New Canaan’s Dionna Carlson, a Republican who served for eight years on the Board of Education, including three as chair, has announced her candidacy for first selectman. We put some questions to Carlson, the first person to announce their candidacy for the town’s highest elected office in this year’s local election. Our exchange follows.
New Canaanite: What is your background professionally and in terms of living and volunteering here in New Canaan?
Dionna Carlson: I graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a B.S. in Finance. I was recruited out of undergrad into GE Capital’s Financial Management Program. After graduating from the FMP Program, I held a variety of financial roles within GE Capital businesses including: Commercial Real Estate, Small Business Lending, and Commercial Finance. While earning my Chartered Financial Analyst designation, I took a job at Muzinich and Company in New York City as a High Yield Securities Analyst and Assistant Portfolio Manager. After the birth of my second child, I became a stay-at-home mom. I have been an active New Canaan volunteer since that time.
In the almost 27 years my husband David and I have lived in New Canaan, I’ve served on the board or held leadership positions in the: United Way of New Canaan (now part of the New Canaan Community Foundation), Young Women’s League, Congregational Church of New Canaan, West School PTC, Saxe PTC, New Canaan Republican Town Committee, Chi Omega House Corporation Board at Sacred Heart University, National Charity League, and the Hannah Benedict Carter Chapter of the DAR. From 2013 to 2021 I served on the Board of Education for the Town of New Canaan and was its Chair from 2015 to 2018.
Why are you running for first selectman?
I love this town. As a long-time resident and dedicated public servant, I am passionate about ensuring that our community continues to thrive and prosper. I am running for First Selectman because I believe in the power of collaboration, transparency, and community engagement to address the challenges we face.
My vision for New Canaan is one of growth and progress, while preserving the unique character and charm that make our town so special. I am committed to working tirelessly on behalf of our residents to ensure that our town remains a safe, vibrant, and welcoming place to live, work, and raise a family.
As First Selectman, I will prioritize the following:
- Fiscal Responsibility: I am committed to supporting the BOF strategy of keeping bonded indebtedness at a manageable level, maintaining our AAA credit rating and a low mill rate. I will collaborate with town departments, boards, and committees to identify cost-saving measures and explore innovative revenue-generating opportunities.
- Public Safety: Ensuring the safety and well-being of our residents is paramount. I will work closely with our police, fire, and emergency services departments to provide the necessary resources and support to keep our community safe.
- Infrastructure and Public Works: I will advocate for investments in our roads, bridges, and public facilities to ensure they are well-maintained and meet the needs of our community in addition to providing a stable transition on major ongoing infrastructure projects.
- Economic Development: I will promote our beautiful downtown and support our Chamber of Commerce’s and TEDAC’s efforts to attract new businesses and support existing ones, creating a thriving local economy that benefits all residents.
- Education: I will collaborate with the Board of Education to maintain the excellence of New Canaan Public Schools.
- Community Engagement: I will foster open communication and dialogue with residents, encouraging active participation in the decision-making process and ensuring that all voices are heard.
- Collaboration: I will work closely with local, state, and federal agencies to secure resources and support for our town, and to address regional issues that impact our community.
What do you view as the biggest issues facing New Canaan?
The biggest challenges facing New Canaan currently are the predatory development practices of builders using 8-30g to circumvent local zoning laws. I also believe that re-constituting our Utilities Commission needs to be a priority. And finally, maintaining the excellence of New Canaan Public Schools while keeping this town affordable for those who do not have children in the schools is a constant balancing act. These priorities need to be accomplished by a leader who prioritizes transparency, civility, and teamwork.
How would you describe your management style?
I believe in teamwork, collaboration and soliciting the expertise of leaders and experts. Being the First Selectman of New Canaan is a big job and building a team to support me in that role is a priority. New Canaan is blessed with many talented individuals who are willing to serve. I want those people surrounding me in government.
Finally, tell us something about yourself that many New Canaanites likely don’t know.
I am a huge dog lover! The only times in my life when I didn’t have a four-legged friend were while in college and my first few years working. When my husband and I got engaged, we immediately got a dog, a sweet yellow lab named Molly who was part of our family for 13 years. When we lost Molly, I vowed to go a year or two without a dog, but within a week, I was already back online looking at rescue dogs. I got my kids in on the search and we found an adorable eight-week-old “beagle” that was available immediately. We scheduled a meeting to visit the beagle’s foster family and I encouraged my husband to come with us to check out the puppy. No commitment, just looking. My husband said, “Do you seriously think we can take the kids and go look at a rescue puppy and come home empty handed?” Needless to say, my husband was right and today we have a fourteen-year-old lab-sized beagle who completes our family.