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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Council weighs in on mayoral debate

As published in the Record Journal, Monday September 10, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD - Even William W. Dickinson Jr.’s most ardent supporters agree that the 29-year mayor can’t serve forever, but whether he’ll be succeeded by another elected mayor or a town manager is a matter of some debate.

Former Town Councilors Michael Brodinsky and Stephen Knight penned columns recently in the Record-Journal for and against, respectively, changing the town’s form of government by introducing a town manager.

“Town managers are specialists,” Brodinsky wrote. “They are all around us. They are doing good jobs. The town manager system is also a proven system of government across the country, too.”

Knight countered Brodinsky’s argument by saying many towns are moving from managers to elected chief executives.

“Rather than dilute authority and diffuse responsibility as does a town manager form of government, many municipalities are investing more of both in a single elected individual so that the government will have a chief executive directly answerable to the electorate,” he wrote. While professional municipal managers are the norm locally — with town managers in Cheshire and Southington and a city manager in Meriden — according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, managers oversee just 28 of the state’s 169 towns and cities. A change in Wallingford’s top executive would require a change in charter, a complicated, drawn-out process that was defeated by voters in 2009. “I’m open to exploring a town manager form of government, but it’s easier said than done,” said Democratic Town Councilor John Sullivan.

Sullivan said if Wallingford ever decided to go the town manager route there would be candidates “with a lot of experience in grant writing and managing small and medium municipalities.”

“That person would have some leverage over a local politician who may not be qualified,” he said. “It’s something we should be open to and look at.”

Democratic Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos said he believes a town manager would help town government run more efficiently.

“Anything that lessens the amount of politics involved in running the town I’m for,” he said.

But other officials disagree. Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau said the strong mayor form of government has worked well since its introduction in the 1960s.

“If it’s not broken, why do we need to fix it?” he said.

Though town managers may have professional training, Le-Tourneau said he believes the skills necessary to govern the town are “more common sense than anything.”

While he supports the current system of government, Le-Tourneau said he’s not opposed to term limits of four years for the mayor and councilors so more time can be spent working for the town rather than campaigning.

Democratic Councilor Jason Zandri said he likes the idea of electing a mayor every two years, but would like to see the salary increased. Dickinson has not received a raise since at least 2002 and earns $73,140. “With what we are paying people, we’re not getting the candidates because the pay isn’t well enough,” Zandri said.

Zandri said, while he disagrees with Dickinson on some issues, a mayoral form of government “gives people more of a say.”

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