Candidate profiles: Prospect Town Council (Democrats)

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The Citizen’s News asked candidates running for Prospect Town Council in the Nov. 2 municipal election four questions. The following are responses from Democratic candidates:

Betty Bajek

Betty Bajek

Age: 68

Party: Democrat

Education: B.S. Elementary Education

Political Experience: Past chairman of Prospect Democratic Town Committee

Occupation: Retired

Why are you running for Town Council?

“I was inspired to run for a seat on the Town Council because I believe my skills, knowledge, and experience will be a great asset to the town, especially in light of what has been uncovered by the recently conducted risk assessment.  I want to be one of the nine decision makers who develop the future for our community while representing your views and your voice.”

Do you think the town is adequately addressing issues identified in an independent risk assessment of the town’s internal financial controls? What more should be done?

“To me, the town is in a reactive mode with regard to the risk assessment report and needs to take a step back, regroup, and discuss how best to solve the problem long-term. Implementing solutions in a piecemeal fashion may provide an immediate fix but may not resolve the issue nor be sustainable. An issue of this magnitude requires a planned, systematic, phased-in approach to implement changes necessary to substantially mitigate the risk. Clearly defined deliverables, identification of interdependencies amongst Town Hall operations and technologies, allocation of staff resources, and setting realistic timelines, are key elements as well as regular communications with the taxpayers to provide the much-needed transparency in town governance.”

What issue do you think does not get enough attention in Prospect?  How would you address it?

“An issue that does not get enough attention in Prospect is affordable housing. Unfortunately, hearing this term may make one think ‘Section 8,’ which is not the case, and we need to change the dialog. Where do people go who have resided in Prospect for decades and now find they are of a certain age and/or are empty nesters living in a house that no longer suits their needs, yet they want to stay in the Best Small Town in Connecticut? We need to focus some of our attention on our senior population and provide affordable and appropriate housing to empower them to choose how they live as they age.”

What is your message to the voters?

“I pride myself on having strong written and oral communications, a solid work ethic, being a good listener, possessing a robust business background, and recognizing the big picture, breaking it down into sizeable, workable units. I’m highly organized and I believe in collaboration and reaching consensus. I am a person of action. When I learned Prospect wasn’t represented on the Greater Waterbury Transit District (GWTD), I contacted Mayor Chatfield. Our interaction resulted in the mayor appointing me to the Board on Feb. 4, 2019. I now serve as the chairwoman of the Board of Directors for the GWTD. I look forward to serving the town and its residents.”

Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald

Age: 70

Party: Democrat

Education: BS and MS in health and physical education from Southern Connecticut State University; 6th Year in educational leadership from Sacred Heart University

Political Experience: Town Council (3 terms); past member of Emergency Planning Commission and Recreation Commission; Member of ordinance, town buildings, and maintenance/public works subcommittees.

Occupation: Catholic school principal 

Why are you running for Town Council?

“I am running for re-election to the Town Council so that I may continue the good work that the council has completed over the last six years. We have been successful in keeping the town budget stable, which has saved taxpayers money. We have been successful in getting sidewalks built using a state grant along Route 69 to improve safety in the town. I will continue to push to modernize town hall and to push for accountability and openness in town hall. Prospect is a growing town. I have lived here for 37 years and I want to continue contributing to the future growth of the town.”

Is the town adequately addressing issues identified in risk assessment audit? What more can be done?

“I do not think the town is adequately addressing issues identified in the independent risk assessment of the town’s internal financial controls. First of all, from the years 2014 to 2019, which are the years looked at in the assessment, formal internal financial controls did not exist. Recently, the administration has developed internal controls with the first draft document dated in August of 2020. This is two years after the theft of town payroll account funds. The assessment showed that five out of eight areas that were looked at are high risk. The town council asked for and have received recommendations from the outside company who conducted the assessment. They have spelled out recommendation to fix the areas of concern to include an independent IT assessment on the technology used in town hall. These recommendations need to be acted upon immediately to ensure that tax payer dollars are protected. As a member of the Town Council I will work to put the recommendations in place.”

