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Melendez unanimously chosen as Groton town mayor

Groton — Town Councilor Juan Melendez Jr. was unanimously elected by councilors Tuesday to chair the council as the town’s mayor, amid calls to move forward after eight rounds of voting last week in which the council could not decide on a mayor.

“I’m humbled to be asked to serve in this capacity by my peers and the residents of Groton,” he said.

Melendez, 30, a real estate agent, is serving his second term on the council and previously served on the Representative Town Meeting and Water Pollution Control Authority.

He said he ran for the mayorship because he thought he was uniquely positioned to create an environment where the council could get along. He thinks “there’s no hiding it: there’s some divisions amongst our ranks.”

Melendez said he initially supported Councilor Juliette Parker for mayor, but when she did not have the support, she asked him to run, and he agreed.

Councilors took the vote Tuesday night, after hitting an impasse last week when Councilors Portia Bordelon, Aundré Bumgardner, Rachael Franco, Melendez and Scott Westervelt, the sole Republican, were nominated but the councilors could not reach a consensus.

During discussions prior to the vote Tuesday, councilors cited a need to move on from divisions, including during the Democratic primary and general election.

Bordelon, an incumbent who primaried to get on the Democratic Town Council ticket after the Democratic Town Committee endorsed her for Board of Education but not the council, asked everyone to put their differences aside and move forward. She said she felt she and Bumgardner — who were the top two vote-getters in the election — should have a path to the mayorship, and it was sad that was not the case.

She added that “if we’re going to move anything forward on a local level, we have to be willing to listen to folks, agree to disagree and allow people to have discussion and value their rights and their opinions.”

Bumgardner and Westervelt withdrew their names from consideration.

Bumgardner said it’s incumbent on councilors to “put our egos aside and come together” to tackle issues, from climate change to ensuring a responsible path forward for the Mystic Oral School property. He said he’s committed to working with everyone on the council and with the mayor, who will be tasked with unifying the council.

Westervelt said more often than not, the highest vote-getter in the general election ends up being mayor, though that's not always the case — Patrice Granatosky served as town mayor for the past two terms, but the late Joseph Zeppieri was the highest vote-getter.

But Westervelt said he didn’t think the council would choose the highest vote-getter this time around because the group was more divided. Westervelt, who voted for Bumgardner and himself last week, said he was prepared to switch his vote because he wanted the council to move forward.

Franco said the purpose of the mayoral position is not to be someone who people must agree with, but to chair the meetings.

“It is to be fair and apply the rules properly for all of us so we can all feel as equals,” said Franco, who pledged to work with everybody on the council regardless of the outcome. “There is much unifying that needs to be done between all of us. I think we all need to work together on that.”

Melendez said there was consensus among the councilors that they would find a way to make Bordelon deputy mayor, and he hoped, if elected, everyone would agree that in his absence, Bordelon would serve as the mayor pro tem.

When asked for her thoughts by Bordelon, Franco said it was her idea to bring forward the deputy mayor position. While Franco said she would have to look into the rules, it could also be an informal agreement to work together.

Town Attorney Eileen Duggan said the town charter has no separate provision for the office of deputy mayor, but the council’s processes and procedures allow on a case-by-case, individualized basis for someone to serve as mayor for a particular meeting or particular time in the mayor’s absence.

k.drelich@theday.com

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