By JEN CARDINES
While some town councilors believed the appointment of a new town manager would be on the Aug. 21 special meeting agenda, the item did not come up Monday night.
However, the topic did not remain untouched as residents broached it during public comment.
Current town manager Garry Brumback announced his retirement at the year’s end. The council is responsible for hiring someone to take over. However, controversy has marked the proceedings.
Democratic Board of Finance member John Moise filed a Freedom of Information complaint on Aug. 8 because he felt that council chair Mike Riccio held an illegal meeting to secure five votes in favor of hiring Town Attorney and Deputy Town Manager Mark Sciota as the new manager. During Monday’s council meeting, Riccio said no illegal meeting took place.
But some residents thought otherwise.
“I think when the town manager issue comes up…you should all recuse yourselves that were at that meeting because you are now prejudiced and you will not give us a fair shake in who you are going to hire,” said resident John Campbell. “You will not put the town’s interest first you will put your politics first.”
Jack Perry, who is running unaffiliated for a council seat this November, told the council that they shouldn’t take action until after the election.
“I don’t think that the issue with the new town manager should be addressed by this council,” Perry said. “There’s only 10 weeks left in your term. I think the Southington people should elect who they want to voice the Southington residents’ concerns and hire the right person, if it’s Mark Sciota or whoever.”
In reference to Perry’s comments, Southington resident Joe Landrie told the council he thoroughly disagreed.
“I don’t care if you have two weeks remaining in your term or 14 or 24. You can take the action right now and you have a very viable replacement sitting right there in the form of Mark,” he said, pointing to Sciota. “Take some action and appoint Mark Sciota as our town manager.” What ensued during the meeting on Aug. 1 is not known. There is no documentation by those in attendance and no one has discussed it publicly. Brumback is only the second town manager in Southington history. He followed John Weichsel’s four-decade run. According to Southington’s Human Resource Department – which was established under Brumback three years ago – there are no policies or procedures for hiring a town manager, as it is completely in the hands of the council. Steve Leggett told the council during public comment they need to establish a process so that when the next manager retires, they won’t face the issue again. “I think it is incumbent upon this council to come up with a detailed process that includes the selection of a qualified search firm with references and successes,” Leggett said. “Do the process and do it right. The process is the solution.” Councilors Chris Palmieri (D), John Barry (D) and Cheryl Lounsbury (R) voiced their concern and disappointment in Riccio for not consulting the council before changing their regularly scheduled Aug. 14 meeting to a special meeting on Aug. 21. They believed the regular council meeting date was changed to ensure that people voting in favor of Sciota would be there, but the action never appeared on the agenda. “I am appalled by the fact that this meeting was changed to secure enough votes for a major decision that will be before us,” Palmieri said Monday night. “I do not feel that a decision of this magnitude should have been up for consideration tonight and find it unacceptable that votes were being planned out while excluding council members that may share a different opinion than Mr. Riccio. Fortunately, one of the five votes that was originally planned agreed that it was wrong to have this item on the agenda tonight without all nine council members present.” Lounsbury said it “really does seem to indicate backroom dealings” and that throughout her council tenure, she has “never faced that kind of action” from council chairs on both sides of the aisle.