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Old Lyme first selectman touts experience, opponent calls for more information on town issues

Old Lyme — This year's race for first selectman pits an incumbent running on a platform of experienced leadership against a former teacher and one-term school board member who says the current town administration hasn't accomplished much and lacks transparency.

Republican First Selectman Timothy Griswold, 76, held the first selectman's seat from 1997 to 2011 and was elected again in 2019. On the Democratic side is Martha Shoemaker, 62, who retired from teaching in 2017 and currently works as a purchasing agent at the Old Lyme-based FiberQA engineering firm.

Griswold said he's running so he can finish what he started.

"Two years later, why, there are still a number of projects which are underway," he said last week when qsked why he is running. "A couple things have been wrapped up but others continue, and they're complicated."

Shoemaker is also running for the Board of Education as an incumbent.

In a Monday debate at The Day offices in New London, Griswold positioned himself as the only candidate of the four running for Board of Selectmen with the knowledge to guide the town through comprehensive infrastructure projects like installing sewers in the Sound View Beach neighborhood and repairing the Grassy Hill Road bridge.

Griswold is running under the Republican banner with unaffiliated selectman candidate Matt Ward, a retired state trooper and current part-time police officer in Old Lyme and Deep River. Shoemaker is running with Democrat Jim Lampos, an author of four books on local history and the owner of a Groton restaurant.

Griswold emphasized he's the only candidate for Board of Selectmen with previous experience on the board. Current selectmen Chris Kerr and Mary Jo Nosal are running for different offices this time around.

"I think the other three have good capabilities, but without having been on a Board of Selectmen or on the Board of Finance, I think one is at a disadvantage to really know the nuts and bolts of the town," he said.

But Shoemaker said there hasn't been much accomplished over the past two years by the sitting first selectman.

"Projects are identified by Mr. Griswold as consistently progressing at Board of Selectmen meetings, but are in reality stalled," she said during the debate.

She cited the first selectman's continued failure to line up cybersecurity insurance coverage when the previous provider stopped offering the protection on July 1.

Both candidates identified plans for sewers in the beach areas as a prime area of focus going forward. Griswold touted an agreement recently signed with New London to provide for treatment of wastewater once the system is completed and an agreement about to be signed with East Lyme and Waterford to allow the wastewater to pass through those towns.

The cost of a pump station and pipes to be shared by the four communities is still being determined. It was estimated at roughly $9 million by project engineers.

Griswold said it's critical for all four beach communities to support the project because the cost will be exorbitant if any drop out.

"The solution would be to get some additional funding from state or federal sources because we can't afford to have this thing come to a halt," he said.

According to Shoemaker, there are 20-year loans available at a 2% interest rate for residents who must hook up to the system, as well as a grant available to municipalities for 25% of the project cost through the state Clean Water Fund.

"But the project needs to keep progressing for that 25% to cover it," she said. "We have to make sure we keep the project going so we don't lose those millions of dollars that are available through the Clean Water Fund."

Shoemaker, who is running on a platform of transparency and accountability, said she will make sure residents have enough information so they can make an educated vote when issues come up at town meetings. That's something that's lacking in Griswold's administration, according to his opponent.

She cited an August town meeting on a $42,000 appropriation to cover overspending on police and rangers that failed due to lack of information about the reasons for the extra costs.

Griswold argued many topics go to a town meeting with "a small amount of information." He said people who want to know details should ask for them at Town Hall before the meeting instead of expecting written explanations.

"I think when we have all these matters going on, it would be quite a burden to have total information on all these matters," he said.

e.regan@theday.com

Editor's Note: This article corrects Matt Ward's last name.

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