way to streamline, to mediate what this really is, and end it," said Dunbar. "I'll be one more voice on the selectmen [board] saying, 'Is there a way to speed this up?' There is no question I'm going to ask that."
Filling Vacancies at Town Hall
In order to help "strengthen the town's infrastructure," Dunbar said he will ask the necessary questions about what may be keeping the Town from filling any funded, vacant department positions.
"I don't like roadblocks—I try to unstop the log jam as best I can," said Dunbar.
He noted one of the most significant and long-standing empty posts, vacated by resignation in January 2017, is director of public works (the department has been supported by an acting director since that time). Other open spots include the town's solid waste supervisor position, vacated by the former supervisor for a job-move earlier this year, and vacancies created by recent retirements in 2019 among positions in general government buildings (lead tradesman), economic development (manager, special projects/economic development), and Inland Wetlands-Watercourses Department's head/town tree warden.
Gathering Input, Getting Answers
As part of the 2019 Branford Democratic candidate team, Dunbar has been out and about meeting residents, fielding questions and gathering input. They range from when/if the Public Works Department will get a permanent home, issues of sustainability, concerns about new industry growth remaining relatively flat (leaving residents facing potential property tax increases to support budgeted salaries and contracts), and even the question, "Am I going to be able to afford to keep my house in 20 years?" said Dunbar.
"Those are answers I have to get from Town Hall," said Dunbar. "People, for the most part, want information and they want transparency. I'm not accusing of people not being transparent, but it goes back to the flow of information."
As he approaches his first term as a Branford selectman, Dunbar's looking forward to giving back and serving his town, and doing what is necessary to help make it the best possible community.
"What the people of Branford need to know about me is that the Town of Branford has been very good to me and my family, and that it gives me great pride to have served the Town of Branford for many years," Dunbar said. "I want to keep serving the residents of Branford in any way possible to help maintain the greatness of the town and its residents. I will also be flexible to change priorities as needed to protect the town."
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