1) Filling the Town Manager position sparked controversy about the process for hiring top positions. What was your position? How did you handle it (incumbent) or how would you have handled it (challenger)?
2) What was the most important issue faced by the Town Council over the last term? How did you handle it (incumbent) or how would you have handled it (challenger)?
3) What do you see as the most important issue for the Town Council over the next term? How will you handle it if you are elected?
Here are their answers (Candidates are grouped in the order they will appear on the ballot):
MEET THE DEMOCRATS
1) A little accountability goes a long way. The process by which our new Town Manager was selected left a bad taste with many Southington citizens, which I believe was preventable. It should have been discussed in public with the opportunity for resident and council-wide input. Our elected officials meet in public for several reasons including, among others, accountability and transparency. During Town Council meetings, the public is welcomed to give feedback. Meetings are video recorded and broadcast for the public to watch. There are no secrets here. Our next Town Manager, Mark Sciota, is a well-qualified and trained individual who has served under both our previous Town Managers. It is unfortunate he comes into office with the associated veil of secrecy. As a member of the Town Council, I would have pushed for open discussions that involved all members of the council, and invited the public’s input in the important decision of selecting our next Town Manager. We all live here. We have a right to know how decisions that affect us all are made. Open communication is in our town’s best interest.
2) Ethics reform. The most important change in the new code was the requirement that public officials complete a business disclosure form. Asking our town officials to disclosure private business interests is uncomfortable. It’s almost like asking them to get a medical exam in public. As an attorney, conflicts of interests are something I deal with constantly. Business disclosures help prevent conflicts of interest and instill a sense of transparency in our government. It makes our elected officials sit down and consider whether their votes and actions in local government create a business or personal benefit. The debate regarding our town’s ethics reform was heated and unpleasant. I attended meetings at the committee and council-wide level. As a Town Councilor, as I did a member of the public, I would have vocally supported the needed reform. Our new ethics code will help give our citizens piece of mind and brings our town’s ethics code to where it should be in 2017.
3) Budget. The bulk of the next Town Council’s work will be in carefully reviewing our spending, supplementing our education budget. If our $21 million in education cost sharing funding does not come through, and maintaining the quality services our town has provided to our senior citizens, school children, and first responders. As a Town Councilor, I will carefully consider each item our Board of Finance proposes from a business owner’s background. My goal will be to keep Southington affordable for those who have settled here and are raising or will raise a family here. I will consider how to keep our faithful residents in Southington, and not swept away with the massive exodus southward. I look forward to listening to my fellow citizens, researching and considering input from all sides and sources, and doing the work needed to effectuate an affordable town budget.
1) I voted to appoint Mark Sciota. I believe Sciota’s appointment was the most cost-effective, the most seamless in terms of a transition for our community, and was the most intelligent decision given Sciota’s 12 years of service to the town. To be clear, I supported Sciota’s appointment as Town Manager seven years ago and had interviewed him at that time. In the years that have followed, my support and confidence in Sciota was only strengthened as Sciota has been a part of every decision, meeting and undertaking. One needed only to look out on the audience during the vote and see the plethora of town employees and department heads who showed up in support of Sciota.
2) Finances. Some of the biggest challenges we have and will face are monetary—no surprise given the current unstable economy of our state. We have so many amenities in our town, but they cost money to maintain, sustain and support. What are the priorities—what are our needs versus wants? If you lined up 100 residents and asked what we should fund, we would receive 100 different answers given that person’s demographics, life situation, etc. As a Town Councilor, the onus is on me to properly assess our needs, i.e., public safety, infrastructure, education system, etc. For every new endeavor I undertake I often go into it think ing, “How can I not use tax dollars to obtain my goal?” We as a council also need to implement this line of thinking and do a better job securing private funding for certain projects and initiatives.
