An Interview with Dean-Turned-City-Councillor Tracee Reiser

Photo Courtesy of Conncoll.edu. Tracee Reiser receiving award from mayor of New London.

Andrew Lopez (AL): You seem especially well connected with people from all walks of life in and around New London. How did you become so well connected in this area?

Tracee Reiser (TR): I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood in New London. I went to New London Public Schools and formed life-long relationships. I left New London and lived in Boston, Tucson and Mexico, before returning to New London and “settling” down.

I engaged with community members, joined activist organizations such as the Women’s Center (now Safe Futures), Centro de la Comunidad, NAACP and the Hispanic Alliance. I worked with task forces and other residents for educational excellence and equity and participated in the Democratic party. I built strong relationships with people of different faith communities in New London. I worked with many community partners, students, staff and faculty for over 25 years at Connecticut College putting the liberal arts into action in a global society, with a focus on New London.

We created many partnership programs that advanced college student development and the community in mutually beneficial ways. These partnerships provided broad and deep opportunities to build relationships and make change.

AL: Last year you were the Senior Associate Dean and Director for Community Partnerships and Associate Director of the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy at Connecticut College. How did you become a member of the New London City Council?

TR: I recently retired as Senior Associate Dean and Director for Community Partnerships this past summer after nearly 26 years at the College. I am still engaged in a few College projects, including the partnership with One Book, One Region and the Summer Read program. We are so excited that author Yaa Gyasi is coming to Palmer Auditorium Sep. 27.

In August, one of the members of the New London City Council moved to Florida and the procedure to fill the vacancy is for the other six members of the City  Council to appoint an interim Council member to serve the rest of the term, which in this case is until December 2017.  Several people in the New London community came to me and asked me if I would consider serving.

They indicated I was a community builder, effective planner who is able to get things done, have contributed in many ways to New London as an activist, and engaged effectively in City and human service boards, commissions and resource development strategies. I said I was honored to be considered and indicated I would be willing to serve in the short term position. The City Council received the recommendations from community members, agreed with them that I would be a good City Council member,  and voted unanimously to appoint me to the City Council. I was sworn in on Sep. 5 at the City Council meeting.

AL: Your current position on City Council indicates that you are acting chair of Public Works, while other city council members have other titles, such as chair of Public Welfare, chair of Public Safety, and chair of Education, Parks & Recreation. What exactly do these titles mean and what specifically do the City Council Members do in each of these capacities?

TR: These titles each cover a Committee with a body of work in the City of New London. For example, Public Works covers areas such as the infrastructure of the City – streets, sidewalks, water, sewerage, lighting, garbage removal, snow removal, maintenance and repair of City buildings and land. In addition Public Works includes the Water Pollution Control, Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, and Port Authority.  

Each City Council member is the Chair of one of the seven Committees and is also a member of two other committees.  The Chair is the liaison with the City Department heads and with the related commissions and boards.  The City Council Committee Chair member meets with the related entities and organizes the information and body of work. She or he holds Committee meetings to get public input, inform the Council members and prepare them to approve, deny and or vote on budgets, ordinances, and other legislation. The seven Committees are: Administration, Economic Development, Education Parks & Recreation, Finance, Public Safety, Public Welfare and Public Works. Each Committee has four to seven assignment areas.

AL: Like other Council Members, I understand that you are also Council Liaison to a number of additional Boards and Committees, including the Water Pollution Control Authority, the SECT Water Advisory Committee, the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and the Port Authority. There are so many of these smaller organizational bodies inside our city government that it is hard to keep track of them all. What should the people of New London know about these various Boards and Committees, how they function, and how to support their work in order to improve living conditions in New London for everyone?

TR: My suggestion would be to review the the various Boards and Committees, research a little about what ones there are and what they do. You can go to the website, found at www.ci.new-london.ct.us, and there is information there about the boards and committees.     

After reviewing, select the areas you are passionate about or that you would like to learn more about. Volunteer to serve on a board or committee or find out the schedule of when they meet and attend a meeting. A community best thrives when all the people within the community are actively engaged.  I encourage people to get involved with an open mind and open heart. Be willing to build relationships and understanding and then work together for improvements.

AL: If it is true that each of the City Council Members works a full-time job in addition to serving on City Council and various committees, how do they ever get anything done?

TR: Five of the seven City Council members have full-time jobs in addition to serving on the City Council. They work very hard and often meet in the evenings and weekends.

AL: Do you have any advice for those new to New London, or new to city politics, who may be curious or passionate about getting engaged and active around certain issues?

TR: Please do get engaged. Check out the website as noted above to see the various boards and commissions and attend meetings. Also, City Council, Board of Education, the Democratic, Republican and Green Party Town Committee meetings are open to the public and welcome participants. Connect with a City Councilor and or Mayor Passero, who is a Connecticut College alum. There are so many opportunities.  Also, for students at Connecticut College, the Community Partnerships office, in CRO 217  has much information and many local connections. They would be happy to advise you on ways of getting engaged and active around issues.

AL: Do you have any particular thoughts on the relation between local politics and local media coverage? What role if any do you imagine a small college newspaper like The College Voice might play in calling attention to important issues in city politics?

TR: I read The Day (newspaper) everyday and I encourage anyone who lives in New London to read this local paper. It has some national and world news as well as local coverage.  I don’t always agree with positions promoted by some of the columnists and reporters, yet it is a good source of local information, not only local politics but the economic developments, the cultural happenings and some fine human interest topics.

I think The College Voice could develop a city politics beat and a New London events beat. The Voice writers and photographers could develop a working relationship with people in New London who would inform them of what’s happening in those areas. Also, the Voice might have a liaison with the College’s Community Partnerships, Holleran Center, and the Global  Commons to keep informed of what’s happening in the area of Connecticut College/New London community partnerships.