OPINION: The glass-half-empty report on Meriden’s city manager search

OPINION: The glass-half-empty report on Meriden’s city manager search

Well, short-term Meriden skipper Guy Scaife has been made to walk the plank, but Fire Chief Ken Morgan is in charge until a crew of distinguished locals can find a replacement, and everything’s going swimmingly. That’s the glass-half-full outlook.

The search committee will have nine members, all of them either city councilors or appointed by the Council leadership. This may strike some folks as too “political,” but politics, after all, is not a bad word; it’s simply how we organize our public life. 

The committee “needs to be a cross-section of business and services in our community,” City Council Majority Leader David Lowell told a reporter, “people that can reflect the cultural sensitivities of our community and ... evaluate candidates.” Good enough.

Also weighing in will be Morgan, plus the human resources director, corporation counsel and city attorney, plus a professional recruitment firm, but the final verdict will be handed down by the Council. So, for all we can tell right now, everything’s fine. Then again, you could have said the same about the last such exercise — the one that came up with Scaife.

“We recently went through this process … ,” Council Minority Leader Dan Brunet said, “and I think the process and procedure that we used in the last search went well … it’s very similar to what we’re doing this time and hopefully we come up with some good candidates moving forward.”

Or not. Look what happened last time. 

But somebody’s got to do the job. All that’s lacking is the glass-half-empty report, which I now graciously offer. Just a word or two of caution.

Yes, we’ve been here before — and not just for the selection of Scaife, but also way back in 2000, when the city started looking for a new police chief. That time the search panel was, if anything, even more broad-based: three city councilors, one former councilor, two members of the Board of Education, plus the heads of the chamber of commerce, Casa Boricua, the clergy association, and a neighborhood association.

And what did they bring us? The nightmare reign of Police Chief William C. Abbatematteo, that’s what.

Scaife’sdefenestration may have been a no-fault affair (with no official cause ever cited, in line with the conditions in his contract, but plenty of talk about “discord” at City Hall). But “discord” hardly covers the administrative horror show that was the MPD under Chief A — not to mention the many months of storm and stress it took to get rid of him, and the heaps of taxpayer money that ordeal cost.

And it’s not as if discouraging words hadn’t been heard: City Councilor Patricia D. Lynes, for one, was “very, very, very, very unhappy” with City Manager Roger Kemp’s choice of Abbatematteo for chief — even though it was supported by the advice of “experts” from a private search firm and a panel from the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, and despite a background check and a polygraph exam.

This is not to suggest that the Abbatematteo disaster is going to be repeated with a new city manager search. Just a word of caution: When the official forecast is sunny and mild, watch out.

Reach Glenn Richter at grichter@record-journal.com.


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