At Monday night’s City Council meeting, the council — in an 8-4 vote along party lines — terminated the contract for Meriden City Manager Guy Scaife, who had been hired 15 months ago. (Scaife replaced retiring City Manager Larry Kendzior, who had previously held the post for 11 years.)
I attended this raucous council meeting where, during public comment, about a dozen Scaife supporters castigated Democrats over the termination resolution to be voted on that evening. (I hasten to note that the majority of those protesting were from the opposition party, and many of them had previously unsuccessfully run for public office.) Also in attendance were the regular “complainers and critics” from the public comment sessions that rarely, if ever, have a good word to say about our city.
The reason Democrats gave for Scaife’s dismissal was “escalating discord” that was deemed not to be in the city’s best interest. Scaife’s combative management style was punctuated by a series of conflicts with staff: City Attorney, Corporation Counsel, Finance Director, Purchasing Director, Director of Economic Development and Assistant Fire Chief. Things were so severe that even Scaife acknowledged City Hall business was suffering as a result of the tension.
Yet the vote to terminate Scaife’s contract demonstrated the partisan divide that has gripped American politics from the Meriden City Hall to the White House.
As an example, the entire opposition party rose in defense of Scaife’s behavior despite what was in the best interest of the city. They attributed the staff’s unhappiness to being held accountable in their jobs by Scaife. However, these same employees have been lauded for years for their excellent reputations by their superiors. (I had the pleasure of working with them throughout my tenure as mayor and city councilor, and was impressed with their professionalism and commitment to the city Meriden.)
But the attitude of opposition councilors fits a pattern I have seen with other conservatives. They paint a picture of gloom and doom (often at odds with reality) that has to be rectified, and then they proceed to slash-and-burn the establishment to carry out their agenda.
President Trump and Steve Bannon are good examples of this approach to governing. This pattern has shown itself in the White House and now at Meriden City Hall. “Chaos management” has become the name for this method of leadership. In effect, alternative realities are at play and the voters must decide which reality to embrace.
Newsflash: Meriden had a recent election, and the voters overwhelmingly voted for council candidates who embraced a positive vision for Meriden and to keep the momentum moving forward. The outspoken Trump supporters lost and chaos governing was defeated. Apparently, the minority parties and city manager didn’t get the message.
Scaife is gone as we close out 2017. Now we look forward to the New Year as the City Council begins a search for a new city manager. My hope is that the toxic political atmosphere left in his wake will not discourage good potential candidates from applying.
But Meriden has a very bright future with a sound fiscal condition — many resources and assets — and we are enjoying a period of unprecedented investment, growth and development. We have successfully addressed many longstanding and vexing infrastructure problems and we are ready to take major steps forward. We need a city manager that will be an inspirational leader and who will guide our best efforts.
Warm wishes to all during this holiday season. And here’s hoping for a peaceful, prosperous new year.
Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.