By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
SOUTHBRIDGE — Town Councilor Wallace “Wally” MacKenzie received a standing ovation after announcing he will be resigning on Tuesday.
MacKenzie made the announcement during the Councilors’ Forum portion of Monday night’s Town Council meeting. In part, he read a prepared statement that was sent via e-mail to the Town Manager and members of the Town Council last week. In closing, he said he wished “this town my heartfelt best,” and that he felt “blessed by so many.”
In an exclusive interview with The Citizen Chronicle prior to MacKenzie’s announcement, he explained the resignation is due to personal reasons and a move to Connecticut. MacKenzie was elected to a three-year term on June 28, 2016, having received support in 43.7% of the ballots cast in the annual town election. The retired postal worker collected 432 votes, finishing second in a field of six candidates for three at-large seats to the local governing board.
Several of the councilors in attendance took the time to publicly thank MacKenzie for his service.
Councilor Gus Steeves, serving as chairman in the absence of Councilor Denise Clemence, thanked MacKenzie, noting while the two “haven’t always agreed” that the departing elected official has “always been an interesting person.”
In his remarks, Councilor Esteban Carrasco, Jr., thanked MacKenzie “for his service to his community, not only as a councilor.”
Carrasco went on to state “we’re sorry we’re losing a good citizen,” and billed him as “someone that is caring and thinks forward for the citizens.”
Councilor Kristen Auclair described MacKenzie as “cool and collected,” while thanking him for “all of your service and everything you’ve done.”
She added: “I feel like I’ve always been able to have rational discussions, whether we agree or disagree.”
Councilor Rick Nash wished MacKenzie “lots of good luck,” and suggested they ought not say goodbye.
“Thank you for being a good friend as well as a colleague up here,” Nash said. “You will be missed, and I certainly hope to see you aplenty.”
Town Manager Ronald San Angelo recognized MacKenzie for doing “a lot of good work,” and thanked him for his character.
“More importantly, you’re just a good person,” San Angelo said at the meeting’s conclusion.
Councilors Monique Manna and Jorge Morales also chipped in with brief nods to MacKenzie.
“Good luck in your future endeavors,” said Manna.
Added Morales: “I hope you have a good time, and many blessings to you as well.”
With roughly 18 months remaining in his term, MacKenzie’s seat will remain unfilled until the 2018 general election on June 12. The final year of his vacated seat will be on the ballot at that time, in addition to three-year terms expiring for Councilors Auclair, Carrasco, Jr., and Clemence. With the resignation coming fewer than 180 days before the regular town election, the Town Charter stipulates no special election shall be called to fill the vacancy.
While MacKenzie intends to deliver his letter of resignation to Town Clerk Madaline I. Bonadies on Tuesday, nomination papers for the June election will become available one week later on Tuesday, January 16.
The Town Manager, several councilors, and a resident all spoke about problems caused by the recent snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow in Southbridge and surrounding communities.
Mike Murray approached the Town Council during Citizens’ Forum to discuss, among other items, his suggestion that those fined for local violations may be able to work off their punishment by helping with snow removal. The idea was applauded by a handful of Councilors.
Auclair billed the proposal as “stellar,” and thanked him for coming forward.
“We’re not going to think of everything,” she explained. “Your input is very appreciated.”
Much of the snow discussion centered around the Town’s By-laws, enforcement thereof, and the ability of elderly and ill residents to comply.
Since 1969, the Town has employed a By-law requiring cars to be parked on the odd-numbered side of a public way on odd-numbered days, and on the even-numbered side on even-numbered days. The alternate side parking regulation switches over daily at 7:00pm from December 1 to April 1. Additionally, there are temporary winter parking bans that may be instituted as necessary.
Several councilors reminded residents the importance of complying with the regulations. Manna relayed how noncompliance on her street was a problem during the snowstorm, and laid out the potential consequences for violators.
“If you’re just abiding by the rules, you’re not going to get towed, we’re not going to call the police department to hunt you down when there’s a safety emergency in town,” she explained.
Steeves appeared more forgiving, suggesting that those fined appeal the violation to the tax collector’s office at Town Hall. The Town Manager, however, was not as sympathetic, calling the violations a public safety issue.
San Angelo noted the police department had been sent out to homes of numerous residents regarding violations and that one vehicle was even towed after a resident was warned and, he asserted, chose to ignore the By-law anyway.
“It’s not something the Town wants to do,” he explained. “If we have to tow your car, we’ll do that.”
San Angelo also referenced local regulations requiring property owners remove snow and ice within 24 hours of the end of a snow storm.
“They’re responsible for doing their sidewalks,” he said.
MacKenzie suggested that in addition to considering Murray’s suggestion, the Town could look into the possibility of helping facilitate volunteer groups to shovel for the elderly and infirmed who may be unable to clear their sidewalks.