By Jeffery Kurz
You can add two stories this week to the growing list illustrating how Wallingford is about to change. That might sound obvious, considering it will be the first time in 40 years the town will have a different mayor. But William W. Dickinson Jr. has been so unique as a municipal leader over the years, and so able when it comes to earning the trust of his constituents, it’s difficult to forecast just how different things will be once he’s no longer in charge.
One story was pretty straightforward. The mayor’s administrative assistant, Joan Stave, is also leaving, retiring after 44 years. You can imagine how much a job like that can change, and the Town Council’s recent action was to approve a new job description.
Councilor Craig Fishbein, one of two councilors voting against the new job description, made the point that the action was leaving out an important element. “You are coming up with this document with the two individuals who are not going to be here without input from the individual that we are going to have as mayor,” he said.
That’s right. And even when you applaud the interest in making a smooth transition you have to consider the transition already not so smooth considering how many years of experience will exit Town Hall.
The other story highlighted Wallingford’s old-world ways. In discussion about hiring a second payroll clerk, the council started talking about the town’s “antiquated” payroll process. The position had been cut two years ago, and now Comptroller Timothy Sena’s executive secretary is about to retire. Sena said he was losing sleep over the ability to get payroll done once that retirement takes effect.
Discussing the issue led to talk about direct deposit, the absence of which is part of the “antiquated” process. I’ve used direct deposit for so long I can’t remember when it started, but in Wallingford it’s going to be a new thing, if they can figure out how to make it happen.
“Are we antiquated? Yes,” said Sena. “With the new administration can we try to solve some of these issues? I’m all ears, but I can only work with what I have right now.”
Dickinson’s tenure has been a 40-year Republican reign following 14 years of Democratic control of the mayor’s office, which more than suggests Wallingford favors consistency. But the new mayor will only have two years to cultivate such loyalty. For all we know at the moment, a high turnover rate at the helm might be part of Wallingford’s future. After winning his 11th term in 2003, Dickinson told the R-J “I don’t even try to look any further ahead than I have to.” Maybe that’s a hint for moving forward.
Ten years later, Democrat Jason Zandri engineered a vigorous campaign to unseat the mayor, an effort that targeted the unenthusiastic use of technology at Town Hall. He lost by about 3,000 votes, which was about what everyone else had been losing by, other than the years when Dickinson was running unopposed. Words like “unbeatable” and “invincible” were used in an R-J story to describe what had happened.
What is Wallingford going to do without an invincible mayor? We’re about to find out.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at firstname.lastname@example.org.