BERLIN - The committee to find a permanent town manager is progressing with its search, Mayor Mark Kaczynski said Wednesday.
That report from the mayor comes after residents asked for an update, a closed-door session was held by the Town Council and one councilor questioned the legality of process during Tuesday’s meeting.
“Don’t let a party chair nationalize Berlin politics,” said Sam Lomaglio, during the public comment period of the meeting.
Lomaglio serves as the chairman of the Board of Finance, but said he was speaking as a resident of the town, saying a permanent town manager brings stability to the town and provides a spokesperson for potential new business and families.
“Put aside political differences. Work together. Hire a town manager. Put Berlin first and don’t forget about Berlin pride,” he added.
“I just want to say to Mayor Mark and members who were on the old Town Council, how the town manager search was done was absolutely disgraceful,” said Frederick Morley Jr., during the public comment period. Morley, a member of the Board of Education, said more taxpayer dollars have been spent on the search for a replacement than keeping the former town manager in place. “We had a great town manager,” he said.
Rich Paskiewicz, the Democratic challenger to Republican Kaczynski in the past November election, pointed out that the town manager search has been going on for over a year but no one has been hired for the position.
The town has been without a permanent town manager since Feb. 1, 2017, when former Town Manager Denise McNair vacated the job after signing a separation agreement with the council on Jan. 3.
Kaczynski, who approached McNair with the separation agreement a few weeks prior to her signing it, said the move was to bring about change.
A search committee, comprised of the members of the council and Human Resources Director Denise Parsons, has conducted two applicant searches to find a replacement since it was formed last year.
But by the time last year’s committee had narrowed the candidate pool down to three, a new council was soon to be formed with last year’s November municipal elections. The last council wanted to wait for the new council to make any decision, Kaczynski said.
Public Works Director Jack Healy has been interim town manager since McNair’s departure with various temporary, interim and acting town manager title changes. He was most recently named acting town manager for 150 days on Nov. 21.
A $3,000 monthly stipend is given to Healy, in addition to his $114,000 salary as Public Works Director, which he still fulfills while also filling in as acting town manager.
Healy was one of the three applicants but said Thursday he pulled his application last week due to the stipulation that the manager must reside in Berlin.
“I have to be a husband and a father first,” said Healy, wanting to tend to his family and not move from Litchfield.
He said he’s willing to continue working as the manager until a permanent one is hired and the workload of the two jobs has been fine. Deputy Public Works Director Jim Horbal has been helping Healy with the public works department.
Following the closed door session Tuesday, Kaczynski on Wednesday said all councilors were brought up to speed on the candidates, but declined to say anything else on the session.
He said he hopes to find a permanent replacement by the end of Healy’s acting town manager stint, which ends April 25.
If a permanent manager isn’t hired by then, he said Healy could be reappointed in an acting role. He also said an executive search firm could be hired to help, although he isn’t a fan of that option as the best candidate found still may not be liked by the council. The town received bids from nine executive search firms with fees ranging from up to $27,000.
“All options are possible,” he said.
During “councilor communications” - when councilors are free to comment on whatever they please - Councilor Karen Pagliaro asked corporation counsel if Healy’s filling in as town manger was over extended and in violation of the Town Charter.
Attorney Jeffrey Donofrio said the council was not in violation of the charter.
Kaczynski denied allegations that Anne Reilly, Republican Town Committee chairwoman, has influenced his decisions, saying the two don’t agree on everything. He also said the town has actually saved money by not paying a full-time town manager since McNair’s departure.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.