Second Look: Southington never needed an outsider for a good town manager

Published on Wednesday, 24 July 2019 16:18
Written by

Art Secondo

Persons who run for office after weeks of campaigning, planning events to attend, mapping out strategies, and then who are later elected, infamously become known as politicians. The title carries with it a degree of suspicion from the public and many believe the term ‘politician’ aligns itself to self-service, greed and glory.

Yet, from Washington to rural communities across our nation, those in public office diligently try to portray themselves simply as public servants voting on issues for the majority, for the benefit of the majority.

I served for 10 years as a volunteer, elected councilman under the guidance of the late and esteemed town manager John Weichsel. He was hired in 1966 to become the administrator of Southington, a town of less than 15,000 residents. At the time, the former group who led the town as representative town members decided decisions should be made by an outsider- someone not affiliated with the town. They decided to pay him well and assist him in residing in town.

Officials at the time reportedly ran a “nation-wide” search hoping for the best candidate. Over the years this nation-wide search apparatus became a nice cover-up to convince the citizens that, for their benefit, no local should or could manage the governmental tasks of Southington.

The 1966, group did the right thing. Nobody at the time believed there were any candidates locally to administer the day-to-day functions of our town. In retrospect, they were correct. Weichsel remained here for more than four decades, guiding the town as the Moses of Southington. Then it was decided he needed an assistant, and also an attorney, to be advisers or to be available upon an emergency exit from his office. Eventually a local person was hired, who is now town manager after patiently waiting for the promotion.

For decades local citizens have been hired to be municipal employees and have served their fellow citizens with distinction. It should have been obvious that Southington had those kinds of potential leaders and devoted employees without the nation-wide search process.

I don’t agree that hiring within the community extends itself to nepotism or favoritism. The town has exploded with people of energy, intelligence and loyalty, and should be considered before any outside search is planned.

Being town manager is a typical municipal position that allows good income, notoriety, prestige and the freedom to govern without constant supervision. The town manager in our town answers to nine volunteers who have their own jobs and aren’t sitting at town hall with a daily report card on when the manager extends his lunch hour, fails to attend a municipal function or takes an extra day off.

I watched Weichsel work, and as a reporter shadowed him to see his strengths and weaknesses. As Chamber of Commerce President, I met and conversed with him on numerous projects. We met socially at softball games and at banquets. Weichsel wasn’t a public relations advocate. When he felt discussion was over, he stood up from his chair and said thank you and goodbye. But he was an extremely intelligent man who seldom was absent from his desk. He was blunt but knew everyone’s personality and how to push his agenda.

Recently the council by a 5-4 vote, and decided not to include $10,000 for our town manager to allow a stipend for an unnamed town employee to begin homework on becoming the assistant town manager and, eventually, his successor.

The town manager’s job is demanding, but comforted by the fact that unless they rob a bank, he or she will sit in that chair for as long as they desire. A town manager seldom has to make a speech before more than 20 persons. A town manager has a number of resources at his/her disposal at any time.

The bottom line is Southington has people with the qualifications and talent to be a town manager. Those “nation-wide searches” have become nothing more than a smoke screen to discourage local participation.

While town managers like to adhere to a code and specific training, there is no obstacle that would stop a municipality from making a local become town manager.

There are several who could handle the job. Economic Development Coordinator Louis Perillo should be a leading candidate.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Southington Herald on Wednesday, 24 July 2019 16:18. Updated: Wednesday, 24 July 2019 16:21.