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Trumbull Zoner: Think Regionally

Tony Silber: "When Herbst attacks other towns, he undermines prospects for regional economic success."

Tony Silber, Planning and Zoning Commission member
Tony Silber, Planning and Zoning Commission member

The following is a letter to the editor.

Recently, First Selectman Tim Herbst was quoted in the newspaper blasting Bridgeport’s municipal management.

“Every day when we pick up the newspaper, we see how poorly the City of Bridgeport is being managed,” Herbst said. “The same political operatives that now run Bridgeport used to have their claws in Trumbull. Under a Mark administration, those same special interests will be back in Trumbull calling the shots. This will not happen on my watch.” [The quote is slightly shortened for brevity].

That’s a troubling window into Mr. Herbst’s approach to governing.

Intemperate and grossly distorted comments encourage hostility and rivalry. For Mr. Herbst, other public servants apparently only exist in two places: At his throat or at his feet. 

Herbst’s hostility also runs against one of the most important political concepts of the last 20 years. That’s the understanding that successful economies are primarily regional. It’s a long-term trend. In an article last month in the National Journal, author Michael Hirsh wrote that the top 100 metro areas make up three-quarters of GDP. 

And incredibly, he wrote, the National Science Foundation recently found that 25 percent of all scientists and engineers live in five metropolitan areas in California, New York, and Texas. The U.S. is not one national economy but many metro ones.

Regions work well for several reasons. They’re more adaptable and resilient than either states or the nation. Well-built infrastructures can better apply resources and better compete for tight public dollars. Companies seeking locations look at regions, not at nations, and not at municipalities. Regions are more responsive, and the best of them work effectively across party lines.

Smart political leaders understand this. They collaborate on attracting investment. They help shape a unified regional economy. We don’t see this in Trumbull. There are regions like the Twin Cities, Hirsh wrote, where the unemployment rate is low and the regional economy has been much more stable. The regional municipalities have long cooperated. On the other hand, there’s Detroit, whose leaders failed to connect with the surrounding suburbs.

We need to devote time to thinking regionally. Trumbull’s interests won’t always coincide with Bridgeport’s—or with Fairfield’s, or Shelton’s or Stratford’s—but there are things we should be doing together now. Here are some ideas.

·      Start with relationships among municipal leaders. Our elected leader ought to eliminate the hostile rhetoric and initiate a council of regional leaders, meeting regularly.

·      From these meetings may come all kinds of good things, like sharing services and competing more effectively for a larger, cohesive, mutually supportive tax base.

·      What story do we want to tell investors from around the country and the world? A region of 250,000 people is more compelling than a suburban town of 35,000. The region should collaborate on a consistent economic vision.

·      Business and civic leaders should forge partnerships. But they have to act as a team, not as clusters of competitive, ego-driven warlords.

We’re not seeing any of this in Trumbull. I expect more vision from our chief political leader.

Tony Silber

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