November marks a year since Fairfield voters chose Mike Tetreau as their first selectman, though he’d been on the job since the previous June, when Ken Flatto fled Town Hall for a state position. Tetreau took office by storm—two in fact. Hurricane Irene in August and then a fluke Halloween-ruining snowstorm made Tetreau’s an even more familiar name in town, and he coasted to a win.
Many Fairfielders knew him already. In addition to serving on the RTM, Planning-and-Zoning Commission, and the Board of Finance, Tetreau is a Fairfield native whose dad taught gym class and coached the Warde football team. Young Tetreau played quarterback for Ludlowe and helped his team beat dad’s three years out of four. One thing a quarterback tends to be pretty good at is communicating—and improving communication is one of Tetreau’s top goals. The other is boosting the town’s bottom line. To get an up-close and personal understanding of how Tetreau works toward his goals, Fairfield Living Magazine spent a (long, tiring) day tagging along with him.
Guests trickle into the conference room in Town Hall where Tetreau sits at the head of the table. Slate-blue pinstriped suit. Jacket off. Crisp, white-collared shirt, his initials stitched into the pocket. Red paisley tie. Shiny black shoes. Tetreau is sixty years old, trim, and stands at five feet eight inches tall. He banters about the recent heroes’ welcome for the Fairfield Little League team, which played in the Little League World Series preliminaries. “It was very Norman Rockwell,” he gushes. When the meeting starts, he lets the players around the table carry the ball. They include a health inspector, the Fairfield Beach Road Association, the police chief, and students and administrators from Fairfield and Sacred Heart universities. The point of the meeting is to help everybody get along at the beach.
Tetreau, arms on the table, leans in toward the conversation but doesn’t talk until the meeting ends an hour later. “We’re all trying to be a neighborhood down there,” he says, “different people living together with different needs.” He ducks into his office, scanning a dozen little piles on his desk. They cover everything from going green and trash pickup, to a constituent’s issue with an easement on the beach, to a disaster recovery plan for the town’s information systems, to commission vacancies. “You’ve got 35,000 bosses,” he says.
Tetreau sits down with Mary Carroll-Mirylees, Fairfield’s director of human resources. She’s the seventh department head he’s met with in a week to discuss goals. Mirylees spells out more than two dozen goals and objectives and her plans for implementation. Tetreau listens. “My job is to encourage them to do the right thing,” he says later. “Other times it’s to get out of the way and let them do their jobs.” His cell phone is silenced throughout the meeting, as it will be all day. Speaking of silent, neither party mentions a thing about Paul Hiller, the town’s finance director whose mysterious absence led to a host of rumors about his dismissal until Tetreau announced Hiller’s resignation in September.
Two guys in suits visit, recommended by state senator John McKinney. They talk about how they can engineer a building to lower its costs, simplifying the building process to the point of patronizing the first selectman, who graduated from Princeton University with a degree in civil engineering. Tetreau doesn’t mention this to them. Instead, he’s a gracious listener who tells them, “There’s no question we want to get better information in the hands of our building committees.” He suggests they review the Board of Education’s long-range facilities plan. “It’s online and it’s a public document,” he assures them.
Tetreau heads to Circle Diner and orders a grilled chicken sandwich and a mountain of crispy fries, which Tetreau paints with ketchup. When the quick lunch is over, he’s barely made a dent in the spuds. Tetreau says the red-splattered canvas serves to remind him to “keep things in moderation.” The fire chief is waiting when Tetreau returns to work. The meeting is off-limits, per the chief.
Dr. David Title, school superintendent, arrives for the pair’s bi-weekly meetings. The big topic: PCBs at Osborne Hill School. Tetreau and Title talk for an hour straight; Title ticking off topics and Tetreau responding, citing dates and figures without a note in front of him. “I think we need to get our arms around this and get it solved and then look at the big financial picture, how it affects the budget,” Tetreau suggests. There it is, the b-word again. How to wrangle the budget is Tetreau’s daily albatross.
Tetreau sits down with town attorney Stanton Lesser, whom Tetreau appointed in March after Richard Saxl resigned amid controversy over the third train station. No shadowing allowed.
The sun sets over Lake Mohegan as Tetreau joins recreation commission members in a tribute to Richard White, the public works director who retired after twenty-seven years of service. When the festivities wrap up, Tetreau dashes back to his Lexus, his shiny black shoes smudged in the beach sand.