Mayor Fred B. Allyn Jr. remembers attending first grade in a one-room Ledyard schoolhouse. There were 11 boys and no girls until second grade, when four girls moved to the district.
“In fact,” he said, “I saw a sister of one of those girls just this month at the Ledyard Fair.” He shares that detail as someone from a larger town might comment on the best place to buy fresh bialys.
For Allyn, Ledyard is home. His family has called it home since 1652, when his ancestors first settled here. “There were seven Allyn homes along the Thames River in Gales Ferry,” he said. “They located there, and then some of them came across to the rocky side of town.”
Allyn belongs to that “rocky” branch of the family. It is a reference to the land his family has farmed for centuries.
It also could describe his recent political career.
Allyn attended Norwich Free Academy and graduated from The Citadel in 1963. He has worked in the real estate business in the area since 1970. He has two grown children and lives on a 200-acre family farm off Col. Ledyard Highway.
After several years serving on the Ledyard Town Council, including a term as its chairman, Allyn was nominated by his fellow Republicans in 2007 to run for mayor. By his account, he was recruited by party members.
He won the election and was sworn in on Dec. 3, 2007. Ten minutes before the ceremony, he said, the power went out. “And I said, 'there are some people who believe I am in the dark about a lot of things, so here we are.’”
It turned out to be a portent.
Soon after he took office, many of those same Republicans had who urged him to run had a change of heart. They said Allyn was not a team player and complained he was given to making unilateral decisions. Worse, they pointed to his frequent use of legal consultation, especially around personnel matters, and questioned his leadership.
The local press began calling for Allyn’s resignation. At one point about two years ago – a time that he recalls as the low point of his administration – Allyn seriously considered stepping down.
He did not quit. And then, this past spring, he shocked his party by announcing he would seek a second term. When Republicans responded by nominating John Rodolico for mayor, Allyn simply gathered signatures and filed to run as a petitioning candidate.
He is one of four candidates for mayor. Besides Rodolico, the field includes Democrat Tony Saccone and petitioning candidate Robert Lawrence. The candidates will face off this morning in a live debate on the Lee Elci Show, WXLM 980 AM, beginning at 9 a.m.
“The truth is, at the start of my term in this office I was in the dark about a number of things,” Allyn conceded. “I have maintained that for anybody in any job that they haven’t done before, there is a learning curve, and the learning curve for this job was steep.”
Allyn said there is no provision for a seamless transition in Ledyard Town Hall. “You come in, you roll up your sleeves and you just deal with it,” he said.
This spring, a newspaper editorial lamenting Allyn’s decision to run again claimed the town has suffered during his time as mayor. Allyn wanted to respond directly to that claim.
“The town has suffered by having a lot of things fixed, a lot of non-functional departments that have been rebuilt with functional staff,” he said. “The finance department was in shambles when I got here. I knew it was a problem because the former mayor had alerted me, but I didn’t realize the extent of the problem.”
Allyn said reorganizing the finance department consumed the first few months of his adminsitration. He considers hiring Marcia Hancock as Director of Finance among the most important achievements of his early days in office.
Starting in that year, the town presented a progression no-increase or modest-increase budgets. Since Allyn took office, the town’s spending has increased by only 2.71 percent (1.25 mills).
“Not only did we have a flat budget, but we under-spent the flat budget by $1.9 million,” he said. “And remember, this is net. This is after all the flack about legal fees. We were still under-spending the budget.”
Town Council members who clash with Allyn – and that would include most of them – readily acknowledge the town's fiscal discipline during the last four years. But their version of how it happened differs considerably.
“It was only after the council got the budget that this was the case,” said Town Councilor Linda Davis, one of the mayor’s more outspoken critics. “Every budget he presented has had a million-dollar increase.”
Allyn agrees he can’t take all the credit for holding the line on spending. But rather than credit the council, he credits town employees who forfeited raises and in some cases accepted cuts in their hours.
“I didn’t do it,” he said. “Certainly I helped, but it was the staff. I would bring them in every couple of weeks and we would talk about what we were doing. And I got them committed to a zero-increase budget.”
Allyn notes other accomplishments that he believes should reflect well on his term as mayor. He has compiled a “report car” of 32 of them. The list includes:
- Joining with a coalition of leaders from neighboring towns to explore the possibility of creating a new health district, an effort that led to the Ledge Light Health District reducing its cost to the town by 10 percent.
- Spearheading the initiative that resulted in energy-saving solar panels on several municipal buildings at no direct cost to the town.
- Securing contracts that allowed the town to transition to single-stream recycling, which is expected to result in a greater recycling effort on the part of residents.
- Securing funding (a grant and low-interest loan) for the Aljen Heights water project, addressing an environmental issue that had languished for decades.
He also likes the fact that the town’s schools are producing impressive standardized test scores that have been improving each year, and that a national pharmacy chain has committed to locating in Gales Ferry.
This summer Allyn organized a 175th Ledyard birthday celebration, a full month of events designed to enhance awareness and appreciation of the town, but also an effort for which he received some criticism.
He said he has come to accept that criticism is part of the job – a job, by the way, that he fully expects to keep come November.
Quality of life
“When I campaigned four years ago, I had two principal themes. One was the affordability of living in Ledyard,” he said.
The other was the quality of life in the town.
“I am a fiscal conservative, but I’m not an extremist,” he said. “There’s a quality of life here that I truly believe our residents want to protect. I don’t think they want to dismantle what we have. I don’t think they want to go to just ‘picking up trash and plowing the roads.’ We saw what happened a year or two ago when there was a suggestion about a closing a library. The residents rose up. More people voted on that than voted on the budget. Well, that should tell you something.”
One of his campaign pledges this time is to work more closely with the Town Council. “I will make a huge effort to do everything I can to improve the relationship,” he vowed.
“But I have to be allowed to do my job,” he said.
Note: This morning's debate, which will air live from 9-10 a.m. on WXLM radio, 980 AM, is the first of two scheduled debates. A second debate is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 11, at Ledyard High School.