SOUTHINGTON — Town Manager Garry Brumback’s announcement this week that he plans to retire in January has town councilors within both party caucuses divided over how and when to fill the position.
For some councilors, the top candidate for the job is Mark Sciota, the town attorney and deputy town manager. After the retirement of former town manager John Weichsel in 2010, Sciota narrowly lost the appointment to Southington’s top post to Garry Brumback, who was found through a national search.
Democratic Councilor Dawn Miceli voted for Sciota in 2010 and said she still believes he should lead the town.
“If it does come to a motion to support Mark Sciota, to appoint Mark Sciota as our next town manager, I would definitely support that appointment,” she said. “I felt he was the appropriate and right choice for our community eight years ago and I still feel that way now.”
“He can make a seamless transition for our community for little to no expense,” Miceli said. Hiring outside the town could mean upheaval in Town Hall as employees and department leaders adjust to a new leadership style.
Cheryl Lounsbury, a Republican who is the council vice chairwoman, said that to appoint Sciota without a search process “is going back to how it was 20 years ago in this town.” Sciota went to school with many of the councilors and is in some of the same organizations as well. Lounsbury said appointing people with personal connections has caused problems in the past, although she spoke highly of Sciota.
“If he goes through the process and becomes the candidate, that’s fine,” Lounsbury said. “It’s not pro-Mark or anti-Mark.”
She and fellow Republican Ed Pocock III were not included in a meeting that she said Council Chairman Michael Riccio held with other Republicans who are running in November’s election. Lounsbury and Pocock are not seeking re-election.
Lounsbury said she and Pocock weren’t included because they disagree with Riccio’s preference to appoint Sciota. Riccio couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
“To me, I’m so disappointed in Michael’s leadership. You don’t split your caucus,” she said. “The only reason I can see (why they weren’t included) is he wanted people to hear only one side. That’s not leadership. That’s trying to bully your way through.”
Riccio and Lounsbury clashed most recently over changes to the town’s ethics code.
Lounsbury said she’s not running in part due to Riccio’s treatment of her and other councilors. She described him as “the Donald Trump of Southington.”
“I like inclusion, I like compromise. I like discussion among all people and then come to a consensus,” she said. “I don’t like bullying.”
Republican Tom Lombardi said it’s too early to comment on how the job will be filled, but he spoke highly of Sciota and said Southington was in a unique position with a highly qualified candidate already in town.
“Mark Sciota has done a fantastic job as well,” Lombardi said.
Victoria Triano, a Republican councilor, said she didn’t want to comment on personnel matters.
Republican Councilor Paul Champagne couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Pocock and Democratic Councilor Chris Palmieri said that Riccio had called Miceli, asking for her support in appointing Sciota. Palmieri criticized the phone calls and meetings which had taken place on the issue so far.
“It’s absolutely outrageous to me. We haven’t even met as a council, we haven’t even discussed it as a council,” he said. “This is being done not only behind the public’s back but also behind fellow council members’ backs.”
Miceli said she didn’t want to comment on any recent conversations between councilors on who should take the position or how it should be filled.
Palmieri voted for Sciota in 2010 and said he probably would again, but wanted a search process to gather the best candidates for the job.
Pocock said he supports a search process as he did in 2010. He doesn’t expect his view to prevail, though.
“It sounds to me like they’ve locked down five votes,” Pocock said.
John Barry, a Democratic councilor, also voted for Sciota but said he wanted an “open and transparent process” to find Brumback’s replacement. He said there were a lot of questions that should be asked of a prospective town manager.
“Without the ability to meet and ask questions of job seekers, it denies everyone the opportunity to examine who might be the best person to run our town,” he said.
Sciota didn’t return a call for comment Wednesday.
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