Janet Fonss, a New Canaan resident for 24 years who has a background in banking and finance, on Monday announced her candidacy for the Town Council. We put some questions to Fonss ahead of the July 18 Democratic caucus, where she will seek party backing.
Here’s our exchange.
New Canaanite: What is your background professionally and in terms of living and volunteering here in New Canaan?
Janet Fonss: My professional background is in banking and finance. After being trained as a financial analyst at Chase Manhattan Bank, I worked in Chase’s Credit Audit Program and then progressed as a credit analyst working as a VP in Credit Suisse’s Derivatives Group and subsequently at Deutsche Bank where I covered hedge funds in the counterparty risk group. During my “retirement” while raising children, I have worked for small businesses doing bookkeeping and accounting work.
I grew up in neighboring Stamford, Connecticut – a product of proud and hard working immigrant parents. My family owned and operated a Chinese restaurant on Atlantic street which supported our livelihood and eventually many college tuitions. After graduating from Westhill High School, I attended the Boston College Carroll School of Management and received my degree in business administration and marketing. My husband Jack and I have been New Canaan residents for 24 years and have two children who graduated from the New Canaan Public Schools. Max graduated from the College of William & Mary in May and Ava will soon be a freshman at Princeton University.
Growing up and living in Fairfield County my entire life, being a New Englander is part of my psyche. While raising my children, I have been an active volunteer in the New Canaan Public Schools, serving as classroom coordinator, fundraising chair, special events coordinator, board member and West PTC President. I have served as a grade level advisor for the National Charity League and as a board member of the New England Dance Theater. I currently serve as a Board member on the New Canaan Beautification League (Programs Committee) and the Organization of Chinese Americans – Fairfield County (OCAFC).
Why are you running for the Town Council?
I am filled with humility and gratitude for the quality of life and friendships I am blessed to have here. New Canaan at its core is a place built on service, community and shared goals. Having lived here for almost 25 years, I understand our town’s priorities and our values. Role models like Kathleen Corbet, Beth Jones and Penny Rashin are exemplars of women who lead with courage and move the town forward on a bipartisan basis. Now that my kids are grown, I feel it is time to get off the sidelines. I have the time, energy and willingness to pay forward and would be honored to serve.
Transparency is an ongoing issue at all levels of town government as well as political tribalism. I truly believe that New Canaanites all want the same things at the end of the day. While this is a divisive time politically, our love for this town and shared values of concern and care for our neighbors remain intact. People who know me know I am collaborative and listen with respect. I believe I have the skill set and temperament to facilitate more transparency and inclusion in town government. Lastly, for purely selfish reasons, I am happiest when I’m involved in the community and interacting for a greater cause. With more time on my hands, I would like to make a difference to a community that has given so much to myself and my family. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work!
What do you view as the biggest issues facing our town?
New Canaanites are all incredibly blessed to live in this quintessential New England town with beautiful parks, great public services, a vibrant downtown area and world class school system. With the exception of cell service, we have every possible amenity and are indebted to our public servants and countless volunteers who allow New Canaan to excel in every way.
The biggest issue facing our town is how best to preserve our quality of life (ie. our small town feel and open spaces) while addressing real concerns of affordability, the need to grow our workforce/economy and making sure our town remains a safe and welcoming community. As a former banker, I want to ensure our tax dollars are spent prudently and transparently. We also need to solve problems like cell phone coverage and affordable housing on a more proactive basis. There are a lot of unhappy people on all these issues and these voices need to be heard and considered in our decisions.
Most of all, our public schools are our town’s most important asset and need to be fully supported so that it remains one of the best in the country. Academic excellence is our utmost priority, but it cannot be achieved if children do not first feel safe and supported. This requires an open dialogue with all stakeholders, including parents, administration and the town bodies. Excellence on all matters – townwide, and especially in our schools – can only be achieved when there’s civil and open dialogue.
Describe an instance where a Town Council decision changed your life in New Canaan for the better.
I can be an emotional person at times when something strikes my sensibilities directly to the things that I care about. I almost broke out in tears back in 2020 when I saw the plans for the NEW New Canaan Library. The new library encapsulates everything special about New Canaan. It is a shining example of how town government can work with the incredible generosity of our citizens to solve a problem – all while listening to the concerns and needs of every stakeholder. Every time I am at the library I am grateful not only for its beauty, but for its thoughtful spaces and as a place where all New Canaanites can grow and thrive.
Finally, tell us something about yourself that many New Canaanites likely don’t know.
I have 9 siblings and am one of 10 children (8 sisters, 1 brother). I often talk too loudly because while growing up, I sometimes struggled to be heard. As a result, I try to be conscious of being respectful of other people’s voices, especially those who I don’t agree with. Trigger warning to those who don’t know me yet: If I appear to be shouting at you, please don’t take it personally!