Scott Jackson at the LOB. (CTNewsJunkie file photo)
Jonathan L. Wharton

West Haven politics are in the news once again and a lot of people are obsessed with the shoreline city’s troubles, including myself. The latest episode includes the city’s finance director, Scott Jackson, who resigned from his post suddenly during the ongoing budgetary season. And this follows last month’s Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) meeting, where the state-appointed oversight entity threatened to take over West Haven’s finances. 

West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi’s official statement about Jackson’s resignation was just as abrupt as his departure from city hall. She only offered a couple of sentences and did not provide a reason for Jackson’s resignation. The statement includes a brief quote from Jackson: “It has been my pleasure to work with so many hardworking city employees and dedicated City Council members to advance the best interests of West Haven.” 

It’s already unusual that Jackson left only a few days short of his one-year anniversary at city hall. And his predecessor, Frank Cieplinski, was fired during the same period in 2022. This year, several state and local officials appear to be taking notice

What’s especially interesting is that Jackson was an initial member of the MARB when he was undersecretary at the state’s Office of Policy and Management. He was also briefly New Haven’s chief administrative officer and Hamden’s former finance director and mayor. 

So, Jackson has worked in various appointed and elected positions at the state and local levels. But based on his experience as a member of the MARB, his resignation just as the city’s budgetary process begins is a serious concern.

Should West Haveners be worried? Absolutely, especially when local governance can be stripped away as their mayoral and council officials face re-election.  

Should Connecticut residents equally be concerned about West Haven’s politics? Again, absolutely. Perhaps even more so because the MARB is increasingly monitoring city hall and the board has committed state finances to the city. There also have been investigations centering on former city employee and state Rep. Michael DiMassa’s misuse of COVID-19 funds

It looks like there may be a tug-of-war for political control of the city underway in the midst of the budgetary season – and during an election year. In other words, what has already been a series of troubling episodes could lead to a seismic political shake-up.

Even worse, expect public officials – appointed, elected, and partisan candidates – to politicize West Haven’s woes even more so than they have in the recent past. 

The political carousel has been spinning fast in the city and could get a lot faster. And messier. Jackson appears to be one of many officials seeking an exit. 

In previous editorials, I stressed West Haven’s political and economic potential. Its population is demographically diverse and the city’s location is situated on Long Island Sound, I-95, and Metro-North’s coveted New Haven Line. It should be a city ripe for redevelopment, particularly with more projects to grow the city’s property tax rolls.

Yet, West Haven’s economic development director position remains vacant and now the city’s lost another finance director.

The true test will be in whether West Haveners can stay determined to engage and resolve their city’s problems. Threats of a state takeover and political grandstanding about the city’s fiscal and political concerns are hardly sustainable or organic. 

Instead, political resolve must come from local communities. Political scientist Vincent Hutchings argues that a sizeable issue can be a transformative force to awaken residents or stir a “sleeping giant” to engage in reforms and political activities. Maybe West Haven’s residents can be that sleeping giant and halt the city’s political carousel this year.

Jonathan L. Wharton

Jonathan L. Wharton

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.