By Gina Morgenstein
In 2017 Wallingford Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau spoke about parking lots, specifically the “Wooding Caplan” property (surprise, surprise).
“We need to stop striving for mediocrity and do it right the first time,” LeTourneau said. “There’s always a cost, but that lot has been in limbo for 30 years, so let’s just do it. Let it be a showpiece for the town.”
Mr. LeTourneau’s remarks are worth noting because it put to words a wider feeling that Wallingford under one person’s longstanding leadership was hindered in its vision and implementation of improvements. “Fiscal conservatism” became a password for a caution that hindered collaboration and imagination. It felt safe but in essence it resulted in “mediocrity” and a town that neither fell nor rose.
This philosophy has been a hallmark of the Dickinson years. Voters have embraced it election after election because though the state and towns around Wallingford have fluctuated in their fortunes widely, Wallingford has managed to keep itself at the same water level. Not too far above or below.
So the question that nags openly and behind closed doors: Is this the best that Wallingford can be?
Recently the Record-Journal published an Op-Ed by Lorraine Connelly. She explores examples of creative thinking in other municipalities of land usage and the value that different uses can bring to a community. The article asked the reader to consider the Brothers property and the historic railroad station. Does a parking lot which does have a value to the community mean that we as a community should not consider other options like green space or mixed-use development as having equal or greater value? Isn’t it in the public interest for leaders making decisions to ask, is this the best we can do?
This article prompted another Op-Ed in the Record Journal. Instead of a discussion of merit, it was dismissive. Instead of an exchange of ideas it was reduced to a political “us” against “them”. Is this the best we can do when we are discussing what is best for Wallingford which includes all of us regardless of party? Should we as the author suggests in his Op-Ed just go along settling for what others called a “beautiful parking lot”?
Another example of vision that has come up repeatedly is Community Pool. Community Pool as the name implies has truly been a community asset bringing generations together, supplying memories of time spent together as families and friends. It has truly been a point of pride and a place that has united a diversity of Wallingford’s residents.
For years it has languished, deteriorating. Commissions have explored renovations, taxpayer funds used for studies. What was once state of the art through patchwork repairs became mediocre and rundown. The concern led to an ambitious plan to renovate. It was creative, it was imaginative. It was envisioned as a pool truly worthy to the people of Wallingford. It united and brought together a diverse coalition including the arguably most “conservative” and “liberal” town councilors. That night a bipartisan majority coalition acted as citizens of Wallingford for Wallingford and voted for imagination, for something special.
A subsequent veto by one man, Mayor Dickinson, ended that initiative. The Council could not muster a super majority to override. The pool sits unused, its future uncertain at worst and its prospects for any renovation greatly reduced. At best, mediocre.
November will bring a municipal election. It will be cast by some as pitting Republican against Democrat. It really, as a local election, is about vision. Will it be about staying safe? Or can it be for something more, imaginative, collaborative? Do we stay the course or do we aspire to rise, becoming a showpiece? John LeTourneau asked for more, we all should.
Gina Morgenstein is a Wallingford town councilor.