First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker’s Letter to Bethel Voters

Dear Friends,

Rich and I are honored to accept the nomination for Selectman and First Selectman in the November municipal election. We thank you sincerely for the continued confidence you have placed in us.

A lot has been accomplished over the past few years, with your help and with the support of our voters. We have rebuilt or resurfaced more than half of our roads. We have upgraded our public water system using grants and low-interest public health loans. A system that was once almost $2 million in debt, losing tens of thousands of dollars per year and failing to meet state standards, is today one of the best public water systems in the state.

We have supported our nationally recognized public schools and helped launch the long-overdue renovations of our two oldest elementary schools. We secured grants that allowed us to complete the renovation and expansion of our beautiful public library, at no additional cost to taxpayers. We secured grants to add new sidewalks for safe walking routes to our schools and to our downtown shopping areas. We built one of the first municipal solar farms in the State of Connecticut to cut energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But perhaps the most important accomplishment was bringing a new level of fiscal discipline to town government. When Rich and I first took office, we discovered a “hand to mouth” budgeting system that held no regard for future planning. Our General Fund balance was dangerously low, our town’s pension plans were underfunded, and our bond rating was downgraded to “negative watch” due to the town’s weak financial health.

Today we use a 10-year forward planning cycle, updated annually. Our bond rating is AAA, the best possible, an achievement that previous Bethel administrations believed impossible. When Bethel sells a bond, the best investment firms in the nation line up to bid. Because of Bethel’s strong financial position, we consistently earn the lowest possible interest rates. Our General Fund balance and pension funds have been restored to health.

Some people seem to think Selectmen should be changed for the sake of change, like a pair of socks. They could not be more wrong. That belief simply reveals how little they understand about the reality of running a complex, multifaceted municipality of nearly 20,000 residents.

The position of First Selectman, especially, requires substantial public management experience, creativity and leadership. It cannot be learned in a few months, or even a few years. It requires in-depth knowledge of public finance practices, public health regulations, engineering, labor law, and effective negotiation techniques – knowledge that can only be gained through experience.

Rich and I have that expertise. We also have a vision for our future, with many challenging goals for the upcoming term:

  • Complete the original road reconstruction schedule, now in its tenth year and nearly finished.
  • Ensure successful completion of our school renovation projects, on time and within budget.
  • Finalize a new, 10-year improvement plan for our town parks and recreational facilities, within budget parameters set by voters.
  • Modernize our recycling center to provide more cost-saving waste disposal and recycling options for our residents.
  • Continue to pay down old debt to protect our excellent financial position and ensure sustainable budgets in the future.


Rich and I are ready and eager to continue our work for you and everyone in our town. We humbly ask for your vote this November, and we pledge to continue to work hard for you.

Thank you for reading.


Matt Knickerbocker

     First Selectman


BDTC Annual Picnic on July 28!

The Bethel Democratic Town Committee invites you to its Annual Picnic on Sunday, July 28th, 2019, from noon-4pm.

Bennett Memorial Park, 14 Shelter Rock Road, Bethel

Great Picnic Menu ~ Children’s Activities ~ Raffles from Local Businesses!

First-Time Attendee Discount!

Join the Fun! Meet Our Local and State Officials.

Sign up now! Purchase tickets HERE.


Matt & Rich Announce Re-election Bid

Matt Knickerbocker (second from left) and Rich Straiton toast with their wives, Adrienne Thompson (far left) and Sharon Straiton, after announcing their campaign.

Saturday, April 6 – BETHEL, CT


On Saturday evening, at the conclusion of the annual Bethel Democrats fundraiser banquet, Matt Knickerbocker and Richard Straiton took to the podium to announce to the 130+ supporters in attendance that they were officially beginning the campaign for their sixth terms as First Selectman and Selectman, respectively. “We love what we do, and there is no greater honor than serving the wonderful people of Bethel, as we have done for the past decade,” Knickerbocker said.


The crowd applauded the announcement, as they raised their glasses to toast the two Democratic town leaders. “We’re at a crucial point not just nationally or at the state level, but locally, too. Experience matters. Voters want to know that their country, their state, and their community is in capable hands during uncertain times,” Knickerbocker added.


Nick Vitti, chairman of the Bethel Democratic Town Committee, added, “The quality of life in Bethel, and the improvements that we all enjoy, are directly attributable to the leadership of Matt and Rich, their willingness and abilities to work across party lines, and their commitment to always putting the interests of the people of Bethel ahead of all else. We’re ecstatic they’re committed to running. The party is behind them 100%.”


“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and excited to continue our work for another two years,” Straiton said.


The municipal election will be in November. While that is several months away, please remember to vote on Thursday April 11 on the 2019-2020 Bethel Budget. Polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.


The Blue Wave Surges in Bethel



If you’re anything like me, you are still energized by the Democratic triumphs that took place last night.


Voters in Bethel spoke loudly about the leadership they want for our town, and the people they trust to best represent their values. They rejected reckless rhetoric and misinformation, and reminded everyone of who we are as a community.


Together, we supported and elected candidates that represent the best that Bethel has to offer.


