DPW’s Chris Burney Redefines His Role; Frank Smeriglio Will Step Up as New DPW Chief

Chris Burney, Wilton’s Director of Public Works, Facilities and Energy Management, has announced plans to step back from some of his responsibilities over the next few months.

As a first step, Burney will vacate his position as Director of Public Works as of Feb. 1, but will remain as Director of Facilities and Energy Management through June 30. On July 1, Burney will transition to part-time status, with focus on major building projects.

During the brief lull at DPW between the Jan. 5 ice storm and Jan. 7 snowfall, Burney took time to speak with GOOD Morning Wilton about his changing role, which has grown significantly since he was first hired as Director of Facilities and Energy Management in 2015.

Pulling Back the Reins

Burney was a strategic hire in a search that took two years. At that time, the Town had multiple major building projects on the horizon, at facilities including the Miller-Driscoll school, Town Hall and police headquarters.

“I was originally hired because [the Town] needed somebody with a building background, facilities construction,” Burney told GMW.

Bill Brennan, then Wilton’s first selectman, said at the time, “Chris is exactly the person we need to provide the technical expertise and vision to develop energy conservation and capital project management initiatives for the Town-owned facilities. The goal is to achieve net longterm cost savings for the Town by reducing capital expenditures and lower energy costs.”

Burney is credited with overseeing the Town’s progress on solar power and the virtual net metering (VNM) program, which together now provide 70% of municipal and school building electricity needs.

He was also instrumental in establishing a model for long-term planning for major projects such as roofs, HVAC systems and elevators at Wilton’s municipal buildings.

While meeting the goals first given to him, Burney was asked to take on additional responsibilities, assuming facilities management for the schools (previously managed by the Board of Ed) and leadership of the Town’s public works department.

But after several years in that expanded role — not to mention a very long career before that — Burney is now ready to relinquish some of his duties and sees a return to more traditionally defined roles.

“Public Works is going back to the way it used to be, which is the traditional public works with responsibilities for roads, highways, infrastructure, sewers, [etc.],” Burney said.

Frank Smeriglio Promoted

The new DPW director will be Frank Smeriglio, who currently serves as Assistant Director of Public Works/Town Engineer. 

At the Jan. 4 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, the board voted unanimously to promote Smeriglio, after the strong recommendation by First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.

“Frank’s done an outstanding job,” Vanderslice told the board, referring to Smeriglio’s three years of work experience for the Town.

“When he was hired, it was with the expectation that he would pick up a few more years of supervisory experience and then be ready to be promoted to director, and remain as town engineer,” Vanderslice said.

Echoing Vanderslice’s comment, Burney told GMW, “The idea was always that we would like to see [Smeriglio] become the next department director, and that’s worked out well.”

“[Smeriglio] and I work well together,” Burney continued. “We bookend well as engineers. We have two different disciplines and they work well together.”

“There’s a level of continuity and a peaceful transition that we’re not always lucky enough to have,” he added.

Pending final compensation negotiations, Smeriglio will assume the director’s role on when Burney vacates the position on Feb. 1.

“A Level of Flexibility”

A key factor in the evolution of Burney’s role will be the Town’s decision on whether to move forward with the long-deferred police station headquarters project.

The project, which almost came to fruition in 2017, is back on the table, but final cost estimates have been delayed. Rather than a special town meeting this month, the project is now expected to be put to voters at the annual town meeting in May.

If the project moves forward, Vanderslice says Burney’s ongoing involvement will be valuable.

“With Chris’s knowledge of the project, his work overseeing Miller-Driscoll [renovations] and his previous extensive professional experience, his remaining in this role means we have better oversight than we would have had with an outside consultant, and at a lower cost,” Vanderslice told GMW.

Vanderslice sees Burney overseeing the project, with more of his time required after the project moves out of planning stage — still months away — and into the construction phase.

“As we get closer to when Chris’s time commitment for the police headquarters will increase, we’ll see where we are and decide if and what action to take,” Vanderslice said.

By then, Vanderslice pointed out, Wilton might also have a Town Adminstrator, a position she recently recommended adding to the Town organization chart, and one that could have a role in facilities management.

“The good news is that I have a level of flexibility,” Burney said.

Burney has indicated he will remain available “to do whatever is needed” to help the Town successfully complete major projects, like the police headquarters, that have been identified to date.

If the domed sports facility currently being explored moves forward, that could also fall under Burney’s part-time responsibilities.

Reflections on a “Group Effort”

Reflecting on his time employed with the Town of Wilton, Burney expressed sincere appreciation and praise for various department heads and what he saw as “a group effort.”

“We’ve all got respect for each other and that’s huge,” Burney said.

“And we’ve got great leadership,” Burney continued. “Lynne, by far, is the most engaged boss I’ve ever worked for, and I have been working full time since 1965, so you can do the math.”

“I’m grateful that I had the opportunity,” he said. “To end my career in this place and in this way… I think I’ve just been really lucky.”