MERIDEN — City Councilors say they want a new economic development director hired “as soon as possible” to replace Juliet Burdelski, who abruptly resigned Friday.
“This is not a position that we’re going to wait to fill,” Council Majority Leader David Lowell said.
Democratic Councilor Brian Daniels agreed, calling the position “vital.”
“I think everyone agrees about that,” he said.
Burdelski, who couldn’t be reached Monday, submitted her resignation Thursday, effective Friday, citing personal reasons, according to City Manager Tim Coon. City officials said they were caught off guard by Burdelski’s sudden departure.
“Because this was an unplanned separation, it makes it a little more of a heavy lift getting someone in place in the short term, but we’ll do it very, very soon,” Lowell said, adding that he “wouldn’t want to do it so hastily that we sacrifice the quality of the selection.”
City officials said in her six years as director Burdelski played a big role in many completed and ongoing redevelopment projects. Many were funded by state and federal grants that Burdelski helped obtain.
“She knew how to work with regulators very well and seek opportunities for Meriden that allowed much of the downtown development,” Lowell said.
She had a “vision of all the small successes needed for the bigger successes,” Lowell added.
Coon said although Burdelski leaves a "large number" of ongoing projects, other staff familiar with the work will "carry through."
"We're just going to have to make do," Coon said.
Burdelski provided Coon with a "detailed list of instructions on open projects,” according to her letter.
Burdelski’s resignation comes right as the city is beginning its process to create a new Plan of Conservation and Development, a state-mandated document that will outline the city’s development goals for the next decade.
Unlike other municipalities, Meriden does not have an assistant director in its Economic Development Office. The city has an economic development specialist position that works under the director, however, the city chose to leave that position vacant after Paola Mantilla resigned last year in an effort to save money following last summer’s budget referendum.
Burdelski is the third high-profile department head to resign in the past six months, along with former Human Resources Director Marci Nogueira and former City Planner Bob Seale. Seale resigned to move closer to family in Idaho and Nogueira never publicly commented on her reasons for leaving. Several department heads are also scheduled to retire later this year as part of a retirement incentive program: Finance Director Michael Lupkas, City Assessor Deborah Zunda, Purchasing Agent Wilma Petro, Public Utilities Director Dennis Waz, and Library Director Karen Roesler. City Attorney Debbie Moore is also retiring later this year and Deputy Police Chief Mark Walerysiak left Meriden last month to become director of security at the Connecticut Lottery Corp.
Of all the city’s current vacancies, Mayor Kevin Scarpati said he considers the economic development director opening “most important.”
"This is the person that helps craft an image for our city to help not only bring in new businesses, but retain existing businesses," Scarpati said last week.
Lowell and Daniels said many of the retiring department heads, most of whom had over 20 years of service, would have retired in the next few years anyway.
“People are leaving because of years of service,” Lowell said. “It’s very different.”
“It was inevitable,” Daniels said about the retirements, “and this has allowed Tim to look at the city as a whole and set it up for success.”
The turnover and vacancies in some cases have meant more responsibilities for Coon, who is six months into his first job as a city manager. Lowell and Daniels said Coon has handled the turmoil well and will continue to do so, citing his past leadership experiences serving in the U.S. Army Reserve and on Glastonbury’s Town Council and school board.
“He’s used to running large things and so we're happy with Tim so far, and he’s also getting a lot of support,” Daniels said.