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OP-ED | Personality Transplant Needed In Woeful Winsted

by | Apr 25, 2014 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion, Winsted

When last this column visited the troubled town of Winsted in November, it looked like the place had hit rock bottom. The town was flat broke, partly the result of the embezzlement of at least $2 million — but perhaps as much as $7 million — by the town’s longtime finance director.

Henry Centrella is a member of a large and respected town family and was Winsted’s only finance director. He had held the post for 30 years and now sits in jail after pleading guilty, even as the specter of his shameful theft continues to roil the waters of the Mad River in this once-proud mill town.

Back in November, the state Department of Education was investigating the town of Winchester, as it is formally known, for not meeting the state’s minimum budget requirement, while the superintendent told parents and taxpayers the town’s public schools might close in December for lack of cash. A state takeover of the Winchester school district looked like a real possibility.

Meanwhile, Winsted’s roads were allowed to crumble, causing the public works director to resign in protest. And the nine retired cops who risked their lives on those roads saw their pension and benefits program canceled. The city was crumbling — literally and figuratively — from parsimony, neglect, and corruption.

Since that column first appeared, things seemed to have improved. New leaders took office, a supplemental tax was enacted and the town received a bank loan in advance of educational cost sharing grants from the state, thus keeping the schools open. A bright new finance director from Bristol was hired to replace the crook who preceded her. Members of a Winsted politics Facebook page urged me to write an updated column pointing to the improvements, which I promised to do.

But alas, by the time I got around to writing the op-ed, Winsted’s fortunes had resumed their downward spiral. In a case of bitter irony, on the same day that Centrella was sentenced, the finance director who took his place quit to return to her old job in Bristol. Two members of the Board of Selectmen, including the newly-appointed mayor herself, have resigned. And if the resignations of those two public officials weren’t enough, their departures sparked an ugly fight over who had the authority to replace them.

The relatively new public works director then announced his resignation, but the worst was yet to come. Schools Superintendent Thomas Danehy, a breath of fresh air whose predecessor was widely considered to be a miserable failure, announced he was jumping ship, too.

Choruses of “Another One Bites The Dust” began on social media. One writer on a Torrington Register Citizen comment thread asked if “the last person leaving Town Hall would turn off the lights and lock the door please.”

In a sluggish economy and a tight job market, how could so many capable people leave town — in some cases, to parts unknown? I can only imagine that concerned Winsted taxpayers are hoping against hope that Town Manager Dale Martin doesn’t fly the coop soon. With the town’s reputation in tatters, it’s hard to see how it could attract any talent to replace those officials who have simply given up and walked away.

I worked in Winsted for five years as alumni and development director for the town’s high school. I got to know hundreds of capable, upstanding citizens and public officials there. Why the town can’t get its act together is beyond me.

I’d hate to see it happen, but it just might be that the only way for Winsted to regain its footing is for the state to come in and run things for awhile. As draconian as that seems, a state takeover would be far easier than giving the town a personality transplant.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(7) Archived Comments

posted by: shinningstars122 | April 25, 2014  6:17am


Thank goodness you are not a resident of our community.

You are clearly just part of the problem…if you honestly believe the former Mayor, or even all the current ” crop” of new Republicans, have a vision for our town you have not attended a recent Selectman’s meeting.

Winsted is moving forward in some ways and you can thank the Town Manager for that effort, but much more needs to be done and honestly more, plenty more, residents need to become involved and rally around each other and demand positive action from our elected, and “appointed” Selectmen.

Clearly the challenges we are facing are similar to what many other communities are facing in this state, a lack of vision or even a master town plan.Plus the leadership to advocate for our town and stop maintaining the status quo of doing nothing that only benefits a few.

Both parties have been guilty of this for a over a decade.

Winsted and Winchester is one of the most beautiful towns in Litchfield county and has enormous potential to become the ” hub” for cultural and economic activity, plus a an affordable place to live for families, in northern Litchfield and southern Berkshire counties.

