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Monday, November 20 Local

Challenger candidate seeks to modernize Stamford Town Clerk’s Office

STAMFORD — Lyda Ruijter wants to bring the Town Clerk’s office into the digital age.

The former Parks and Recreation Commissioner, a Democrat, is challenging Republican incumbent Donna Loglisci for the record-keeping office after years of encountering holes in the system, she said.

“I come in from the helicopter view and then I narrow in on the details,” said Ruijter, who helped draft a mission statement and set of policies for the Parks and Recreation Commission during her four-year term with the city board.

During that process, Ruijter said information she needed was scattered in different places.

“It’s one piece of an item at a time, and I think it should be if you click on an item you should also find more context by clicking through,” she said.

Ruijter admits she doesn’t know all of the details of the extensive records kept at the Town Clerk’s office, but she called it the “widest repository of all kinds of information.”

“It’s very much at the intersection of what democracy should be,” she said. “So I’m looking for a way to get the people more involved, to get the information up and easily available.”

She wants to make this repository easier to navigate with a geographic information system (GIS) map, which is a wide-reaching digital system that stores, analyzes and presents interconnected spatial or geographic data.

The Town Clerk serves as a keeper of records for the city, ranging from land records and city maps to marriage and dog licenses.

Loglisci, who has been serving as town clerk for 16 years, declined to be interviewed.

In June, Hearst Connecticut Media reported Loglisci’s involvement in a criminal investigation into absentee ballot fraud in the 2015 municipal election. Two sources with firsthand knowledge of the case said Loglisci allegedly violated procedures that protect the integrity of absentee ballots, and now is a witness in the state’s attorney’s investigation.

The investigation found that Loglisci routinely provided blank absentee ballots to political-party workers, sources told Hearst Connecticut Media. State law dictates that the ballots go directly to voters.

Ruijter said she knows it’s difficult to unseat a longtime incumbent, but she thinks the city is ready for “fresh voices.”

“I hope to be part of a positive change, locally,” she said. “A lot of things are happening now, there are a lot of new perspectives emerging and I think that’s exciting.”

Political background

Ruijter, who is originally from the Netherlands, is no rookie on the campaign trail.

In addition to a run for Board of Representatives in 2013 — she lost, but found her way on the Parks and Recreation Commission instead — the 10-year Stamford resident also served as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

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“That was the start of my political career,” she said. “When I decided to become a citizen, I decided to also be active ... so here I was, a first-time voter, and I became a delegate for the Democratic Convention.”

She said she relishes in campaigning, and has already canvased the city aggressively in preparation for the November election.

In addition to her political background, Ruijter said her former career in academia as a college professor in Minnesota qualifies her for the data-heavy position in the Town Clerk’s office.

“I never knew that my academia plays into how I interact with the world, but as I was working on the policies for Parks and Rec it came into play,” she said. “It was this enormous thing, like ‘Where do you start?’ And before I knew it I had an index that was three pages long.”

She says her academic instincts, which help her to synthesize information and put it to use, will help her tackle an office filled with “unwieldy bunches of information.”

Ruijter also holds several academic degrees, including a master’s in sociology from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her academic instincts also led her to question the record-keeping process in Stamford while serving on the Parks and Recreation commission from 2013 to 2017.

“What I learned is the the purview of the Parks and Rec Commission is enormous — it is all things green, all things park, all things recreation,” she said. “What I discovered is most of the topics that came on the agenda were embedded in bigger questions.”

Ruijter found herself asking the question at the heart of her run for the office of Town Clerk.

“I felt right away like, ‘but what’s the context of these questions?’” Ruijter said. “Now I am in search of developing a plan to put all of the information we have at the local and the district level together and making a comprehensive, integrated plan for the whole city.”

nnaughton@stamfordadvocate.com; @noranaughton

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