“I am submitting this letter tonight to inform you that I am resigning from my post as mayor of Chestertown, effective immediately.”
So reads the resignation letter of now former Chestertown mayor Chris Cerino, dated Monday, April 5 and submitted to the council at a meeting the following day.
Cerino’s resignation comes as quite a shock. While he had previously announced that he would not seek a third four-year term in the town election this November, he had not signaled he would be vacating his post early.
He makes note of that election in closing his letter: “In seven months, you will have the opportunity to elect a new leader, and when that time comes I stand by ready to assist in any way practical. In the interim, I am confident that the Town’s affairs will be in good hands with my fellow Council members and our capable staff.”
Cerino’s abrupt departure comes at a time when the town has a number of key issues to address.
This is usually the time of year local governments are putting together their budgets, which go into effect July 1.
In addition, Chestertown Police Chief John Dolgos is set to retire later this year as required by his pension program. That leaves unanswered questions about the future of the department and its leadership.
We are still in a pandemic, though making our way out of the economic shutdown it brought last year. We need leadership there on how to continue to open up the town for more activities and events.
Cerino’s departure does not leave Chestertown adrift. We still have four council members — though it should be noted a 2-2 tie on a vote means the action fails — and an experienced town hall staff.
What is most disconcerting about Cerino’s resignation is the reason for it, which he was very open about.
“This is not a decision to be taken lightly, and comes after hours of soul searching, conversations with my wife and children, and ultimately at the direction of our family physician. Over the past several days, my emotional state has become increasingly unstable. While this is embarrassing to reveal in a public forum, I must now be honest with myself and with you — in acknowledging that the stress levels I have endured for the past seven years are significantly impacting my mental health and physical well being,” Cerino wrote.
As our political discourse continues to seem more like a professional wrestling match than a debate over public policy, Cerino’s own admission shows the toll it can take on those holding office. And people like Cerino and our local officials here are not professional politicians — they are essentially volunteers.
Even those local elected posts that do pay, pay very, very little for the amount of work being done. And then there are ancillary boards that are completely unpaid, such as the appointed planning commissions and various other commissions and committees.
That is not to say our local elected and appointed officials get a free pass. Accountability is very important. Our officials are making decisions that affect all of us, in many ways much more directly than what comes down from Capitol Hill.
So yes, their actions are to be held up for scrutiny. How they vote is important. What they say does matter.
But how we address it is equally important. How we conduct ourselves is important. Are we having a civil discourse or are we trying to knock down an opponent with a flying elbow leap from the turnbuckle?
Our local officials are also our friends and neighbors. They live around the corner from us. We see them in the grocery store, at the gas station or just strolling down our sidewalks, maybe with their significant other or their children or their dog.
The vast majority of those who run for public office at the local level do so because they want to help our communities. There will always be disagreements in how we do that. But how we address those disagreements, how we talk to one another matters.
Kent County News Associate Editor Trish McGee is a member of the Kent County Board of Education. She did not contribute to this editorial.