I am sure this next year you will see great thing begin to happen here but it won’t be from you pathetic editorials sir.

posted by: IOU | April 25, 2014  7:02am


Please bite the dust TM and please State we are in dire need of your management help.

posted by: shinningstars122 | April 26, 2014  9:11am


Mr. Cowgill I did not put any words in your mouth. It was a rhetorical statement.

There are two major factors contributing to major the economic stalemate that Winsted has barely survived on for over a decade.

Zero budgets has suffocated the town’s opportunities to begin making the smart investments into infrastructure and attracting new business to town.

I suggest you take a drive up to the Industrial Park and see what kind of poor condition the roads are in there. What new start up manufacturing business would want to be there?

The second is the status qou who really do not want the town to change and become a cool town like gasp! Great Barrington or heavens no! That sucess story called Northhampton.

As for Main Street, which has many cool and interesting business’, the big problems are two folds.

First the old factory buildings that have been allowed by past leaders to stay vacant and become blight for years.

No pressure is put on the landlords of this properties to get their acts together and rehab these buildings so that they can be converted to mix use.

The second is that many apartments on Main Street are Section 8 and the landlords have no motivation to do anything else.

It is money in the bank for them for not having to do much to their buildings above the first floor.

This has to change.

Winsted is one of the few towns in the entire state that is almost completely pedestrian friendly.If you live almost any where you can walk,ride a bike or even use a scooter to shop for groceries, we have two supermarkets on Main Street, see a movie, go to two great hardware stores or and many other needed businesses. This could be very attractive to 55+ folks who want to live a in a nice old Victorian house or young urban workers who commute to Hartford, wow! we even have a commuter bus service too, or south to Waterbury.

Plus even our school kids can still walk to school.

This environment clearly would be ideal,and very affordable, for start up businesses in the Information/Tech and new manufacturing industries who would attract young people who would work hard and contribute to the tax base.

That is the type of vision Winsted needs. Not the current, who believe in only continually cutting expenses because you want to “starve the pig” as they read ” Atlas Shrugged” into the wee hours of the morning.

Plus state receivership will not do that sir.

posted by: IOU | April 27, 2014  9:33am


Dear Shining ; New appointed doing well. TM is part of older regime and part of all the new and old problems. Winsted a hub? Really. You’re just silly.

posted by: Winsted_is_Lookin'_UP! | April 29, 2014  12:39pm

Winchester town residents are most proud of our little town and the persistence and resilience we have shown each other and others in finally understanding and addressing important financial and other problems facing our small town and many other towns and cities in this great country.

In spite of a bad economy and decreasing personal incomes, we continue to generously support our little town and its government with local budgets of over $30 millions per year over the last several years with another 3% increase projected for 2014-15.

We are proud of our town, its history and scenic views, our NW Community College, lakes and ponds, museums and historical society, our Winsted Health Center and other assets including our town meeting form of government which we, its citizens, continue to improve via our active participation and volunteer work with help from dedicated town and school employees.

And we are most proud of each other and our endurance and ability to take on and resolve difficult problems and move on with the dedication and hard work needed to make Winchester an even better community in which to live, learn and grow.

posted by: shinningstars122 | May 1, 2014  5:59am


@IOU The new ” team” is doing well? Lets see we have a former investment banker, who is now Mayor, that was not even elected by the voters running the show?

This gang of five deliberately under funded the Board of Ed and brought the town to the brink of another financial disaster.

Now they are nickle and diming much needed position that have to be filled ASAP.

For example if you want a qualified PW director who will take on this enormous job, you need to first pay a competitive salary and second maybe trust their professional judgement instead of micro managing them to the point of quitting.

The school system right now is the only attractive point to attract new families to our town, plus the low taxes, so this Gang of five better wake up and smell the coffee and stop worrying about cutting every thing to pieces with the budget.

@winstedlooking up. Very nicely put. It great to see civic pride for our town.

It is what will help guide us through these tough times.

posted by: IOU | May 1, 2014  11:27am


Dear Shennanigans:
Heil Mein Hitler !

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