Known for effort to widen Route 7, former Ridgefield lawmaker returns to public service

RIDGEFIELD — John Frey admits he didn’t expect to return to public service so soon. After leaving his seat in the General Assembly — which he held for more than two decades — earlier this year, Frey is returning to his roots as the newest member of Ridgefield’s Board of Police Commissioners.

Frey’s first brush with local government coincided with town implementing parking enforcement in the 1980s. As former chairman of Ridgefield’s parking authority, he worked with then Police Chief Tom Rotunda to roll out the program and pick uniforms for personnel.

Frey, 58, was elected to represent Ridgefield in the state legislature in 1999. Over the course of 22 years, he worked with four governors, five speakers of the House, two first selectmen and four chiefs of police. By the end of his tenure, he was the town’s longest-serving state representative.

“In that position, you work with all town agencies, but I worked the most with the police department,” he recalled. “I have a great relationship still with the (state) Department of Transportation, and I hope to bring that to the benefit of the town.”

One of Frey’s signature accomplishments from his time in Hartford was pushing the effort to widen Route 7 from two lanes to four between the Route 35 intersection in Ridgefield and the ramp up to Interstate 84 in Danbury. The two-lane highway was a source of frustration to thousands of drivers and averaged three fatal accidents a year. The $62 million project was completed in fall 2011.

In an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media last summer, Frey said, “There’s been one (fatal accident) since the road’s been widened.”

While in office, Frey was a ranking member of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, served on the Public Safety and Security Committee, which deals with police matters, and for eight years, was the ranking Republican on the subcommittee for transportation bonding.

Although he voted against the state’s police accountability bill, which took effect last fall, he supported the section mandating body cameras for police officers, which was included in the Ridgefield Police Department’s proposed budget for the upcoming year.

As he adjusts to the board’s “fast learning curve,” Frey hopes to address that item and other issues during his two-year term. He spoke of potentially bringing structural improvements to the department’s headquarters, which is housed in a 96-year-old residence that previously served as state police barracks between the 1920s and 1970s.

“The facilities are grossly inadequate for today’s needs,” Frey said.

While the topic has been discussed for years, Frey hopes to talk with his fellow commissioners about plans for an addition to the building or creating a joint station for the police and fire departments, which is also “in cramped quarters,” he said.

Moreover, Frey is focused on maintaining the town’s reputation as one of the safest in the state.

“We are excited to have John Frey join the Board of Police Commissioners,” Chairwoman Marcie Coffin said in a statement. “John’s knowledge of the legislative process and experiences with the Department of Transportation will be invaluable as we navigate the police accountability bill and continue to work to improve traffic conditions around town.”

Noting the position is unpaid, Frey said he’s long admired the way the commission functions, and believes his prior experience has prepared him well for the duties involved.

“I just really like public service,” he added.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com