Since 1966 when Southington adopted a council-manager form of government, it was assumed that few expected dozens to qualify as town councilors with no compensation. Yet, nearly 50 past and present citizens have been elected to run as candidates and serve a minimum of two years for no pay and plenty of attention.
And, since 1966, there have been more than a combined total of over 500 years of volunteer service by not only councilors, but from all Southington boa
rds and commissions. Obviously the Town Council has been treated as the elite powerhouse although members of the Planning and Zoning Commission decide what goes where, Parks Commission oversees our parks and Zoning Board of Appeals makes the decisions of what goes where with restrictions. The finance board decides what your taxes will be; the Board of Education manages the schools and the fire and police commissions covet those departments.
Council members meet on an average of two meetings a month for at least two years. In recent years there was a mild attempt to offer a stipend to members, reportedly about $50 a meeting.
That proposal died quickly and Southington remains as one of the very few communities that does not pay any of its elected public servants.
Then why do citizens elect to run for the position?
The truth is it is getting extremely difficult for political parties to attract candidates. Although some may regard being a councilor as prestigious, politically powerful and all that, the truth is the position can be demanding and difficult. It demands spending one’s own money, some travel and plenty of time. Being a councilor does allow for influence with town departments and media attention, but the spotlight remains on each of them day and night.
Councilors are expected to have good attendance, no skeletons in their closets and must always be on guard for detractors and it could be in the grocery store, gas station or at a public event.
During my decade of service as a councilor, our town meetings were televised much better than today. Presently the council meetings are televised on cable but the reception has poor quality and councilors are viewed from a distance. Years ago the camera zoomed in on each councilor that if a frown was shown or eyes half closed, it appeared the councilor was bored and uninterested. The visuals and sound were excellent. Council camera technology has not improved since the 1990s.
Councilors and other public servants often pay a price for being cast into the limelight. Friends and even family members can disagree on particular votes and running for re-election can be an exhausting adventure.
Political parties require door-to-door campaigning and sign placement on as many front lawns as possible. Councilors often must attend functions on weekends and sometimes pay for tickets with no reimbursement.
However, each councilor has their own reason for running for the office.
The bottom line is that Southington has been fortunate since 1966 to have dedicated citizens willing to donate their time and often their reputation and privacy, to serve the community.
The list of former councilors reveal many who served for decades with retired and former council chairman Andy Meade leading the pack with 28 years served. Several members of the present council have served multiple terms while others have served two years and then waved goodbye.
The reality is new councilors receive a rude awakening about government, politics, the media and what goes on behind the scenes at private meetings.
Yet, despite a shortage of those who want to slip their toes into the political arena, each party manages to secure hopeful candidates. Adjacent communities are governed by mayors. Southington is governed by nine volunteers and a compensated town manager.
For this, we should all be grateful.