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Colebrook First Selectman challenger advocates transparency, accountability

COLEBROOK – Two of the biggest reasons Michael Truss is running for the first selectman’s seat are in plain sight outside of his window. A third, though, is to shine sunlight on what he believes to be a policy of obscurity.

Truss, a 55-year-old computer specialist and Independent who works in West Hartford, is challenging incumbent first selectman Thomas McKeon for the first time in McKeon’s three campaigns. According to Truss, the question of public trust is just one of the reasons he is launching his first bid for public office of any kind.

“I’m a firm believer in transparent government,” Truss said.

The Truss family moved to Colebrook six years ago, in part because of its rural character. But the approval of two wind farms in the primarily residential town – one of which will be across the street from the Truss household – spurred Truss into action. According to Truss, “The whiole thing was completed behind the scenes,” pointing towards the lack of any discussion of the turbines in Board of Selectmen minutes.

“That just speaks volumes for everyone in town,” Truss said.

Truss nodded towards Canaan, where a proposal to build one turbine was rejected at the local level. The turbine would have been smaller than the six proposed by BNE Energy, a proposal which was approved by the Connecticut Siting Council in June.

“In Canaan’s case,” Truss said, “their zoning enforcement officer declined the tower, and there’s no turbines.”

But Truss pointed to a May 2009 article from the Hartford Courant, detailing the initial approval of the tower in Colebrook. At the time, Colebrook zoning enforcement officer Karen Griswold Nelson said the permit to build the tower was “similar to a zoning permit for an accessory structure for (a) house, for a deck or whatever,” adding that the tower was allowed as it is a temporary research structure, which is permitted on lots zoned for single-family homes.

By doing this, Truss said, Nelson used a “loophole” to bring the turbines to town. The Connecticut Siting Council took over jurisdiction of the wind farm once the tower was approved, and the council has the power to override local zoning laws.

“I’m not against turbines,” Truss said. “They just don’t belong in residential neighborhoods.”

Truss also believes the town may have been sold a bill of goods with the turbines as well. Specifically, Truss said the town will not see the projected $400,000 in property tax revenue, since turbines and other renewable energy implements are exempt from property and sales taxes. Truss also said energy rates will not go down, remarking that “it’s not going to happen.”

The Register Citizen attempted to contact McKeon for comment. However, he was unavailable for comment, as he was out of his office and responding to emergencies. In addition to his duties as first selectman, McKeon is also the deputy fire chief for the Colebrook Volunteer Fire Department.

Another plank of Truss’s campaign platform concerns the state of Colebrook’s roads. Pinney Street may be the most obvious example for the Truss family, but inadequate drainage on several of the town’s streets has led to expansive potholes and patch jobs instead of costlier, but more permanent, repairs.

“The roads are deplorable,” said Truss. “To me, Band-Aids and quick fixes are not the way to go.”

Truss said he would push to mill streets in need of the most extensive repairs, trading short-term expense for long-term stability.

“By taking that approach,” Truss said, “it’s more costly and it’s going to last longer.”

Truss acknowledged that financial pressures will make these tasks difficult. While he said he would investigate cost-saving measures such as buying machinery from the state’s bid list or buying sand from the state and stockpiling it in the town garage, as opposed to the current procedure of buying from local quarries, there is only so much money that Colebrook’s executives can raise. Truss said, “When you’re a tax-based town, you’ve got to look at it. All these savings count. We have no industry.”

Colebrook’s small size has actually encouraged Truss in terms of his chances. While McKeon ran unopposed in the previous Selectmen’s election, the current First Selectman only received 189 votes.

“The town’s going to have a good shock once I get in there,” Truss said, “because everyone’s going to know every step of the way.”