3) Land use. Ensuring that our town is a desirable place to live and do business—That will be a result of careful planning, commitment to our education system and providing tools to our business community. We need to evaluate how our continual growth has impacted the quality of life for our residents. To that end, I am a proponent of open space and better zoning practices. I’d like to see what little land we have left in town be properly managed and coordinated as to whether it should be developed or preserved. We need to better realize the long-term economic benefits of keeping land free from development. In order to accomplish that objective, our open space budget needs to be replenished in a more perpetual manner and we need to prioritize those tracts of land to stay proactive. I am also committed to making Southington an attractive place to visit. The fact is, venues such as our new arts center and our drive-in bring in non-Southington patrons and that’s important to our local economy. We need to continue along this vein with our offerings, which is why I supported the planned sports complex and the tax incentive for breweries and similar establishments. We should also use every tool available to support our local businesses—and that involves reviewing our municipal bidding policies to ensure that companies are treated fairly and offered opportunities to provide services within their own community.
1) I believe Mark Sciota’s leadership and service to Southington is unmatched. As a life long resident, Sciota understands the fabric our community. He understands the people, the issues, the history, and Southington’s culture. He has dedicated his career to improving our town and he has done his job with integrity. I cannot think of a more qualified person for Garry Brumback’s successor. I also believe in open and transparent government. We live in a town of over 40,000 people who pay taxes to fund the operation of our municipality. Residents I’ve spoken with, who fully supported Sciota, have shared that, while they believe he is more than qualified for the position, a formal process would have served to officially validate his selection. I agree with these supporters who argue that the potential shadow over Sciota’s appointment may hamper his transition to his new role, and impede the progress that his skills and experience should allow him to make as our Town Manager.
2) Code of ethics revisions. I believe the most important issue faced by the Town Council during the last term was the revisions to the Southington Code of Ethics, which now requires town officials to disclose information related to property ownership and financial interests. I feel strongly that for our town government to function with the confidence of the citizenry, officials must proactively take measures that demonstrate they are free from conflicts of interest in their roles. During my professional career, I have served on several non-profit boards of directors for which I have been required to disclose financial information. While at first this seemed intrusive, I realized rather quickly that the policies were in place to protect me in my role as a director. To me, it makes sense to follow similar procedures for Southington’s leaders. Elected and appointed officials should view access to the Town Attorney for review of their individual circumstances as a protection and benefit of their service. Many supporters I have met with share this belief and consider the updated code a positive step forward.
3) Growth and development. The number one issue that Southington residents have raised during my campaign has been a concern over the balance of growth and development in our town, in particular the ongoing commercial development on West Street and Queen Street. I have shared with residents that I believe the key to balancing economic growth and commercial development is a smart development approach, which would allow for development options that maintain Southington’s hometown feel. My ongoing advocacy for the renovation of industrial sites, like we have seen with the Clark Brothers building and Factory Square complex, supports this strategy. To this end, as a councilor, I would prioritize pursuing the development of the Ideal Forging property as a mixed-use commercial and residential project. Additionally, as a proponent of smart development, I would advocate for the expansion of open space. We should view our residents’ enthusiasm for the linear trail, town parks, and drive in as justification for this ongoing investment in our community.
1) I have never just been given a job. I have always had to interview for any position, and a town position should be no different. Mark Sciota may be the most qualified candidate, but now we’ll never know. I would not support holding a costly nationwide search, but a general canvas of the Northeast using a job posting would have created a process. The process is important to proving transparency and in the best interests of the town. It could also be argued that Sciota deserved a fair and open process, and that he would be an even more effective leader after having persevered.
2) Budgeting. Southington has seen the mill rate go up 31 percent over the last eight years. In those eight years, the general budget has grown 32 percent and education has grown 14 percent. It is our fiscal responsibility to examine that growth, be transparent about expected expenses, and make every attempt to manage those expenses to meet a balanced budget without increasing the mill rate. The consumer price index rose merely 13 percent during the same period. I would have made sure our investment in our town, which was well in excess of inflationary pressures, was necessary, well informed, and in the best interests of all citizens.
3) Transparency. An understanding goes a long way. Southington residents want to know thier tax dollars are being spent wisely. They welcome the details and background in how budget allocations are decided. Given the proper information, they can provide educated comments and suggestions. If elected, I intend to provide the community with that information. Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it.” I will work to fully understand every issue and make an honest educated decision.
