March 6, 2020 Published in Events Magazine
Politics is a full-contact sport. It's not for the faint of heart.
This has always been especially true in Washington D.C. and in Hartford. Big cities also typically engage in the hand-to-hand combat of party politics. Some say it is the American way. In my opinion, the disrespect among those chosen to lead us and solve problems is disgusting. No longer do we tune into C-Span to watch our elected officials hard at work passing bills aimed to improve our quality of life. Now Senate hearings, impeachment hearings, inquiries and press conferences rule the day. Sound bites for the evening news or the 24 hour news cycle has become a priority instead of the American people.
Today's political scene has become a sport (an art, a science) of making the other guy look bad in order to look better. Instead of rising to a higher level of integrity and service, those serving in Washington point fingers to find fault with the other guy. Nothing gets done. Everyone looks bad. And the American public suffers from a lack of progress.
Thankfully, small towns like ours have been exempt from this type of party politics. While it is true the the municipal election season every two years requires us to support our "team" of fellow candidates and compete for various seats, it is done with respect. For as long as anyone can remember, once the lawn signs and election day passes, elected and appointed officials have worked together for the benefit of the citizens they all represent. I have heard time and time again that those watching on (cable access) TV or coming to our public meetings generally cannot tell the difference between the Republicans and Democrats at our town meetings. That's the goal! That is my definition of efficient government! That, my friends, is what I wanted to be a part of when I got involved with the East Lyme leadership group 22 years ago.
I think we live in a remarkable town filled with people who are grateful for what they have and appreciate the town we live in. We have been blessed with decades of talented and dedicated leadership who have given and sacrificed much in order to make our town better. In spite of the economy and struggles that Connecticut continues to face, our town keeps and attracts great people who share a common love for our shoreline and open spaces, our schools, the neighborhoods and churches, and all that is East Lyme/Niantic. Positive attitude and energy makes a difference everyday to those who live in our town.
But things are changing. With the explosion of town specific social media sites that cater to opinion and gossip, I have witnessed a surge of negativity within the town. Too often misinformation, baseless accusations, and half-truths are being broadcasted on social media sites. Once out there, they are believed as fact. This gives way for inaccurate statements and misinformed opinions about the process, procedure, and integrity of town leaders and department heads. It's a shame. Even our locals news outlets have let us down. They search for stories and get their news from FaceBook instead of doing it the "old-fashioned way" of cultivating relationships and regularly attending meetings.
Today's busy times cause today's towns public meetings to be sparsely attended. That has been happening for quite some time. But rarely do I receive calls from citizens to ask questions directly...to set the record straight. Instead a "soundbite" along with an opinion is posted on a town-themed FaceBook site. From that, opinions and attacks avalanche to a mountain of negativity. This has given rise to citizens and elected officials choosing sides on social media. Politics is now creeping into meetings. Relationships between members of commissions are deteriorating. Elected officials are stating positions on issues and squaring off with members of the opposite party. This has not happened in our town for a very long time but it has begun. And it is a dangerous direction we seem to be going in.
There will be those who criticize this post thinking it is self-serving...because I have been attacked. I can take it. The very nature of the job of a First Selectman is to make the hard decisions that can't possibly please everyone. Even when it is not my decision to make, such as one that is made by an independent board like Zoning or Wetlands, it is the Chief Elected Official who receives the brunt of the criticism. This isn't about me. The negativity and the political gamesmanship that has developed is changing the landscape of our town. I am frightened of the consequences.
I have witnessed volunteers in our town get lambasted on social media posts. Remember folks, with the exception of my position, every other elected and appointed official in our town is a volunteer. They step up to help. They lend their time, talent and passion to make our town better. Rarely is there a personal agenda or party influence. Members of Wetlands, Planning, Zoning Board of Appeals, Zoning Commission, Shellfish, Harbor Management, Board of Education have all come under criticism in the past year...and most of the time, without merit.
I am hopeful that the frustration of national and state politics does not trickle down to East Lyme. That would destroy the all the good we have worked so hard for over the years. That negative energy and political gamesmanship will turn good people away from volunteering to represent our town. It already has. We must rise above this and ensure that our town attracts the best and brightest to serve us in the coming years. Otherwise we be left with those who are less talented and more apt to fight for their party's platform instead of putting the needs of our citizens first. And we will only have ourselves to blame.
Mark Nickerson - First Selectman
Published in Event's Magazine August 2020
With prayer, patience and tolerance, we will get through 2020...
