Op-Ed: McGee back to bring transparency to city government

Shelton High senior Matt McGee of SHS Students Fight for Change speaks against the appointment of Beth Smith as superintendent during the public comment section of the Shelton Board of Education meeting at Shelton Intermediate School in Shelton, Conn. on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Saying they had a petition with 1800 signatures, McGee laid out his group's four part demands for the hiring search for a new superintendent.

Shelton High senior Matt McGee of SHS Students Fight for Change speaks against the appointment of Beth Smith as superintendent during the public comment section of the Shelton Board of Education meeting at Shelton Intermediate School in Shelton, Conn. on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Saying they had a petition with 1800 signatures, McGee laid out his group's four part demands for the hiring search for a new superintendent.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

Two years ago, I ran for the Board of Aldermen. I ran because I felt I had a unique experience and perspective as someone who had been inside our schools for the prior 13 years.

While I did not win, the experience of running at such a young age was life-changing for me. After the election, I stayed involved and co-founded an independent high school student group called SHS Students For Change. I am so proud to see that group still operating today, giving young people at SHS a collective voice while simultaneously encouraging involvement in the local political process.

Fast forward to May of 2021 and we all live in a completely different world. We are just beginning to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. People are getting vaccinated, schools and businesses are reopening and we are starting to gather with our friends and loved ones again. This progress has been made possible by the collective action we all took to keep those around us healthy and safe by wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance.

Throughout this pandemic, we repeatedly saw that when we all work together, we can affect positive change for our community and the people we love. This broad unification was one of the many factors that inspired the formation of Envision Shelton, a bipartisan group of community residents committed to putting people ahead of partisan politics and come together for the greater good of Shelton as a community. I am immensely proud to be a co-founder of this group and of the work we did last year to help defeat a charter revision that was simply bad for Shelton.

But the work to serve and improve our community is far from complete.

Our schools continue to be significantly underfunded. In the past two years alone, our school system has had to eliminate 39.5 positions, most of them teachers. As a result, we have seen rising class sizes, we have lost counselors and social workers who are critical to the well being of our students and our software and curriculum have become more outdated and in need of upgrade and repair.

Development in Shelton has shifted away from luring businesses that bring in high paying jobs, focusing instead on “spot zoning” certain areas to build retail and apartments through the use of PDDs. PDD usage strays away from our original development plan and far too often stands to benefit the developer more than the average resident. Shelter Ridge, the proposed development off of Mill Street and Bridgeport Avenue (in my ward), was only made possible due to a PDD zone change.

There is also the culture of dysfunction and corruption that has plagued our city and our services it provides for far too long. Shelton residents know this reality all too well, from an unreliable bus service for our kids, to the constant and growing tension between our first responders and our city administration, to the lack of transparency or community involvement in city-wide decision making.

This is not to say that Shelton is a bad town. Personally, I love it here, and as a young person just entering college, I have chosen to stay here and to try to do my best to strengthen and improve it. I would like to inspire and encourage more young people to make that same choice: To stay and enjoy all that our town has to offer while simultaneously getting involved to make it better. After all, I have learned the most from — and have had some of the best conversations with — those of you who have stayed for the long haul: Those of you who are second-, third- and fourth-generation Sheltonites. The pride you have in our town inspires me greatly.

We have so much potential and so many amazing people and resources to reach that potential. We can invest in our schools. We can hire a true economic development director and attract sustainable, high paying jobs to our city. We can finally rid Shelton of the culture of dysfunction and corruption that has plagued it for far too long and return city governance to the people — regardless of how much money you make or how much land you own or develop. We can once and for all take Shelton out of neutral and make it the driving force of economic prosperity for the entire Naugatuck Valley. We can do all of this and more while maintaining the low tax rate that we all enjoy.

And we can do this all together, in a bipartisan way, as one community.

I am excited to officially announce my second run for Shelton’s 3rd Ward Alderman (those who vote at Long Hill School) with the endorsement of the bipartisan Envision Shelton group. Over the next six months, I will focus on going door to door (masked and from a safe distance, of course) to meet with each of you and to listen, learn and talk about our collective vision for Shelton’s future. If you would like to get a hold of me before then, my phone number is 203-402-9503, and my email is mcgee4alderman@gmail.com.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

This will be a campaign of our community, by our community and for our community. We will debate issues, not personalities, and we will always put what's best for Shelton first and foremost. That is my promise to you.

Matt McGee is co-founder of Envision Shelton and Democratic candidate for Board of Aldermen, 3rd Ward.