Incumbent Keith Hedrick is facing off against former State Rep. Aundré Bumgardner in the Democratic primary for Groton City Mayor on Monday, March 8. Hedrick served for decades in the U.S. Navy and is endorsed by the Groton Democratic Committee.
In a conversation with Connecticut Examiner, Hedrick shared why he hopes voters re-elect him as mayor, and what his goals are for a third term.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What are your thoughts heading into Monday’s election?
I’m frustrated, because I’m in a primary that didn’t need to happen. I just don’t think the primary was necessary. Republicans didn’t run anybody against me because people are happy with what we’ve done. If we’re doing everything successfully and have no scandals, and nothing bad has come out of this administration, why would you want to change the administration just because you have somebody new?
Aundré always talks about the fact that he was the youngest legislator, the youngest African-American legislator, that he would be the first Latino mayor. The mayor of Middletown is 27, and if Aundré gets elected he’ll be 26, so then he’d be the youngest mayor in the state.
To me, this is identity politics, which I’m trying to stay away from because it’s hurtful to the campaign and hurtful to the city. Aundré is looking to go into state or federal politics, and I don’t have an issue with that, but there are other ways to do it besides this way. He could have been on the city council here. I’ve had several positions open up, and he could have sat on the council, rode out for two more years as councilor, and then I could have trained him on what it is to be the mayor, and then turned over the mayor position to him. He then would have had experience on city council, and the local Democratic committee would have supported that, but he chose not to do that and instead go about it this way.
Are you planning on retiring after this term?
I have a six-year plan in writing that I started when I came into office in 2017. My wife will 100 percent support me for six years, but she is lukewarm on me doing eight years, and not happy about ten, so I’m looking to do one more term for sure, and maybe more, if voters still want me and we’re still moving forward on projects we’re doing.
When I’m finally done being mayor, I’m going to be done. I’m not building my resume and looking to be a senator or legislator. I love the city of Groton. This is an opportunity for me to give back to the residents of the city of Groton every single day. I love this city, and I want to see it continue to move forward, and will give it every ounce of energy I have in order to keep moving the city forward and making it a great place to live.
What are some of your goals for your next term?
We’re going to continue the COVID controls that we have now. We have protocols in place to keep employees involved in essential services safe, like workers in electric, water, sewer, sanitation, police, and fire. We’ve had zero cases of COVID related to workplace spread, and we’ve been able to maintain essential services throughout this pandemic, so we’re going to keep doing that.
Electric Boat is expanding, and we’re building the South Yard Assembly Building, which is going to increase the workforce at Electric Boat between three and five thousand employees in the next three to five years. The questions I have are, where do we put those people, and what do we do with them? I’m working on a parking management plan, and thinking about economic development to have housing for these new employees.
We have three different projects that will probably take place in the next couple of years, and two that I’m hoping will be shovel ready this year, with 80 residential units with commercial on the first floor and residential on the above floors. People can work at Electric Boat and walk and bike to Electric Boat, and this puts commercial entities like restaurants and storefronts right there in their immediate vicinity. Right now, I have people that want to come in, like bakeries and ice cream stores and coffee shops, but I don’t have the storefronts.
Tell me about the decision to sell Thames Valley Communications.
Thames Valley Communications was formed as a bipartisan effort, and was operated for five years while losing, on average, two million dollars per year. I was on the city council at the time that the council voted to sell Thames Valley Communications, and it was clear that the only way to potentially break even or make a profit was with an additional 10 million dollars to expand the customer base.
During this time, we evaluated five or six different proposals, looking at making Thames Valley Communications employee-owned, doing a fire sale, continuing running it at a loss, partnering with another owner as majority or minority owner, or selling the company outright. In every case, we were going to retain the 28 million dollar debt. Nobody was going to take that debt from us.
This council made the hard decision to sell it for $550,000, and Atlantic Broadband just bought Thames Valley Communications for $50 million, and now people say see, you could’ve kept it and sold it for $50 million.
That’s a dramatic increase in value – what explains that increase? Why wasn’t Groton City able to get closer to that amount of money in the sale?
I honestly don’t know. I do know that when Thames Valley Communications was bought out by the company that was running them, they put another 10 million or more into infrastructure and they had an intensive marketing campaign to expand the customer base quite a bit. I don’t know if that’s what caused the increase in value. People say you should’ve done that, but I was one of six votes. I wasn’t the mayor when that happened. There were a lot of people involved in that decision, I was one of many. If I had to do it over again, I would sell it again, because we were losing $2 million a year with no plan to get that back, and had $28 million in debt. That’s a fact. It’s a sad fact, but it’s in the past, and I’m trying to move on.
If Aundré becomes the mayor and says we’re going to do broadband, that’s just not realistic. It will not happen here in the city of Groton. The city has already been bitten by this and they’re not going to do it again. That is a dreamer’s idea, and that’s the difference between having someone experienced in the mayor’s position and someone that has ideas and dreams.
You can be energetic and enthusiastic as you want, but if you do not have experience to guide that energy and enthusiasm, you will drive the bus off the cliff. Between the city and Groton Utilities, that’s a $90 million budget with 212 employees and 10,000 residents. That’s what’s at stake in this election.
Bumgardner says that while you claim to not have raised taxes, you did raise costs for residents by reallocating the sewer budget. Do you think that’s a fair claim?
We were thinking about how to increase revenue and get non-taxable entities to have a little skin in the game, and the idea originally started as a sewer tax on non-taxable entities. But then we realized that we were one of the few municipalities that still had sewer in our tax base, and when the sewer budget is in the tax base, taxes go up based on operational needs or capital equipment needs. It did not make sense to me to have peaks and valleys and jerk everybody around for capital needs. People would basically kick the can down the road because no mayor wants to raise taxes because that’s the kiss of death. So we took the sewer out of the tax base, and now, your taxes do not pay for the sewer. It is now a user base, so the more you use, the more you pay.
When we did this, utility bills did go up because people are now paying their sewage fee. I know people say it’s a tax, but technically it’s not a tax, it’s a fee. This allows me to use the money to fix the infrastructure and do repairs that need to be done without raising taxes. We’re able to go after grants now that we couldn’t go after before. Everybody gets charged for how much they use, whether it’s a non-taxable entity like a nonprofit or commercial or residential. If you look at user fees throughout the state, we’re right in line with everybody else.