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Known by a generation simply as “Mr. D” for his time coaching youth football, Dennis Donovan is no longer coaching but is still the voice of the Huskies football team. Also active in local government, Dennis is now working on the town’s second effort at charter revision in as many years. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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If you’ve followed the news in Clinton over the last two years, you’re probably familiar with the saga involving proposed changes to the town’s charter. In 2017, the Charter Revision Commission (CRC) proposed substantial changes to the town’s charter, most notably a change to a town manager style of government. Ultimately, proposed changes to the charter were voted down. In January 2018, a new CRC was created to once again look at making changes to charter. At the center of the both CRCs is current CRC Chairman Dennis Donovan.
“Members of the Board of Selectmen asked me again because of my prior experience,” Dennis says of being nominated to the CRC again. “We’ve been doing a lot of work on it. We have a very excellent committee.”
Dennis estimates that at press time the CRC is “about three-quarters done” with a draft of its proposed changes and hopes to have a public hearing on the proposals sometime in June.
While possibly not the most immediately riveting document to read, the town charter dictates every facet of how municipal government works in Clinton.
“It’s an awesome responsibility,” Dennis says.
If voters accept the proposed changes to the charter, it would be “one of the biggest changes in Clinton in the 50 years I’ve been here,” Dennis says.
While the committee’s recommendations aren’t yet final, it’s a good guess that some of the ideas presented last year will appear again.
When Dennis first got involved with the CRC, he says he “wasn’t really that keen” on the idea of a town manager style of government, but the more he studied the idea, the more it has grown on him. With a town manager, a professional, certified manager runs the day-to-day operations of the town under the oversight of the Board of Selectmen. The town currently relies on a paid, elected first selectman for those duties.
Dennis says that while he understands some may have reservations about the town manager style of government, he believes there are other aspects of the charter that should be changed even if the current form of government is kept.
Familiarity with how the town’s government works (and occasionally doesn’t) is one of Dennis’s strengths. He has been a fixture on various boards and committees since 1988.
In the three decades that he has volunteered his time to the town, Dennis has served on the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Board of Selectman, the Capital Expenditures Committee, the Board of Finance, Municipal Building Committee, and The Morgan School Committee, and been a member of the Republican Town Committee.
“I just sort of grew into it,” Dennis says of his interest in the town commissions. “I got more and more involved and started paying attention to what’s going on in town. I though maybe I can make a difference.”
Dennis says that one of his favorite parts of being involved in town government is election season and meeting different people while running for election.
“I’m sort of like a Gabby Gus, a people’s person,” Dennis says. “I like meeting people and talking to people.”
Dennis’s path to serving on the various town boards actually begins with one of his favorite hobbies: youth football. Dennis, who says that for years he was known around town by just “Mr. D,” was a member of the Touchdown Club, the representative for Clinton in the Shoreline Youth Football Conference, and a youth football coach for years.
“That kept me busy,” Dennis says, adding, “I’ve always loved kids.”
Eventually, Dennis became a freshman coach at The Morgan School, where he also worked with the JV and varsity teams from 1989 to 2002. His involvement with football eventually led him to joining the Parks and Rec Commission in 1988.
“It all started from there,” says Dennis.
Though he’s no longer a coach, Dennis is still involved with football at The Morgan School—he has spent the last several seasons as the announcer at the games.
“You go over on a Friday night, and you get the team pumped up and the fans pumped up,” Dennis says. “I love the kids, that’s the pure part of the sport.”
To stay at the top of his game, he has for the past several years studied each of the different teams in the conference, keeping track of their records and statistics. With all the time Dennis has put into the game in Clinton, it’s no surprise that he was recognized for it in a big way.
“I have a prestigious honor: They named the press box after me” at the field behind the Jared Eliot Middle School, Dennis notes.
Dennis grew up in New Haven and moved to Clinton in the early 1960s. Dennis served in the United States Marine Corps from 1958 to 1962, “one of my proudest moments,” he says. Upon exiting the armed forces, Dennis began a career as a corrections officer in 1964 that would last 24 years.
Besides football, Dennis says his other great hobby is fishing, in particular, trout fishing.
“I’m doing pretty well this year. I’m catching my limit,” Dennis says.
When he’s not fishing or rushing off to board or committee meeting, Dennis enjoys spending time with his wife, Elizabeth.
“She’s the best part of my life,” Dennis says.
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