1) During my tenure on the council, hiring the current Town Manager was one of the most important decisions I made because that person is essentially the CEO of the town. My position related to the Town Manager was that there should have been a hiring method similar to the manner we followed when hiring Garry Brumback. My vote was in no way a reflection of my confidence in Mark Sciota or his ability to serve as our next Town Manager. Instead, my vote was based upon principle. It was based upon my firm belief that we should have an open, honest, transparent process inclusive of all council members before any decisions are made. I believe the way the decision came about was a disservice to our community and to Sciota. I asked for us to have basic answers before we were asked to vote, instead we voted without any discussion of the appropriate contract, salary, or restructuring plan. I offered alternatives such as a regional or local search process rather than a national process. I reached out to council members from three other towns looking for a Town Manager (and all three had a formalized process in place). I asked for compromises such as having two separate votes—one for whether or not to have a process and then, if that failed, a vote to hire Sciota. This would have allowed us to celebrate him in his new role by appointing him with a unanimous vote. I have stated this before for many prior council decisions, but I feel we have a responsibility to be transparent with any decision before us and will not take part in any decision, especially of this magnitude, without due deliberation.
2) Code of ethics changes. During my last term on the council, it became clear that we needed to change the language related to our ethics ordinance. I am very proud of the work I did this past term to strengthen our ethics ordinance. As a member of the ordinance review committee we began by reviewing the then-current language and compared that to surrounding towns and the state. We offered numerous public hearings at different times in order to accommodate residents’ schedules. Public hearings were also offered at the council level. As a result of many suggestions, modifications were made. This was a bi-partisan effort, as I worked closely with two Republican council members in order to reach our final agreement.
3) Planning financially. Taxes and spending have continued to increase. This puts a burden on our residents. With the uncertainty of the state budget, I think it is critical for Southington to plan accordingly. I am constantly looking for ways to maintain quality town services that benefit our residents while making them affordable. We must actively plan for the best way to sustain or improve our infrastructure so it does not cost us more in the future. I will continue to focus on economic development and explore additional sources of revenue in order to ease the burden on taxpayers.
1) As an independent voice on the Town Council, I disagreed with some of the other council members who opted to hire a town manager without conducting any interviews or questions in a formal process. I supported a hiring process that required an open, transparent and fair system. I did not and will not participate in backroom deals and private meetings. I will always support a process that demands fairness. Southington needs more transparency, including access to boards and commissions. I have always advocated that more participation by residents in local government is necessary to encourage a “by the people, for the people” dialogue.
2) Code of Ethics. The most important issue faced by the Town Council was updating Southington’s code of ethics. I was instrumental in advocating for the passage of a bipartisan update to the ethics code. This passage did not come easily, however. There were prolonged delays and empty scare tactics to silence members and confuse the public. I rose above the political bickering and never wavered from my commitment. I stood up to party insiders and was not influenced by political distractions. It is my hope that elected members work for the betterment of Southington and speak up against special interest groups who only care about their agenda. I am not encumbered by an old culture, historic entanglements, and the status quo.
3) State budget. The most important issue Southington faces is the dire situation of our state’s economy. Our town will most likely receive less funding from the state. If this happens, we will either have to cut spending or raise taxes. I am not a proponent of raising property taxes. Regardless of party affiliation, Southington needs prudent fiscal management. I will be advocating for our town to reduce spending and to put our taxpayers’ needs first. I ask for your vote and thank the thousands of taxpayers who have voted for me in the past. My ballot position is 6A – John N. Barry.
MEET THE REPUBLICANS
1) I think it is important to have a succession plan for any top position. I also think this plan should include some transparency balanced against the cost of the candidate search. I am not privy to what was done in the instant case; however, it appears the correct person was hired for the job.
2) Budget. I think any time you have a town the size of Southington pass a budget holding the line on taxes, it is an important issue. We can never let our town become like the state and borrow our way out of trouble. We need to remain fiscally disciplined while still providing excellent services to our community.
3) State budget. The terrible leadership of the state has resulted in a responsible town like Southington being punished to the tune of a loss of around $20 million of state funds. To ask a town to absorb a loss this large is a daunting task. It is going to take hard work, creativity, and a collaborative approach from all departments to prevent this entire burden being placed on the taxpayer.
