OPINION: The drawbacks of taking a new path with a new Wallingford mayor

By Stephen Knight

This week’s column highlights two of the many policy positions taken by Democratic candidate Riley O’Connell that are on his website: oconnell2021.com. His platform demands an upheaval of local government if we are to prepare for the future.

He is asking voters to “kick over the game board” and replace a seasoned public sector executive — with a very enviable track record of successfully leading Wallingford — with someone with no public service record and only three years of work experience. It is therefore incredibly important that he demonstrate that his positions are grounded in fact.

To chart a radical new path, as O’Connell insists our municipal government must do, he has an obligation to prove, without a doubt, that his knowledge of Town of Wallingford government, as it is presently structured, is adequate to manage an operation with an annual budget of over $170 million. I submit that these examples clearly indicate that he is far from achieving that required level.

Energy: I am mystified about his enthusiasm for renewable energy. Okay, I get that perhaps solar panels on schools may make sense in view of the government subsidies and uneconomic state regulations in place to entice their installation. That’s worth studying carefully, not automatically assuming it has merit just because it’s the fashionable thing to do.

His treatise on energy states: “… by the year 2035, all American power plants will produce zero CO2 emissions. In other words, all power plants will be required to run entirely on renewable energy …” He demands, therefore, that our Electric Division concentrate on renewables, acquiring funds for such investments through government grants.

What concerns me most is his apparent lack of understanding of how the WED presently purchases electric power. He appears unaware that the WED does not produce its own power, and it will likely never be economical to do so. What, therefore, is the point of his emphasis on renewables? Why would it be necessary for us to run around with our pants on fire building renewable energy facilities to meet these new regulations, if, as he states, all the facilities operated by our suppliers are required to do so anyway?

Economic Development: This from his website in the “Innovation” section: “The Economic Development Commission (EDC) also boasts a membership of dedicated citizens, but has struggled to achieve its goals due to a lack of leadership and direction from the mayor’s office.” Is this a serious person that understands how real economic development works? Has he ever spoken to the Town’s Economic Development Specialist? “One of the EDCs best decisions was to recently enlist the help of Quinnipiac students to establish an online presence for the town, but these moments of progress are examples of too little too late,” states O’Connell. He adds: “A robust online presence is precisely what we need to provide modern solutions to our modern problems.” Sorry, but there’s way, way more involved than just putting up a pretty website and some social media to entice businesses to locate in Wallingford. It takes a ton of hard work, patience and persistence to build the solid record of accomplishment Wallingford has in this arena.

Here’s another puzzling statement: “First we need to invest in a professionally administered economic analysis of Wallingford so we can best understand what geographic advantages we possess and the types of potential businesses we should be targeting.” Mr. O’Connell, you must sit down with Tim Ryan to learn before you publish such a statement. It indicates that you think the EDC is some kind of kid’s lemonade stand. Of course this analysis has been done. Of course EDC targets businesses that can prosper in our high-tax, high-cost-of-living, overregulated and business-hostile state.

Take a look at the actual track record. Proton International LLC is set to build a $72 million facility on Northrop Road that utilizes a state-of-the-art cancer treatment called proton beam therapy. Amazon Logistics has opened a “last mile” delivery facility employing over 100 people. Wallingford Renewable Energy LLC, located right next to Amazon, is completing an enormous solar power facility being built on top of the town’s old landfill.

And, as a last example, read the From the Desk of Joe column published in the Summer edition of Wallingford Magazine. Joe talks about the two years of negotiations with Gotspace LLC to make Wallingford attractive to data centers. With the proper agreements in place, Wallingford could be considered for up to seven of these facilities, annually netting millions in Host Agreement payments to the town and potential investments in the billions of dollars.

If ambition and social media savvy were the only requirements for becoming mayor of Wallingford, Riley O’Connell would be ready. The above examples unfortunately point to the validity of the old axiom “Experience is the best teacher.” There is no on-the-job training available in the mayor’s office.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.

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