Ewe should have known better
A couple of wayward sheep decided to hoof it out of their temporary home in a living crèche at First Congregational Church of Greenwich Monday morning. Thankfully, the escapees were unable to pull the wool over the eyes of a few observant shepherds -- in the form of church staff -- who were able to quickly lead the beasts back where they belonged.
The breakout happened around 10 a.m., said church communications director Barbara Wilkov. The sheep were outside in the crèche, which has been a Christmas tradition at the church for more than 20 years. The display includes statues of the Holy Family -- Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus -- in the manger. The live sheep, procured from Pied Piper Pony Rides in Patterson, N.Y., add ambience, Wilkov said. "It's exciting," she said. "People stop by and look at them and the kids enjoy it."
Every year, a local family volunteers to feed the sheep and put them in the church garage in the evening, so they never spend the night outside. Wilkov said the church just got the sheep a few days ago, so there were no indications they were looking to make a break for it. But when church employees went out Monday morning, they noticed that the sheep were gone.
Though a second lock had been put on the fence securing the animals, the sheep pushed against the gate and broke it. They then high-tailed it across the street to Binney Park, where they were found shortly after their escape was discovered. "Luckily, the sheep are not very fast," Wilkov said.
They were taken back to the church, and hung out in the garage while the fence was repaired.
Wilkov said she's heard that there was another sheep escape many years ago, but this is overall a rare occurrence. Given the overall mild manner of the sheep, she said, it's surprising they tried to leave. "They seem very docile," she said.
-- Amanda Cuda, staff writer
Town election reform given setback
It's back to square one for election reform in Greenwich.
The Board of Estimate and Taxation this week shelved a controversial motion to change how the finance board is chosen, after a split Democratic caucus and staunch Republican opposition on the board resulted in a 4-8 vote, tanking the Democrat-led proposal.
Election reform, an idea which recently appeared to be gaining momentum in town, is beginning to emerge as an increasingly complicated proposition.
With the BET proposal's demise come revelations from Town Attorney John Wayne Fox that another route to reform, also being considered, could have serious consequences: Instead of relying on the members of the BET to initiate change, the Board of Selectmen could force a public referendum on charter change. But it appears doing so could threaten the town's home rule provisions, according to Fox. The full implications of the loss of home rule remain unclear, though officials suspect it could result in legal nightmares for the town.
The BET proposal first emerged last month, put forth by Democratic caucus leader Bill Finger. He, along with three other BET Democrats, proposed a model that sought to maintain party balance on the board while fostering intra-party competition for seats -- much like the rules for electing the Board of Education. Read Full Article
The move followed reports that First Selectman Peter Tesei would explore Charter changes in his fourth term, including potentially reversing town policies that all but guarantee equal party representation on the finance and school boards.
"It serves the purpose of providing more choice for the voters of the town of Greenwich," said Finger at a meeting of the panel at Town Hall on Monday. "We've heard that hue and cry from many people that they want more choice, because as it is now, the candidates for the BET are selected only by the respective town (political) committees."
However, Finger's argument fell on deaf ears Monday night.
BET Democrats Sean Goldrick and Randy Huffman rejected the proposal, a position they had already publicly taken, along with town Democratic Chairman Frank Farricker, while publicly denouncing Finger.
"We're talking about something that is complex and would have tremendous effects and consequences we haven't yet fully appreciated," Huffman said Monday.
BET Republicans, while having voiced greater openness to Charter change, unanimously opposed this particular measure, remaining mostly silent during discussion on the matter Monday, with the prime exception of BET Chairman Michael Mason.
"The voters in the town don't vote evenly and they aren't represented evenly," he said. "That's a very political statement, but it is fact. I can't see supporting this going forward."
Multiple GOP officials have voiced support for dismantling the balanced board system, and moving to a model that would allow one party to gain a majority on the board, a move that in Greenwich would likely see the BET shift to the right.
Finger said he had no regrets bringing the proposal forward.
"One of the guiding principles of the Democratic Party is to offer the public greater opportunity to be involved in the selection and election of the candidates that represent them," Finger said. "Though I'm disappointed, I'm glad that four Democrats did cast votes in support of that principle."
BET Republicans are expected to mount their own push for electoral overhaul early next year.
"If we look at the finance boards of our peer communities, they typically go the 8-4 maximum split method," said Mason, "with parties able to nominate as many candidates as the maximum seats the party could have. That's typical. I would be willing to revisit that and support that going forward."
Though the Connecticut General Statutes protect at least some minority party representation on government panels, most Democrats have balked at unbalancing Greenwich boards. Finger said another Democrat-led effort was unlikely in the near future, but unanimous minority opposition to such a proposal would be effectively guaranteed.
