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Uncertainty clouds Old Lyme election

Old Lyme is both a shoreline and a river town. It is a border town for New London County, where the railroad crosses the Connecticut River and might have someday spanned it in a disastrous route for the future of the town center, were it not for municipal leadership and citizen activism. The character of Old Lyme includes a strong strain of Yankee wariness; some issues — notably water and sewer infrastructure — inched so slowly through the municipal decision-making process that they stalled for decades, not necessarily by accident.

In the last several years, however, significant projects, including sewers in the beach areas, have finally become a reality. This year's municipal election pits the incumbent first selectwoman of that period, Democrat Bonnie Reemsnyder, against Republican Timothy Griswold, who held the seat from 1997 to 2011. Reemsnyder is seeking her fifth two-year term.

During Reemsnyder's tenure, the pace has picked up for dealing with chronic issues beyond wastewater disposal. Along with her Democratic colleague on the Board of Selectmen, Mary Jo Nosal, she has been open to listening to consultants and willing to explore new ideas. Among those are a major shift in the approach to the Halls Road area and the potential for combining police departments with East Lyme. As first selectwoman she was a leader of the successful resistance to the proposal by the Federal Railroad Administration to cut a new rail path through the very heart of town.

And yet, that triumph for Old Lyme was also a moment when the town's lasting divisions surfaced, as Republicans and Democrats jockeyed for control. The recent demise of an affordable housing proposal by the HOPE partnership involved some of the same antagonists, who found ways to stall it until the proponents gave up. Reemsnyder, to her credit, sees that workforce housing deserves a place in the town and that it must try to meet the state mandate of 10 percent of a community's residential stock being affordable. She endorses the idea of putting the issue before a diverse committee of residents, which is currently being formed.

Outside of Old Lyme Town Hall, Reemsnyder's public service is currently shadowed by questions about her time as a board member, Finance Committee chair, and overall chair of the Connecticut Port Authority. She resigned from the authority this year at the behest of Gov. Ned Lamont, following accusations of conflict of interest when the CPA purchased from an interior designer photographs taken by her daughter. She technically stayed out of the matter, recusing herself, but she should have known better than to let the port authority purchase her daughter’s art work. That stumble is hard enough to understand, but if it is a one-time lapse, it should not affect her record as a competent and upright public servant in Old Lyme.

However, a letter from State Comptroller Kevin Lembo this week has raised the question of whether the authority fully disclosed its checkbook-level expenditures last fall in compliance with a state audit. Reemsnyder's involvement in omitting information — if indeed any was held back — won't be known until the audit is complete, and that will not be in time for Old Lyme voters to consider as they go to the polls. She should also be required by the legislature to testify, along with another former chairman, Scott Bates, the deputy secretary of state, about the questionable operations and favoritism at the port authority. But no committee hearing has been scheduled.

It's an odd situation. Were it not for her CPA involvement and the uncertainties raised by the comptroller and the pending audit, Reemsnyder, given her clean record and list of accomplishments in town office, would easily earn The Day's endorsement.

Her opponent, Tim Griswold, appears to be a reluctant candidate, returning to a run for office after eight years because no one else would. We give him credit for providing voters a choice after honorably earning his retirement. However, we cannot endorse the old-style administration that blocked or just plain didn't get around to pressing problems, such as sewers — let alone forward-looking planning for development or policing or providing affordable housing. Granted, his nod to workforce housing includes the formation of the citizen committee, but with little indication he would actually do something about it.

Regrettably, The Day will not endorse a candidate for first selectman with the present cloud over Reemsnyder's actions while on the CPA board. However, voters would do well to return Mary Jo Nosal to office as a selectman. She has been an effective teammate for Reemsnyder and possesses both in-depth knowledge of the issues and a strong commitment to her elective job.

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 Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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