BEACON FALLS — After nearly three months in office, First Selectman Christopher Bielik is finding his groove.
Bielik, a 53-year-old Democrat, earned his first term in the town’s top political seat at the polls in November. He took office in December, just as winter was starting to ratchet up.
Old man winter has had his share of storms up his sleeve so far. Dealing with winter’s wrath was among the challenges that met Bielik as he stepped into his new role.
“The bad weather days are certainly the most challenging. It’s been a rough winter. Our [Public Works Department] guys have been stretched to the breaking point,” Bielik said.
Bielik has been trying to make the best of a bad situation. He said he tries to ride with each of the snowplow drivers during a storm one time to help him better understand the town that has served as his home for over nine years.
“When you go on the campaign and you walk the streets in the summer and fall, it’s a totally different perspective when they are covered with snow and you’re looking for places to pile it up,” Bielik said
By riding along during storms, Bielik said it gives him the perspective necessary to answer questions from residents on how a certain street is plowed.
“We’ve got a lot of quirky little roads in this town, and it’s not as easy as you might think to say, ‘I’ll just plow that.’ It’s never that simple,” Bielik said.
Even when there is not a snowstorm to keep him on his toes, Bielik said there are still no typical days in the office. However, he does try to follow a specific schedule whenever he is able.
Bielik, a retired U.S. Navy officer, said he tries to be at Town Hall when the doors open at 9 a.m.
“The first thing I’ll do is take a walk around Town Hall and see how everything is going with the various departments,” Bielik said.
Next up is making sure the lines of community with residents are open.
“My goal is if I get a phone call from somebody I try to return that phone call within two days. If I get an email from somebody that requires some research to give an informed reply I try not to exceed a week in turning it around,” Bielik said.
Bielik said he takes time before responding because he wants to ensure that he is able to give the correct answer, rather than just an answer, to every question.
“Somebody told me that once you get into that office everybody wants you to make them happy and you will not be able to make 100 percent of the people happy. I am finding out that that is true. But, whether they are happy or not with the answers, at least we are getting them what I believe are the right answers,” Bielik said.
Each day also brings its share of meetings.
“Sometimes it’s citizens that want to talk about an issue. Sometimes it’s somebody that needs something done like a pistol permit. Sometimes we have internal personnel issues that require meeting with the union. Sometimes it’s meeting with outside contractors,” Bielik said.
A number of major projects loom on the horizon for the town, such as the needed upgrades for the wastewater treatment plant, leading to more regular meetings with contractors.
“I think the biggest surprise and the biggest challenge has been trying to work through the issue with the review process for the Region 16 elementary school refurbishment at Laurel Ledge,” Bielik said.
The renovations at Laurel Ledge are part of a three-pronged school building project. The crux of the work at Laurel Ledge will be constructing corridors to connect each of the buildings at the campus-style school.
The project has been in a holding pattern for months due to a stalemate between school officials and a consultant hired to conduct a local review of the plans. Officials are hopeful a contract addendum will resolve the issue.
“I’m up to my elbows in trying to mediate this process and trying to come to a final resolution that will hopefully work for all the sides involved. I think we’re close, but there are still details to iron out,” Bielik said last week. “But you just roll up your sleeves and take care of the things that end up in your lap.”
In addition to the daily workings of the Town Hall, there are payroll checks that have to be ready to go out every other week and open positions that need to be filled.
Since Bielik has taken office a new assistant librarian, part-time librarian, road foreman and a member of the public works crew have all been hired. He’s currently working to fill the finance manager position, which was held by Manny Gomez until he submitted his resignation in January.
The town also has a new webmaster who has been updating the website, Bielik said. Ed Groth, who previously held the volunteer position, resigned in December and the town had been searching for a replacement since then.
“There’s been a lot of churn in the key positions we’ve had here. While I hate to lose the experience there is a lot of opportunity for new people with new ideas. That’s something I am hoping to capitalize on,” Bielik said.
Moving forward, Bielik is also hoping to take advantage of social media.
He recently started a Twitter account, @CJBielik, and is looking to create a Facebook page.
Bielik hopes by using social media he can inform residents in a proactive manner.
“Even things like the website we have, which is accessible to people, isn’t proactive. It sits there and people have to go find it. Whereas Twitter and Facebook are more proactive, if you post something and you have people following you, they see it as soon as it goes up. I think that we need to explore all of those means of getting information out,” Bielik said.
Bielik is looking to spur economic growth in Beacon Falls. The town is already looking into some future possibilities, Bielik said, though he declined to elaborate. He also wants to ensure he runs the town with fiscal responsibility, spending the town’s money as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Although he has immersed himself in the first selectman seat, Bielik said he is still learning new things every day. He thanked residents for working with him the last few months as he settled into the new position.
“I appreciate them being patient with me and I will always be patient with them. There’s no question they can have burning in their minds that they shouldn’t feel they can’t pick up the phone and call me about or, if I’m available, to drop in. The office door is open,” Bielik said.