EAST HADDAM – As the November general election approaches, local Republican and Democratic party leaders say their respective candidate slates are focused on the same important issues facing the town – fiscal policies, schools and development of East Haddam Village.
“As Republicans, we’re extremely proud of our record and accomplishments over the past two years,” Republican Town Committee Chair Bryan Goff told CT Examiner this week. “They have addressed some long-standing issues in town, showing true leadership.”
Republicans currently have the majority on the three-member Board of Selectmen, with Irene Haines as first selectwoman and Erik Dill as a selectman. Democrat Theresa Govert holds the third seat.
Goff said Haines and Dill introduced a zero-based budget, reducing expenses while maintaining all essential town services.
“They were instrumental in launching the Redevelopment Agency, charged with exploring options for changes in the East Haddam Village. They have worked on sustainability, availability of broadband service, comprehensive social services for our residents, enhanced public safety, and implemented infrastructure and road improvements,” he said.
The Board of Education is currently made up of five Republicans, three Democrats and one Independent who each serve six-year terms. Republican candidates running for school board seats are Stephen Trojan, Sean Morrissey and Joe Polcari.
Goff said the Republicans are dedicated to improving academic success and maintaining parents’ rights at the schools.
“They’re looking to keep parents in the process as much as possible,” he said. “As a parent, having personal involvement is extremely important to me.”
However, Goff clarified this was not a disparaging statement about the importance of educators.
“I’m not going to detract from an educator,” he said. “They’re professionals. But there’s limitations with that.”
Being chair of the current minority party in town, Susan Kinsman said the Democrats need to encourage people to vote and draw the attention of unaffiliated swing voters.
“East Haddam residents, we share a common interest in fiscal policies, good schools,” she told CT Examiner. “We want to make sure the money that we’re spending in tax dollars is being spent wisely. I don’t think that confidence is there right now. There’s been some issues I think have angered voters.”
On the question of moving the East Haddam Volunteer Ambulance Service under the auspices of the fire department, Kinsman, in a later email to CT Examiner, clarified that the Democratic Town Committee has not taken a position.
“… Many residents in town were unhappy about the way this situation was handled by the First Selectwoman because she did not bring both sides to the table to negotiate a solution. The issue is still unresolved and it has raised a lot of concern and uncertainty in town,” Kinsman wrote.
She also noted that though Republicans talk about fiscal responsibility, it took a Republican-led Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance three tries to get the latest town budget approved. However, the mill rate was set after the first referendum.
“Tax bills went out on that mill rate determined by the first budget,” she said. “People who were upset by the budget were being billed on that tax rate. There’s no refund.”
Democrat Tanya Bourgoin is running for the town’s top seat, while John Olin is running for selectman.
“She’s got an attention to detail, strong work ethic, excellent communication skills,” Kinsman said of Bourgoin. “Her political ambition is to make sure this town goes back on track.”
Democrats running for the Board of Education include David Cassenti, Jacqueline Endorf and Thea Jansky.
“Dave Cassenti has his bachelor’s degree from UConn. He was a teacher for 20 years,” Kinsman said. “He’s running as an advocate for special needs students. Special education is an important thing in our town and surrounding towns.”
“Thea Jansky serves on the Mom’s Club of East Haddam,” Kinsman continued. “She’s a professional counselor by training, and she’s trained in conflict management and resolution and mediation. We thought she’d be a good addition to the Board of Ed.”
Endorf is a local school bus driver with three children who attend East Haddam schools.
“She moved here to take care of her grandparents and is now a full-time resident,” Kinsman said.
Both Goff and Kinsman also expressed the importance of developing the village area near Goodspeed Opera House.
Goff said the town needed to move forward in the next two years with a fiscally responsible economic development plan in order to lessen the burden of property taxes and continue community enhancements started during the current administration.
“We have a lot of effort directed at our town center, the town village,” he said, including determining what to do with the old town hall and town garage.
“It’s a bipartisan effort,” he added. “It’s set vacant with no plans. Irene put together an economic development committee to talk about options for redeveloping that area. Many of the Republicans in town are looking to develop the space and make it a responsible town center.”
Goff said the idea was to maintain East Haddam’s rural character.
Kinsman voiced a similar view as how to handle the village.
“We need to focus on our downtown development of the village and make sure that plan is consistent with what people want to see in East Haddam,” she said. “We have these beautiful farm vistas. It needs to be a plan driven from the bottom up.”
Editor’s note: Kinsman clarified in an email that Democratic Town Committee has not taken a position on moving the East Haddam Volunteer Ambulance Service under the auspices of the fire department. This story has been updated.