Monday night, Jan. 10, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) held a special meeting to further discuss the creation of a Town Administrator position that would fundamentally change the day-to-day, administrative operations in Wilton.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice says the concept of adding an administrator to the ranks of Town employees has been discussed in the past, but it has recently taken on great momentum.
Just last week, at the Jan. 4 BOS meeting, Vanderslice presented a detailed case for why she believes the position is needed now. The rationale is driven by what Vanderslice describes as the increasing demands on the first selectperson’s time since she came into office — not only has the job become more complex, but there has been greater need for the first selectperson to be actively involved in regional governing activities (a role that she says typically cannot be delegated) as well as issues at the state level.
The unexpected resignation of Anne Kelly-Lenz, the dual chief financial officer for the Town and the Board of Education, and Chris Burney‘s changing role within the Department of Public Works, are also factors in the first selectwoman’s desire to take action to institute the new position at this time.
Seeking An Experienced Professional
A working copy of the town administrator’s job description (posted on the Town website) was reviewed during the meeting, and summarized as follows:
“The Town Administrator is appointed by the Board of Selectmen and serves as a professional manager. Under the direction of the First Selectperson, the Town Administrator is responsible for administrative functions relative to the daily operation of departments under the supervision of the First Selectperson, including Finance, Human Resources, Information Services, Land Use, Assessment, Tax, Town Clerk, Human Services, Public Works and Parks and Recreation.”
As Vanderslice envisions the position, experience would be key for qualified candidates. The job description indicates candidates should have a minimum of 15 years of government or related experience, and ideally including at least 10 years of supervisory experience in municipal government.
In her latest presentation to the selectmen, Vanderslice continued to emphasize that having a “professional manager” as a town administrator would benefit the Town in several ways. As she stated in her presentation,
“Residents benefit from a professionally run town; continuity of government; the increased ability of the first selectperson to engage in legislative proposals, state and regional initiatives; and the expansion of the candidate pool for first selectperson.”
The job description was crafted after a review of comparable positions in municipalities across Connecticut and Massachusetts, along with a review of various town charters. In addition, Vanderslice consulted a number of individuals with insight and experience with such a position, including Wilton’s Town Counsel Ira Bloom.
It’s About Continuity, Not Politics
“What we’re looking for is continuity of government,” Vanderslice explained. “We’re not looking for a chief of staff type of position that changes often.”
To achieve that continuity, the town administrator would be somewhat protected from termination due to any change in the political affiliation of a new first selectperson or other members of the BOS.
“There’s no impact on the political parties,” Vanderslice said. “A town administrator is not a political person, so it de-politicizes the administrative aspect of town.”
The position will also have the condition that it cannot be held by an elected official.
Division of Responsibilities
Vanderslice offered several examples of how the first selectperson and town administrator might divide their responsibilities in a way that would relieve the first selectperson from time-consuming administrative duties and allow more time to focus on strategic issues and longterm planning.
- Department Operations: The first selectperson would set priorities; the town administrator would oversee daily operations
- Budget Preparation: The first selectperson would recommend and communicate guidance and priorities; the town administrator would work with various departments to develop a budget that meets that guidance and priorities
- Economic Development: The first selectperson would work on messaging and marketing the Town and its investment opportunities; the town administrator would identify and implement changes to processes that facilitate business and resident investments
- New Town Amenities: The first selectperson would work with Town boards and commissions to identify projects and priorities; the town administrator would identify grant opportunities to fund the projects and oversee grant application and management
- Employee Hiring: The first selectperson would interview and recommend department heads and officials that by charter must be approved by the BOS, as well as hire other employees who would be direct reports; the town administrator would participate in interviews and make recommendations to the BOS for employees under the administrator’s authority
Cost To The Town
In advocating for the new position, Vanderslice is putting her money where her mouth is. She is recommending a decrease in the salary of a first selectperson commensurate with a reduction in the position’s time requirements.
Most recently, Vanderslice’s annual salary was restored to $139,511 last June after she voluntarily took a $30,000 pay cut during the pandemic the prior year. In November, the BOS not only repaid that $30,000 to Vanderslice, but members then voted to give her a 2.5% salary increase effective as of the beginning of FY2022.
Details and the total cost of compensation and benefits for the first selectperson and town administrator are still to be determined.
Since the BOS could not take further action without public input — and the only public comment period was scheduled at the end of the meeting, after the board’s discussion — the selectmen are now expected to vote on a final revised job description at the next BOS meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
At least one Wilton resident who participated in the public comment expressed concern that the BOS is moving too quickly. Though conceptually in agreement with the proposed new position, the resident Sarah Curtis expressed “an uneasiness” with what she perceived as “very rushed” and “on the fly” decision-making about the new position.
“This will impact residents quite substantially,” Curtis said. “It doesn’t have to be kicked down the road … but I would just hope we would give this the time it needs.”
If approved, the open position will be posted on the Town website as well as government websites visible to prospective candidates. Members of the BOS, and possibly Town counsel, would conduct interviews.