A few weeks ago, the Southington board of education voted, 7-2, to promote town council chair Chris Palmieri as the new DePaolo Middle School principal. We can’t think of a better person for the position. As members of the press, we’ve had many opportunities to see him in action, and his ability to connect with students—individually or as a group—is unequaled. We’ve had the privilege of seeing Palmieri in many roles at both middle schools. Whether it’s directing a joint middle school drama production, celebrating DePaolo’s 50th birthday, at a STEPS board room with members of the youth council, at a school event, at an extra-curricular activity, or at the Apple Harvest Festival, Palmieri’s focus on the town’s youth and his love for our students is obvious. He’s able to connect at a deep, personal level without compromising his authority as an administrator. It’s a rare gift.
On the other hand, the promotion has left us with more than just a little concern about Palmieri’s growing role in our town’s “democracy.” Nobody holds more positions in the town—paid or unpaid—than Palmieri. His day job in the schools seems to overlap his night job as town council chair and his summer job in the parks (those aren’t his only conflicts). We caution the council chair that Southington doesn’t need a king. Nobody can be all things to all people—not even him. Even Russian President Vladmir Putin knows better than to try to run the government and the schools.
We are concerned about Palmieri’s ever-growing power in the town and his ability to continue serving on the council. We’ve already seen him disregard the ethics code when financial and personal conflicts of interests were present. Just this spring, he failed to abstain—then voted—for the school budget increase (the very budget that will pay his new salary). Now he has even more input on staffing and financial issues in the schools, so the conflict gets even worse. Local teachers can’t be on the BOE, but it is okay for town employees to serve on the town council? That makes no sense to us.
Even when it doesn’t violate the ethics code, we question anyone’s ability to juggle school administration and town legislation. It raised eyebrows in the newsroom last winter when the high school was dealing with fallout from a racist social media complaint. Students came to town meetings with personal stories about racism and systemic prejudice in our schools. We though that it showed poor judgment when Palmieri (a school official) and BOE chair Brian Goralski (husband of a district official) appointed themselves as spokesmen for the town, co-penning a letter touting “the efforts of elected officials and public school officials to address issues brought out by this event.” We are not sure that two people so closely linked to school officials were the best ones to defend our school officials. We wonder if any student who already felt victimized by systemic prejudice was appeased from these two with such bias assuring them that the “wonderful caring community” as they put it was doing a great job protecting targets. (It still baffles us why those two wrote that letter.)
With his new position and even more influence in town, we hope Palmieri seriously considers stepping aside as a town leader. To be fair, we do not know if he is planning to run for re-election or not, but we’re going to find out really soon. The good news is that his promotion was announced early enough that party leaders had time to consider the ramifications of his new job on his ability to represent the town. The Democratic and Republican Town Committees have scheduled caucuses, and their party endorsements must be made by July 23. We would definitely miss him, but we hope Palmieri is considering keeping his name off the ballot.
To comment on this editorial or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.