If elected to the town’s top spot, Democrat Kenneth Lenz would strive to be more pro-active rather than re-active in moving the town forward, he said in a recent interview in his office. And to provide that kind of leadership, he is challenging First Selectman Jim Zeoli in the upcoming municipal election on Tuesday, November 3.
He points out the need for better planning regarding crumbling school buildings, the roads, the High Plains Community Center, all of which require refurbishing. Instead of waiting for the infrastructure to break down — as happened at Peck Place School — the town needs to plan ahead.
Looking out for the community: Lenz said the bridge over the Wepawaug River on Derby Milford Road is in poor condition, and the town was notified of it two years ago. But as far as he knows, no planning has taken place. Federal and state money would probably cover a good amount of the $65 million project, but the town would still be responsible for anywhere between $2 and 4 million, a large project for a town of Orange’s size. “It should have been looked at how to find the funds,” Lenz said.
Recent paving efforts notwithstanding, the Community Center is in bad shape, he said; public playgrounds are getting rusty and most school lots need paving. Lenz said if elected, he would investigate installing solar panels on school buildings, and initiate a cost-benefit analysis for that purpose.
Another issue that he championed during his campaign two years ago, and that hasn’t lost its immediacy, is the need for affordable senior housing. Silverbrook Estates with its 40 or so units has been dealing with a leaking roof, and a handful of apartments had to be evacuated. “I am told there is a seven-year waiting list for Silverbrook,” he said. The Fieldstone Village housing development is earmarked for active adults, and units start in the high $400,000s. “I’m not saying it’s bad for Orange to have that,” he said, but it doesn’t meet the need of many local seniors.
Lenz worries that like Peck Place, which had to be abruptly shut down after a January pipe failure, another school building may have to be shut down if the town is not taking care of them. “There is no formal Long Range Planning Committee looking at these things,” he said.
Serving as a selectman: For Lenz, a personal bankruptcy lawyer with an office in town, this is the second time running to unseat Jim Zeoli as first selectman. Two years ago, he lost against Zeoli, but gained a seat on the Board of Selectmen, which allowed him to be involved with the issues that came up.
Being involved in town government, he also gained new respect for the complexity of some of the issues that have arisen, such as the running bamboo, the Peck Place School flooding and remediation, discussion regarding the Plan of Development and, most recently, a planned gun show at the community center.
Overall, the board does a fine job listening to one another, cooperating and finding consensus whenever possible, he said of his fellow selectmen. “If we listen to one another we can often find the best solutions.”
‘Culture of volunteerism’: “There is no question that Orange is a great place to live,” he said. “and I want to make it better”. One thing that the town has going for it is the “culture of volunteerism,” he said. People, in spite of their busy lives, are willing to devote some time to the good of the town. Lenz himself is one of those volunteers. In addition to the Board of Selectmen, he is active with the Lions Club, the Orange Players, at Holy Infant Church and the Boy Scouts.
He also advocated for area homeowners when the Golden Hill Paugussett tribe tried to gain tribal recognition, laying claim to a scattering of properties From Trumbull to Seymour. The case was eventually laid to rest in court.
It seems fitting that a campaign banner sports a magnifying lens as a pun on his name. After all, he taught English grammar and composition at the college level for years before he became a lawyer. When he is not engaging people on the campaign trail, he is helping people in financial and personal hardship. “I wanted to make a meaningful impact in people’s lives,” he said about his reasons to switch profession.
To connect with Ken Lenz, people can check out the Facebook Page, Ken Lenz for First Selectman 2015 or meet up with him at Democratic headquarters, 116 Boston Post Road.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent