Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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Charlene Janecek Appointed First Selectman in Chester

Democrat Charlene Janecek was appointed first selectman at a special meeting of the Chester Board of Selectmen (BOS) on Jan. 5, after Janecek and Selectman Tom Englert, a Republican, voted to accept the resignation of former first selectman, Democrat Lauren Gister.

Janecek, who was sworn in at Town Hall shortly after ending the meeting, will serve the remainder of Gister’s term, until Nov. 21, 2023.

“I am perfectly happy to step up and take over and I will do my best,” said Janecek, speaking to approximately 50 people on Zoom and in-person at Town Hall, including various town officials.

A lifelong resident of Chester, Janecek was serving her fourth term on the BOS when Gister announced publicly on Nov. 30, 2021 that she would step down as first selectman to take a position as town manager in Carbondale, Colorado.

Several members of the public spoke in support of Janecek’s appointment, including Chester Democratic Town Committee Chair Cindy Lignar.

“We support you,” said Lignar. “We’re excited about you. We’re appreciative of both you and Tom [Englert] working daily together, tirelessly together and going forward, no doubt, you will continue that.

“I appreciate how well you communicate and follow up and I know that is going to be one of your cornerstone strengths and just thank you so much. Thank you for all that you do. Really appreciate this,” she continued.

Republican Town Committee Chair Carolyn Kane declined the Courier’s request for comment on Janecek’s appointment.

Longtime Chester resident Peg Meehan, who was honored for her own volunteer service in the town’s 1996 annual report, gave a nod to Janecek’s extensive public service to the community in her comments.

“I have been watching you work in this community for everyone in Chester since the late 1980s,” said Meehan. “I think that you will do a wonderful job as our first selectman, and I think Chester will be the better for it. Thank you so much for stepping forward at this time.”

Englert discussed Janecek’s knowledge of Chester, saying in a phone interview on Jan. 6 that she’s a “great fit.”

“She brings a wealth of knowledge to this position, having been on the board for as long as she was,” said Englert. “It’s not just about the role of first selectman, but just her knowledge of Chester in general and the needs and what’s going on in town and the people in town and that is so critical for that position.”

The appointment of Janecek as first selectman was the first step in filling the vacancies on the three-member board. Englert said they are now in the process of finding well qualified individuals to fill Janecek’s selectman seat, a process that is dictated by state statute.

“We have heard of people who are interested, so hopefully those names are forthcoming soon because we do plan to move forward on this,” said Englert. “We want to get back to having a full board as soon as possible. We feel that best serves the town.”

Englert said there is no statutory requirement that the selectman’s seat be filled by the same party line as the person vacating it, which would be a Democrat.

“If Charlene and I don’t agree or can’t agree on someone, it falls then to the elected Democrat officials in town,” said Englert. “That’s, in my opinion, that’s kind of where the Democrats then would ultimately fill it with a Democrat.

“But, again, we are looking for someone who we feel will mesh well with the existing board, with Charlene and myself, and who certainly would have the dedication to the position and hopefully someone who brings some experience,” continued Englert.

Janecek has been an active public servant in Chester for decades, with membership and leadership on numerous town boards and commissions. She also owned the Lunch Box, a popular eatery in downtown Chester, for 30 years, prior to its closure.

“I know how Main Street operates,” said Janecek in a phone interview on Jan. 6. “I know the issues that Chester Center has. There are issues with parking. There’s, whether we want to talk about it or not, there’s a garbage issue. Chester Center presents its own little situations and problems that we have to deal with, and the center is the lifeblood of the town.”

Janecek is pledging to be more responsive to citizens during her tenure as first selectman.

“I plan on being accessible,” said Janecek. “I will answer emails. I will answer phone calls. If I don’t have the answer, I will either get it for you or I will tell you who you need to talk to.”

Janecek will hold open office hours at Town Hall each Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“I will be in my office and anybody who wants to come in and talk to me can come in and talk to me,” said Janecek.

She plans to hone in on what isn’t working in town and offered encouragement for what is working.

“The town’s problems, so to speak, every town has them, and you just have to deal with them as they come along on a daily basis,” said Janecek, who praised the Public Works Department and the resident state trooper.

“Basically, our town functions beautifully,” she said. “We’ve got a great staff at Town Hall. They’re doing a fantastic job.”

Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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