By Ed Harris
John Weichsel, Southington’s first town manager, passed away on Friday, March 29. He was 80.
Weichsel was first appointed town manager in 1966 and served until early 2011. He was succeeded by current Town Manager Garry Brumback.
When the governance system was worked out in 1966, it was decided that the Town Manager would serve at the will of the Town Council, without any formal contract. Weichsel served without a contract for his entire tenure.
Before Southington, Weichsel worked in Michigan and New York.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but John was to be the perfect administrator of our town’s government in 1966 when the council-manager form was formed,” said long time friend Art Secondo, a former Town Councilor and president of the Southington Chamber of Commerce. “He survived years of musical chairs with departing and incoming councilors without a contract. His persistence in staying out of the limelight probably extended his career here because the town needed a full-time administrator and there was none better than John Weichsel.”
Secondo said that Weichsel was instrumental in his becoming head of the Southington Chamber of Commerce. Secondo said that Weichsel took him aside ten years ago when he began to rally support for the town’s economic development coordinator’s position and convinced him to apply for the open position at the Chamber.
“John insisted I’d be the right person,” Secondo said. “I respected his wisdom and decision. The rest is history.”
When he was first hired, Weichsel’s salary was $13,500. The population of Southington grew from 27,000 to approximately 42,000, in the 44 years of his leadership.
At his retirement announcement in the spring of 2010, Weichsel credited his staff and the numerous Planning & Zoning Commissions he worked with over the years for helping to successfully managing the town’s rapid growth.
In his role as administrator, he also dealt with tough labor relations, difficult mandates from the state, and the perennial problem of garbage.
In the 1980s, Weichsel took a lead role in creating the trash disposal plant in Bristol. He coordinated the efforts of several area towns and the plant still operates successfully to this day.
Andrew Meade, a former Town Councilor who served for 28 years beginning in 1969, recalled Weichsel as a no nonsense type of person who had the ability to foresee what the town would need in the future.
“He accomplished a great deal,” Meade said. “Southington really benefited from the years he spent with us. He left a tremendous legacy.”
Weichsel was known for his concise, often blunt, manner of speaking. Several former and current town councilors said they appreciated this quality, even if it occasionally frustrated the public.
“Being a manager is quite different than being a mayor,” Weichsel said at his retirement announcement. “There’s an old joke that someone in my position could not even be elected dogcatcher. I have the unpleasant task of having to tell people ‘no.’”
His wealth of knowledge on municipal government was asset for numerous local officials who were elected during his career.
Brumback, who took over for Weichsel in January 2011, noted that Weichsel was a gracious and professional man who helped him learn the ropes before his retirement.
“It’s really a sad day for Southington to have lost such an icon,” Brumback said.
Following his retirement in Southington, Weichsel served briefly as town manager in East Hampton.
The town flag has been lowered to half staff in his memory. No information on funeral arraignments were made public prior to press time.