Economic development, police presence discussed at Roxbury first selectmen debate

ROXBURY — When witnessing someone littering in town, it’s important to hold that person accountable, said Roxbury First Selectman candidate Bruce Tuomala Thursday evening at a candidates debate held at Shepaug Valley High School in Washington.

Tuomala, a Republican, is running against Patrick Roy, a Democrat. Current Roxbury First Selectman Barbara Henry is retiring after 24 years of service.

The hour-long debate was sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Litchfield County and moderated by Pat Donovan. Each candidate had two minutes to respond to questions, and the opponent had an opportunity for a 30-second rebuttal. The debate was streamed for those unable to attend in person.

“It comes down to personal responsibility. I have Libertarian values. It’s a behavioral issue,” said Tuomala, in regard to the topic of littering.

He added it’s “very hard to police people....You need to make sure the behavior is being reinforced — ‘This is bad. Don’t do this. What’s the matter with you?’ from the public. If you see someone, talk to them, ask them why they did that.”

In Roy’s response about littering, he said aside from the town taking responsibility, “it’s also the job of the Public Works department to help with this issue.”

He added there are residents who regularly take part in organized street clean-up groups, and said he, too, would like to get involved himself in that initiative.

“I’m a person who enjoys being out in the field, rolling up my sleeves, and getting dirty as necessary — being involved in the process,” Roy said.

Roy has served on the Board of Finance and was a manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement, with 200 employees reporting to him.

Tuomala, Danbury’s former economic development director, has worked as a corporate executive, strategy consultant, government official, nonprofit consultant and volunteer, entrepreneur and business owner, and has served as a member of numerous boards.

In response to complaints of theft of traffic signs, lack of sidewalks, potholes and speeding, Roy said there needs to be more of a police presence in town.

“There needs to be some accountability to let people know that this is our town and that’s not allowed,” Roy said. “If we had a stronger police presence, a little bit more of an impression of control, people would know ‘Not in our town.’”

Additionally, Roy said speed signs are ineffective.

“There is no penalty, there is never going to be an officer there — people just blow through those signs,” he said. “Part of the responsibility of a first selectman is to protect this community. And I see that there’s more accidents and it’s becoming more rampant. I think we do need to slow people down and I think there needs to a cop and police cars. If you never have the threat of seeing an officer, you're not going to pay attention to it.”

In his response, Tuomala said the number one way to reduce crime is “deterrence.”

“There has to be a threat of some kind of consequence before you do something,” he said.

He spoke about omnipresent policing “where you are in different places all the time,” he said.

Unlike his opponent, he added that signs can be useful. With current technology, Tuomala said there are now signs that capture speed, time and date.

“All they have to do is add the camera,” he said, reiterating his opinion that “personal behavior is of critical importance.”

Also, unlike Roy, Tuomala said he doesn’t think, based upon discussions with law enforcement, that adding police will make any difference in deterring speeding. He said there is already enough police presence in town. Instead, he said “we need to change how we manage it.”

Additionally, Tuomala said cost should be considered.

“If we get more police, we’ll be paying for it. That’s an issue for the town — do they want to pay more taxes to get more police?” he asked.

In response a question that pertained to the new residents in town, most likely as a result of the pandemic, Roy said he hopes they get involved in the community and become part of it.

Additionally, in regard to home businesses in town, he said he would consider improving cell phone communication to support residents’ home businesses.

“There are still plenty parts of this town where you can’t get a cell phone signal or you can’t conduct business from your home, so giving them the opportunity to work from home would be a great avenue,” he said, adding if elected, he would also support existing local businesses in town.

In regard to small businesses in town, Tuomala said the first thing people want to know when he tells them he’s running for First Selectman is will he attract the same number of new businesses to town as he did in his role in economic development in Danbury.

He said he has “no interest and no plan” to economically develop Roxbury and would like to ensure the town remains rural.

He said while he supports home businesses in town, and mentioned utilizing the local library as potential space for this, “the overall picture is ... of all the businesses we have, from the market to the distillery to the pizza place ... I would suggest there is no commercial opportunity for business here.... We are fine with what we have,” said Tuomala.

He added the surrounding towns, which are within ten minutes distance from Roxbury, have a lot of services and businesses, “so I don’t see Roxbury needs them. I don’t want the town to change. Once you start it, it starts to build so I would not be supportive.”

On many occasions throughout the debate, Tuomala spoke about what he said is the importance of establishing strong relationships.

“Many things can affect Roxbury outside of Roxbury and a big way that you find out about those things is through networking, through understanding relationships,” Tuomala said. “I developed this network and it takes a long time to develop these relationships. It took me four years to do that.”

He then questioned his opponent — “I would say Patrick, what contacts do you have? It takes a long time to build.”

In response, Roy said he, too, has developed strong relationships, and brought up some, such as the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (COG).

“Building relationships has always been part of my career. I’m not a legislator,” Roy said. I have no interests other than serving this community and listening to the people of this community, making the best decisions.”

In his closing statement, Tuomala mentioned the nonprofit group Desegregate Connecticut.

Tuomala said he was “very disappointed” there weren’t any questions during the debate about Desegregate Connecticut, which he said is “the most important issue in the town” and “what Hartford is trying to do change our local zoning and and land use.”

According to the Desegregate Connecticut website, this is a “a coalition of neighbors and nonprofits advocating for more equitable, affordable, and environmentally-sustainable land use policies in Connecticut with a focus on expanding the diversity and supply of our housing stock.”

Tuomala said, “I’m really running “to keep Hartford from affecting our local zoning.”

In Roy’s closing remarks, he reiterated he’s “not a politician.”

“It’s not about what I’m going to do,” he said. “It’s what we’re going to do together.”