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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Groton Town Council elects Rachael Franco as new mayor

    Groton ― Rachael Franco will serve as the town’s next mayor, after the Town Council elected her on Tuesday to chair the council.

    Prior to the 6-3 vote, Town Councilor David McBride called a caucus of the all-Democratic council to discuss the position of the mayor.

    After they returned to the meeting room, Town Councilor Bruce Jones nominated Franco, an accountant who was elected in November to her fourth term. McBride nominated Juliette Parker, a councilor also elected to her fourth term in November and the administrative secretary to the city police chief.

    Portia Bordelon, McBride and Parker voted for Parker, while Franco, Dan Gaiewski, Jones, Roscoe Merritt, Adam J. Puccino Sr. and Jill Rusk voted for Franco.

    “We will face successes and challenges together,” Franco said, after expressing gratitude to the other councilors, all candidates, and departing officials. “Residents will hold us accountable, celebrate town accomplishments and share their thoughts on many matters that will come before us. A councilor does not achieve success alone, we govern as a body. Our accomplishments and decisions are shared, just as motions are passed. We, all of us here tonight, will set the tone for the entire town with what we say and the decisions we make.”

    “Going forward, let’s hold ourselves accountable, conduct thoughtful analysis, advocate for making Groton a better place to live, work and enjoy life for everyone, while doing so with thoughtfulness, dignity, integrity and empathy. Now let’s get doing the work of the people. Our community is depending on us. Thank you all,” she said to applause.

    According to the town’s charter: the mayor is recognized as “the official head of the Town for all ceremonial purposes” and “shall preside over all meetings of the Council and shall perform such other duties consistent with the office or which may be designated by the Council.”

    At the beginning of the meeting, Town Clerk Betsy Moukawsher and former state Rep. Joe de la Cruz administered the oath of office to the 34th Town Council. Merritt, Puccino, and Rusk are new to the council, and Bordelon, Franco, Gaiewski, Jones, McBride and Parker are incumbents.

    At the Nov. 28 Town Council Committee of the Whole meeting, outgoing Mayor Juan Melendez Jr., who did not run for reelection to the council, said it has been a pleasure of a lifetime to serve his hometown and thanked his parents, wife, town staff and residents.

    He said that over the last two years, the Town Council allocated more than $8 million of ARPA funds, sold the former Colonel Ledyard School and got it back on the grand list, added two social workers to the police department, hired a resilience and sustainability coordinator who’s won grants, allocated funds to combat the opioid epidemic, and has a senior living center that wins national awards and three nationally recognized Blue Ribbon schools in town. He said the town’s reserve fund is the healthiest it’s been, which has raised its bond rating, and the town’s tax rate is the lowest in the region.

    He left a letter for the next mayor and said he was just a phone call away and offered the advice he said he tries to live by: to “lead by example.”

    Board of Education

    Moukawsher swore in six new members of the nine-member Board of Education on Tuesday. Three members, Republicans Andrea Ackerman and Dean Antipas, and Democrat Beverly Washington are already seated on the board and have terms expiring in 2025.

    Democrats Jay Weitlauf, an incumbent, Adrian Johnson, Ian Thomas, and Robb Meade and Republican Jenn White were sworn into four-year terms. Democrat Matthew Shulman, an incumbent, was sworn into a two-year term.

    Following the election, there had been confusion, since Shulman won both a two-year and a four-year seat. He declined the four-year seat and Meade, the next highest votegetter, was seated to the four-year term after the town attorney provided a legal opinion.

    Moukawsher had said the town charter, not state law, applied in this situation and the Board of Education should appoint a Democratic candidate to fill the seat that Shulman declined.

    The town charter says that a “vacancy in the BOE, from whatever cause, shall be filled until the next biennial election by appointment by the remaining members of the BOE;” and that the person appointed should be from the same party as the person vacating the seat.

    But in a legal opinion, Rich Cody, an attorney for the town, said state law says that if a candidate is elected to two or more offices in a municipality, the candidate should notify officials which seat they are declining and the next highest votegetter should be seated.

    At Tuesday’s meeting, Weitlauf was elected chairman, with seven in favor and two abstentions from White and Thomas.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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