January 23, 2009
By CHASE WRIGHT
Hour Staff Writer
After a decade-long hiatus, the League of Women Voters has reemerged in Stamford with plans to undertake one of the most complex and controversial issues in the city.
The LWV of Stamford voted on Wednesday, Jan. 14 to study the ongoing issue of paid versus volunteer firefighters. The study will include interviews with members of the community, city officials paid and volunteer firefighters and officials from outside communities. The league will then organize the collected data and report the results back to the community.
“I think this is an issue that a lot of people in the community still don’t have a real good grasp of,” said Martin Levine, program coordinator for the Stamford league. Levine is part of the steering committee that narrowed down a limited list of Stamford’s societal issues from eight to three. Last week, at the Stamord league’s first meeting of 2009, 10 members chose between studying city firefighters, investigating the adequacy of moderate income housing and examining the practice of grouping students by achievement level, which remains prevalent in the Stamford public school system.
The decision to study firefighters won by a slim margin of two votes. “This is an issue that’s in need of an impartial source so the community can draw its own conclusion,” said Levine, who voted in favor of the firefighters.
An outside consultant, TriData, was hired by the city about eight months ago to conduct an overview of its fire protection services.
The Virgina-based consultant recently completed its study and delivered the results to city and fire officials.
The study was mostly favorable of Mayor Dannel Malloy’s vision for fire protection in Stamford, which includes merging volunteer and career staff into a single system, centralizing under one chief and standardizing the training procedures of both paid and volunteer staff.
Several volunteer firefighters have remained skeptical of that study, including Levine, due to the fact the consultant was hired by the Malloy administration, who has its own vision for fire service in the city.
“There is a need for an outside organization to conduct informed studies of issues and remain impartial,” said Levine. “The League has a long-standing reputation for doing just that.”
It’s also an opportunity to draw attention to the League and hopefully attract new members, he said.
Stamford’s league is currently operating on member-at-large basis.
There are several requirements that local and state leagues must meet to gain LWVUS recognition and to maintain League status. Those guidelines include forming bylaws, establishing a nonpartisanship policy, holding regular board meetings and developing a plan for membership growth and retention.
Most of these requirements have already been met by the Stamford League, which was formed just over a year ago after disappearing from the community for over a decade.
“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress,” said Cindy Dill, co-president of the Stamford League.
Dill joined the LWV last year when the membership was still in single digits. The Stamford League now has 35 registered members.
“It’s great to do something at the ground level and see it come to fruition,” she said.
The LWV is a grassroots organization in more than a thousand communities across the county, made up of men and women, who strive to promote citizen participation in government and public issues. Stamford is one of 29 communities in Connecticut represented by the LWVCT.
Kate Urbank is an active member of the Stamford League, who was instrumental it bringing it back to the community.
Since leading the charge, she’s happy to see the membership base growing and others taking on leadership roles, which largely led to the league’s demise 10 years ago.
It’s been difficult, she says, as the volunteer organization requires a commitment of time from its members, and with more women in the workplace than ever before, their time is exceedingly limited.
“The world is a very different place than it was 10 years ago,” said Urbank. “We’re trying to figure out how to make the League work here in 2009.”
The LWV of Stamford will hold their next meeting Feb. 2 at noon on the fourth floor of the Government Center, where they will begin their study of paid versus volunteer firefighters.
Anyone interested in participating can contact the LWV of Stamford at firstname.lastname@example.org.