Picture yourself as the chief executive officer of a corporation with several hundred employees. Imagine you've put the finishing touches on its megamillion-dollar budget. The very next day you pack your bags, jump in a friend's car and drive four hours away and check into a drug rehab place for a monthlong stay.
Naturally, you have a second in command. But you fail to inform him you'll be gone a while, and you don't even tell him he's in charge. In the meantime, you allow your closest aide to mislead everyone. First the aide claims you are simply "unavailable," then that you are "on a much-needed vacation." The next announcement is you are being treated for an "adverse reaction" to a prescription drug, and that you are in upstate New York. In reality, you are in a Maryland drug rehab center. When you return a month later, you disclose you sought treatment for an addiction to, and misuse of, a prescription anti-anxiety drug, but you won't say what that medication is. Why not?
The question is, should you keep your job? In this case, no way. In the corporate world, CEOs get bonuses for lots of amazing things. Pulling an Elvis -- slang for a sudden, unexplained departure and failing to communicate where you are, when you might return or how your work will proceed in your absence -- is not one of them.
Nevertheless, if you're Milford Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr., a Republican seeking a fifth, two-year term, your answer to whether you deserve more time at the helm running this city is yes.
"I love the challenge of public service. I know my 25 years of experience in government are an invaluable asset...," he states in a Connecticut Post op-ed piece that ran Tuesday. "And I have demonstrated the skills, the maturity and inclusiveness that are the benchmarks of effective, experienced leadership."
Where were these skills and powers of maturity when Richetelli disappeared last winter for about a month with no advance notice to the city's second in command, Board of Aldermen President Ben Blake, D-5? Richetelli's departure thrust Blake into running Milford and not knowing where he was or when he might return. On top of that, some Richetelli staffers closed ranks behind their absent boss, by initially refusing Blake's request to see the mayor's proposed budget and other documents because they didn't know if it was allowable.
Crises happen. Addictions to prescription drugs are nothing new. Lots of folks have them, and seek treatment all the time. Assuming that dependency doesn't impair you on the job or endanger the safety of others, it shouldn't be held against you.
"He's a good guy and really well-liked around Milford, and I might vote for him," says Matthew Kealy, a mover, as he waited near a bus stop for a ride to work. "It's so easy to get hooked on prescription pills. Elvis did it, lots of other celebrities, too," he said. "So he was hooked on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs. It's not like crack cocaine, crystal meth or any of that."
Kealy thinks voters should give Richetelli a break, have some compassion. And, well, they should. But the mayor missed a teachable moment. It's an instance where Richetelli, as a public persona, might have displayed some candor to those he works with in government, to voters and especially Milford's youth about confronting one's demons.
"He should have been a little more honest, say where he was going ahead of time," Bill Carey, a retired school teacher, said of Richetelli. "He's done a disservice because he didn't level with his constituents."
With a field of four vying for mayor, Carey thinks Independent Party candidate Peter Spalthoff, a former Republican chairman in Milford, is a better choice than fellow Republican Richetelli. The mayor's other challengers are Democrat Genevieve Salvatore, who promises improved customer service, and Timothy Chaucer, a petitioning candidate, who thinks Richetelli's office puts "special interests ahead of the public good."
Those we place in elective office are supposed to be clear communicators, not obfuscators. They set the top-down tone for open and accessible government. Mayor Richetelli, your lack of candor is a signal. Kudos for wanting to lead Milford. But you've pulled an Elvis once. The question before voters is whether it's time for you to leave the building.
MariAn Gail Brown, a Connecticut Post columnist, can be reached at 203-330-6288 or firstname.lastname@example.org