My Thanksgiving message to East Lyme:  November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family. If you are reading this, I am grateful for you.

My prayer today:

During this Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the abundance of God’s blessings in our lives: for the food, comforts, friendships and love. Life is good...and everyday, we give thanks for His goodness.

During THIS Thanksgiving we especially give thanks for what we don’t have...all that we are missing in our lives because of the pandemic. We pray we will return to a more familiar way of life but with a renewed sense of what is important in life. I pray that our 2020 disappointments will return but will be grounded in a spirit of gratitude and purpose.

During this Thanksgiving we remember and pray for those who are not with us this year. Many families are dealing with the loss of loved ones for the first time this year...many were lost to Covid. May they find comfort with their loving memories. We pray for them.
We all have suffered losses over the years. We hold our dearly departed close. We are so grateful for their guidance, mentorship, lessons, and love. For they are part of our hearts forever.

During this Thanksgiving, we look for all that is good around us: love, tolerance, patience, selflessness, good cheer and positive attitudes. I am so thankful for you my friends.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Mark Nickerson, First Selectman

Board of Selectmen have approved plans to make our police force independent.  Watch and read:

P r e s s  R e l e a s e

November 25, 2020

Mark C. Nickerson, First Selectman of the Town of East Lyme announced earlier this week that he will not seek re-election during next year’s municipal elections.  He is currently serving his third elected term.  He was initially appointed to the position to fill the vacancy left when Paul Formica was elected to the State Senate in 2014. Next year will complete seven years at East Lyme’s Chief Elected Official.

“My commitment has always been to make East Lyme the best it can be and to work for the benefit of all citizens in our community.  My pledge will stay in place right up through my last day in office, and beyond. But it’s time for me to get back to my business and to spend more time with my family and friends.  My wife and I have given our best years to this town”.  Marlene Popeo Nickerson served on the Board of education for 11 years beginning in 2005. 

“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’ from my agency”. Mark began his career with GEICO 30 years ago in December 1990.  During his career, he has taken on leadership positions in the Southeastern Connecticut community on various organizations including: member of the Board of Directors of the SE CT Chamber of Commerce, President and a National Director of The Navy League of the United States, and Chairman of the Military Community Council.  He was elected in 1999 to the East Lyme Zoning Commission serving as its Chairman for 8 years before running successfully for the Board of Selectmen in 2009.

“My family had to make many sacrifices while I served our town at its highest position.  Evening meetings, weekends spent working and attending events, and commitments that altered our schedule were all part of the ‘family sacrifice’.  I am grateful for their support; it was not easy.” 

Mark went on to say: “I have cherished this time as our town’s leader. It is an honor and I am grateful for  this opportunity to serve our town at its highest level.   Being the First Selectman of such a dynamic town is a humbling experience.  I have had a front row seat to watch caring, generous and amazing citizens come together to serve our town and their neighbors in so many ways.  Together we have accomplished so much during the past 6 years; there have been so many successes”. 

When asked about the difficulties of the job, Mark answered: “Oh sure, there are difficult times but the positives outweigh the negatives 100 to 1.  But the job does take a toll.  Mistakes and second guesses bring on sleepless nights. The concern and worry that comes with managing a town of dedicated employees, hundreds of volunteers, and countless organizations is overwhelming at times.”

On politics, Mark offered: “Small town government is the purest form of democracy, and we need to take care and protect our town government from becoming too ‘political’.  I feel very strongly about this.  While the election cycle pits candidates against one another, East Lyme has a strong tradition of putting politics aside after Election Day.  Commissioners work together regardless of political party in a commitment to make our town better.  That is the secret sauce in East Lyme.   That doesn’t always happen in other towns and it definitely doesn’t happen in big cities.”  He went on to say, “I’m afraid with negative social media sites and national politics being so ugly over the years, the negativity is creeping its way into town government…and it’s a shame.  In order to ensure that our quality of life remains high and our town government remains efficient, we must take great care to elect those who care more for people than politics.”

“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”.  He also has not ruled out serving East Lyme as an elected official in a different capacity.  “You never know”. 

“Marlene and I are looking forward to creating some better quality time with each other and our families; it’s long overdue and it’s well-earned.  We will treasure these days of service to our great town, but most importantly, we will continue to cherish the great friendships we have made with so many.”

East Lyme first selectman recommends independent police force

Published September 29. 2016 8:34PM | Updated September 29. 2016 9:07PM
By Kimberly Drelich   Day staff writer   KimberlyDrelich

East Lyme — First Selectman Mark Nickerson announced Thursday that he is recommending his town move to an independent police force, a move that two other area towns — Montville and Ledyard — have considered, with different results.

Nickerson said East Lyme has had a great relationship with the state police and a long legacy of good resident state troopers, but the town has grown since it first joined the resident trooper program decades ago — and so have the duties of the police force. 

"This is a decision simply about who should manage our force of 22 police officers in our town of 20,000," Nickerson said.

