“Leadership is about vision and responsibility, not power.” —Seth Berkley
New Canaan needs a change of leadership on the Parking Commission.
Chairman Keith Richey is to be commended for the length of his volunteer service on the appointed body, which works closely with the New Canaan Parking Bureau and makes recommendations about traffic circulation and off-street lots, including fees for permits and violations, and also hears ticket appeals. He was appointed July 21, 1998, according to records on file in the Town Clerk’s office, and elected chairman March 3, 1999.
Yet Richey has failed to create a long-term vision for parking in New Canaan at a time when such forward-thinking is sorely needed, has failed even on minor matters to build consensus within the Commission and has failed by temperament and in practice to collaborate with or support his counterparts in Town Hall—a shortcoming that crystallized last week in his gross mishandling of an important matter now before the town, punctuated by menacing and inappropriate treatment of a municipal department head.
New Canaan needs to have a frank discussion about whether its parking rules should change—the times at which enforcement starts and ends, for example, whether those who overstay should be granted a fixed “grace period” or even whether the town should introduce some form of free parking.
Yet in railing against officers for enforcing parking rules that he himself is responsible for recommending, in wrangling with a parking manager at a public meeting after forcing her into a defensive stance and, after that department head stood her ground and attempted to lighten the mood of the meeting, in issuing a vague and menacing admonition for her to “be careful,” Richey showed himself to be unfit to hold the office of chairman.
He should step down. If he won’t, we call on the Board of Selectmen to vote him off of the Commission, as per the Town Charter. Should the selectmen decline to do so, the Commission itself should re-elect its officers and relegate Richey to the role of regular member.
To be clear, this is in no way a personal attack, and we acknowledge Richey’s contributions as chairman. He typically is an affable commissioner and, within the group, votes most consistently to void tickets at appeal hearings, though he is often in the minority. In recent years, the Commission has supported the creation of a new type of parking permit designed to get downtown workers out of the free spaces on Main and Elm (a successful idea that originated with the Chamber of Commerce) and also upped the parking limit time throughout the business district from 90 minutes to two hours (a recommendation that originated with the Parking Bureau).
Yet such changes amount to chipping away at chronic, pervasive parking problems that call for fresh, creative thinking, and Richey’s unacceptable treatment of Parking Manager Stacy Miltenberg is indicative of a larger problem.
If there’s a track record of Parking Commission excellence that could justify a pass for the poor leadership that Richey demonstrated at the May 2 meeting, he doesn’t have it.
In submitting its annual report with recommendations to the selectmen and Planning & Zoning Commission, the Parking Commission in 2017 called for decking both the Lumberyard and Locust Avenue Lots—costly projects that First Selectman Kevin Moynihan scuttled within mere months in office after studying actual parking needs in New Canaan. The following year, the Commission’s thin report contained just five bullet points, including the copy-and-paste of an item that had appeared in past years regarding P&Z’s fee-in-lieu option for project developers.
The lack of vision from the Commission is manifest, and good ideas are coming from other quarters of the town. Last month, for example, the Chamber and Moynihan gathered some of New Canaan’s most affected stakeholders—those who own commercial property downtown—for a brainstorming session that yielded several sensible recommendations on matters that included parking.
In Richey’s hands, however, those recommendations were weaponized against the very department he’s charged to help direct, and in doing so, he failed not only the first selectman and Chamber, but also commercial property owners, the wider community and Parking Bureau itself.
As Moynihan noted recently in announcing his re-election bid, town departments are run with exceptional courtesy and professionalism. The Parking Bureau is no exception. We’re calling on Richey to step down, and if he won’t, we ask the selectmen to show the Parking Bureau the respect and regard that Miltenberg and her team have earned.