This is Jean McMillen interviewing Joseph P. Cleaveland at his office 303 Sharon Road, Lakeville, Ct. 06069. The date is September 24, 2012. Mr. Cleaveland is going to talk about his family, his work as comptroller for the town of Salisbury, and some wonderful ghost stories.
JM:What is your full name?
JC:Joseph P. Cleaveland
JM:Your birthplace, please?
JC:My birthplace was Sharon Hospital.
JM:A Christmas present! Your parents’ names?
JC:Georgia Cleaveland and Hubert Cleaveland
JM:Do you have siblings?
JC:Yes, I do. I have an older brother Hubert Jr. Richard, John, James who is deceased, Carol, Beverly, and Mary.
JM:Are you the youngest?
JC:I am the youngest.
JM:What is your educational background?
JC:I attended Salisbury Central School, Housatonic High School, and Duchess Community College, and I graduated from Central Connecticut State University.
JM:With what kind of a degree?
JC:It is on the wall over there, I can’t see it: it has been so long!
JM:CPADo you know when your family first came to Salisbury?
JC:I believe it was in the 1700’s.
JM:Bradford Cleaveland who married Eunice Farnam?
JC:It could have been.
JM:According to Lucille Murray that was the first one. He bought a lot of land…
JC:On Town Hill; it is currently the Belcher Farm.
JM:Did he buy any land along Cleaveland Street?
JC:I don’t know if he was the one who purchased that but somewhere in the family, we did own substantial land down there.
JM:There is a street named for your family-Cleaveland Street.
JM:Do you know anything about the lumber mill, the saw mill?
JC:Not too many, just the stories of that they used to log the property of the Town Hill Farm which is currently Town Hill Farm. They also used the lumber for the lumber mill down on Cleaveland Street.
JM:Town Hill Farm is on 112.
JM:I am going to switch now to your job at the Town Hall. What is your job description?
JC:I am the comptroller for the town of Salisbury; I handle all the financial affairs for the town, but I am also in charge various technology, help with equipment purchases, grant writing. Basically if there is anything that no one else wants to do.
JM:I know what that is like. How did you get the job? Did you apply? Was there an ad in the paper?
JC:There was not an ad in the paper. I stopped by and saw the first Selectman at the time who was Buddy Trotta, and told him I was interested in leaving where I was currently employed. I had a job there within 2 weeks.
JM:What year was this?
JM:You have worked under four different select people. What were their management styles?
JC:Bud Trotta, he was pretty much hands on. He would go out and take care of things himself. He was pretty much a sole kind of manager. He took care of everything.
JC:Then came Bob Smithwick; he allowed his department heads to run their own way and do what they wanted to do.
JC:Val Bernadoni, he was very much trickle down. He was on top of everything, but he had no problem delegating work. He knew what you were doing.
JM:That sounds familiar. You are working now for Curtis Rand.
JM:And what is his style?
JC:He is similar to Buddy Trotta; he is very independent, he likes doing everything himself. He considers himself as old school resident, very hands on. He likes handling everything from top to bottom.
JM:Who is head of the Town Crew now?
JM:What does the Town Crew do?
JC:The Town Crew maintains the roads, but they also do various repair work. They replace small bridges for us. They replaced the bridge over Between-the-Lakes Road. They are currently working on putting in drainage around the Academy Building, the old court house. They help in the Town Hall. They take our air conditioners out; they help with chairs.
JM:They work with George Kiefer too don’t they?
JC:They do tree work too. George will have for some of the larger trees a company come in and take them down, but our guys will haul the trees away. So they do a lot of outside maintenance like lawn mowing.
JM:Who actually signs the payroll?
JC:Usually it is the first Selectman and the Treasurer.
JM:You are not the Treasurer, are you?
JC:No, I am the assistant treasurer; the current treasurer is Shirley Hurley.
JM:So there are two people who sign the checks and that would be for all of the town employees, including the education department?
JC:No, the Board of Education does, the checks are signed by the Chairman of the Board of Education and the treasurer.
JM:How many staff is in the Town Hall?
JC:Roughly within the town are 24 full time with various part timers depending on the time of year.
JM: How has your particular job has changed from the time you started until 2012?
JC:The biggest change is the additional filing requirements for the state and federal offices. There are various reports that we are required to file; everything is done electronically now. There was no such thing as E-mail when I started. That’s the biggest change; the amount of paper work required by the state.
JM:You had a wonderful ghost story of the Town Hall.
