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Norwich — In a packed city council chambers, a new era of local government began Tuesday as Deberey Hinchey was sworn in as the city's first female mayor.
With the Norwich Police Color Guard and a bagpiper leading the procession, Hinchey, the six aldermen who also won election Nov. 5, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, the city's three state legislators, past mayors, and other city dignitaries made their way into the chambers for the swearing-in ceremony.
City Clerk Betsy Barrett administered the oath of office first to Hinchey and then to aldermen Francois "Pete" Desaulniers, Sofee Noblick, Terell Wilson, William Eyberse, Mark Bettencourt and William Nash.
"That was the easy part," Wyman said after Hinchey said "I do."
Prior to making her first speech as mayor, Hinchey yielded the podium to Blumenthal. The senator surveyed the "majestic" setting and the dozens of portraits of past mayors lining the walls.
"I can't help but notice a difference," Blumenthal said, referring to Hinchey's historic election as the city's first female mayor. "They seem to look different."
In her speech, Hinchey outlined several major goals, some of which were not on the campaign radar. She proposed creating a "visitors/heritage center" to promote the city, with an economic development component to help local hotels, restaurants and retail businesses.
"There are a number of dedicated people who want to work on projects like that," Hinchey said of the visitors center idea.
She also proposed establishing a new commission that would support residents and visitors with disabilities to better serve "all our citizens."
A past member of the committee that wrote the new Plan of Conservation and Development, Hinchey said that plan centers on "livability." The city will receive the Innovative Plan award Friday from the American Planning Association for the new plan. Hinchey will attend the ceremony.
Answering what she said was a request from voters, Hinchey proposed changing the schedule for the second City Council meeting each month. The meeting on the third Monday of the month will begin earlier than the usual 7:30 p.m. start time — possibly 6:30 p.m. — and the first public comment period will be open to all topics, rather than being restricted to agenda items.
The previous council limited public comments to agenda items at both meetings.
Hinchey received an extended standing ovation at the end of the speech, and another when the council formally adjourned a moment later.
Following the ceremony, the council unanimously re-elected Desaulniers as council president pro tempore to stand in for the mayor in her absence.
Hinchey will prepare to start a more normal routine today — that is, after her formal portrait session.
She decided to forego making the mayor's secretary position a political appointment, seeking formal applications through the city Human Resources Department. More than 100 applicants responded to the advertisement.
Hinchey said she will make the final choice after receiving recommendations from Human Resources Director Brigid Marks.
By charter, the mayor also has the option of hiring an economic development assistant, but said she does not plan to do so at this time. She will work with the Norwich Community Development Corp., the city's designated economic development agency, and will be a voting member on that group's board of directors.
In another campaign promise, Hinchey said she would be a full-time mayor with regular office hours and daytime meetings with business leaders, developers, city officials and the public.
Hinchey, 60, officially retired Tuesday from her career as a clinical social worker for VNA-East in Mansfield.
"I said goodbye to my last patient today," she said prior to the start of Tuesday's meeting. "It was hard. That was a job I absolutely enjoyed."
Later this week, Hinchey plans to meet with the NCDC and join the weekly staff meeting City Manager Alan Bergren holds with city department heads.