Taking a look back at the top stories from 2013

By Combined Staff

As we wind down 2013, we think back on some of the top stories from the previous year.

An era ended in Southington with the passing of former town manager John Weichsel. The Smoron controversy seems as if it has reached its end. Republicans remained in control of the town following November’s municipal elections and two out of three potential charter changes failed at the polls.

Renovations at the two middle schools continue and full-day kindergarten was implemented district wide with the start of a new school year. Town officials are wondering what to do with the Beecher Street property and the SCCA is well into fundraising efforts to turn the Gura Building into an arts center.

Without further ado, here are some of the top stories from 2013.

Passing of an icon

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.

During his tenure, the population of Southington grew from 27,000 to approximately 42,000, all 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.

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. His wealth of knowledge on municipal government was asset for numerous local officials who were elected during his career.

Following his retirement in Southington, Weichsel served briefly as town manager in East Hampton.

Smoron controversy comes to an end

A Hartford Superior Court Judge ruled in March that longtime caretaker Samuel Manzo is the rightful heir to the Smoron estate.

Valley Spring Farm was owned by the Smoron family for decades and ownership has been in dispute since the death of Josephine Smoron in 2009.

In the 1990s, Josephine Smoron had a dispute with her brother, Stanley Smoron, about the future of the farm. He intended to will the land to local churches, but Josephine Smoron intended it to remain as farmland. She prevailed in the dispute and would go on to change her will to designate Manzo, a longtime farm caretaker, “absolutely and forever” as heir to the land.

More trouble started when local attorney John Nugent, a court appointed conservator, created two trusts, claiming that the land was “relinquished” to three churches – The Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Southington, the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in New Britain, and the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, also in New Britain. There was a plan to sell the land to developer Carl Verderame Jr. for the construction of a hockey rink, with the proceeds going to the churches.

The trusts were approved by former Southington probate judge Bryan Meccariello. Meccariello was censured for the handling of the estate in 2010.

Last June, the Statewide Grievance Committee ruled that Nugent violated ethic laws in his handling of the Josephine Smoron estate. The committee oversees the conduct of state lawyers.

Republicans keep control

Southington Republicans retained control of the town, keeping majorities on the various town boards, including the Town Council and Board of Education following November’s municipal election.

Though the faces may have changed somewhat, the Republicans kept a supermajority on the Town Council, with all six Republican candidates being elected. The three Democrats running for re-election round out the council.

The Republicans on the Town Council are led by Chairman Michael Riccio, Victoria Triano, Thomas Lombardi, Paul Champagne, Stephanie Urillo and Cheryl Lounsbury. Democrats Chris Palmieri, Dawn Miceli and John Barry round out the Council.

The Republicans also continued to outnumber the Democrats on the Board of Education, as the makeup of the board stayed the same, with all incumbents winning re-election. Republican Brian Goralski remains as chairman.

According to the Town Clerk’s office, 33.8 percent of the town’s 25,824 registered voters made their way out to the polls this past November.

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