New council member wanted action, then abstains

June 01, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Retired factory worker James J. Singer, sworn in a week ago to fill a two-month vacancy on the ever-feuding Manchester Town Council, is a blunt guy.

He pursued the $500-a-year post because, he said, "I was tired of all these tie votes, all these 'yeas' and 'nays.' I really wanted to see the town move forward."

So how did the political neophyte cast his first vote of any kind? It was an abstention, leaving the council, for what seemed to some like the hundredth time, mired in a 2-2 tie.

The irony isn't lost on Mr. Singer, a 63-year-old who has quietly lived in Manchester since 1957.

"I didn't understand what was being thrown out at me," Mr. Singer said, describing his confusion with the town's $1.36 million budget proposal that was on the table last Wednesday.

"It was the best decision I could have made at the time. I'm not going to vote on something I don't understand."

Mr. Singer's nomination was a surprise.

In the nearly two months since Robert Kolodziejski resigned, the remaining four members of the council had deadlocked on the same group of four or five possible nominees.

"I don't know who he is," Town Manager Terry L. Short said after last Wednesday's meeting, in which Mr. Singer was selected in a 3-1 vote, the first nontie decision for Mr. Kolodziejski's replacement in nearly a dozen tries.

In the past year, two distinct voting blocs have emerged.

Council members Kathryn Riley and Douglas Myers and former Councilman John A. Riley generally voted together, while Mr. Kolodziejski and Councilwoman Charlotte Collett sided with one another.

When Mr. Riley left his post, the remaining four took more than three months to select Councilman Christopher D'Amario.

When Mr. Kolodziejski left, the remaining four reprised the ties, with Mr. D'Amario voting with Ms. Collett.

The council's propensity to bind itself in political knots was becoming frustrating for many residents.

In the two votes taken immediately before Mr. Singer was selected, members of the audience began shouting "This is stupid" and "We've had enough" at the council.

Mr. Singer was among those frustrated by the council's inability to break out of a tie.

"There is too much unfinished business to take care of," he said. Mr. Singer insists that he will be an independent force on the council, voting only after he has thoroughly studied an issue.

But, according to quiet conversations in Town Hall and around town, Mr. Singer may side more with the interests of Ms. Riley -- an ardent foe of Mr. Short -- than with Ms. Collett or Mr. D'Amario, who often support Mr. Short and Mayor Earl A. J. "Tim" Warehime Jr.

Mr. Singer shrugs off such a suggestion, except to say he wants to make sure the town is getting enough from Mr. Short and his $33,821 annual salary.

Ms. Riley -- who served as the town's clerk/treasurer for nearly a quarter-century before joining the council two years ago -- says she barely knows Mr. Singer and doesn't believe that he can be counted on always to vote along with her.

"I am very happy to have the vacancy filled, and I'm sure he'll do a very good job," Ms. Riley said yesterday.

"I sure hope we don't have another vacancy to fill before election time."

Mr. Short said Mr. Singer seems "open-minded to ideas. At least I certainly hope so."

Mr. Singer -- who talked during a break from a daylong project baling hay for a neighbor -- isn't sure he will stand for election when his term expires.

"I don't want to appear like I'm ready for a political career," he said. "I just want to make the best decisions I can for the town."

Mr. Singer spent several hours recently with Mr. Short going over the details of the budget he didn't vote on last week.

Mr. Singer said he is now inclined to vote for the spending plan.

"I was given a lot of credit for that vote [last week]," he said. "I want to do what's best for the town, for the long run."

Mr. Short called the new councilman's decision to abstain a good one.

"It was really appropriate," Mr. Short said.

"He didn't have the benefit of the materials the other council members have had."

Mr. Singer and his wife, Nina, raised four children in Manchester.

The couple now have five grandchildren.

All of the members of the family -- except for a daughter who lives in Pennsylvania -- have remained in or near the town.

Mr. Singer spent 37 years as a machine tool operator for Black & Decker Corp.; he still works twice a week for a plumbing and heating supply company.

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