God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. - Reinhold Niebur (1892-1971)
This simple prayer has been by my side through this pandemic. It has been a crutch and a source of peace during times when there were no answers…no end in sight…no restful night’s sleep. These words were there for me when I received notices of those in our community who were stricken with covid-19…and again when I was sent death notices. When complaints and tempers flared from community members, counting to ten and repeating these calming words rescued me.
Maybe you can relate. Perhaps you too have had periods of time of complete frustration, depression, or anxiety that would not give way. I suspect we all have. We could all use a hug (yet, that isn’t allowed).
I printed this prayer and taped it to my computer. It sits on the right side of my screen opposite the St Francis of Assisi Prayer. Both have brought me comfort and serenity during this stormy time. At a time when churches, therapists and other support groups are suspended, I pray that you find a way to bring peace to your life. This Too Shall Pass but the waiting can be unbearable.
I admit, these prayers don’t always work for me…mostly because “I” get in the way. I cannot close my heart or act selfishly and expect positive and peaceful thoughts. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the past 4 months (actually my whole life). They mostly come when ego and selfishness take me away from my spiritual groundings. Occasionally, I have reacted harshly or in a tone that is regrettable. If you have been on the receiving end of this, I apologize. Please know that the actions of my office and those in our town’s leadership has always been to do the next right thing. During this crisis, especially early on, we were making decisions to save lives. While these actions may have been inconvenient or disagreeable to you, they were all done with the best intentions.
I know that these times have brought out negative behavior in many. I have witnessed it. I have received complaints about it and I have watched the negativity spike on social media platforms. Some comments are cringe-worthy some are just evil. I urge all to be respectful to one another.
While it may seem that we have hit the pause button on life, we haven’t. Although events have been cancelled, things closed and many activities are suspended, we must still find ways to live a purposeful life. There are many in our community who are financially and spiritually hurting right now. Reach out and help. Consider donating to Care and Share or the Shoreline Soup Kitchen and Pantry. Check in on neighbors. For many, this crisis is far from over…and the recovering (or struggle to survive) is just beginning. Always remember that we don’t know what others are going through. Let’s be respectful, caring, and carry with us a heart full of forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance.
When I sit to write these quarterly columns, I start with a blank “slate” and a clear mind. I guess it was time to get away from “events, activities and politics” and speak from the heart. If you’ve read this far, I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to go slightly off-script this time. I am grateful to be in this leadership position in our great town and being given the opportunity to serve you. Please pray, meditate, or send up positive vibes to the universe for the people of our planet, our country, our state and our community. And I will do the same for you…
Volunteering to step-up and help lead our town is being jeopardized
Making East Lyme roads safer the grassroots way
Published August 09. 2019 4:28PM
By The Day Editorial Board
In East Lyme they have a pretty good idea of what does not work to calm traffic — random stop signs, speed bumps — but also a notion of what might make all the difference: empaneling representatives from various neighborhoods to develop a public safety awareness campaign.
The first principle of grassroots problem solving applies: The more concerned citizens involved in resolving an issue, the more buy-in the solutions will get.
Many residents have reacted with distress to an accident in early July in which a 78-year-old man was struck and seriously injured while walking near the vehicle exit road of his condominium complex. First Selectman Mark Nickerson, after hearing their concerns at an informal meeting, announced a consensus that a safe driving campaign overseen by a special advisory panel could help town officials and police.
Help is definitely needed. A sprawling town of neighborhood clusters linked by so-called "collector roads," East Lyme has many examples of the get-from-here-to-there dynamic in which drivers on a mission behave as though on a launchpad. On residential streets and inside condo developments and beach communities, that's an entirely different mindset than the pedestrians and cyclists are expecting. Neighborhoods in town tend to have no sidewalks and narrow streets. It's a poor and risky combination.
Nickerson is right to say that every town struggles with speeders, stop sign ignorers and impatient drivers, but East Lyme is bringing a genuinely New England, grassroots attitude to tackling the problem within its boundaries. That is wise and welcome. That said, officials know, and panel members will have to work with, the layers of government that affect traffic control. The town has many miles of state roadway — routes 1, 156 and 161 form the basic grid of crosstown connections — where state highway department rules will prevail, and there are federal highway standards as well.
An energetic and organized group of citizens can do much to reduce the dangers and, if that's what it takes, embarrass drivers into driving the way they had to in order to pass the operator's license test. Public awareness is the part of the mission that they can do best. The job will include trying to reach the thousands of seasonal residents and visitors who drive on town roads for just a few weeks each year, and showing them how it's done in East Lyme. We wish the panel great success, because even one avoidable accident is too many.
