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Missteps aside, Nickerson deserves another term in East Lyme

It has been a tough couple of weeks for East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson leading up to Tuesday’s election.

In mid-October news broke about the architect’s evaluation of what it could cost the town to prepare the former Honeywell office building — which voters in February approved purchasing — for conversion to the town police station as planned. The assessment concluded that doing everything necessary to get the building in top shape would cost $5.8 million. Voters approved only $5 million to purchase and convert the building, with the purchase costing $2.8 million. That leaves only $2.2 million to repurpose the building, including $500,000 for the emergency dispatch electronics, a cost not included in the $5.8 million estimate.

In other words, the town has $1.7 million to work with and confronts that $5.8 million estimate. At the very least it raises the question of whether due diligence was done prior to the purchase. Nickerson, not surprisingly, has sought to downplay the gap, correctly noting the town never anticipated immediately doing all the improvements the architect evaluated. Still, Nickerson’s nothing-to-see-here take on the matter strains credibility. Converting the building as planned will be a challenge and more funding may be necessary.

Then Nickerson got himself unneeded attention and second guessing by cancelling because of a weather forecast, then sort of un-cancelling, Halloween in his town. We thought Republicans like Nickerson opposed the “nanny state.” Let parents make the Halloween decisions, Mark.

It would be a shame if these recent missteps are all that voters have on their minds Tuesday, because all in all East Lyme has done well under Nickerson’s leadership since he took office as first selectman in 2015.

A $37.5 million plan to renovate as new the town’s elementary schools was finished on time and on budget.

Niantic has flourished, with its storefronts filled and its shoreline village charm preserved. Complimenting that village charm has been the restoration of the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, in a manner that should finally stand up to the worst the weather and the bay can bring, and the conversion of a polluted, former service station property into a small park.

Nickerson has been a pro-development leader and the continued expansion of the Gateway Commons housing and the introduction of a Costco have broadened the tax base, while also attracting criticism from those fearing commercialization is getting out of hand.

His Democratic challenger in the race, Camille Alberti, a Board of Finance member with extensive business experience, has proved herself to be an able challenger who we are confident could effectively serve in the chief executive position if elected.

In raising concerns about Nickerson’s leadership and questioning some of his policy decisions, Alberti has done what a good challenger should do. She has pointed to a town audit that found the need for updating procedures and policies and noted the slow approach to getting around to doing so. Alberti makes the case for a need to make town governance more inclusive and less top down. And she has effectively challenged the incumbent’s sunny assessment that the big price tag attached to the architectural review of the police station plan is no big deal.

But Alberti has not, however, made the case that it is time to fire Nickerson and hire her. To reach that conclusion would require focusing only on the problems and disregarding the undeniable fact that East Lyme has advanced during Nickerson’s tenure.

If he is re-elected, we would urge Nickerson to push past the damage control approach and forthrightly and transparently confront the challenges involved in getting the Honeywell building ready so that police can finally vacate their woefully inadequate police station in Niantic. Redeveloping the Honeywell property into a police/public safety building needs to be done right. If that can’t happen within the approved fiscal constraints, the town should have a discussion on how to proceed.

The Halloween hullabaloo and police station controversy aside, Mark Nickerson has served East Lyme well as first selectman and is endorsed by The Day Editorial Board in his bid for another term.

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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