Elections are often the best way for a community to send a message that it would like to see change.
For Cheshire in 2019, the Board of Education election seemed to communicate just that. With three open seats up for grabs, and only one incumbent — Democrat Anne Harrigan — seeking re-election, change was inevitable. But who was chosen to replace those departing incumbents was indicative of a larger trend in the community.
By winning three of the four seats — Harrigan was elected to a second term — the local Republican party has taken a commanding majority on the Board of Education. Whereas the GOP previously held only two seats on the BOE, the party will now be in control of five, with three being newcomers to the Board and one, Adam Grippo, still in his first term.
Harrigan knows just how difficult the transition will be for the newbies.
“It’s always so interesting to think that people want to politicize the Board of Education,” she explained. “We have a really young and inexperienced Board now. The new people need to learn so much in such a short amount of time. They need to learn how to be thoughtful and listen to the more experienced members.”
The new Repulican members — Faith Ham, Andrew Martelli, and Tim White — include one former Town Councilor and two political neophytes. White served as the Republican Councilor for the Fourth District for multiple terms before stepping away approximately a decade ago to focus on his career and begin a family.
While the Board will be a new venture for him, White says that he intends to pursue fiscally responsibile policies that don’t stifle modern growth, just as he did while a Councilor.
“When people think about me, they immediately think about energy,” stated White, who has helped to spearhead different energy efficiency initiatives in Cheshire over the last several years. “I was on the Energy Commission for a long time and I would really like to look at how we use the non-bus school transportation vehicles and see if we can switch some of them out for electric cars.”
Ham, though brand new to the Board, is no stranger to the issues that have plagued it over the past few years, and would like to start her term with a special commitment.
“It needs to be known that I and the rest of the Board are committed to the idea of transparency,” she acknowledged. “The public needs to understand that we are their representatives. We work for them, ultimately.”
The rest of the Republicans on the Board have all echoed Ham’s pledge of transparency, but Harrigan, for one, is concerned about how exactly the BOE will communicate such “transparency” in the future, in particular the effect social media could have on the Board’s interaction with the public.
“I think the Board needs a refresher on how we utilize social media and how we get information across,” she warned. “I think we need to differentiate between the information the Board puts out and what is a personal opinion. At the very least, we should go over the rules and regulations of social media and how the members use it.”