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View of Brodie Beach with bike rack & picnic tables in foreground and lifeguard chairs and water at the back

First Selectman’s Corner – July 2, 2021

I’ve got that old song in my head as I write this note.  It’s called “The Way You Do The Things You Do”… It’s an oldie that relates to the inner workings of our small town...

I frequently see posts on social media questioning why we (in town government) do the things we do.  The subject matter can run the gamut…from Town Hall operations to snow plowing, tree cutting and in the summer, of course, the activities at Brodie Beach.

Brodie Park is a special place, filled with natural beauty.  It’s a place that many residents care greatly about.  With that care, comes concern that is well placed.  Just a few days ago a post was placed on social media regarding the “reasoning” behind the locking of the gates at Brodie Beach.  It was well written and respectful…and challenged the very basic nature of the towns policy to close (and lock) the gate when the beach is closed.  The writer, who rents a boat slip, had not returned prior to closing and was “locked in” when the guards closed the beach and left shortly after 8pm.

The post posed the premise that locking the gate “is unnecessary because it accomplishes nothing.”  Respectfully, I beg to differ.  The rules in place are there for a reason and locking the gates achieves a lot – mostly related to public safety.  Before I explain further, let me describe the basics for those who may not know the “lay of the land”.

For those new to town, or new to the subject, the Town operates a regulated waterfront area at Brodie Park between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  The beach runs daily from 10am to roughly 8pm and the gate is closed and locked when the beach is closed.  It’s absolutely beautiful – and people pay fees for the privilege of access to the waterfront.  These fees range from $50 (seniors and veterans), $90 (local families) up to $335 (for non-residents).  Some folks choose to purchase more services like canoe and kayak storage space.  These racks cost $125 - $150.  Others can rent a boat slip with fees that range from $270 to $525 depending on the size of the boat.  All of these fees pay for the personnel that work at the beach and the operation is run as a “break-even” service.  In other words, the fees (not your real estate taxes) cover the costs.

The most frequent comment we hear (about Brodie Beach) is “why do we have to let all these out of towners in?” The answer is simple: it’s illegal to prohibit access to a waterbody in the State of Connecticut based on residency.  That said, the Town is able to charge a premium for non-residents (which we do) but we can’t deny access.  While I’m with those of you that would love to restrict access, doing so would get us into a lot of trouble with the lawyers.  Another common question asked is “why don’t we sell day passes?”  “Day Passes” tend to draw huge crowds on hot summer days or holidays.  We don’t allow day passes out of respect for our season pass holders.  The beach is busy enough without increased foot traffic.

Back to the subject at hand: the locked gates.  Understanding the “unseen” workings of town government can be difficult.  Most of the time decisions are guided by concerns of municipal liability: a topic often discussed at lightly attended Selectmen’s or Recreation Commission meetings.  I frequently tell people, I get paid to be “paranoid” for the Town to avoid lawsuits.  We consult with our insurance carrier almost daily for one thing or another (it’s that important).  It’s true….there are far too many lawyers that would love a portion of our liability policy – claiming the town didn’t have a “policy or procedure” in place to protect their client from harm or injury. 

Over the years, policies and procedures have been implemented that work and our record of success in avoiding injuries and claims has been very good.  Just a few weeks ago, New Hartford Superintendent Murphy and I had our annual “renewal” call with our carrier.  The representative gave our town and school operations rave reviews.  At the end of the call, she informed us that due to our excellent record, the forecasted increase in the premium scheduled to go into effect July 1 would be waived, a $5,500 savings.

I commented at the time, that it’s the “little things” that keep us out of harm’s way….paying attention to detail and contemplating the unintended consequences of our actions and always trying our best to avoid potentially dangerous situations.  Most people in town don’t realize how hard we work in this office to keep everyone safe (both in liability and workers compensation areas).  It’s an everyday challenge! 

Beyond the liability concerns, there is also the human element.  What’s a reasonable time to close the beach and lock the gates?  It’s been roughly 8pm for a while now (with adjustments made as the days get shorter).  Further, just how long should a town employee wait after closing time for someone who’s out on their boat?  If we made the closing time later (say 8:30pm or 9:00pm), would it provide an improved experience or just cost us more in manpower for a few people that like to say late?  Staff (and personal experience) tell us that most people leave the beach before 8pm.  Lastly, we have to ask the question: if someone can’t conform to the current closing time, would their actions change if the time was extended?  Something tells me….people would still be late and get locked in anyway.

As I stated earlier…the practice of closing the beach gates at 8pm is not new – and those folks that are out on the water know that if there’s a possibility they might be late, they need to park in the upper lot.

The beach closes at 8pm for the safety of the general public - and there is no swimming when the lifeguards are not on duty.  If people choose to ignore (or break) the rules, the town has reduced liability because of the implementation of this closure policy. 

Most everyone I know is happy with the system in place and our lifeguards and staff do a wonderful job of working to ensure the safe operation of the waterfront.  Thankfully we’ve been fortunate to have experienced no serious injury.  With that record of safety, history in itself lends credibility that the current system in place is working well and should remain unchanged.  

If you’re interested in discussing the parks or have some good ideas….I’m usually sitting in the middle of the field during the “Summer Concert Series”….which just happens to start on July 7th.  The first band up this year is “Music Gallery” who plays oldies…  Hopefully I’ve got a different song in my head by then.  But as usual, I’m always happy to discuss the operation of our great small town during the show.  Stop up at the park and say hello!

I continue to encourage all residents to make use of our town’s website to stay informed of upcoming town events.  Over the next week or so, we’ll be posting information on “Concert Series” and the new and improved “New Hartford Day”.  Please take the opportunity to “subscribe” to Town News and Announcements.  It’s easy and will bring information right into your home via email. 

Additionally, feel free to email me directly with any questions you might have (djerram@newhartfordct.gov), I’m always here to help.

Stay safe and enjoy the warmer summer weather!

Dan Jerram, First Selectman