Report by Paula Antolini, August 17, 2022, 4:54PM EDT
Message to the Town of Bethel from the First Selectman
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
I am writing to let our community know that this morning I submitted my resignation from the office of First Selectman. This will become effective at midnight on Tuesday, September 6th, and on Wednesday, September 7th, Selectman Rich Straiton will assume the duties of First Selectman on a full-time basis. The vacancy in the First Selectman’s office will require a special election in the near future, as well as an appointment by the Board of Selectmen to fill the third seat. The special election will most likely be held in early 2023. You will be receiving more information about that over the next few weeks.
I’m sure this news comes as a surprise to many of our residents, and I wanted to take a moment to let you know how this came about.
I had been contemplating making a career change at the end of my current term of office for some time. I was always planning to continue in the field of public service, but wished to be in a more secure position, and one that was not subject to the two-year election cycle. I was looking for an opportunity to keep working in a public service capacity without the burden of politics and the seemingly never ending need to campaign for office. Over the past two years, I have actually had other opportunities that I felt I had to let go, as I felt it was not right to leave this position in the middle of a global pandemic and its effects on our community.
In a perfect world, I would have preferred to finish my current term and then transition to a new role. Great opportunities seldom time themselves with such convenience, however, and the opportunity I have is one that I cannot afford to pass up. On September 7th, I will assume the position of Town Administrator in the Town of Wilton and will be responsible for managing most of the town’s municipal operations.
I send my most sincere thanks to all of the members of our community who have supported me in this position. And thanks also go to the other hard-working members and volunteers in our town government, as well as the other elected and appointed boards and commissions. By setting politics aside and working together for the betterment of our town, we have accomplished a great deal of good work over the past thirteen years.
Some of the things I am most proud of include the ongoing accelerated road reconstruction program, making Bethel one of the first towns in the state to construct a municipal solar farm to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the town’s energy expenses, constructing a new police station and full renovation of two elementary schools, completion of the stalled library
expansion, fully revamping the town’s finances and achieving the highest possible bond rating and adopting financial policies that will protect taxpayers from sudden spikes in tax rates in the future.
Perhaps the single most significant change is the renovation of the Bethel public water system. Upon taking office in 2009, I discovered a system that was on the verge of failure. It had lost close to $3 million dollars and was subject to increasing threats of sanctions by the state Department of Public Health concerning water quality. Over the past eight years, we have instituted an aggressive capital improvement program, and as a result, this system has been transformed into one of the best public water systems in the state. The old debt has been fully repaid. The system is solvent, operating smoothly and meeting or exceeding all state and federal health and safety standards.
While I may have had the privilege of leading these projects, none of them would have come to pass without your support and commitment to making our town the best it can be. Thank you all for allowing me to serve our community. It has been a privilege.
We are not leaving. My wife and I remain proud Bethel residents and will continue to participate in our town meeting form of local government. We will see you around town.
Photo: First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (File photo, ©2019 BETHEL ADVOCATE News Media / Paula Antolini)