What issue do you think does not get enough attention in Prospect? How would you address it?

“The issue that does not get enough attention in Prospect is the lack of economic development. The Economic Development Commission has not met in about four years. We need to expand our economic base in order to keep property taxes down.”

 What is your message to the voters?

“My message to the voters is it time for a change in town hall. The present administration has lost the trust of many people due to the theft of town funds, due to mismanagement in town hall. Vote Row A on Nov. 2.”

Patricia Sullivan Geary

Patricia Sullivan Geary

Age: 76

Party: Democrat

Education: Bachelor’s degree in secondary education, English major, Southern Connecticut State University; Master’s degree in educational foundations, Central Connecticut State University; 6th year in education University of New England

Political Experience: Town Council (18 terms, former vice chairman), Board of Recreation (former member and vice chairman)

Occupation: Retired Region 16 teacher

Why are you running for Town Council?

“As a 51-year resident of Prospect, a parent, and a grandparent, I bring to this office not only my life experiences, but also my tenure as an elected official. The knowledge I’ve gained regarding legal and parliamentary procedures, town operations and management, and the process of preparing and presenting a budget are a great benefit to the citizens. I would like to continue working with my colleagues to implement the recommendations of the risk assessment audit to ensure a fiscally safe, low-risk level of operations.”

Is the town adequately addressing issues identified in risk assessment audit? What more can be done?

“In order to correct a problem, you first must identify it. After the theft of nearly $300,000 from the payroll account went unnoticed for a year, it became apparent that Prospect had a serious issue with fiscal processes. The Bonadio Group, in a risk assessment audit initiated and commissioned by the Council, looked at eight areas of fiscal operations. Its report identified five as high risk for fraud. Somewhat like locking the barn door after the horse has bolted, the town is now addressing areas of high risk. We have initiated stronger and better-defined internal controls, completed a policy and procedures manual and a job description handbook, hired a municipal accounting clerk, instituted a tighter system of checks and balances, and have issued an RFP for assessment of IT infrastructure. There needs to be more transparency and better communication between the administration, the council and citizens. We need to provide staff with the necessary training and resources so that they can identify issues as they arise. Keeping in mind the costs, we are presently looking at further proposals and recommendations made by the Bonadio Group to determine and prioritize our next steps.”

What issue do you think does not get enough attention in Prospect? How would you address it?

“Although it has received some attention recently, I believe public safety is a serious concern for citizens. I recognize that policy decisions of the state legislature have made the job of law enforcement officers and first responders very difficult. We need to contact our representatives to express our concerns and implore them to rethink these policies. Locally, citizens need to be informed that there are crimes being committed in town, in their own neighborhoods. There needs to be a way that neighbors can be contacted to let them know that they should be extra vigilant and careful. We need to get to know our neighbors, their cars, their children. We need to encourage formal neighborhood watches. Lt. Nelson Abarzua has offered to help organize such groups. We should avail ourselves of his offer.”

What is your message to the voters?

“Please get involved in town government. My role as an elected official is to represent you. I take that responsibility very seriously and I appreciate the trust you’ve placed in me, but I need your input to guide me in making decisions that are in the best interest of our town. Please share your thoughts, opinions, and ideas with me because without citizen involvement a democracy cannot exist.”

Theresa Cocchiola Graveline

Theresa Cocchiola Graveline                      

Age: 62

Party: Democrat

Education: Bachelor of Arts and Sciences from Salve Regina College; double major in nursing and Spanish

Political Experience: Town Council (1993-2015 and 2017-21); chairman of the Land Use Subcommittee; member of the Salary Review Subcommittee and Sidewalk Task Force.

Occupation: Owner and finance manager (for 29 years) of United Capital Services Corporation

Why are you running for Town Council?

