KILLINGWORTH — After 12 years as first selectwoman, Catherine Iino announced on Thursday that she will not be running this November for another term. She is one of several town leaders in the region who have announced they are not running for another term, including Mark Nickerson in East Lyme, Rob Smith in East Haddam and Susan Bransfield in Portland.
“It was a difficult decision, but I’ve been doing this for 12 years, I have a granddaughter I haven’t really seen over the last year and a half, and I just think it’s time to do other things,” Iino told CT Examiner.
Iino said she doesn’t think COVID was a major factor in her decision – the virus was one of several federal disasters during her tenure – but that seeing others decide to step down actually made the decision more difficult.
Iino said she struggled with leaving when there are still issues needing addressing for the town. With Federal COVID aid expected to bring a much larger amount of funding than usual, Iino said that there would be a number of rough decisions regarding how to pay for looming capital expenses, like replacing the modular units that make up the back half of Town Hall.
Killingworth is also facing the recent discovery of PFAS contamination of wells around Town Hall, currently under investigation by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. And there’s the core issue faced by smaller communities across the state – how to run municipalities that rely on volunteers for government boards and services that include ambulance and fire protection, she said.
Iino said she’s partly seen her role as enabling the volunteers from the community to do what they want to do to make changes in the town – such as the volunteer-led restoration of town-owned Parmelee Farm.
“These are all heavily volunteer activities, and they make our community great, but the times are changing and it’s harder to find people to serve in political office, or serve on these boards and committees,” Iino said. “It’s a lot of time and a lot of energy, and family structures aren’t what they were 75 years ago. So, I think a lot of towns are going to figure out how we’re going to move forward.”
Iino said she came to accept that nothing is ever perfect, but that she’s leaving the town in good shape, both financially and as a community. But she said that, aside from the long hours, the most challenging part of being first selectwoman has been how politics have changed during her tenure. Iino, a Democrat, said that Killingworth has developed from a “centrist” town into one with a more contentious atmosphere.
“One big challenge is that there is virtually no local media, so most people are really quite unfamiliar with their local governments, and much more familiar with what’s on the national news,” Iino said. “That becomes the driving force in a way that’s not always positive or productive.”
Iino said she’s spent a lot of time trying to convince people that politics doesn’t have to be unsavory or disreputable, and that being involved can be a good way to serve the community. Politics should be the way that the community comes together to resolve differences and make decisions, she said.
“The political system is worth protecting,” Iino said. “Compromise in politics is not a dirty word. It’s not a failing. It’s something we need to do with a system that allows us to continue to bring people together with different views. We have to respect each other, and we have to respect the truth.”