An independent police force would mean a hired police chief and a police commission comprising about five to seven town resident volunteers.

The Board of Selectmen is expected to hear a presentation and begin discussions on an independent police force at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall.

In East Lyme, Nickerson said the creation of an independent police force has long been a topic of conversation and the subject of several studies.

"I think going to an independent status will give us more value for the money we are paying on public protection, but also more accountability," he added.

Nickerson said the town currently spends more than $200,000 for the resident state trooper program, with costs expected to increase.

By moving to an independent police force, the town could avoid paying $150,000 for upgrades to the state police's radio system, which will be required this year or next year, he said. 

He said he thinks the town could move to an independent force for the same cost as the current department, but he noted that it would be worth it to taxpayers if it costs a little more, but brought in more value.

Nickerson said that under the state contract, the resident trooper, a state employee, works 40 hours a week. The state police have established a chain of command for when a town's resident state trooper is not on duty for the town.

But he said an independent police force would provide continuity and an "in-house" chain of command at all times. For example, a lieutenant or deputy chief could serve as second in command to the police chief.

Nickerson added that state police services — for example, the investigation of major crimes — still would be available if the town moved to an independent force.

In September 2015, the Ledyard Town Council approved a move to an independent department, with strong support from the town's officers and residents. Facing an increased cost of staying in the resident state trooper program, the Town Council unanimously voted for the change despite facing costs of about $70,000 to pay for a new vehicle for the chief, a fingerprinting scanner, breath-testing equipment and radio signal boosters.

In Montville, an ordinance creating an independent department in January of this year was shot down in a townwide referendum.

Despite endorsements by the Montville Town Council and a committee that said an independent department would bring stability and more grant opportunities to the town, more than 1,500 residents voted to repeal the ordinance in March.

A group of town residents convinced many that an independent department would mean higher taxes and would be unnecessarily expensive, despite the 17,000-square-foot public safety building built in 2010 to one day house an independent department.

It was the second time Montville voters had rejected the plan; a referendum overturned an independent department proposal in 2002.

In East Lyme, a task force studying the issue of an independent police force is expected to present to the selectmen on Wednesday. The task force is comprised of Thomas Gardner, Kathleen Miller, Joseph Perkins, Mark Powers, Stephen Rebelowski and Steve Kelley.  

A group of the town's police sergeants are also studying the issue, Nickerson said.

Nickerson said Wednesday's meeting will be the beginning of the conversation and the dissemination of information, but the selectmen are not in a position to yet take a vote that evening. 

He said the selectmen would hold a public hearing in the future, before voting on an ordinance.

"We will want to hear from the public on their opinions and any factual information they may have," he said. "This is an open discussion."

Re-elect Nickerson in East Lyme

Published November 02. 2017 5:51PM         By The Day Editorial Board   

We suppose a highly skilled politician might somehow make the case for a change in leadership in East Lyme, where First Selectman Mark Nickerson administers to a town with a healthy and growing tax base, excellent schools, a diverse housing stock and a great little village in Niantic.

But Wesley “Wes” Firmin is not a skilled politician and he has not made the case.

It is race of Republican versus Republican, with Nickerson the party nominee and Firmin challenging him by way of the petition process. While Firmin deserves credit for making this a contested race and giving voters a choice, it is not much of a contest and the choice is clear.

Under Nickerson’s watch, the town recently exited the state trooper program in favor of its own independent police department. The timing was right. And Nickerson is exploring the potential for consolidating police service with neighboring Old Lyme. Firmin said at a recent debate such talk comes too soon after creating the independent police force. We don’t see why.

Things are getting done. Prudent zoning has generated development to broaden the tax base without adversely affecting the quality of residential life. A debate on improving aging elementary schools led to a consensus to renovate them.

Nickerson, who became first selectman in 2015, has overseen the renovation and reopening of the Niantic Boardwalk. It complements a village of Niantic that seems to grow in charm and vibrancy with each passing year.

Soon to add to the village’s appeal is the pending conversion of a centrally located parcel from an outdated service station to a small park overlooking Niantic Bay. Firmin calls it unnecessary given other needs, but voters overwhelmingly approved the purchase. By enhancing the village’s attractiveness, it is well worth the investment.

Nickerson deserves much credit, but certainly not all credit, for this progress. He has kept things moving in the right direction after the successful service of his predecessor as first selectman, Paul Formica, now a state senator.

Firmin tries to make the case that Nickerson, because he has two GEICO offices, cannot give the job his full focus. But anyone bothering to watch knows the incumbent puts in long hours.

The Day endorses Mark Nickerson for re-election as first selectman of East Lyme.

East Lyme First Selectman Nickerson announces re-election bid

Published June 20. 2019 
By Mary Biekert   Day staff writer

East Lyme — In a decision he said was made out of love for East Lyme, First Selectman Mark Nickerson announced Thursday he will seek a third term as town executive in this year’s upcoming election.

“I love the town first, and I love this job,” Nickerson said Thursday in an interview with The Day. “I’m proud of the accomplishments that my team and I have made through the years, and they are significant."

