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    Wednesday, August 10, 2022

    Butler led regional collaboration

    Regional cooperation and collaboration is no easy task in the Nutmeg State. The third smallest state in the union in terms of square miles, Connecticut has 169 municipalities, as well as numerous boroughs, fire districts and villages. All these local entities fiercely guard their jurisdictional independence.

    Despite this fractured factionalism, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments has a long record of regional achievements. It has accomplished a diversity of collaborative projects among its 22 towns, bringing it well beyond the regional planning efforts that formed its foundation. In fact, it was the breadth and diversity of the work that first attracted SCCOG Executive Director James S. Butler to the job 23 years ago.

    Butler points to many successful regional efforts of which he's proud. These range from emergency management planning and establishing regional Geographical Information System mapping, to the formation of an opioid task force and creation of an effective COVID-19 response. In addition, SCCOG has involved officials from the region's two tribal nations, along with the Coast Guard and Submarine Base in numerous projects. In 2017, SCCOG was named a Great American Defense Community by the Association of Defense Communities, in recognition of its military-friendly work.

    "We are a pretty flexible agency," says Butler, who announced in October he plans to retire July 1. He will remain at the agency as a part-time senior advisor when the Deputy Director/Director of Special Projects Amanda Kennedy steps into the leadership role.

    The region owes a tremendous debt to Butler, the work that SCCOG has accomplished since its formation in 1992, and the municipal leaders who have joined forces under the council's auspices. For years, The Day has advocated for increased regional projects, collaboration and cooperation amongst municipal governmental entities. SCCOG, under Butler's leadership, has demonstrated the wide variety of ways such collaboration can be achieved.

    From the time in the year 2000 that SCCOG moved its offices from a somewhat dilapidated former schoolhouse on Boswell Avenue, Norwich to an office building on Connecticut Avenue, in the city's Stanley Israelite Business Park, the agency made a statement that "regionalization is here to stay," Butler said. SCCOG was the state's first council of governments to purchase its own office space rather than leasing it.

    This demonstration of the permanence of regional collaboration has resulted in the agency serving as a conduit for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of federal grants to purchase emergency management equipment, the creation of the Southeastern Connecticut Housing Alliance that advocates for an increase in affordable housing units in the region and the establishment of a mentoring system and educational programs for municipal officials who are stressed by unprecedented levels of public criticism directed at them via social media.

    In addition, SCCOG also continues to work in the area at the root of its establishment: regional planning. The agency provides planner services for towns that do not have their own full-time planners, staffing five planning and zoning commissions and two inland-wetlands agencies. Soon, the council will extend this area of work by providing zoning and code enforcement services to member towns.

    We commend Butler's leadership and SCCOG's dedication to regionalization. We wish Kennedy well when she takes the helm of the agency and advocate that she continue to work to increase the number of and widen the diversity of regional efforts. Thanks to SCCOG under Butler's guidance, regional collaboration may no longer be akin to herding the proverbial cats, but there's still a ways to go before regionalization is as ubiquitous as we believe it can be.

    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, 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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