Updated: Sep 14
By Selectman Robert Lessler
After serving on the Board of Selectmen for 24 of the past 26 years, I will step down from the
board at the end of my current term on November 7, 2023.
While serving as a selectman, and previously as a member of the Board of Finance, has been an amazing personal experience and has given me the opportunity to help our town in a most unique way, it is time for me to pass the torch and allow someone else to try their hand.
I am very pleased that Nick D’Addario is running to succeed me. Interestingly, both he and I trod a similar path to the Board of Selectmen. While neither of us grew up in Easton, both of our families have deep roots in town. Both of us spent a lot of time in Easton as children. My great-grandparents founded Easton’s own Snow’s Farm, which is still family owned and operated. The farm and farmhouse were the site of much family merriment for me as a child. One highlight was the birth of a five legged calf. Similarly, Nick’s relatives have lived in town for decades and he spent much time visiting Easton before deciding that our town is the best place for him to raise his family.
My first term on the board began with my run for the open first selectman seat in 1997, against Bill Kupinse. While it felt awkward to serve on the board as a selectman with the individual who had just defeated me in the race for first selectman, it was immediately apparent that the business of the town came first for both of us. The obvious lesson was that after the votes are cast and counted, it is time to work together for the good of the community. Another lesson is that our role as political adversaries is far less important than our relations as neighbors and thought leaders trying to do what we think is best for Easton. In these hyper-partisan times, these are vital lessons – political adversaries are not our
enemies, they are passionate people with differing values, policy ideas and perspectives.
I served with four first selectmen, three from the opposite political party and one from my own party: Bill Kupinse, Tom Herrmann, Adam Dunsby and David Bindelglass. I’ve served with 6 selectmen, five from the opposite party and one from my party: John McGlaughlin, Jack Johnston, Emmett Wallace, Scott Centrella, Carolyn Colangelo and Kristi Sogofsky. I did not stand for re-election in 2001. In 2003, I ran again and the election resulted in a very rare scenario. That term, I served under a first selectman of the other party together with a selectman of my party. This created an unlikely situation in which the two selectmen formed the majority in opposition to the first selectman.
The men and women with whom I served were from different generations, different political
philosophies, and different social networks. Some lived in town for decades and some were newer residents. All were committed to making our town better than it was before they served. And they all succeeded in that goal.
As a selectman, I have come to know many residents who care deeply about our town, who give of themselves for the benefit of our town and who offer insights and perspectives about our town that helped me in my role – whether I shared their point of view or not. The dedication, talent and selflessness of so many people with whom I have interacted is dazzling. They are people who serve on boards and commissions or as employees working to keep the gears of the town in motion. They are folks who volunteer in other ways just because they care about our community. They are people who serve as political party officials, help our schools, our senior center, our library, our recreational programs. They are people who support our various civic, religious, and other organizations. And they are people who serve as watchdogs and gadflies over political officials. All of them contribute to making Easton a great place to live.
I am often asked these days about important accomplishments and major changes I have been a part of during my tenure. The list is long, and the credit belongs to a great many people. I’ll share just a few for the benefit of readers who may want to know about the changes that Easton has undergone in my time.
Together, we purchased the Morehouse Road property (which was a farm) and then built Samuel Staples Elementary School, playing fields, an animal shelter, walking trails and a cell phone tower on it. Plans for additional recreational assets on the site remain on the drawing board.
We renovated and expanded Helen Keller Middle School. (I served on that building committee.)
We renovated Joel Barlow High School – more than once. We added turf fields to the high school campus.
We built our library and remodeled town hall and our police department. (All three departments used to be housed in today’s town hall/police department building.)
We moved the senior center into renovated and enlarged space.
We purchased and preserved the Four Corners property at the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 136 and Black Rock Turnpike.
We purchased and permanently preserved the 30 acre South Park Avenue property.
We purchased the development rights to a major farm in town.
We preserved the 700 acre Trout Brook Valley property.
We created an incentive program for fire and EMS volunteers and a property tax abatement plan for survivors of police or firefighters killed in the line of duty. (Sadly, this initiative arose from the in the line of duty death of volunteer firefighter Russell Neary.)
We established an annual Pride flag raising and celebration event.
We began celebrating Juneteenth in town, even before it was established as a federal and state holiday.
We created an Agricultural Commission, a Cemetery Commission, an Energy and Environmental Task Force, a Historic Review Commission, an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, and a Land Acquisition and Preservation Authority.
We updated our Ethics Ordinance, Purchasing Ordinance, Employee Handbook, Senior Tax Relief Program, zoning regulations and Public Participation policy.
We created a Land Use Ordinance giving the voters control over the purchase, sale or lease of town property.
We added unions to town government.
We helped establish the Easton Community Center.
We facilitated creation of the Playscape and the New Friends playground. We celebrated our 150th and 175th founding anniversaries.
We also failed at times. We did not adopt a revised nuisance ordinance or a firearms safety
ordinance or make much progress in creating affordable housing. We failed to make safety
improvements along Sport Hill Road. We have not done much to broaden our revenue base or create alternative senior housing. We did not get Helen Keller’s image on the new twenty dollar bill, notwithstanding the joint bipartisan support from her town of birth leaders in Alabama. I hope that future Boards of Selectmen can move the ball forward on some of these ideas.
I have been so fortunate to have been an elected official for our town. That is a privilege and an experience I will always cherish and look upon with tremendous pride. The truth is that I have received so much more than I have been able to give. There are so many people I would never have come to know, so many friends and acquaintances that would not have come to be, and so many experiences I would never have had but for the chance to serve. My life has been so enriched by this work. If you have ever considered getting involved in some aspect of our community life – elected, appointed, paid or volunteer - I urge you to just do it. There is always a need and a place where you can make a difference. You will not be disappointed.
For me, it all began on a summer day in 1993. I can’t believe it was 30 years ago! A neighbor
invited my family to a backyard picnic. That it was sponsored by my political party was somewhat of an afterthought. I was assured it was just a social event – not political. Nevertheless, before the afternoon turned to evening, I was the campaign treasurer for our Board of Selectmen slate that year. And so it began…
Thank you for allowing me to serve you.