We are thankful to our readers for reaching out to us over the last few weeks, thanking us for sticking our necks out in recent editorials. It’s never easy, especially when town officials continue to take up valuable time and resources, pointing fingers at us for pointing out their questionable behavior. At times, it felt like we were alone on an island, but the influx of phone calls in recent days has shown us that at least some portion of the community is getting fed up with it.
One person even brought up the phrase that makes every Southington resident cringe, “What do you expect when you take on the Good Ole Boys club?” Of course, that immediately conjures up images of the “Good Ole Boy,” the rich, white landowner in a racially divided South, but a Good Ole Boys club—in its broadest definition—is any system where money and power is held by a small, closed group. Does Southington deserve this criticism? Maybe and maybe not, but it’s certainly easy to make an argument. After all, you can’t throw a stick in town without hitting some building named after some former official with an absurdly long tenure.
Southington’s only had three town managers, and that’s largely because of its first one. The late John Weichsel served the town for 40 years, and his tenure as a town manager in the same community is one of the longest in the nation. But Weichsel’s not the only one that set records for longevity.
The late Urbin T. Kelley served the town’s board of education for 43 years. That stands as a state record, but it is just over the average for the local BOE. The late Walter Derynoski (39 years) and late Zaya A. Oshana (36 years) weren’t too far behind Kelley in the rankings. Both legacies have continued with relatives still serving on a board populated by so many old-timers that the average board member stays in office longer than their kids stay in school.
It seems the ones wielding power longest are the ones most likely to abuse that power. On the council, every recent controversy was spearheaded by one of the old-timers. On every board or committee, there’s a pattern of family and friends. Once elected in town, it’s a lifetime appointment.
Family names become so common that they form a sort of Southington royalty. Officials, family members and spouses begin to pop up in high paying school and government jobs. Some extreme cases wear so many hats in town that, if they followed the ethics code, they’d have to abstain from almost every vote and discussion on their board. (Don’t worry. They seem to have no problem just ignoring that pesky code).
If that’s not a Good Ole Boys club, what is? Most fans of democracy can agree that a rotating leadership is—in the long run—better than any one leader. After all, freedom from a tyrannical monarchy was the driving force behind the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, and all the checks and balances in the U.S. Constitution.
On Monday, Feb. 18, town offices will be closed for President’s Day, in part, to celebrate George Washington’s upcoming birthday on Feb. 22, so this is a pretty timely topic. Washington was no stranger to Southington, passing through town as a general early in his public life. Who knows? If he stayed in town any longer, he might still be serving on a local board. Instead, he is applauded by historians for stepping down after just two terms as the nation’s first president. Washington could have served as long as any of Southington’s leaders, but he knew that a public office should be bigger than any individual and serving too long can compromise the office. We can learn a lesson from our Founding Father.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.