By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
PROSPECT — Reflecting on his 44 years in office, Mayor Robert Chatfield pointed to improvements made in town over the decades, including building Hotchkiss Field and the senior center, upgrading the public works fleet and expanding public water lines.
“I think I’ve accomplished a lot during my tenure,” Chatfield said.
Chatfield, a 78-year-old Republican, is running for a 23rd straight term. He’s facing challenges from Town Council member Kevin O’Leary, a 32-year-old Democrat, and Taryn Finley, a 36-year-old Independent write-in candidate.
Chatfield said he’s seeking another term because he cares for the town and has the vigor to continue the job.
“I’m a high-energy person and spend a lot of time working for the people,” Chatfield said.
The town is dealing with the aftermath of the theft of about $294,000 from a town payroll account from December 2017 to November 2018. The thefts, which went unnoticed by officials during that time, became public in January 2020, when state police announced an arrest in the case.
An independent risk assessment of the town’s internal financial controls concluded the town’s practices were lacking, including having no formal documented policies, and the town is at risk for fraud in several areas.
Chatfield said officials are working to address the issues. He said officials are developing a formal procedure manual, which is still being updated, and seeking a company to conduct an assessment of the town’s internet technology infrastructure for future upgrades.
Chatfield added the town is now using ADP for payroll services, which were previously handled in-house.
“I don’t know that anybody will always be 100% safe,” Chatfield said.
Chatfield has faced staunch criticism for not having formal practices in place at the time of the theft and for the administration’s handling of the situation after it became public.
In response, Chatfield said the measures weren’t needed at the time, there was never a problem before the theft, and the town built a healthy fund balance, or surplus, over the years.
Crime, like car thefts, break-ins and burglaries, was a focal point this summer at two public forums, where residents expressed their concerns with a recent rise in incidents and questioned how the town planned to attack the issue.
Chatfield placed blame for the recent rash of crime on a lack of discipline at home, as well as judicial and legislative policies that are lenient on juvenile offenders and prohibit police from chasing suspects involved in property crimes.
The town participates in the resident state trooper program. Under the program, Connecticut State Police provide troopers to help oversee police operations as well as services, such as dispatch and booking. The town has about 20 of its own officers, who are retired from other departments and work part time.
At the local level, Chatfield said the town needs to hire more full-time officers and add a third officer on patrol to the midnight shift. He said the police department is losing officers to other towns that offer full-time hours.
“We want to get more police officers,” he said.
Chatfield said any changes will need to be discussed with the Town Council and police union before they are implemented.
If re-elected, Chatfield said among his priorities will be to continue expanding public water in town. He said public water is available at the industrial park and all public buildings, and water lines run along routes 68 and 69. He added about 12% of the town is covered by fire hydrants.
Chatfield said he wants to pursue grants or possible funding under the pending federal infrastructure bill to extend public water lines to more areas in town.
With Election Day on the horizon, Chatfield said his message to voters is that he’s worked hard during his time in office and will continue to do so. He added he has the experience to not miss a beat, if re-elected.
“I’m here. I’m available. I’m ready to go,” he said.