Former council member Kleinhans seeks public works post
By Max Bakke
VERNON — Former councilman and mayoral candidate Robert Kleinhans is seeking the recently vacated director of public works post.
Kleinhans confirmed on Thursday that he was seeking the job. And a schedule of applicants interviewed this week indicates that he will be one of nine possible candidates for the job, which was vacated when longtime director, George Fetko, resigned for a similar job in Ellington.
Kleinhans, a Republican who owns a construction company in town, says his past experience in property management could make him a good fit for the job — which oversees the physical infrastructure of the town.
"It's an interesting job, and I feel my background and experience qualifies me for it," he said. "I know how the town works and how the government works."
Kleinhans lives in the Niantic section of East Lyme. In Vernon, he is on the town's Economic Development Commission, and is a member of the Rockville Downtown Association's board of directors.
Kleinhans was on the Vernon Town Council from 1997 to 2005, and ran for mayor in 2005, losing to former Mayor Ellen Marmer, a Democrat.
In 2000, he ran for a seat in the state legislature, losing to the incumbent, Coventry Democrat Patrick J. Flaherty.
He ran again for the seat in 2002, in an open race against Joan Lewis, and again came up short.
Mayor Jason L. McCoy has not yet submitted his recommendation for the job, but a potential Kleinhans appointment is sure to draw objection from council Democrats who've consistently railed against the mayor's past appointments to top-level town jobs, arguing McCoy has passed over qualified candidates in favor of political friends.
One councilman, Democrat Michael Winkler, was noticeably disgusted at the news Kleinhans was seeking the post.
"It's not surprising," he said. "Vernon's taxpayers are already paying top dollar to a bunch of new, unqualified political hacks. Mayor McCoy and the Republican Town Council are always ready to give important town jobs to inexperienced cronies if they need a new career or retirement," Winkler said.
Kleinhans deflected that criticism this week, saying his past local political experience and friendship with the mayor shouldn't disqualify him from doing the job.
"It's no secret that Mike Winkler doesn't like me," he said, adding that with a long political career in Vernon, there are bound to be others who'd object to his hiring.
"But should that preclude me from applying for a job in the town of Vernon?" Kleinhans said.
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