To the Editor:
The Republicans on the Berlin Town Council marked the beginning of 2017 with an unprecedented display of pure power politics. Without notice, without cause, without deliberation, without a plan for what comes next, without even an explanation, the council Republicans ousted Berlin’s well-respected town manager, Denise McNair.
Not because of poor performance, not as a result of misconduct, not due to a bad evaluation, but simply because the four Republicans on the council decided to fire a longtime Berlin employee and resident, and replace her with a temporary town manager who lives in Litchfield and who, not surprisingly, is a long-time Republican elected official.
What is the cost of the Republicans’ decision to fire our town manager? In addition to their assault on the basic principles of governance and the reputation of an honest and hardworking town official, their unilateral decision and action has a price tag of over $65,000, plus three years of health benefits.
This six-figure cost was apparently necessary to buy the silence of our now-former town manager, as the severance agreement contains a non-disparagement clause. Not to mention the added cost of paying for a temporary town manager.
The timing of this surprise firing of Ms. McNair could hardly be worse. The town is at the beginning of the budget season, one that promises to be a challenging one. Now, instead of an experienced and skilled town manager guiding the community through the budget process, the task falls to one of our newest town employees, a non-resident who has never served as a town manager. Going forward, the Republicans have no search process in place, and with the signal sent to potential candidates that should they come to work in Berlin they can be dismissed without warning or explanation.
Aside from the significant practical problems created by this unexplainable, unilateral political decision, the real outrage is the process utilized by Republican council members; and the democratic processes that they ignored and trampled in their rush to fire an admirable town employee.
Consider. The Republican mayor admitted that he contacted the town manager to inform her that she was going to be removed from her position. And the Republican members of the council negotiated a severance agreement, involving town funds, all without informing the other members of the council - neither explaining their decision, nor seeking their input, nor deliberating with the other elected officials as to the best way forward.
The contempt displayed by the Republican members of the council to their Democratic colleagues, however, pales in comparison to the contempt they demonstrated to the residents and voters of Berlin with their actions. Republican council members do not feel that officials, placed into office by Berlin voters to represent them, are entitled to be informed about important decisions, let alone deliberate them. They do not adhere to the concept that town employees and residents should be treated with respect. And they do not believe that Berlin residents are even entitled to an explanation as to why our highest town official was summarily dismissed.
Democracy, deliberation and decency have always been hallmarks of the governing of our community. The fundamental principles that have, and should, support and guide our decisions and actions. Yet, with this blatant power play to remove Ms. McNair from her position, council Republicans have rejected these fundamental principles in exchange for political expediency. Running rough shod over deeply-held principles and shared norms to do what they want to do. Regardless of who is harmed or ignored in the process.
We are better than this. Despite this power play by the council Republicans, Berlin remains a deliberative democracy, governed by the will and wishes of the town residents. Not just by four members of the Town Council; not just by a few political operatives.
The Democratic members of the Town Council still believe that Berlin residents should be informed, respected and heard, and fundamentally believe that Berlin residents still hold these values.
We encourage the residents of Berlin to remind council Republicans of this essential truth.
Kristin Campanelli, Rachel Rochette, and Peter Rosso,
Berlin Democrat town councilors