One elected position should be plenty
Paul Formica says he will miss his job as first selectman of East Lyme when he steps down in January to take the oath as a state senator.
"I've found it very awarding. I've liked working with people and I think we have created a very nonpartisan attitude in town, with everyone pulling together for the good of town and I am going to miss that," he said.
On the other hand, he seems relieved that the town, through the mandates of its charter, has made the choice for him. Mr. Formica does not have the option of trying to do both jobs. Once he decided to run for the position of state senator from the 20th District, Mr. Formica knew, if elected, he would have to step down as first selectman. The charter would not allow him to hold two elected offices.
"I think it's probably, at the end of the day, a good provision," Mr. Formica said of the prohibition in the town charter. His first selectman days are long, he said, with 70-hour weeks common.
The East Lyme rule is the exception. There is no prohibition in state law against someone serving as a mayor or first selectman and as a state legislator. Few towns have such prohibitions.
Though it is in the minority on this issue, East Lyme got it right. As they undertake charter revisions, other towns should seriously consider following East Lyme's lead. It is not reasonable to expect someone to run a municipality and have the time to read all the information and attend all the meetings required of a state lawmaker. The demands are particularly great for a state senator, who has to know and address the needs of multiple towns. Mr. Formica, a Republican, will represent an eight-town district.
In addition, there is the potential for conflicts of interest. What happens if a senator is working with the state on incentives to attract a large commercial taxpayer? Should the priority be to attract development to the town in which the lawmaker is the top elected leader or to a town in the district most in need of expanding its tax base?
Preston First Selectman Bob Congdon remembers his experience holding two elected offices. They are not fond memories.
"I did not miss a meeting there or here," said Mr. Congdon, who served one term from 2003-2004 as the representative in the 42nd House District, while also working as first selectman. "There were occasions that I went back and forth three times in a day to meet my obligations. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone."
"I found it too much to do a good job at both," he recalled. "It's certainly too much if you want to have any kind of family life."
After one term as a state representative, he made his choice.
"I decided I could provide more benefit to the people I served by being first selectman and chose not to run again (for the legislature)," said Mr. Congdon. A Republican, Mr. Congdon has been elected 10 straight times as first selectman, dating to 1995.
In 2012, Brian Sear, then the Democratic first selectman of Canterbury, was elected as the 47th House District representative. He continued to also serve as first selectman. It did not turn out well. In 2013, Canterbury voters ousted him as first selectman. This past Nov. 4, voters made him a one-term lawmaker, electing Republican challenger Doug Dubitsky. Mr. Sears defeat in the 47th District, however, probably had more to do with his support for the gun reform legislation. The district encompasses the rural towns of Canterbury, Chaplin, Franklin, Hampton, Lebanon, Lisbon, Scotland and Sprague, along with the Occum section of Norwich.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, it must be acknowledged, appears to be doing both jobs without losing constituent support. In 2013, the Democrat won re-election as first selectwoman of Sprague by a wide margin. On Nov. 4, she easily earned election to a second term in the 19th Senatorial District of Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville, Norwich and Sprague. Her double service was not much of an issue in the recent campaign.
"She amazes me. … I don't know how she does it," said Mr. Congdon.
We don't know how she does it either. We have serious doubts whether she should. However, the voters have spoken.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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