1) The appointment of the town’s Deputy Town Manager/ Town Attorney Mark Sciota, to Town Manager was the logical choice for me when looking at all aspects of the decision. Sciota served as Deputy Town Manager for 12 years under two Town Managers and was the number two candidate back in 2009 when Garry Brumback was hired. Sciota was endorsed by, not one, but two Town Managers, along with current and past council members, which speaks volume to his abilities. He is a proven leader who has positioned Southington as one of the top towns in the entire state. I believe that the process was followed by using our succession plan and appointing a proven leader to a position he is ready for on day one, all without spending money on a search process. Although I do think a formal job search and interview process may be needed in the future, in this instance I felt it was best to appoint a proven leader with proven experience.
2) Local budget. The issue that impacts all residents is the local budget that is voted on each year. I handle each budget with an open mind and consider the importance of all spending in the town. The budget process is something that is collaborative effort between the Board of Education, Board of Finance, and Town Council. I do understand and respect that desires of the majority of residents to keep taxes as low as possible, while also investing in our future. I am always looking for ways to make Southington’s expenditures and investments more beneficial by reviewing every single page of the budget and asking the difficult questions.
3) State budget. The state budget and the impact that will have on Southington will be the biggest issue the Town Council faces during the next term. There are going to be difficult decisions that will need to be made to fill the void left by reduced state funding. I plan on handling it the same way that I handle every situation—with collaboration and discussion between other boards, town staff, and the public. I look forward to getting increased input from the residents to hear their concerns and suggestions on how the town moves forward. Additionally, the next Town Council will need to address the void at the Deputy Town Manager and/or the Town Attorney position to ensure that a proper leadership is in place to manage the town.
1) First of all, I am very pleased that Mark Sciota will be our next Town Manager. He is well qualified, dedicated, and a good man. Those facts have never been disputed. As for the hiring process, any large organization usually has a succession plan for its leaders. I participated in that process every year at my company (UTC) for both myself and my managers. “Do we have someone who can succeed me, and are they ready now? Or one year? Or five years?” It’s standard work that all leaders do. If no internal candidate is ready at the moment, then an outside search can commence. For this position, it appears to me that process was indeed put in place when the council created the deputy manager position. Sciota was put into that job years ago and was more than ready to assume the higher position now. The council knew about the process, as they were the ones who created it. I would want to see all our top positions have a well-defined formal succession plan, reviewed yearly, such that our employees are developed, confusion and dispute are avoided, and the public is well served.
2) Budget. Well, it certainly was an eventful year that it is difficult to pick just one (ethics, Town Manager, green energy, Calendar House expansion, to name a few). I would say the most important issue was the budget. The budget process is much more open than it was years ago, and large efforts are voted on by referendum, which is what should happen. The debate about whether we are spending too much has been there for decades. All departments must ensure that they are spending wisely, and budget detractors should come forward with line item specifics for things they don’t feel should be added to the budget. Some items which people may want removed may have no real tax impact but are more symbolic. The council must ensure that the budget reflects the needs of all citizens. “No” doesn’t have to mean “never,” just “not now.” Southington is the envy of many towns across the state. People want to move here, and business wants to come here. Other towns would love to have that problem.
3) Fiscal discipline. The way the state government has performed has been terrible. Communities like Southington, who were in a good financial position, are being punished. To mitigate risk, we must control our spending and exhibit good responsible financial discipline across all areas. We must be able to retain our good financial status and not fall backwards or put a burden on taxpayers. We also need to be able to control our growth such that services are not stretched. It will take an open, collaborative effort across all departments, working together on the same goal to move forward. I feel confident we can achieve that for the town, and the new council must show the leadership and example for all to follow.
1) Mark Sciota was asked to close the doors of his private practice and come to work for the Town of Southington, as an apprentice under the sitting Town Manager, as Deputy Town Manager, so that when the manager retired, he would be ready to step into that position. Sciota accepted that offer, closed his practice, and came to work for the Town of Southington. He then apprenticed under two exceptional Town Managers. Sciota was more than qualified to take the position, which is why I supported the process which was set in place over 12 years ago.