"The six Democrats can agree that we won't support unbalancing the board, but that's the only thing I'm confident that all six of us can agree on in terms of reform," he said.
While the BET may be headed toward loggerheads once again, the Board of Selectmen is facing its own challenges as town leaders look in the direction of reform.
According to Town Attorney Fox, the town possesses only two paths for making alterations to its Charter in this case: the BET and RTM may pass an amendment before putting the decision up to a public referendum, or the Board of Selectmen may choose the "statutory" option and put a proposal directly to public vote.
However, the statutory option, outlined in Chapter 99 of the General Statutes, comes at a Faustian price, said Fox.
"If you, as a community, have home rule and you avail yourself of chapter 99,' you effectively lose home rule," Fox said.
If home rule were lost, it appears any provisions in the Charter not in accordance with the General Statutes would have to be changed, at risk of potential legal action from the state. Though the full extent of the provisional changes to the Charter is the subject of some uncertainty, it is thought be sweeping.
"It's a Catch 22," said Tesei. "Our town government has insulated itself from being able to change itself."
Tesei acknowledged that despite the setback, he still intends to go forward with forming a commission to explore opportunities for Charter change.
-- Justin Pottle, staff writer
Picking up the pieces: Old Greenwich family starts relief fund
Hurricane Sandy took many things from the Chow family -- their furniture, the first floor of their Old Greenwich home, their peace of mind. The storm also dropped a 19-foot boat smack in the middle of their yard.
The family had moved to the location, only yards across the Sound from the narrow entrance to Tod's Point, just six months earlier. Ironically, it would be the very thing that attracted them to the property that would come to haunt them -- the water. The same waters the Chows -- Gregg and Stephanie and their 14-year-old twins Sophia and Brandon -- would fish in, the same waters they would watch rise and and fall with the tides, would swell during the storm and come crashing into their home.
Today, more than a year later, the house remains in shambles, the slab foundation peeking through the torn floorboards and beams. The Christmas lights are still up around the empty, glassless windows -- just one of the many eerie reminders around Greenwich of the lives Sandy interrupted.
"It looked like everything had been run through a washing machine," said Stephanie.
The Chows have only just recently received clearance to demolish the shell of their former home.
"The house is on a slab, and we'd already done some work," said Gregg, parsing through the rubble, the Sound plainly visible through where walls used to be. "We'd passed the fifty percent damage mark, so we didn't have much of a choice of what do with the house."
They've remained in Old Greenwich, living in a rental where they're likely to remain until this time next year.
But as much as Sandy took away, the Old Greenwich family is finding a way to give back. They have rallied behind a simple idea: this could happen to anybody, anywhere.
The concept stands at the core of the Sophie Cares Children's Relief Fund, a new charitable organization the Chows have recently set up. It seeks to organize relief efforts for those, who, like them, had their lives uprooted by natural disaster, but may not have the means to pick up the pieces. The brainchild of Sophie Chow, the project -- which launched in the mid-fall -- will focus on those people who often fall through the cracks, especially children.
"It just came to me," said Sophie. "I wanted to try something to help people."
Where insurance claims and immediate aid may go rightfully toward the most pressing needs at first -- shelter, food and water, treatment for the sick and injured -- those basic things needed for children's lives to return to normal often go unmet, Gregg said.
"In between insurance and aid funds, children are kind of forgotten," he said. "We want to do something that will help get their lives back to normal. Sophie Cares is about helping kids get back on their feet."
Early efforts will focus on obtaining supplies for schools and students along the East Coast that were hard-hit by Sandy. Along with cash donations, Sophie and the Chows have been soliciting backpacks, notebooks, pens, pencils, calculators and other educational needs to replace those lost in the storm.
In the three weeks since the group started actively soliciting donations, the family has raised $2,500, but they're looking to double their efforts going into the New Year -- and to expand their horizons. Alongside Hurricane Sandy Relief, Sophie Cares hopes to send aid to young victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
"We're hoping to do more work around the world in different places that need it," said Sophie.
But where the future will take the project, she's unsure. Sophie says Sophie Cares will set its sights on wherever it's needed most at the time.
"We don't know who is going to need the help next," she said.
But for now, the Chows are staying local, in terms of getting others and themselves back to normal. Their old home, they hope, will come down in a week's time. The memories of Sandy may be ugly, but the Chows aren't letting it bog them down -- and they have no intention of leaving their backyard on the water.
"You just take the bad with the good," said Stephanie. "If 364 days a year are beautiful here, then that's going to be all right."
-- Justin Pottle