Congratulations to ALL of our candidates for running successful campaigns that engaged and energized the electorate. We re-elected Matt and Rich to their fifth terms, and they will continue to move Bethel forward. We also gained four Democratic seats on the Board of Finance, in addition to re-electing Bob Manfreda to the board, making five of the seven members Democrats. Wow! And there are numerous other accomplishments from the top of the ticket down.


Our candidates, volunteers and supporters (many of whom were engaging in this process for the first time) did the work, made the calls, knocked on the doors and got the job done. The national events of November 2016 have certainly provided America with one notable positive outcome: the mobilization of a grassroots movement of doers who are willing to work as hard as possible to achieve their goals.


Even with these successes, there is still so much work to do! 2018 will be a crucial election cycle. Let’s stay energized, motivated, and encouraged.


But for today, take a moment to relax, regroup and reflect on the hard-fought victories from last night… We’ll need your hard work and commitment more than ever in the coming months.


Thanks for everything you did to make last night possible.


Raghib Allie-Brennan, Vice Chairman
Bethel Democratic Town Committee


2017 Bethel Municipal Election Winners:
First Selectman, Matt Knickerbocker (2,935) D
Selectman, Rich Straiton (2,652) D
Selectman, Paul Szatkowski (1,983) R


Town Clerk, Lisa Bergh (4,617) D


Treasurer, Pat Smithwick (2,446) D


Board of Finance:
Wendy Smith (2,453) D
Robert Manfreda (2,363) D
Dalene Foster (2,270) D
Robert Palmer (2,271) D


Board of Finance 2 Year Seat – Automatic Recount
Claudia Stephan (2,257) D or
Bill Slifkin (2,244) R


Board of Education:
Jen Ackerman (2,487) D
Melanie O’Brien (2,417) R
Jen Larsen (2,355) D
Nick Hoffman (2,209) R


Board of Assessment Appeals:
Will Duff (2,352) R
Fern Blair Hart (2,233) D
Gary Passineau (2,143) D


Planning and Zoning:
Patricia Rist (2,377) R
Kitty Grant (2,358) R
Steve Deuschle (2,356) R


Planning and Zoning Alternate:
Penny Kessler (2,369) D


Zoning Board of Appeals:
Richard Lawlor (2,445) D
Jay Streaman (2,425) R
Eileen Freebairn (2,243) D


Zoning Board of Appeals – 2 Year Seat:
Bobbi Jo Beers (3,417) R


Zoning Board of Appeals Alternate:
Cyndie McGuire (2,158) D


Inland Wetlands Commission:
Laura Ferguson (3,140) R
Peter Samardak (3,029) R
Ken Stevens (2,403) R


Inland Wetlands Alternate:
Lou David (3,071) D


Police Commission:
Kevin Cleary (2,540) R
Anthony Rubino (2,387) R
Richard Kolwicz (2,244) R


Democratic Board of Finance Candidates’ Joint Statement

Bethel is facing a perfect fiscal storm and the Democratic team of candidates for the Board of Finance—Dalene Foster, Bob Manfreda, Robert Palmer, Wendy Smith and Claudia Stephan—possesses the business, financial and municipal expertise necessary to weather the storm and to move Bethel forward.


The next budget cycle not only requires Bethel’s Board of Finance to wrestle with the typical issues involving the annual operating budget, but will also require important decisions on both the police station and school renovation projects. Specifically, the town must bond $14.5 million for the new, approved police station, for which construction is underway. The town is also faced with either renovating “as-new” (estimated net cost, $40 to $42 million) or patchwork repairing (estimated cost, $29 million) our Johnson and Rockwell schools. The successful town referendum was an important first step to renovating as new, but now Bethel must wait on the State’s final approval of its grant request.


The State of Connecticut’s budget troubles make the Board of Finance’s job more difficult. These budget woes have and will continue to result in less support from Hartford, jeopardizing funding the Town has relied upon in its immediate past. Given these realities, the Bethel Board of Finance cannot conduct business as usual. We are no longer merely managing a checkbook.


Rather, to successfully navigate the coming fiscal storm, the Bethel Board of Finance members must possess the financial expertise necessary to know how best to use the fund balance while maintaining the town’s AAA credit rating; the financial acumen to assess the interest-rate environment for purposes of paying back $12 million of short-term debt not related to the police station, issuing less-expensive new long-term debt and, possibly, re-bonding expensive existing debt; and the financial foresight to plan for what may come, such as establishing sinking funds for large critical purchases like fire trucks.


The Bethel Democratic candidates for the Board of Finance possess this expertise. We, the undersigned, are the team that will ensure Bethel successfully weathers the storms to come. Please support expertise in financial management by electing the Democratic team for the Bethel Board of Finance. Vote Row A on November 7.


Dalene Foster, Bob Manfreda, Robert Palmer, Wendy Smith and Claudia Stephan

Democratic Candidates for Bethel’s Board of Finance


Chairman’s Statement on Social Media Attacks Targeting Democratic Candidates

Social media is an amazing tool that, when used properly, allows people to interact with each other and their elected officials. It allows for the expression of differing views and opinions among the members of our community, which benefits us as a whole. For the most part, participants in online forums engage in very strong debate and hash out differences of opinion and policy, but with a sense of respect for each other and a general sense of decorum. Unfortunately, there is always an exception to the rule.

