New Canaan’s highest elected official said Tuesday that he was “amused” by a memo from an appointed town body charged with managing and supervising the Police Department.
The Police Commission in a Feb. 7 memo to the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Town Council recommended that a future police station—whether renovated or built anew—remain where it is on South Avenue, and that the volunteer body be included in future discussions about the project.
“Working together, we are confident that this project will be successfully completed,” according to the memo, read aloud during a regular selectmen meeting at Town Hall (bookmarked video embedded above).
Yet after the memo had been read out, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said with respect the police station project, “We don’t have time to discuss this today. I am amused by the memo.”
In response, Selectman Nick Williams said, “You’re ‘amused’? Why are you amused? This is from our Police Commission that we have selected.”
Moynihan said, “They have invested like six hours into it and I’ve invested hundreds of hours over the last year.”
The comments came toward the end of the meeting—a point at which, until very recently, the formal agenda for Board of Selectmen meetings allowed members to discuss general matters before the town (Moynihan recently removed the “Selectmen Comments” item from meeting agendas.)
Nevertheless, Williams broached the matter of the police station.
Town officials have discussed the need to renovate the 1927-built Police Department on South Avenue—originally built as the first New Canaan High School—for many years. The cost originally was pegged at $5 million, then $7 million, then $10 million and, more recently, in the $14.7 million to $18 million range.
In September, a team assembled by Moynihan unveiled a proposal to build a new police station on the Saxe ball field—an idea that Moynihan first shared during a press briefing in January 2019 (audio here). The idea originated with a former Police Commission chair, Moynihan said. One year ago, Moynihan spoke in favor of building a new police station somewhere else in town. The idea of building a police station at Saxe drew swift criticism in the form of an online petition that’s garnered 978 signatures, and town officials for months have questioned both the financial and political viability of such a project.
Moynihan said in November that he favored building a new police station in the woods that separate New Canaan High School from Saxe Middle School—a wooded area of trails connected to Waveny that runs south from the corner of Farm Road and South Avenue.
On Tuesday, the specter of such a project re-emerged during the back-and-forth between Williams and Moynihan.
The discussion started when Williams read the Police Commission’s memo, as follows:
“The New Canaan Police Commission wishes to advise the town bodies addressed above that we unanimously recommend that the New Canaan Police headquarters building remain at 174 South Avenue. It is also the opinion of the Commission that detailed plans, cost analysis and expert advice should be sought before determining if renovating-as-new or building new in the current location is the most prudent solution. In addition, both the renovate-as-new and the build new plans must include a training facility that is attached to or adjacent to the police building. We believe that it would be helpful to all the decision-making town bodies that we are invited to future meetings during which the New Canaan Police headquarters building may be discussed. Working together, we are confident that this project will be successfully completed. Thank you for your time and service to our town.”
It wasn’t immediately clear when the memo was sent.
Williams said after reading it aloud, “And so my question for you, Kevin, is: Where are we in this process? As I’ve indicated earlier, I think it’s imperative that we move expeditiously to get our PD a new building. It is woefully needed. We’ve got a number of female officers, they don’t have their own locker room. It’s outdated. It’s dark. It’s dank. We need to move forward. interest rates are going up. Bonding rates are part of that process.”
He added, “It’s 2022. We need to get moving forward on this issue. So that is my selectman comment.”
Moynihan responded by moving that the Board adjourn the meeting—which he would end up doing three times—but neither Williams nor Selectman Kathleen Corbet seconded his motion.
Instead, Corbet asked Moynihan, “Did you want to respond?”
The first selectman said, “We don’t have time today to talk about police because we have six or eight other priorities to get the budget adopted by the Board of Finance. I spent time on this in January with an alternative that people came forward with.”
This exchange followed:
Williams: The alternative being that we need to put it in Waveny Park, right? Or property owned by the town contiguous to Waveny Park? Is that correct?
Moynihan: We had an owner downtown, purchaser of the building. We investigated it, spent maybe 10 hours. This process is very deliberate and we have got a lot more work to do. As the memo says, we have a lot more advice to get on this, and the Board of Finance has no time in February.
Williams: Based upon my discussions with the chair of the Board of Finance, this is important to him.
Moynihan: It’s important to me.
Williams: To the Board of Finance.
Moynihan: We’ve got six or eight other priorities. Waveny House, Playhouse. We’ve got so many issues, just getting a budget done is going to be tough.
Williams: In this day and age, with the issues we have with crime in this town, in this country, I think this is important. I think this is a priority.
Moynihan: It is absolutely a priority. But we have six or eight other priorities before we can get to it in March.
Williams: If you’ve got six or eight other things before it, it is not a ‘priority’ by definition.
Later in the meeting, Moynihan said there also were “other distractions” making it difficult to address the police statin project.
“When we have the time in March, we will get back to it,” Moynihan said.
Corbet responded, “So is that the new date, March?” while Williams responded, “So it will become a priority in March?”
Corbet said she would like to see the police station project at the “top of the priority list, if we could and whenever the time is appropriate if that’s two weeks away, when we enter into the new month, I think that we should bring that up again, if the timing works.”
Under the Town Charter, the Police Commission “shall manage and supervise the police force of the Town and shall exercise powers and perform duties with respect thereto.”
Currently, the Commission is composed of Chair Paul Foley, Secretary Jim McLaughlin and member Shekaiba Bennett. During a selectmen meeting in December, as the Board was voting on a number of appointments and reappointments (including Bennett’s reappointment to a three-year term), Moynihan said, “The volunteers in this town are what makes this town work.”