A leader for East Lyme in tough times... an endorsement letter from one of EL's most respected residents
Published October 22. 2019 5:27PM In THE DAY newspaper
East Lyme is a wonderful community. As the former town clerk of East Lyme, a position I was grateful to serve in for 45 years as the assistant and then town clerk, I know firsthand the hard work and dedication of the many citizens who volunteer on behalf of our town. In addition, we have been fortunate to have elected great leaders who have helped to make East Lyme such a wonderful place.
Mark Nickerson is one of those great leaders. He has been involved in our town for 20 years and I know that his heart in in the right place. Mark puts the people of East Lyme ahead of politics, paying it forward to the next generation. He inspires and encourages our town’s department heads and staff to be the best they can be. Mark is a true leader.
These are tough times in Connecticut, and they will be for the next several years. The state is not in a good place and the pressures put on small towns are immense. Only Mark Nickerson has the experience and leadership necessary to see us through.
Mark and his team have my full support on Nov. 5. Please consider a vote for the Nickerson Team.
Esther B. Williams
This article first appeared in the EVENTS magazine, an East Lyme Parks and Rec publication on November 27, 2020
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven.
--Pete Seeger 1959
Twenty-one years ago I took the oath of office to serve the citizens of East Lyme, “faithfully and to the best of my abilities”. I had just become an “elected official” for the first time…an alternate on the Zoning Commission. I was raised to generously give back to people in my community. Much had been given to me; my obligation was to give my time and talent to make the world a better place. In 1999, I was given an opportunity to serve our adopted hometown. I took it.
Six years ago, after Paul Formica’s successful bid to become our district’s State Senator, I was appointed to the office of First Selectman. This December, I will begin my 7th and last year as its Chief Elected Official. I have chosen to not seek re-election next November.
My commitment to make East Lyme a better place has never wavered and has always been the highest of my priorities as it’s leader. That commitment will stay in place right up through my last day in office, and beyond. My wife and I have given our best years to this town. Many know that Marlene served 11 years as a committed member of our Board of Education. We both cherish the friendships, partnerships and collaborations we have made over the years.
Through it all, my family (most especially my wife) had to make many sacrifices. Evening meetings, missed sporting events, working weekends, commitments that altered our life…all in the name of “service to our community”. We ALL had to accept the responsibilities of the job. I am grateful for my family’s support in spite of it all.
I have cherished this time as our town’s leader. Being the First Selectman of such a dynamic town is a humbling experience. We live in an amazing town. Together we have accomplished so much during the past 6 years; there has been so many successes. But the job takes its toll too. Mistakes and second guesses bring on sleepless nights. The concern and worry that comes with managing a town full of dedicated employees, hundreds of volunteers, and countless organizations is overwhelming at times. The positives outweigh the negatives 100:1, but it’s the difficult days (and nights) that are strenuous and stressful.
I’m not going away. I look forward to channeling my energies and commitment to serve in another capacity…perhaps a larger role in the regional community or maybe quietly on a local non-profit board…or maybe both. It’s also time for me to get back to my business. I owe a debt of gratitude to GEICO for granting me the leverage and flexibility to pursue this leadership position. Most companies would never have seen the big picture and allowed me the opportunity for a seven year “sabbatical”. Marlene and I have worked very hard in our careers. We also look forward to creating some better quality time with each other and our families; it’s long overdue.
There will be plenty of time in the coming year to thank all those who I have had the pleasure to work with…and to remember all that we have accomplished. I’ll save that for next year’s November issue.
But enough about the past, let’s look to the future. As a community we need to continue to grow and build upon the success we have enjoyed over the past several decades. East Lyme is the “best small town in America” because people continue to volunteer and give selflessly. If you are waiting for a sign or an invitation to be part of the solution….here it is….GET INVOLVED!!! Town government needs more people to step up and do their part. We need future leaders. Every single person makes a difference.
“How do I get involved?” “ What could I do?” “ I don’t know anything about zoning, planning, finance, wetlands, etc.” The time is right now to get prepared for next year’s election. Please reach out to me and I will introduce you to the leadership in the perspective parties. If you are too shy to put your name up for an elected position, how about an appointed position? (no lawn signs necessary). Again, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-691-4110 and I will guide you thru the process.
Lastly, we are not out of the “Covid Woods” yet…not even close. During this spirit-dimming ordeal, please continue to show kindness, tolerance and compassion. Remember that EVERYONE is going through something. We are all vulnerable to depression these days, no matter how low grade, and a kind word or a selfless gesture may just be the one act of universal healthcare we have/need/crave to keep us afloat. Be the light. Be the difference in someone else’s journey.
May you find the ability to appreciate God’s many blessings.
October 17, 2020