OLD SAYBROOK — Four candidates are competing for three seats on the town’s Harbor Management Commission in this Tuesday’s elections.
The harbor commission is responsible for managing Old Saybrook’s harbors and waterside facilities, as well as public access to the town’s waterways. The commission also oversees a harbormaster, who handles day-to-day operations for the town.
The commission has a total of five seats with staggered elections and four-year terms. The candidates in this election are an equal mix of incumbents and newcomers.
According to commission chair Robert Murphy, during the next term the commission will likely update the Harbor Management Plan. The current plan is more than 16 years old.
In interviews with CT Examiner, the candidates discussed what they see as priorities for the town to make the most out of its waterways and waterfront properties, which all agreed were among Old Saybrook’s greatest assets. The candidates also spoke variously about their backgrounds in construction, law, and organizational management.
Paul M. Connolly
Paul Connolly, a Democrat, is the incumbent secretary of the commission. He was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2016 and won election to the remainder of that term in 2017. He’s now seeking his first full term.
Connolly holds a PhD in industrial psychology, and owns Performance Programs Inc., a company that provides workplace surveys, personality tests, and other assessments for companies and organizations. He said his background in psychology helps him to work collaboratively with different personalities from diverse backgrounds.
Connolly said that one of his priorities, if elected, is to ensure that the town’s docks remain accessible to all residents, particularly by providing ramps and other provisions for those with physical limitations.
“There’s so many people who want to have access” to the waters, he said. “For many of them in town, because it’s an older town, there are people who aren’t as physically capable but still love the water so we want to make sure they can get there.”
In the spring, the town has plans to make repairs to the Sheffield Street Dock Complex, and Connolly said the commission is working with Parks and Recreation to explore adding spaces for more kayaks to the site or nearby for residents without large boats.
“I will guard people’s accessibility to these resources that the town has … for me it’s all about trying to ensure safe access to the resources that the town owns,” he said.
Robert L. Murphy
Robert Murphy, a Republican, is the incumbent chair of the commission. Much like Connolly, he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the commission in 2016 and won election to fill out the remaining two years of that term in 2017. He’s now seeking his first full term.
Murphy is a professional engineer, with an MBA, who works in the field of international construction claims resolution. He said that his background has given him a detailed familiarity with construction, a useful skill for the commission.
“I’ve had the pleasure of being the chairman and the secretary before that. I’ve got three years of experience under my belt, which I think means something,” said Murphy.
He said he’d like to see the commission promote Old Saybrook as a destination for transient boaters. He also said that the harbor facilities should have a website detailing rules for boaters, moorings and amenities near to the harbor.
“I think we can work a little harder on making sure the word gets out about Old Saybrook as a cruising destination,” Murphy said. “That has an obvious economic benefit to the town that I think we should be following up on.”
He said he’d like for visitors to know that Old Saybrook is a place where “when you get off your boat you can go for a meal. If you need repairs or supplies you can get them within reach of your boat. Old Saybrook has all of those things.”
Stephen R. Sheehan
Stephen Sheehan, a Democrat, is seeking his first term on the Harbor Management Commission. He has previously served more than 25 combined years on other town boards and commissions, including 20 years on the Old Saybrook Pension Board and terms on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Board of Assessment Appeals.
Sheehan is an attorney with his own firm, Sheehan & Sheehan, located in Old Saybrook.
He said part of his work included representing marinas and beach associations, and that his legal background would be helpful to the commission when dealing with regulations — a major part of the commission’s focus — and working with the state.
He said that among his priorities if elected would be to promote Old Saybrook’s waterfront properties and local businesses to visitors. Sheehan also said that he would like the commission work more closely with the town’s Economic Development Commission to enhance and promote the waterfront.
“A lot of times when people come in for a visit, they look around and they shop, and they might even decide that this is where they want to buy their next house,” Sheehan said.
He added that the town should look to plan ahead against the local effects of climate change, such as rising tides and further erosion. Sheehan said that the commission should update the Harbor Management Plan to reflect these concerns, and suggested that the town look to purchase waterfront properties when they become available.
Lou Vinciguerra, a Republican, is seeking his first term on the commission. He recently retired after a 37-year career as a civil engineer and project manager with the U.S. Coast Guard. Beginning with the Coast Guard Academy, Vinciguerra spent 13 years on active duty.
“I firmly believe that North Cove docks and moorings and the Ferry Point dock are great assets to our town, and I want to be part of the team that manages, maintains and improves these facilities,” he said.
Vinciguerra manages a junior sailing program at North Cove that teaches sailing and boating skills for six weeks each summer to children ages 8 to 14.
Vinciguerra noted that he had years of experience managing construction projects at Coast Guard stations and bases related to waterways, with a focus on dredging, bulkheads, piers, docks, boat ramps, and shore protection.
If elected, he said that he would prioritize safety and maintenance of the town’s docks, as well as accessibility, and dredging to maintain access for boaters.
As a board member, he said he would take a collaborative approach.
“When working on a team I make a point to treat everyone with respect, value each person’s opinion or input and try to build consensus when working to a decision,” he said.