By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
SOUTHBRIDGE — In an exclusive interview with The Citizen Chronicle, Town Councilor Wallace “Wally” MacKenzie affirmed he will announce his resignation from the Southbridge Town Council tonight.
MacKenzie cited health concerns, personal issues not connected with the Town Council, and an impending move to Connecticut as the reasons he will be stepping down.
“I have no choice,” he said. “I have to look at my health first and my situations.”
MacKenzie said he intends to announce his resignation during Councilor’s Forum at the conclusion of tonight’s meeting. A formal letter of resignation will be handed to the office of Town Clerk Madaline I. Bonadies tomorrow. He notified the Town Council and Town Manager of his intention on Wednesday morning, affirming that tonight’s meeting “will be my last official meeting as Councilor.”
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 Kristen Auclair, Esteban Carrasco, Jr., and Denise 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.
MacKenzie, who said he told members of the Town Council in November that he would be resigning before his term expired, though he did not know at that time when the action would take place.
“I stayed as long as I could,” MacKenzie said in an interview with The Citizen Chronicle.
MacKenzie cited the closing of his home in Southbridge and the subsequent move out of town and state as the reason he could wait no longer to step down, but also expressed a desire to prevent a special election from becoming a political maneuver that would endanger the employment of Town Manager Ronald San Angelo.
“If they could get an election before June to fill my seat for six months, they would probably be looking to get rid of Ron. That’s my feeling, and I just wasn’t going to let that happen. I think the guy is doing a pretty good job,” MacKenzie said. “I’m extremely supportive of the Town Manager. He’s doing a great job, and I see absolutely no reason for a change at all. He does his job and he works.”
He later added that he would not “allow anyone to bamboozle” or “ramrod” the Town Manager.
While moving to Connecticut will disqualify MacKenzie from serving on the Town’s governing body, it will not prevent him from working to better his community.
“I’m not disconnecting myself from Southbridge at all,” MacKenze asserted, noting that he plans to be involved in community events and continue working on a substance abuse awareness program. “I love this town.”
It was that affection for Southbridge that first spurred MacKenzie to run for public office.
“I loved Southbridge, so I wanted to serve my town,” he said of the decision to run for Town Council in 2016. “I wanted to help my town because it had done so much for me, and I wanted to give back. I felt that I could be a beneficial part of the Council.”
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. Only incumbent Councilor Monique Manna received more votes in the town’s 2016 general election. MacKenzie credited Manna as having encouraged him to serve on a Town Council subcommittee and consider a run for Town Council if he liked the experience. He did.
While campaigning to earn those votes, MacKenzie said he went through many neighborhoods, knocking on a lot of doors to meet the voters. This legwork shaped his mindset as a Town Councilor and aided him in decision-making processes.
“When I first ran I was on the fence when it came to the landfill, with Casella, I had to learn about it and I learned about it from both sides of the fence. I pretty much made up my mind, and then I went out canvassing and ringing a lot of doorbells, talking to people they were telling me they did not want this landfill,” MacKenzie recalled. “If you’re going to be running for office and representing the people, you’ve got to represent the people. The majority of people, most of the people I talked to didn’t want the landfill. They didn’t want their town to be known as the dump.”
That anti-landfill belief was confirmed June 13 when more than 60% of referendum voters opted to reject a non-binding ballot question calling for negotiations to expand the landfill and extend its life.
“I was very happy with the results of the landfill vote,” MacKenzie said.
As for his disappointments as a Town Councilor, MacKenzie said it all comes down to attitude and respect, or the lack thereof.
“It was the negativity that bothered me the most,” he said, suggesting that the Town Council “wasted time” while “bickering over meeting minutes, bickering over things that were completed, and bickering over each other.”
He added: “They need to learn to respect one another and try to do the best that they can to work together.”
MacKenzie cited Clemence, as Town Council Chairwoman, as a key source of disrespect. He also expressed regret that she had been given the role by his peers.
“When a councilor is talking and Denise is over there with a sidebar rolling her eyes, I find that rude,” MacKenzie explained. “I really do not think that she should be the chairperson. I think it was a big mistake. I know others who voted for her that are now sorry.”
He also relayed an incident in which claims Clemence admonished him for referencing his religious faith during meetings.
“I’m a spiritually minded man and I was told a number of times to tone down my religiosity,” MacKenzie said. “I was told by Denise, ‘You’re way over the top with this religious stuff.’”
MacKenzie, a deacon at Sovereign Grace Chapel in Southbridge and has served as a missionary in Jamaica for 4 ½ years, defended himself by noting “I’m not proselytizing” from the Town Council dais.
An example of MacKenzie’s religious remarks most recently occurred at the Town Council’s December 18, 2017 meeting, when he read a biblical passage in honor of Christmas. He noted that he did so the Christmas prior, and was following in the tradition of former Town Councilor David Livengood.
ADVICE FOR HIS SUCCESSOR
With one year on the Town Council up for grabs in June, MacKenzie had several thoughts and pieces of advice for whoever takes his seat.
“Do your due diligence in researching the issues, know what you’re talking about, study your packets, read through them carefully, form an opinion on your own, don’t get swept in. You can’t be swayed by personality. You have to vote on what is right for the town. That’s the job,” he advised. “I voted with my conscience and I voted to do things in the best interest of the Town, not in the best interest of any individual or individuals.”
He added that all Councilors should attend as many meetings as possible, both of the Town Council and its various subcommittees.
For the townspeople he served, MacKenzie called on them to step up and be evermore engaged in the process.
“People should go to the Town Council meetings if they’re able to, or at least listen to them being broadcast, and become familiar with the issues in our town, and take a stand on the issues so that when we’re voting on the issues they can come to the podium and have the right to be heard,” MacKenzie said. “Don’t complain about things that are going on in your neighborhood without getting involved and knowing the story. You have a say.”
As for the Town Council itself, MacKenzie’s parting words are to be nice and respectful.
“Respect, to me, is king. It’s a key element. And there’s nothing wrong with being kind,” he said. “It is my great hope that this Town Council and future Town Councils will look to work together on the issues and put personalities aside at all times, not take things personal or make things personal, but to look at what is for the betterment of the Southbridge community, and that’s it.”
MacKenzie explained that kindness and respect is a must not only for Councilors interacting with one another, but also with the citizenry they represent.
“We need to be respectful to consider the thoughts and opinions of any citizen that approaches that podium. As long as that citizen is respectful, because that’s what we’re there for. Why do we have a podium there, why do we have a mic there, if we’re not going to let people do it? The way it’s done is just poor,” he asserted. “I may not agree with different people, and I may, but I am so glad they come to these meetings, and they stand up, and they say what’s on their mind. That’s their right and we need to respect that.”