In her first public address as New Canaan’s highest elected official, Dionna Carlson on Tuesday night vowed to make good on a campaign vow to restore transparency, civility and teamwork to the office of first selectman.
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd in the Town Hall Meeting Room during an Oath of Office Ceremony, Carlson said she was “full of gratitude” and felt “a deep sense of responsibility” on taking office.
“I want to express my sincere thanks to all of you who supported me during my campaign,” Carlson told the crowd after she and her fellow members of the Board of Selectmen—Steve Karl and Amy Murphy Carroll—as well as Town Treasurer Andrew Brooks had been sworn in by Town Clerk Claudia Weber.
She continued: “Your belief in me and your tireless efforts brought me to this moment, and I am humbled by your trust. As I step into this new role, I want to emphasize that I am committed to working collaboratively with members of boards, commissions, committees and our dedicated staff for the betterment of our entire community. Together, we will strive to address the needs and concerns of our residents and to ensure our town continues to thrive and prosper.”
Referring to the values of transparency, civility and teamwork, Carlson said they’re “not just words on a poster.”
“They’re the guiding principles that will shape my tenure,” Carlson said. “I firmly believe that an open and transparent government is essential for building trust and fostering a sense of unity within our community. Civility in our discourse and interactions will allow us to address the challenges. I’m eager to work alongside Steve and Amy, as well as members of our local government, to accomplish these vital objectives. Together, we can create an environment where every voice is heard, where decisions are made with the best interests of our community in mind, and where collaboration and cooperation are the cornerstones of our government. I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve as your first selectman, and I am committed to working tirelessly to build a future for which we can all be proud. Thank you once again for your support, and I look forward to the journey ahead.”
The approximately 30-minute ceremony featured stirring renditions of the national anthem and “God Bless America” from Saxe Middle School fifth-grader Kimber Sparks, as well as an invocation from the Rev. Dr. Stephen Chapin Garner of the Congregational Church of New Canaan, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Boy Scout Troops 31, 45 and 70, introductions from state Reps. Tom O’Dea (R-125th) and Lucy Dathan (D-142nd), blessings from Rabbi Levi Mendelow of Chabad New Canaan Jewish Center and the Rev. Elizabeth Garnsey of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and a benediction from Monsignor Rob Kinnally of St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church. Also in attendance were state Rep. Keith Denning (D-42nd) and state Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-36th)—both of whom spoke—and state Sen. Ceci Maher (D-26th). The crowd included several town department heads and other municipal workers.
The ceremony was followed by a reception in the “new” lobby of Town Hall.
Garner thanked all of those who serve the town of New Canaan, including the outgoing first selectman, Kevin Moynihan, for his “longstanding commitment to this town and your desire for the best for everyone.”
He added, “To our newly elected town officials, an entirely new Board of Selectmen, thank you in advance. Your sacrifice begins in earnest next week. The work before you is challenging, and we ask you for your best. And for those of us who have leadership positions in town—my clergy colleagues and others—we must work to be our best, and to encourage the best in others, and to support our town officials in their efforts on our behalf.”
In the prayer that followed, Garner offered thanks for New Canaan’s “faithful leadership.”
“Help us all, Lord, to remember your admonition to us, that to whom much has been given, much will be required,” he said. “Daily remind us of all that you have required and that it is nothing less than the prophet Micah proclaimed to ‘do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly’ with you. In a divisive age, Lord, encourage the best within all of us, our political leaders and citizens alike. Allow us the resolve to be just, to be kind, to be humble.”
Mendelow noted that on the Jewish calendar, “tonight is a very auspicious date, which I believe is very appropriate for this occasion.”
“As you leave tonight, if you look up at the night sky, you will notice that the moon is just a small sliver in the sky,” Mendelow said. “The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, and the new moon marks the beginning of a new month. This new month contains the holiday of Hanukkah, which we will begin celebrating in just over three weeks. There are many layers to the Hanukkah miracles and celebrations, but ultimately it’s a celebration of light over darkness and of good over evil.”
He continued, in full: “Here in New Canaan, a highlight of Hanukkah for the Jewish community is the public celebration of the menorah lighting on God’s Acre. Every year, at the Hanukkah gathering, we take note of the great blessing to live in this blessed town of New Canaan, in the United States of America. After many centuries of persecution, the Jewish people do not take the blessing of America for granted. Two-hundred-and-thirty-three years ago, George Washington wrote a letter to the Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island, in which he promised that the government of the United States would give, and I quote, ‘to bigotry, no sanction, to persecution, no assistance.’ In short, he promised that anti-Semitism would have absolutely no place in the United States of America. These are trying times for the Jewish people. Just over a month ago, the Jewish people in Israel experienced the greatest assault on Jewish life since the Holocaust. And we are still praying every day for the return of over 240 hostages, including American citizens. But from the first week after the horrific attack, when hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish people—residents of New Canaan—gathered outside this Town Hall in solidarity with Israel and with our local Jewish community, we are reassured by the goodness of our New Canaan community and the laws and Constitution of our country, which assure freedom for all. Tonight, as our newly elected officials will take their oaths of office, pledging to uphold the essential values of our community and of our country, we thank you all for your service. We also thank God for the great blessing of being part of this wonderful community in this great country. I thank Andrew Brooks, who will serve again as the town treasurer, for inviting me to be part of the ceremony. I would like to offer the following prayer. May He who blessed our forefathers and our mothers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel,and Leah, bless us, our entire community and all the newly elected leaders—and specifically Andrew Brooks, our town treasurer—with the strength to fulfill all their duties with righteousness, wisdom, goodness, kindness and humility. May the Holy One please send blessings and success to all their endeavors and our entire community, and let us say, ‘Amen.’ ”
Garnsey said it was a “very, very large honor” to speak at the ceremony alongside her clergy colleagues.
“And I just want to remind and reassure you that your clergy of New Canaan love you, and we’re united, one with another, for the common good of our town, and we keep you in our prayers regularly,” she said.
Garnsey then offered the following prayer: “O God, the source of all wisdom, whose will is compassion, and whose law is truth, we pray you so to inspire and bless New Canaan’s newly elected First Selectman Dionna Carlson, Treasurer Andrew Brooks, and Selectmen Amy Murphy Carroll, and Selectman Stephen J. Karl, who have offered themselves in leadership and public service, that they may both seek and find wisdom, compassion, and truth in the challenges their offices will address, and that they may faithfully serve the common good, overcome divisions with friendly compromise, safeguard the well being of all residents in New Canaan, and find deep joy in their daily, noble work.”