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Endorsements 2013: Stick with experience

The town of Winchester has had a tough year amid revelations that the municipality’s former Finance Director, Henry Centrella Jr., allegedly stole nearly $2.5 million in cash from the town, leaving the fund balance empty and the town ill-equipped to pay its bills.

The arrest of Centrella in August followed the announcement that the town was suing him for $7.5 million, in hopes of collecting some of the lost revenues. In the meantime, Winchester has been struggling to make ends meet, paying off past-due bills while trying to stay current with this year’s expenses. Town and school officials have acknowledged this task has not always been successful.

Throughout the ordeal, some of the ugliest behavior in town has been on the part of finger-pointers who have tried to lay political blame on members of the Board of Selectmen. Members of the minority Republican party, in particular, have been ever-quick to use the Centrella fiasco as a springboard for political opportunity, barking unfounded accusations at their Democratic counterparts and making repeated doomsday predictions for the town. The Republican minority has failed to rationally negotiate with the Democratic majority and has spent most of its time attempting to disrupt the process of governing.

Fortunately, there is a Democratic majority on the Board of Selectmen that has worked to solve the town’s problems, including the most recent decision to pursue a private loan to pay short-term bills, in anticipation of large grants coming to the town later in the fiscal year. The Democrats worked directly with Town Manager Dale Martin and Finance Director Robin Manuele in pursuing discussions with local banks and Town Attorney Kevin Nelligan to hash out a proposal that may save the town from bankruptcy.

The Republicans on the Board of Selectmen refused to negotiate, walking out of a special meeting recently because they didn’t get their way. They attempted to insist on a supplemental tax, only because they would love such a measure to be instituted on the watch of the Democratic majority, thereby doing the Democrats political harm. In addition to walking out of the recent meeting, the two Republicans have also announced they’re quitting — they are not running for another term this year.

In the past, the Republicans have been responsible for decimating the town’s fund balance in favor of a short-term tax break. The party also made the foolhardy decision to deny a Winchester Land Trust proposal that would have brought hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue to the town. The minority now blames the Democrats for a financial catastrophe that was largely exacerbated by the GOP.

Republicans on the Board of Selectmen have also been vocal in their opposition to Town Manager Martin, a hard worker who has been a breath of fresh air for the town of Winchester. Focusing on infrastructure needs and striving to be as transparent as humanly possible, Martin has proven to Winchester residents that he cares about the town and that business as usual needs to change at Town Hall. Martin supervised the unraveling of the Centrella case, plugging the leak of hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money each year. He has had an open-door policy in his office at Town Hall and has been a regular participant in town social activities. He has hired a new and popular public works director and has dedicated his work to the betterment of the town.

Republicans, meanwhile, tried to get the town manager fired because he mistakenly used his town email account to send a couple of PG-rated messages to his girlfriend.

Members of the Republican party who are running for office this year have not distanced themselves from the actions of their predecessors, and have not taken up Martin on his offer to sit down in his office and talk about issues related to the Board of Selectmen. In fact, members of the party have offered a thinly veiled criticism of the town manager and the Democratic majority by calling for “new leadership” in town and suggesting that all of the town’s problems have been created by the current leadership. The new group of GOP candidates is largely inexperienced and seems to get its marching orders from its primary political advisor, Bryan Sundie, an experienced campaigner at the state level who has worked behind the scenes to boost Republican support. The most visible candidate of the group is former Democrat Lisa Smith, who was instrumental in killing the aforementioned Winchester Land Trust deal and took a beating as an independent in the last election. Suffice to say there is a general sense of disingenuousness coming from the local GOP this year, which is not particularly surprising.

Also challenging the Democrats this year — and to a lesser extent, the Republicans — is the Winsted Independent Party, an organization created by outspoken community member David LaPointe. LaPointe has been a thorn in the side of many folks during the past decade because he tends to shoot from the hip and make bogus charges of impropriety while wrapping himself in the flag. The Winsted Independent Party was a disaster in the early 2000s, but LaPointe has kept the party going by cross-endorsing Republicans each election cycle. This year, the GOP refused LaPointe’s endorsement, so he was forced to cobble together a group of residents to run on the third-party line.

LaPointe’s anti-government, Tea Party-infused rhetoric is enough to make most people take him with a grain of salt. No one can be sure how members of the Winsted Independent Party would actually behave in an official capacity, as the party conveys a “flavor of the week” mentality.

Whether you like the town’s current state of affairs or not, it is clear that the Democratic party is the only group that is actually working to get the job done. Members have overseen the adoption of a successful budget on the first try this year and have been working diligently to solve financial problems that were not of their making. In return, they have only received insults and accusations from members of the other two parties. As the saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, and that’s how the naysayers and doomsdayers are painting themselves this year.

Row B Democrats should be the first choice for Winchester voters this election year to keep the town moving in the right direction.