“My deep love for Prospect motivates me be active and invested in our town government.  I am committed to using my knowledge, education, skills and talents to safeguard and ensure Prospect’s financial stability and to preserve its character and community values.”

Do you think the town is adequately addressing issues identified in an independent risk assessment of the town’s internal financial controls? What more should be done?

“The risk assessment identified significant and alarming lack of training, documentation, checks and balances and overall risk management in all areas of financial oversight, employee records and information technology/cyber security. Since receiving the Bonadio report in August and their proposed work plan in September, the council has begun to discuss ways to repair the inadequacies in the eight areas of the risk assessment. The pressing reality is that ALL of them must be addressed — without delay. This will entail concerted effort by many, and will include contracting with professionals. It is essential to correct the issues, put strong policies into place immediately, organize town information, and ensure that our employees are given the training they will need to do their jobs well.”

What issue do you think does not get enough attention in Prospect? How would you address it?

“Economic development and business support is virtually disregarded. The Economic Development Commission has not met in over three years and had no identifiable goals or role for more than a decade before that. There is no comprehensive plan for supporting Prospect’s businesses or attracting commercial and clean industry to town. There are numerous empty commercial and industrial spaces. Several businesses have been hit hard over these months of pandemic restrictions; several have downsized or even closed. Prospect needs a responsible and comprehensive plan for economic development and business support. It is essential to maintain the viability of the 300+ businesses that serve our townspeople and to attract new business and clean industry as well to enhance our revenue stream and ease the tax burden on homeowners.”

What is your message to the voters?

“Vote on Nov. 2, 2021. Cast your vote realizing that polarized and divisive national politics has no place in local government. I encourage all voters to focus on the capabilities of their fellow citizens who are seeking office. These candidates are your neighbors, friends and family who get involved because they want to do what’s best for our wonderful town of Prospect and its people. I am personally committed to improving efficiency, ensuring strong fiscal oversight and achieving cost savings through technology, planning and innovation in our town government. I ask you to support of Kevin O’Leary for mayor and my fellow candidates on Row A, who have the experience, essential skills, commitment and dedication to lead Prospect to an even brighter and more secure future.”

Kathryn F. Zandri

Kathryn F. Zandri

Age: N/A

Party: Democrat

Education: East Haven High School; Town Clerk Association; New England Association Town Clerk; pursuing B.A. in business administration, Post University

Political Experience: Worked for Wallingford Town Council and Wallingford Town Clerk (16 years); Alternate, Wallingford Zoning Board of Appeals

Occupation: Revenue examiner, State of Connecticut Department of Revenue Services

Why are you running for Town Council?

“I offer 16 years’ knowledge and experience in the operations of a town government five times the size of Prospect. As town clerk, clerk of the council, and full-time council secretary, I have sat in attendance at approximately 600 meetings, ensuring the matters acted upon by the council were in order and properly executed in accordance with the Connecticut general statutes, Town Charter, Robert’s Rules of Order, and the Freedom of Information Act.”

Do you think the town is adequately addressing issues identified in an independent risk assessment of the town’s internal financial controls? What more should be done?

“No. I have seen no evidence to prove otherwise. Information is not shared freely nor openly with the public. Immediately, upon learning the results of the assessment, the bidding process should have been waived and the Bonadio Group hired to begin implementing controls to minimize the town’s risk exposure.”

What issue do you think does not get enough attention in Prospect? How would you address it?

“The police department needs a larger facility, and one that is more visible to the public. I would support a relocation study and the pursuit of available state and federal grant funds for such purpose. Third shift staffing levels need reviewing, as well.”

What is your message to the voters?

“The town’s standard operating procedures are in dire need of an upgrade! A fresh look and unique perspective, coupled with a wealth of experience can only bring about positive results.   Taxpayers cannot afford another two years of ‘risky business’ practices.”