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Following Election And Recall Move, New Leadership In Hinsdale

Jim Levulis

Voters in Hinsdale, Massachusetts on Saturday removed a town select board member during a recall election. The efforts cap more than a year of acrimony in the town.Three hundred seventy-nine people voted to recall select member Bonnie Conner, who until last month was board chair for roughly two years. Two hundred ninety-three people opposed the move.

“I think a lot of the voters were uniformed,” Conner said.  “Our hands have been tied and I think a lot of people were misled. But it is what it is.”

Voters in the town of about 2,000 approved the ability to recall elected officials last year after the board fired police chief Nancy Daniels, who claims Conner has a vendetta against her. Conner denies this. Dave Kokindo, a former selectman who resigned as chair, started the recall efforts. They were backed by Daniels and Bruce Stetson, whom the board fired as transfer station attendant. Daniels says the removal of Conner brings closure.

“The votes as you can see, it speaks for itself,” Daniels said. “I’m very happy that the amount of people came out to vote and hopefully things are going to change.”

Conner says she wishes she could share more information about divisive issues, but cannot because of litigation. Conner was on the ballot to replace herself, but voters elected former selectman John Genzebella to serve Conner’s remaining 11 months. At the town election in May, voters chose Laurel Scialabba to fill the selectman’s seat vacated by Bill Goddard. Meanwhile Bruce Marshall is nearing four decades of service on the board. Conner says she wishes the board members well.

“My understanding is John’s been out of touch for some time and obviously Laurel is new,” Conner said. “They’ve got a lot of work to do to come up to speed with a lot of the issues that are going on. Then we have one board member that two years that I’ve been there hasn’t done a thing.  He has just refused to participate.”

Marshall says the recall allows the town to fix things that were undone over the last two years, but adds that he won’t touch the firings of Daniels or Stetson.

I think it’s the best thing that’s happened to Hinsdale in a number of years,” Marshall said. “We can kind of put the town back to some kind of normalcy.”

Hinsdale hired former Granby police officer Mark Smith as chief last July. Meanwhile, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined Daniels’ firing was retaliatory. Scialabba says the select board is working with the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association on how to handle the Daniels situation. Adding she’s not a fan of recall elections, Scialabba says Conner’s style of governing was not what people may have wanted.

"I have seen Bonnie Conner do a lot of good for this town in the last two years, but she also has stirred up quite a bit of resentment from a group of people,” said Scialabba.

Scialabba and Marshall say they intend to reinstate the public comment period at select board meetings. The item was taken off the agenda after Conner said it became a time of verbal assault. Disagreements between residents and the board have led to town police escorting people out of meetings and state police being called. Scialabba is hopeful tensions will ease in town following Conner’s recall.

“I think a lot of the people who had complaints about Bonnie were behind the recall so if they are happy with the recall then maybe things will calm down,” said Scialabba.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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