NAUGATUCK — Neither grew up in Naugatuck and neither gave much thought about local politics when they moved to the borough as adults decades ago.
Now, Robert Neth and Dorothy Neth-Kunin find themselves leading the two most prestigious boards in the borough.
Neth, who has been involved in local government for more than 25 years, earned the title of deputy mayor on Election Day by garnering the most votes among burgess candidates. His younger sister, Neth-Kunin, a relative newcomer to politics, was named chairwoman of the Board of Education by a unanimous vote of the board last month.
The siblings follow a tradition of families being involved in local politics. The Neth name joins the likes of other well-known local political families, such as the Tafs, the Scullys, the Goggins, the Herbs and dozens of others.
Neth, 57, said his first couple of meetings on the Board of Finance in 1989 almost turned him off politics altogether.
“I started asking a lot of questions and people said, ‘You can’t question this or that,’ he recalls. “I said, ‘Why not? How else do you learn?’”
Former Board of Finance member Cindy Herb, owner of Cindy’s Market near the Union City section, took Neth under her wing. She taught him the ins and outs of municipal finance. Soon, there was an opening for board chairman and the membership asked Neth to fill the role.
Neth recalls those days and said it’s a reason why he is now willing to help just about anyone learn.
“I actually wish that more people who talk about what is happening in town government would step up and get involved, or at least learn more about what is going on,” he said.
In 1997, Neth, a Republican who is married and has three adult children, made his first run for the Board of Mayor and Burgesses. He has been elected to the nine member board ever since.
This is the first time he has won the most votes among burgess candidates, becoming deputy mayor, a largely ceremonial title but one that is respected among most other town leaders.
Part of his responsibility over the past several years has been as head of the five-year capital committee for large municipal projects. Through that position, he has served as chairman of the Naugatuck High School renovation committee, which oversees the nearly-completed $81 million renovate-to-new project. That project is expected to be finished under budget.
Over the next two years, Neth said the borough must continue exploring ways to keep taxes at bay and to keep working for more economic development opportunities.
His sister, Neth-Kunin, also considers herself a fiscally conservative Republican. It is one of many qualities she has in common with her brother, with whom she is close.
Though they grew up in different households — Neth with his grandparents in Thomaston, and Neth-Kunin with her mother and sister in Waterbury — they maintained a close bond over the years. In fact, Neth walked her down the aisle on her wedding day. One of the ways they bond now is through local politics.
Neth-Kunin says she wants to provide students with the best quality education they can get at a price taxpayers can afford. Balancing the two isn’t always an easy task and there will almost certainly be times when brother and sister find themselves at odds.
Neth-Kunin, 55, who is married and is child free, said she got involved on the school board about five years ago when she was laid off from her job as an insurance underwriter when the company she worked for was sold.
“I wanted to start getting more involved in the community, to start to network more and to do other things than just sit at home,” she said.
Neth-Kunin has since been rehired by another company in the same role, but she has continued to stay involved.
“I like being able to help change the culture of the way things were and to help get students more prepared for the future,” she said, citing advances in technology and preparation for Common Core educational standards as focal points for the board.
Like Neth, she believes Naugatuck has its challenges.
“The biggest challenges facing the Board of Education is getting the community involved more to understand what we do as a board, and also just becoming as transparent as we can become in building greater levels of trust within the community,” she said. “And we are working toward those goals.”