By SHERIDAN CYR
After a heated back-and-forth discussion, Southington Town Attorney and Deputy Town Manager Mark Sciota was appointed Town Manager at the Monday, Sept. 11 Town Council meeting. In a narrow, 5-4 vote, Sciota was selected to replace Garry Brumback.
Two key opposing arguments were repeated throughout the two-hour meeting by councilors and residents. One side argued that there’s no need for a search process since Sciota is the best qualified person for the position. The other side maintained that the process needs to be fair and open.
No one at the meeting spoke against Sciota’s qualifications for the position. Even those who opposed the immediate appointment stressed that Sciota would be a suitable, qualified Town Manager; they just wanted it to be done in what they referred to as an open and fair process.
In 2010, Brumback was selected as Town Manager over Sciota after a national search was conducted. This process cost around $12,000, Pocock said at the meeting.
“The nation-wide search last time was not conducted in spite of the local candidate. It was conducted because that’s what we do when we want to find the best candidate for the job,” said Pocock. “You should put our Town Manager in professionally, not in a popularity contest.”
Councilwoman Victoria Triano said, “It’s not a popularity contest. Mark Sciota’s resume is his life in Southington.”
The decision wasn’t made along party lines. Republicans Michael Riccio, Tom Lombardi, Paul Champagne, and Triano, along with Democrat Dawn Miceli, voted for the appointment. These five council members were also the listed in the recent FOI complaint regarding an “illegal meeting,” where they allegedly discussed voting for Sciota after finding out Brumback was to retire. They disputed the claim and argued that it was legal.
Riccio said, “In the business field, we set up a succession plan for all of this to happen,” referring to Brumback preparing Sciota, as Deputy Town Manager, for the position. “We have an incredible person to lead this community forward over the next several years. It’s Mark Sciota, and I’m very excited to vote in favor of him tonight.”
Miceli argued that appointing Sciota would be “seamless” and no cost to the taxpayers, adding the community “would benefit greatly” under his management.
“We don’t want to spend tax payers’ money needlessly,” Champagne said. He added that the best candidate for the position was already sitting in the room. He said that, in his opinion, a national search is unnecessary.
Republicans Cheryl Lounsbury and Edward Pocock III, along with Democrats Chris Palmieri and John Barry, voted against the appointment.
During public communications, residents were divided about the process.
Resident Phil Pomposi pointed to Chair Michael Riccio and said, “With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, all you had to do was call a regular meeting with all the council members and explain to them that we can’t afford to go out and do a search for somebody when we have an individual here who knows the town intimately, has been in town government for years and knows everything about this town.”
Southington Republican Town Council chair Brian Callahan sided with Pomposi. “Part of your responsibility as a good CEO of a company is to groom the person behind you to take your spot,” he said, adding that Brumback had done exactly that with Sciota. “We would be remiss if we didn’t elect Mark Sciota.”
Resident Stephanie Urillo spoke opposing the immediate appointment. “We don’t just give somebody a chance,” she said. “We select the best qualified individual for the job, and if that candidate is Mark Sciota then so be it, but it should be an open process.”
Lounsbury said there is no plan or contract for Town Manager going forward. She said there has been no discussion by the council as a whole on Town Manager salary, or length of term, and no discussion about replacing the position of Town Attorney and Deputy Town Manager.
In an email to the Observer, Brumback said Sciota will be interim Town Manager from Brumback’s departure date at the end of November until his retirement date of Feb. 1, 2018.
The council unanimously passed the following actions: Action on Housing Rehabilitation Program, Action on Household Hazardous Waste Program 2018, Action on Tax Abatement Request – 132 Town Line Road, Action on Chamber of Commerce Signs.
The council unanimously voted yes on item A: tax refunds. Riccio welcomed Tony D’Angelo to the Ethics Board, and re-appointed Gloria Brown, both for three year terms. The council tabled three appointments to Southington Enterprise Zone and Economic Development (SEED) committee.
To contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.