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Town Manager Search Added Tense Wrinkle To 1980 Budget Season

Town Manager Search Added Tense Wrinkle To 1980 Budget Season

But the one thing Cheshire officials in 2020 don’t have to worry about is a rather dramatic shakeup of leadership. That wasn’t the case in 1980.

To understand what was happening in March of that year, one needs to look back to October of 1979. It was then when Town Manager Richard Borden announced that he would be leaving to take the same position in Glastonbury.

To fill in while the Council looked for Borden’s successor, Police Chief Richard Sartor was chosen as Interim Town Manager. Eventually, three candidates emerged as possible replacements, including Sartor, but in February, the Town Council surprised everyone with a decision — none of the candidates would be hired and the search would continue for a new Town Manager.

In the Feb. 14, 1980 edition of The Cheshire Herald, the paper’s editorial board expressed confusion over what the Council had done, but urged patience:

Townspeople were surprised (and, in the case of those rooting for Police Chief and Temporary Manager Richard Sartor, dismayed) when it was learned that three months and 65 candidates later the Town Council had still been unable to agree on a new Town Manager. 

The prospect of another three-month wait is disconcerting, and must be particularly so to Mr. Sartor who is functioning as police chief, manager, and finance director all at once.

Nevertheless, the old adage about “trusting your elected officials” was never more important. Although the actions of the Council may appear mysterious and even incomprehensible from the outside, we must remember that they — the Council members — are bound to follow the procedure that in their combined wisdom appears most beneficial to the town.

Whether The Herald’s confidence in the Council’s wisdom was well placed or not, it must have been quite clear to all that the decision to once again open the position up to candidates all but ensured that Sartor would not be chosen. So even though the public official was pulling triple duty for the municipality, Councilors had decided to look elsewhere for Cheshire’s next leader.

What happened next, announced in a front-page story in the March 6, 1980 edition of The Herald, was therefore entirely predictable:

Early Tuesday morning, the telephones of Town Council members began to ring. The message: Chief of Police and Temporary Town Manager Richard Sartor has resigned his dual role – as well as a third job as interim finance director – effective March 30, to assume the town managership of South Windsor.

Mr. Sartor had been one of the three finalists considered by the Council as a successor to former Town Manager Richard Borden … The Council, however, voted in early February to accept none of the applicants but rather to re-advertise the position, specifying three years of experience as a full-fledged manager as a basic qualification and upping the “negotiable” salary from $30,000 to $33,000.

Ironically, Mr. Sartor will start his new job at a salary of $33,000 to be reviewed in six months. As police chief, he was making about $26,000, with $250 a month added for his duties as temporary manager.

The timing, of course, could not have been worse. The Council was just about to begin deliberations on the upcoming fiscal year budget, so to have such a dramatic change at Town Hall seems to have put everyone on edge. However, it was quickly reported that Sartor, before leaving for his new position in South Windsor, would hand off the completed “manager’s budget” to Council leadership.

Who would take over for Sartor was a mystery, as the article went on to explain:

The charter does not specify that a temporary town manager must be a town staff member, by (Mayor Burton) Guilford said that section 3-1 of the charter prevents Council members from holding “any office or position of profit” under the town government.

Experienced department heads … are now in short supply in Town Hall, so it is difficult to conjecture who will serve out the remaining month of Mr. Sartor’s second 90-day appointment.

Though The Herald, only a few weeks earlier, had been willing to offer the Council the benefit of the doubt, Sartor’s abrupt departure seems to have frayed the editorial board’s last nerve, and perhaps speaking for a large percentage of its readership, criticized the actions of the Town:

Realistically, it could scarcely be expected that Mr. Sartor would continue long as ringmaster of Cheshire’s three-ring circus while other communities — recognizing the qualities of leadership and capability to which some of our Councilmen were apparently blind — offered positions at once more attractive and lucrative.

In Mr. Sartor’s all-to-brief sojourn in Cheshire, he has developed a constituency of his own, some of it in unexpected places. His popularity culminated in the circulation of petitions urging the Council to hire him as manager — advice this paper would gladly have endorsed were it not for the feeling (shared by Mr. Sartor himself) that such action is not appropriate within the structures of the council-manager system.

In any event, all such regrets are now vain. Rather than wringing our hands over lost opportunities and the precarious situation in which we now find ourselves, we must (or, to be more specific, the Council must) shape up and get our act together.

While The Herald pulled no punches in its critique of the Council, neither did several residents who chose to express their anger in the pages of the paper. That included Joseph and Mary Mayo, whose letter to the editor on March 6 echoed The Herald’s sentiments:

The Town Council has, no doubt, made mistakes in the past, and will probably err in the future, but it would take a town historian and prophet to discover or predict as big a blunder as allowing Dick Sartor to accept employment elsewhere…

In looking over the presidential candidates this year, a number of columnists have asked why our most able citizens are not attracted to public life. Maybe Cheshire can supply an answer: when one shows up, he isn’t recognized, encouraged, or appreciated.

Town Planner Richard Pfurr was eventually chosen as Temporary Town Manager, and a few months later Edward O’Neill was hired to the full time position. But the Council’s decision to pull a 180 on the Town at the beginning of a budget season created a stir in Cheshire in 1980. It at least appears such drama will be absent in 2020, as Town Manager Sean Kimball is firmly ensconced in his position at the moment.

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