2) Economic development. The most important issue that faced the Town Council over my last term was economic development. Up until four years ago, our economic development efforts were never properly funded. The office didn’t have the ability to go out and market the Town of Southington. We were able to properly fund the department and give our coordinator tools to do his job appropriately. The Town of Southington now leads the State of Connecticut in job growth and retention. We have become a model and leader that other communities are now looking to for advice. Shifting the balance of the tax burden off of our home owners is and has been the driving force behind my commitment to economic development.
3) Spending. With the State of Connecticut operating under poor leadership for years, it is now incumbent upon the communities that make up the State of Connecticut to assert tight controls on their own budgets. With that said, Southington is in excellent fiscal shape. We need to work stronger than ever to maintain our excellent fiscal condition through very strong efforts in economic development coupled with responsible spending. We need to control our residential growth, which can put heavy demands on services, and we need to do that through selective open space acquisitions.
Republican incumbent Paul Champagne did not submit a response to the questions posed by The Southington Observer.
He currently sits on the council.
1) It is important to understand the history of this matter. Mark Sciota was promoted as Deputy Town Manager with the understanding and full council support that he would be next in line for the Town Manager position. For the past 12 years, he has worked for our two Town Managers, both of whom have given Sciota an A-plus rating. He has proven himself during this time as smart, dedicated, and fair to everyone. The decision to nominate him was not a difficult one. I could not approve spending one dime on a search, especially in these economic times, when we had already committed ourselves to the best person for the job. Going forward, our next council can determine the process for hiring the next manager, but our process was already in place and clear.
2) State budget. Clearly the budget mess in Hartford has had an incredible impact upon Southington. In considering our budget this year, a huge challenge required both elected and professional staff to come together to work out a solution that would maintain our critical services and yet made cutting non-essential programs, freezing raises and putting a moratorium on new hires necessary. Because of our leadership team, we were able to stand and weather the storm. However, the process is not over at this writing. We still face a loss of over $20 million. Had we not had the incredible increase in economic development, we would be, like many other towns, in very bad shape. But because we had made a conscience attempt to encourage businesses and environmentally friendly companies to come to town, we stand on solid ground. This is a time for courage in our leadership. We need people who know how to handle this financial crisis and who are not afraid to make courageous decisions.
3) Economic future. There are so many issues that we deal with every day, but I truly feel that we must continue in safe-guarding our economic future. Without fiscal responsibility, we as a community will fail. This means that we must continue to cut unwarranted expenditures and continue to bring in clean industries that will help balance the tax burden on families and seniors. All the programs and wonderful activities in town will never survive without continuing in the success we have shown economically over the past four terms. Other areas that are important to me would be to continue our open space efforts and follow our Master Plan of Development, prioritize our infrastructure needs to provide thoughtful maintenance for our buildings and roads, expand our green energy program as much as possible, provide an open and transparent process in our decision-making while not abdicating our responsibility to do the right thing as elected officials, and provide a town government that is fair, open and just for all citizens, and where each person is respected and everyone’s voice matters.
MEET THE INDEPENDENT
1) There should have been an open process where the council received applications for consideration for the position, while investing minimal dollars in an open search. If I were on the council, I would have voted for an open process and negotiated a contract prior to hiring the most qualified person for the job.
2) Code of ethics changes. The council handled a slew of tough, important issues during this term. While the aforementioned Town Manager appointment is absolutely up there, I would also say that adding a statement of financial interest to the ethics ordinance was extremely pressing as well. I spoke in favor of it at the council meeting on April 24 and explained that this wouldn’t stop me from running for public office as a business owner. I disagree with the assertion that people would feel less inclined to run for public office.
3) Budget. Over the next term, Southington will be dealing with some changes, for instance a new Town Manager, and some very challenging issues, whether it be the town budget and how we’re affected by the cuts the state is making, or working to hold the line on taxes. When elected to Town Council, I will work hard to keep this town moving forward and do the best that I can for the people of Southington. The status quo isn’t working. I grew my business, HQ Dumpsters & Recycling, during the “Great Recession.” I know that with my skill set and experience, I can help the town of Southington with these very pressing issues ahead of us.