Connecticut Green Party member Jean de Smet elected First Selectman in Windham
Found in the† Hartford Courant
First Selectman’s Goal: A More User-Friendly Windham
The Hartford Courant. December 22, 2008
When Jean de Smet was elected last year as Windham’s first selectman, she said she wanted to shake up the office by turning “town hall into a public service.”
De Smet’s goal almost was overshadowed by her triumph. She was the first Green Party candidate to be elected first selectman in the largely Democratic town. Third-party candidates rarely succeed in getting elected, but de Smet got the win by rallying voters around a specific issue. She beat Windham’s three-term Democratic First Selectman Michael Paulhus by campaigning to make local government more open to the public and to give residents easier access to town hall.
In the year since, de Smet has made town hall and local government more user-friendly, she and others who work with her said recently. De Smet said one of the first items she tackled was making the town website more informative and organizing training sessions for department heads so they could regularly update their own websites.
“We’re trying to make it so we’re user-friendly. Perhaps you can go on the website and get the information you need instead of possibly having to come in,” de Smet said.
The board of selectmen also has created numerous subcommittees encouraging input from residents, business owners and town officials. Some of the subcommittees focus on renewable energy, the senior center and community engagement. De Smet said the subcommittees were formed to “allow the members of the community to have their ideas and move them forward. That’s different, I think, than most other towns.”
De Smet said she realizes she hasn’t been able to give much of her attention to everything that needs improvement in Windham, including improving downtown Willimantic. But de Smet said she hopes to change that. She held a meeting recently with downtown business owners and organization leaders to discuss downtown growth.
Nancy Tinker, president of Thread City Development Corp. who helped work on the town’s facade improvement program, said de Smet has been instrumental in getting more residents involved in local government.
“She hasn’t lost any of her enthusiasm, which I worried about because that’s the kind of job that can get you down after a while. There’s so many people who say ‘no.’ She’s very open to taking input from people in the town and listening to them. She has certainly opened the doors to city hall,” Tinker said.
De Smet’s first win as first selectman will be her last. The town is changing its form of government to have a town manager when de Smet’s two-year term ends. She said she might consider running for mayor or even applying for the town manager job, but she’s not looking that far ahead yet.
“I’m working on my campaign promises. I look at them frequently to remind myself what direction we’re going in and it’s all about finding the priorities,” de Smet said. “It’s been a whirlwind year and it’s going to take a lot of energy and strength, but a lot of people are with me.”