Of those accomplishments, Nickerson highlighted in a news release the completion of the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, the purchase of the former Mobil gas station on Main Street, as well as the building of a new park on that property, establishing an independent police force in town and improvements to the Community Center parking lot, as well as the elementary schools renovation project, among others, which more recently have included the town’s decision to purchase a new public safety building and install new bathrooms at Cini Park.

“Being First Selectman of East Lyme has been an incredible and rewarding position,” Nickerson wrote in the release. “In my position, I have the unique perspective of seeing the entire town’s operations, commissions, volunteers groups and non-profits all come together to do their part to make our town the great community it is. We keep politics out of the management and development of our town. We accomplish these great results as a team.”

Nickerson, a Republican, became first selectman in January 2015 to serve the remainder of former First Selectman Paul Formica's term after Formica was elected to the state Senate. Nickerson then was elected to a full two-year term as first selectman in November that same year, according to Day archives.

In years prior to becoming first selectman, Nickerson has served in other town-elected positions, first as an alternate Zoning Commission member beginning in 1999 and later as its chair. In 2009, he was elected onto the Board of Selectmen. Nickerson also currently chairs the town’s Water and Sewer Commission.

A potential Democratic candidate has not yet made an announcement to enter this year’s election race.

Looking forward, Nickerson explained Thursday he hopes to keep tackling ongoing projects and issues, such as renovations at the town’s future public safety facility on West Main Street, which he said are expected to be completed early next year, as well as overseeing the completion of the incoming Costco project.

Nickerson said that if he is re-elected, he hopes, among other goals, to potentially instate a tax-abatement program for seniors, as well as seeing the redevelopment of the current Dominion-owned police station building on Main Street. He said the town is looking to acquire the building as soon as the town's police force moves out.

Adding to that, Nickerson also said he hopes to find a resolution to the now decadeslong court case between the town of East Lyme and Glenn Russo of Landmark Development, who has planned a large housing development in the environmentally sensitive Oswegatchie Hills section of town.

“I don’t accomplish anything alone. I have a great team of people who volunteer to be on these boards and commissions and then I have incredible department heads who are supremely professional in their chosen careers. And they continue to do more with less year after year,” Nickerson said Thursday. “It’s the town first. It’s the people first. And look around, we have a good town. And I think that’s as refreshing as can be.”

East Lyme first selectman to cut his own salary
Published April 20. 2017 12:06PM |

By Kimberly Drelich   Day staff writer   KimberlyDrelich

East Lyme — First Selectman Mark Nickerson said he will take a pay cut of $16,000 in 2017-18 as the town faces another year of budgetary cutbacks that have forced department heads to "do more with less."

“My offer to cut my salary comes at a time when all our town departments are feeling the pressure of tight budget cycles year after year," he said in a statement. "We have a great town with exceptional services delivered by our town department heads and their staffs. Our departments do so much with very little as compared to similar towns in our area. The rollback of my salary seems like the right thing to do. I will work just as hard, if not harder.”

Nickerson, who currently makes $115,459 as first selectman, said in a phone interview earlier this week that he offered to cut his salary because he wanted to lead by example and support department heads who have experienced cutbacks each year.

"I thought I needed to have skin in the game," he said. "It was time the first selectman's budget was also affected."

He said the tough budgetary times have meant cutting positions in the past. The town also has cut back on benefits and hours and has asked departments "to do more with less."

The town is "in a wait-and-see moment" in terms of how much state aid it will receive next year, he said, and the proposed pay cut is in anticipation of state cuts that will be ongoing for years.

Nickerson, who is a field representative and owner of two local GEICO offices, said the company encourages its employees to give back to the community and he began volunteering with the town 18 years ago. He said the company has been both, allowing him to serve the town as first selectman and also providing income, so he now has the opportunity to give back part of his town salary to the general fund.

At its April 3 meeting, the Board of Finance had cut the town's proposed general government budget by $100,000.

To make up for the reduction, Nickerson recommended the cut to his salary, as well as cutting back on supplies from various departments and funding for part-time clerical staff in his office and making an $8,000 cut to the library and $10,000 cut to Parks and Recreation.

He said the town is reallocating an engineer to work 25 percent of his time in the Water and Sewer Department.

The town will save on highway overtime and also will not immediately fill the position of highway supervisor with the retirement of Chuck Holyfield, but instead will let some foremen handle the tasks, he said.

Nickerson said the town was able to get a $5,000 discount on its liability insurance because it has removed all underground storage tanks. About $11,000 will be saved in electricity from the town's move to LED lights and the renegotiation of the electrical contract, among other reductions.

At its April 3 meeting, the finance board also specifically cut increases proposed for the town's fire departments; $225,000 from the proposed $46.79 million schools' budget; and $132,000 from the proposed $923,646 capital budget.

A public hearing on the overall $70.8 million budget, which is 2.29 percent more than this year's budget, will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the East Lyme High School auditorium.