Stuart reflects on a 30-year tenure
Updated 9:02 pm, Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Bill Stuart is proud to share the accomplishments of his 30-year administration as first selectman in Bridgewater.
There are the 42 acres of the town's recreation park along Sarah Sanford Road now meticulously maintained with walking path, ball fields, tennis courts, pavilions and playscape for children.
Just around the corner along Hut Hill Road, there are the 24 acres where the town's senior center finds its home -- land and building purchased for $685,000 in a deal Stuart sealed with Don Whitlock.
The town put up the first $100,000 and paid the mortgage balance through a seven-year tenant's lease on the building.
"It's a great town," Stuart said. "We're proud of what's here. My detractors say they love it here. They don't deny it. They just can't admit that the town's in terrific shape, that for 30 years, this town has gone in a very good direction."
years of controversy
Controversy has seemed to follow Stuart.
Stuart said his decision to not run for another four-year term was in part from a desire to protect his town, to end its continually being dragged through a series of lawsuits, court battles and state investigations that have plagued it and him in recent years.
"Bridgewater has had enough of that, and it's a good part of the reason I'm stepping out of politics. The town doesn't have to be part of this vendetta on (George) Allingham's part," Stuart said.
Allingham, once Stuart's longtime friend, and Allingham's family and employees have brought legal actions and made accusations against Stuart since 2008.
The state Attorney General's office investigated the Burnham Fund, the town's charitable fund, at Allingham's request. The investigation cleared Stuart of any wrongdoing in managing the fund and changed the handling of the trust, putting it in the hands of a committee.
Other investigations came. A state's gaming division investigation cleared Stuart this year of claims that he'd mismanaged a raffle from the volunteer firefighters' Bridgewater Country Fair.
A July 2012 raid on Bridgewater Town Hall in which documents were seized still has not been explained by the FBI nor the investigation's status revealed.
"I guess with all the pressure that he's had, it's time for him to relax a bit," said 25-year Bridgewater resident John Flaxman. "I've heard it said that Billy's the best town manager you could have but the worst politician. You know where you stand with Billy. He's done a lot of good for the town."
Fought for schools
Stuart has fought long and hard to keep Bridgewater bucolic, with acres of open space and well maintained roads, houses and upgraded town facilities.
One of his first legal battles in office was to overturn a court ruling that would have allowed developer John Carr to build a hotel for senior living in the town.
Since the 1980s, he has led two fights to keep the school region from consolidating the elementary schools. Because of that, each of the three towns in the region have kept its elementary school.
And Stuart has recently joined another Save Our Schools effort, again attempting to thwart another planned consolidation.
"I've studied this a lot and there's no real proof of any cost savings by consolidating," Stuart said. "If they're going to save money, they've got to do something completely different."
Stuart does have his detractors.
Board of Finance vice chairman Nancy Hawley has taken on Stuart over what some feel to be his iron-fisted management of the town.
Yet many who have worked with Stuart admire his efforts and accomplishments of the past 30 years.
`fast and strong' opinion
"He's a smart guy and he comes out with his opinion fast and strong," said Jonathan Chew, director of the Housatonic Council of Elected Officials. "He's not the kind of guy to bring the other side down slowly."
Chew has worked with Stuart all through his tenure as first selectman of Bridgewater. In 1986, Stuart led the formation of HRRA (Housatonic Resource Recovery Association) under the umbrella of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials.
"What people don't remember is that back in the mid-80s this area had a crisis regarding solid waste and had to find a location for waste. There were graphs and plans and confusion, and Bill Stuart took that on," Chew said.
Chew said, from that time on, his faith in Stuart's decisions never faltered. Stuart remained as chairman of HRRA for 18 years.
"Once the state told the towns they had to close their landfills, he and my father really stepped up," Rosenthal recalled. "They traveled to other towns, studying what was being done for trash generation to energy.
"Bill protected the public interest, even taking on Jim Galante's organized crime enterprise. I think he probably put himself in jeopardy standing up to Galante."