Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. talks to Sheehan High School students about local government. Dickinson also answered students' questions and explained his position on varioust topics, including technology and the town's budget. | Eric Vo / Record-Journal

Wallingford mayor gives students civics lesson

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories on the mayoral candidates’ visits to Sheehan.

WALLINGFORD — Standing at the front of the Drama Lecture Room at Sheehan High School, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. described the importance of local government and answered questions from students Thursday afternoon.

The students attend teacher Matthew Altieri’s AP government and politics class.

From time to time during election season, Altieri said he’ll arrange for candidates to come in to discuss their roles, campaigning and the importance of local government.

“The reality is you have people running in an election. You have real live people in a real live government making decisions,” Altieri said. “... Theoretically, I can talk to them all day about it, but it’s not as good as bringing someone in.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 22, Jason Zandri, the Democratic mayoral candidate, will speak to Altieri’s class. This way, the students will get to hear both sides of the issues they raise, Altieri said.

Before Dickinson answered questions from students, he told the class how important local government was to a town or city. Without it, Dickinson said, there would be no rules or laws and the services local government provides would not be available.

He asked the students to tell him which services Wallingford provides and then told them why each was important.

Dickinson emphasized the importance of Wallingford’s municipal electric division, telling the students “without electricity, we would be in survival (mode) within a week.”

The Republican incumbent mentioned how the economy impacts all levels of government. With “less income tax being collected and less employment in the state, there’s not enough money to provide services,” he said.

In light of the current unemployment rate in Connecticut, Dickinson was asked what the town has to offer students and high school graduates. The key is to keep businesses in town, Dickinson said. He stressed the importance of attracting and supporting manufacturing, which he said plays an important role in the economy.

As in the Town Council and mayoral candidates’ forum earlier this week, technology and the lack of it in Town Hall was frequently brought up by students. Dickinson acknowledged that technology has its benefits and he emphasized that he isn’t against it. Instead, he told the students installing technology is expensive and, most importantly, Dickinson said there has to be a balance.

“If you have enough of it, you’re going to have to hire someone to watch what they’re doing on the computer,” he said. “... It can take away what is asked of them as employees.”

Altieri challenged Dickinson, saying that technology was an asset in his job as a teacher. Motioning to his laptop and smartphone, Altieri said technology had increased teacher productivity and opened the door to greater possibilities for instruction. The productivity gained should outweigh the concern about employees abusing technology and not doing their jobs, Altieri said.

“Not all jobs are like yours,” Dickinson countered. “Local government is not a research organization.”

The work of town employees can be repetitive and doesn’t require research, Dickinson said. And the cost of technology can eliminate clerical and secretarial positions, removing an aspect of personal touch, he added.

Dickinson was asked what he thought of the government shutdown. He said it was a “failure of leadership” and there was no excuse for it.

“Wallingford is no island,” he said. “We are all impacted with what does or does not happen in Washington.”

Dickinson said he was glad to see the students involved and interested.

“Individuals make all the difference,” he told the class. “You make all the difference.” (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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