Recently, two of our candidates for local office were subjected to mean-spirited personal attacks that, in my opinion, cross the line of what is acceptable in productive engagement and discourse. These attacks even went so far as to target the candidates’ child – something that no responsible individual would do. That’s not who we are here in Bethel. Let’s remember that our kids are watching how we conduct ourselves. And let’s make sure the example we set is worthy of them.

Nick Vitti, Chairman
Bethel Democratic Town Committee


Bethel CT Today Returns!

Please enjoy the first installment of the Bethel Democratic Town Committee’s new web-based show intended to inform and educate viewers about the various goings on about town.

In this episode, First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker sits with host Janice Stevenson to share some valuable information about his and Rich Straiton’s announcement of their intention to run for re-election this fall, plus updates on projects around town, recent events, and more.


Bethel Democrats March in Bethel’s First LGBTQ Pride Parade

First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker with event organizers Hailey Gesler and Marcella Antunes

By: Matt Dalen-


The weather was gorgeous last weekend as Bethel Democrats joined hundreds of residents and visitors on Sunday for the town’s first Pride parade, organized by a pair of local 12-year-olds, Hailey Gesler and her friend Marcella Antunes. The two middle schoolers decided to organize the parade after doing a project on LGBTQ rights for English class.


The parade marched from PT Barnum Square and ended at the municipal center, led by a pickup truck adorned with a rainbow of handmade flowers. The Bethel Democrats marched not far behind the lead float.


A good time was had by all on the lawn of the municipal center with music, food, and vendors selling an assortment of goods and services. Artisans displayed their jewelry; photographers took commemorative pictures of attendees; a number of organizations had informational booths; and singer-songwriter Wrabel performed live.


BDTC Vice Chair Raghib Allie-Brennan with organizers

After giving people time to visit, Hailey’s mother Alexis, led off the speakers by welcoming everyone to the event. She was later joined at the podium by keynote speaker Chris Avery Bennet, an LGBTQ activist from Newtown who started the blog “Make a Difference” in high school, as well as Pastor Rachel Fay Beam of the First Congregational Church of Bethel, Katelyn Owens of the Triangle Community Center, and the Bethel Democratic Town Committee’s  Vice Chairman, Raghib Allie-Brennan.


“Today we are all part of a legacy that is changing not only our community, but the world for the better,” Allie-Brennan said.


The event’s website is at https://www.facebook.com/events/592225097650047


My First Bethel DTC Annual Dinner

By: Rick Magee- 

The Bethel Democratic Town Committee Annual Dinner took place on Saturday, April 8, at Michael’s at the Grove, and this year’s event was to honor Mary Gert McCollam. Mary Gert, a legendary figure in Bethel Democratic politics, was to receive the Bill and Jane Shannon Community Service Award.


We had never attended an event like this before, so my wife and I were a little nervous. Would we be instantly recognized as newcomers or outsiders? Would we be relegated to the unpopular table where we would be pelted with wadded up napkins and uneaten food?


Our fears were immediately assuaged when we pulled into the parking lot and saw a smiling Raghib. My wife and I greeted him and went inside, where more familiar faces welcomed us warmly. We saw First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker posing for photos next to Representative Elizabeth Esty. Matt gave us a friendly nod before turning back to the camera, and any remaining anxiety faded away.


Inside the spacious room, knots of people gathered and flowed, many of them familiar from town meetings or Bethel businesses. In one group, State Representative William Tong from Connecticut’s 147th district stood out as a recognizable face, while in another, we spotted State Representative David Arconti from the 109th. We made our way through the room, stopping to talk with several groups before picking up glasses of wine.


Shortly after this, Senator Richard Blumenthal arrived. As he shook our hands, he recognized us from a rally in Westport a few weeks ago. Later, we spoke to Representative Esty, and I mentioned some work of her that I admired, a bill aimed to help veterans with PTSD, and I mentioned a friend involved in that effort. She and her very capable staffer, Sherri Vogt, responded with enthusiasm, and I later learned that Sherri had contacted my friend to tell him that I had expressed my support for the bills. We worked our way back to our table, where we had a chance to talk to both state representatives.


Soon the dignitaries began to speak about Mary Gert’s contributions to her home town, and expressed their admiration for her commitment to Bethel with great warmth. Others took the microphone, and the message from each was the same: we are a community, and we make each other stronger. Only by working together can we accomplish anything, and Mary Gert stands as the embodiment of the local action ethos.


As we left at the end of the evening, my wife and I were impressed by the overall tone of the event. The politicians were sincere and warm, showing obvious interest in their constituents. The members of the public were neighborly and welcoming, enthusiastic about their community. Gatherings like this are crucial in a time when many of us are feeling distraught at the direction our country has moved in the last few months. Despite the chaos and fear in Washington, DC, we can come together as friends and neighbors and work together to improve our world, beginning with our own town.