STONINGTON — The Democratic Town Committee will likely endorse Mystic Middle School teacher Jocelyn Kepple on Thursday to fill Kate Rotella’s seat on the Board of Selectmen, but whether the two remaining selectmen will endorse Kepple is unclear.
Rotella, who won the 43rd District House seat in November, stepped down from the board on Jan. 1.
Kepple, 32, a sixth-grade teacher, put her name forward to fill Rotella’s seat on Jan. 2. “I’ve always grown up with the mentality of giving back to your community and finding ways to serve the community,” Kepple said on Tuesday.
Kepple said she was following her family's tradition. Her father, Nicholas Kepple, was first selectman in 1987-89 and has served as the judge on the Southeastern Corner Regional Probate District since 2011. Her mother, Noreen Kepple, taught at the Stonington Community Center.
“I grew up hearing ‘This is this community, you live in and you help make changes and improvements and keep it moving forward,’” she said. “This is just a different way for me to get involved with community.”
The town charter stipulates that the other selectmen, Republicans John Prue and Rob Simmons, have the option of choosing a replacement from the Democratic Party within 30 days. The appointee is traditionally recommended by the town committee of the board member who resigned. If the selectmen do not appoint a replacement, Democrats in elected town positions have 60 days to appoint a new selectman or selectwoman.
Simmons, the first selectman, said Tuesday that he would comment after the Democratic Town Committee makes its choice official. Prue, also contacted on Tuesday, said he planned to do more research before making a decision.
“The way I see it, as a member of the Board of Selectmen, we cast votes for the general public or for the elected members of town at all times. We’re doing business on their behalf and this is no different than that,” he sad. “We’re asking to put someone on the board that is typically reserved for the voters, so I want to be informed, I want to ask questions, I want to be comfortable with any decision I make.”
Scott Bates, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said Monday that appointing a woman to replace Rotella would continue her legacy of female leadership in Stonington. “Common sense demands it be a woman because we didn’t have women in leadership positions in this town for centuries and Kate was the first Democratic selectwoman and I think it would be great to fill out her term with a selectwoman,” he said.
When asked whether Chris Donahue, who ran against Rotella in the Democratic primary for the 43rd District seat, would be considered for the selectman position, Bates said Donahue had great potential as a candidate going forward for many different offices. “He’s got a great ethic of public service and he knows the town well," he said.
Donahue said he wasn’t interested in the selectman position at this time. “I’ve got some other things going on and it’s not the right time for me,” he said. “I would definitely be interested sometime in the future.”
Bates said the town committee would support Kepple.
“That’s the name that’s come before all of the members of the town committee, the one that has put her name forward and I think has been well-received,” he said.
Kepple said she has served on the Democratic Town Committee for the past four or five years and recently started coaching youth basketball.
“I haven’t served on Planning and Zoning or anything like that yet, but I feel like I serve the town as a teacher,” she said. “I’ve been active on the PTO here and I run the student council. I’m excited to get into the running of the town and just learning more about it so that I’ll be more informed."
She said she would serve the rest of Rotella’s term but would not run for the seat in November.
“That probably sounds surprising to a lot of people that I would be getting involved and not run, but honestly, the idea of running in an election doesn’t appeal to me,” she said. “I’ve seen my dad go through the grind of elections in election years in the last few years and that isn’t something I’m ready to do.”
She also said the timing of an election campaign would conflict with the town's middle school consolidation.
“I really want to make sure I’m giving the consolidation my all at the beginning of the school year next year, make it my priority,” she said.
Being on the board for a shorter period, she said, would give her a sense of objectivity about making decisions for the town.
“It gives me a position on the board where I don’t have to worry about making decisions that would have an effect on what might happen in November,” she said. “I would just listen to people in the town and try to look the decisions to be made and make the best choice for the town.”