Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Dems in Vernon win one for public

Editorials & Comment
Journal Inquirer
August 7, 2009

Democrats in Vernon won one for the public the other day. Some Vernon Republicans may have felt like it was a partisan win.

Maybe some Democrats felt that way too.

But this was a victory for good government.

The issue was that Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy wanted to make Robert Kleinhans director of public works. Kleinhans is a former member of the Town Council and a longtime political fixture in the town. Though he no longer lives in Vernon, he is a close political ally of the mayor.

Kleinhans is well qualified to be a political adviser, but he does not have the necessary qualifications to be public works director, in this or any other town. He is in the real estate business.

And that raised a second problem, other than qualification — possible conflict of interest.

You can't have a local politician, whose business is real estate and development, in charge of the Public Works Department. Even if he knew how to run it, his management would be tainted. It would be like President George W. Bush appointing Karl Rove to his Cabinet. Or, worse, head of the FCC.

Democrats on the council, with two Republicans crossing over and voting with them, rejected the Kleinhans nomination.

That was good in itself. Qualifications matter in town government. And there is no job more important in local government than public works director.

Furthermore, it was time. The mayor needed a lesson in judgment. He has a history of appointing cronies to top jobs at Town Hall, which to some degree is the way of politics. But there is a line, and McCoy crosses it.

Cronies and allies may be acceptable, even appropriate, to some political posts. (The town attorney is one in most towns. Any member of the bar is qualified and the party in control usually picks one of its own.) But jobs like town administrator or public works director are technical jobs that demand technical expertise, just as the police chief must be a veteran police officer. He can't just know about police work. He has to know how to do police work. No competent or wise mayor would appoint someone police chief because of friendship, or comfort level. The person has to be experienced in that field. He has to be qualified.

Appointing mere pals to professional jobs in town government insults town workers who are professionals and does the town, as a whole, a potentially great disservice. Mayor McCoy should know better. Good for the council for redrawing the line.

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