JC:I am very fortunate where I can work flexible hours for the town, and a lot of times I like to go in early in the morning in the summers so I can enjoy the afternoon. Or I can work very late depending on what is happening. We noticed that there are strange noises within the Town Hall at certain times. We have investigated them and they are not air circulators coming on and off; they are not the miscellaneous noises. What they are, I firmly believe are the ghosts from the cemetery in the back. I do not fear them; I think they support what I do. They are there helping me. I have always said that I have old Yankee blood going through my veins and that’s why they are happy with me. They are not trying to scare me.
JM:That’s wonderful. What are some of the things that you do in the town hall which I am going to call Niffy gritty that nobody else does or knows about? It is not a regulation or anything like that, but you mentioned a couple one in dealing with the sprinkler system and another one dealing with the flag pole.
JC:There are things that go on such as the state issues when the flag has to be at half-mast. Where the wrench that lowers the flag and who ultimately is does that? Sometimes it is James (Brazee) who is in charge of the parade, if he is available, he will take care of that. If he can’t I’ll take care of that. Today as an example I spent part of the morning upgrading the anti-virus software on the Senior Director’s computer, and I also spent some time trying to track down a certificate of title for a truck that was traded in for the Highway Department. Finally we found we had to file for a replacement title and also what was the third unusual thing I did today. Oh submitting bids I had to put the proposal out for bids for supplying electricity for next year.
JM:Bids for electricity?
JC:I sent them out to about half a dozen different companies; they will in two weeks submit their bids to supply the town with electricity for the next year.
JM:What are some of the different kinds of meetings that you attend?
JC:The main meetings that I attend are the Board of Finance meetings, the quarterly meetings-we have 4 quarterly financial meetings about the financial condition of the town; there are occasionally a
Board of Selectmen meetings. There are always the committee meetings: Transfer Station support, WPCA support, all the sub committees; Recreation, Grove, Extras committee whenever they need or want me to report extras. Whenever they want some information they ask me to attend. I am happy to attend, but I do not attend them all.
JM:These are usually night meetings.
JC:For the most part they are anywhere from 4:30 to 10:30 at night.
JM:A full day, at times. You started your own business which is?
JC:I am a CPA so when I was employed by the town, I thought what I would try to do is just to make some extra money on the side, was to start doing tax returns. It has ballooned into pretty much a seasonal full time job.
JM:When did you open this business?
JC:In 1994. I went from doing tax returns on my dining room table to converting an exterior building on our property to an office.
JM:Do you enjoy doing the tax business?
JC:Well enjoy is not the word, but it is different. It makes something different. It is not mundane; it is seasonal so I don’t so the same thing all the time. It makes a change and that is nice.
JM:What is the work cycle? When are you busiest, and when is it slack?
JC:Well, the busiest for me is during the end of the tax season with the budgeting process, doing the new budget for the new fiscal year.
JM:When is that?
JC:That’s March- the middle of March to the middle of April. It gets busy again for another 2 weeks for the audit for the previous fiscal year. My slowest time is November.
JM:Oh good; I am glad you have some down time.
JC:Even in the summer we are busy because we have the beginning and end of the fiscal year. So it is different things at different times of the year.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add about Town Hall or your own business before we go on to other things?
JC:I would just like to say that the building that I converted to my office was the building that my grandparents lived in when they built the house that I am currently living in. I was fortunately enough
obtain the property a few years ago. It is interesting that it was converted from a one room home that two adults and two children lived in into a two car garage to now an office. It is the exact same building.
JM:What are the dimensions, do you know?
JC:Roughly 24 feet by 24 feet. When it was a home, about half of it had a loft.
JM:You had an interesting story about the house that you live in now.
JC:When we were looking at renovating the house that was here, it was so old that everything needed to be replaced, but it wasn’t so old that we wanted to maintain it and refurbish everything. So we decided to donate the house to the local fire company, and they performed drills and basically burned it down. We weren’t able to tell everyone that that was what we were going to do, and the very nice man who owned the Iron Master’s Motel at the time, Hal Meredith. When he heard that our house burned down, he sent his daughter to the attic to search for her ex-husband’s clothes because he thought we would need some clothes.
JM:That was a very thoughtful thing to do.
JC:It was a very, very nice thing to do. I felt bad that his daughter had to spend an hour or two in a hot attic in the summer.
JM:it was a kind thought, a neighborly thought.
JM: Now you have some strange noises in this new house, do you not?
