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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Waterford Board of Selectmen ‘respectfully’ fill vacancy

    Waterford ― The town was saddened by the sudden death of Selectwoman Jody Nazarchyk on Feb. 4.

    Around the same time, the community learned that Selectwoman Beth Sabilia is set to resign from her seat on the board in March to take on a new role.

    How will the town’s three-member Board of Selectman move forward? Respectfully, First Selectman Rob Brule said in an interview.

    Later that day, at a special Board of Selectmen meeting, Brule and Sabilia voted in Republican Richard Muckle to fill the vacant position. He was sworn in on Friday at Town Hall.

    “Jody always spoke so highly of him,” Brule said of Muckle on Friday. “They got along really well. He’s a kind, gentle person as well. He understands the community. He just has a lot of the same mannerisms.”

    “Certainly not a Jody, but a lot of the same mannerisms,” he added. “He’s got the experience.”

    Brule, a Republican, was elected to the position in 2019. Nazarchyk, unaffiliated, was Brule’s running mate and elected at the same time.

    Sabilia, a Democrat elected to the board at the same time as Brule, is set to resign her seat before she takes the helm of the fledgling Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity in Eastern Connecticut in March. Waterford will be one of the 42 towns she is concerned with, she said.

    The town charter states that any vacancy outside of the Representative Town Meeting “shall be filled at the next regular town election, provided that interim appointments shall be made by the Board of Selectmen.”

    Brule said Thursday that he and Sabilia would work together to find someone to act as a placeholder until the term ends this November. Brule said it’s “more of a science” to find someone to fill in on the board, rather than picking just anyone for the board to vote on.

    Sabilia, who said she is stepping down as an elected official to avoid any potential conflicts of interest down the line, explained that Thursday’s meeting was not an easy one. She said even reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was hard, given that Nazarchyk used to stand up in her home and recite the pledge over speaker phone if she could not attend in person.

    “She’s left these kind of footprints on our hearts, so you feel it,” Sabilia said of Nazarchyk.

    Brule said a qualified candidate would ideally be someone who has served on a town board or commission ― currently or previously ― and has a “holistic approach” to the town, rather than looking out for a specific board. He said the candidate should be a good listener, especially during public comment, has experience in the public arena and has the ability to review budgets and contracts.

    Muckle checks all the boxes. As a resident of 49 years, he has represented the Third District on the Representative Town Meeting for the last 14 years as well as the Conservation Commission for the last 17 years; he has been the chair for the last six years.

    He is a six-year member of the Long-Range Fiscal Planning Committee as well as a member of the School Building Committee and has been on the Ad Hoc Fire Services Review Special Committee since its creation in 2021.

    Brule lauded Muckle’s experience working with and understanding budgets as well as the level of respect Muckle has both in his party and across the aisle.

    “I couldn’t have thought of anyone better to fill these really impossible shoes than Rich,” Brule said. “And the community, I feel, will feel the same way.”

    Brule and Sabilia said the priority was to fill the position in a reasonable amount of time to allow the government to continue to operate and get through the budget season. They both, however, recognized how emotionally difficult the process was.

    “No one wants to talk about this now, including me,” Brule said. “It’s hard, but I feel he’s going to be a great addition when the Board of the Selectmen needs stability the most.”

    “I do think about Jody and her strengths and her gifts and what she brought to the Board of Selectmen,” he added. “And I’m consciously thinking about those traits and what she believed.”

    “It’s hard,” Sabilia said. “It was very hard.”

    As explained in the charter, the Board of Selectmen has executive authority of the town, aside from authority expressly granted to the first selectman. There cannot be more than two board members of the same political party. Elections are held every four years.

    Brule said the process would take place again when Sabilia steps down in March, with the exception that the chair of the Democratic Town Committee will make a nomination at that time instead of Brule.

    Sabilia said her party has not asked for her input, but the career lawyer said it’s her nature to offer. She hopes someone qualified and reasonable is recommended to the board, which may become a board of three men following the exits of two women.

    “It may very well be that a board of two women and one man ends up being three men, and I don’t want that to discourage young women from aspirations of running for office,” Sabilia said. “It’s just a function of where we are kind of in this strange place in Waterford.”

    “I thought it was pretty special that it was two women,” she added.

    Brule said this situation, in theory, could have parlayed into future running mates ahead of November’s election.

    He said that was not the case this time.

    “I’m not at that point,” Brule said. “I would never do that disservice to Jody and the office. That’s a much bigger decision.”

    Brule recalled when he was appointed to fill a vacancy in April 2015 left by Paul Suprin’s resignation in March of that year. Brule later ran alongside Dan Steward in that fall’s election.

    Brule was a member of the RTM at the time of his appointment. The town Republican Party filled his spot on the RTM as a result, and the same process will occur following Muckle’s appointment. He explained that statutes and ordinances are in place for these types of situations.

    “It’s unfortunate, it’s sad, but this is one of those things I have to do as first selectman,” Brule said of the circumstance. “No choice.”

    Brule and Sabilia believe there will not be a lot of pressure on Muckle, as the board works “really well together,” Brule said, and that it is limited to an eight-month term. Brule said the board is a welcoming one that allows all town departments to be heard and valued.

    “We tend to laugh a little bit more at the Board of Selectmen meetings than, say, other meetings,” Sabilia said. “And it’s not always at situations, sometimes it’s at ourselves.”

    Sabilia said she grew up in town alongside Muckle’s children and has had a tough time calling him “Rich” instead of “Mr. Muckle.”

    “I hope he enjoys this a little more than the RTM,” she added.

    Brule said he knows Nazarchyk’s presence will continue to be felt.

    “Although she may not be here physically, she’s with all of us mentally and emotionally and in the memories that we have,” Brule said.

    k.arnold@theday.com

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