JC:The thing with the new house, the old house had a furnace in the center of the house, and there was a 3’ by 3’ grate in the center that would make a very distinct noise when you walked over it. Occasionally we thought at night in that old house we would hear someone walking over that grate. Well, what is interesting is that in the new house, obviously it does not have that kind of heat. Once in a blue moon in the middle of the night; I swear I hear that noise. Someone is walking across that grate because the house is on the same footprint.
JM:That’s the Yankee blood which will take care of it.
JC:The Yankee blood will take care of it. No worries.
JM:When you were growing up, I know you said that you used to run to school. What were some of the activities in the area, like Hotchkiss or the Woodland?
JC:This property adjoins Hotchkiss School which is a private school, and one of the advantages of growing up next to that school and knowing some of the faculty children is that we had all the athletic facilities available. We were able to enjoy the gymnasium, the soccer field, the outdoor hockey rink, and
play sports. That is how we spent our afternoons before doing homework, and the nice thing was that you weren’t doing the same thing all year long depending on the change of the season, you would do different sports. Also because the Woodland adjoined the Hotchkiss School property, there were various trails going over to other properties which to some people seemed another section of town, but they weren’t very far at all as you went through the woods as the crow flies. So we were able to visit other friends, and even though it seemed far, we were able to walk. You couldn’t do that today. Now parents would not allow their children to go that far. When we were in grade school, we’re talking driving wise you are probably talking four or five miles, but as the crow flies, it is a mile and one half.
JM:I imagine a lot of those trails have now been in filled with brush.
JC:They are overgrown now.
JM:Any recollections of the Methodist Church?
JC:Just that, you mentioned trails, when I was a younger child attending Sunday school. The church would sponsor a few kids to go to camp at Camp Sloane, the overnight camp on Long Pond which happens to be right behind my house. There are trails through the woods behind my house that are maintained. It was probably a 20 minute walk through the woods. What I would do for a few years while I was staying at the camp, they would have open sessions on Saturday mornings where the campers could go to whatever art or athletic facility they wanted for half the day. I used to come home and watch cartoons. It was just a 20 minute walk in the woods, and in woods that I grew up in. The counselors at the camp would get lost in.
JM:Well, you picked your own activity!
JM:Do you remember anything about the Christmas party or the Christmas pageant at church or at school?
JC:Just at the Methodist Church I do remember the Christmas pageants but I don’t remember what I was, but I remember that we had them each year. We used to practice in the building next to it. The actual pageant used to be in the church right in front of everyone.
JM:They still do. Anything about Halloween, any memories of Halloween?
JC:Halloween wasn’t a big deal, I think because we were so spread out here. When I was younger, my mother used to take us to Millerton. It was very big to go over there and go around to the residents. There are probably a half dozen streets all lined up. I can remember being very young and going there. I know now they close off the streets in Lakeville, and they allow the children to go along Lakeview Avenue.
JM:Now we are going to talk about civic activities, particularly SWSA. What do you do with SWSA?
JC:Well, the thing about SWSA is there is a core group of people who volunteer for years, and they organize the whole shebang. Then they rely on other volunteers just to show up, either a day or two before or the days of the jumps to do certain tasks. Since I am estimating about 1980 or 1981, I would show up and be a measurer. I don’t know how many years ago, but I got promoted. As you are looking at the hill on the left side of the hill are the measurers and on the right side of the hill are the chief measurers. The measurers would yell their measurements over to the chief measurers who would then radio them to the scorers building on the hill. Eventually I got promoted to be a chief measurer. So I just show up; they don’t even have to tell me. I see when the dates are; they know I am going to show up. A lot of the measurers just show up; there is very little communication ahead of time. That is just one job that is done by someone. There are cooks in the cook shack, there are others who take money, and there are people who pack snow on the hill. They just show up and do their job and then they disappear.
JM:Has it changed a lot over the years as far as the jobs themselves, or is it still pretty basic?
JC:It is really basic, it hasn’t changed at all. The only thing that may have changed a little bit is that they are making their own snow at the jumps as opposed to trucking it in or even using the ice shavings from our local hockey rinks of the private school to pack the ski jumps.
JM: I was talking to Jim Rutledge, and he was one of the ones who stomped the snow down. He said he got promoted to the cook shack and he was really happy with that. Is there anything that you would like to add that we haven’t covered?
JC:Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything.
JM:Well, there is always the second opportunity if you wish.
JM;Thank you very much.