Governor Lamont Visits Wilton, Meets with Town’s Top Officials
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont paid a visit to Wilton Wednesday morning, and met with the town’s top officials, including First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, Wilton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith, Police Chief John Lynch, and town/school CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz.
Lamont’s stop in Wilton was somewhat of a surprise visit, and was arranged just the day before.
“We got a call that the Governor was going to be in Wilton and wanted to meet with me,” explains Vanderslice, who was told she could invite other town representatives to the meeting. “We presented things we thought were priorities for us, in the areas of education and shared services–he was interested in that, and we told him what the state could do to help facilitate that.”
That topic was one of the reasons Vanderslice asked Kelly-Lenz, who is responsible for both the schools and town finance departments, to be part of the sit-down.
“Her position, along with [Town/School Facilities Director] Chris Burney‘s, is an example of how the town and BOE were successful in sharing non collective bargaining positions. I was keen to discuss the need for collective bargaining binding arbitration reform. Connecticut mandates what’s called Last Best Offer, which requires the arbitrator to chose between the two last best offers In that situation, the arbitrator tends to split the baby, which typically isn’t the best result. Changing the statute to Conventional Interest Arbitration would make for a better process as it gives the arbitrator the freedom to make the award they think is best in light of all that was presented. Fear of Last Best Offer arbitration is hindering efforts to share resources between towns and between town and school governments. Knowing the Governor is interested in municipalities’ sharing resources, I wanted him to understand that reform is critical to making that happen,” she explains.
“I wanted him to see an example where it’s been done well. He noted it’s unusual, that we’re one of the few cities and towns that has a joint CFO,” Vanderslice adds.
“The important thing–he was not dismissive of anything we said. He listened, he asked questions; if it was something he didn’t know the details of, he asked for the information, and asked his staff to follow up.”
One thing that was clear during the meeting was that Lamont’s number-one priority right now is the budget. –not only dealing with the issues, but also making sure it is done within the required time frame so that municipalities are not left having to guess about what changes in state aid or other areas might occur to impact our budgets.. Vanderslice says as part of that, Lamont does consider education spending a priority
“We expressed our concerns about the teacher pensions and school funding,” she says.
Although they didn’t get too specific about Wilton’s numbers, both Vanderslice and Smith found him to be very focused on trying to create a solution to the pension problem, with the superintendent adding that Lamont genuinely wanted to hear what the Wilton officials had to say.
“We spoke about the importance of education and the value of our public schools, but also the financial challenges that come with running a really effective system–not only here but in communities across the state. He was certainly open to the feedback and hearing what those challenges are. It was clear to me this was not the first place he had heard some of those concerns, most notably the potential shift of the teacher pension obligation. Those are issues he’s well aware of and concerned about, and is well-versed.”
Lynch was able to make an important connection for an organization he’s very involved with, the CT Chiefs of Police Association, which he said has been “overlooked” by prior administrations.
“Previously they’d reached out with little or no response,” he explains, so he contacted the association’s president to narrow down the law enforcement topics most important to discuss with the governor–among them, juvenile crime (like Wilton’s car break-ins and thefts) and legalization of marijuana.
“The important thing is he said was that he would reach out to the Chiefs of Police, and try to communicate and maybe collaborate,” says Lynch. “He was interested and really listened to what we had to say. I was very appreciative.”
Although the governor’s staff had told Vanderslice he only had about 30-40 minutes to meet, Lamont did stay a full hour, something everyone appreciated.
Vanderslice called it “a robust conversation,” and very worthwhile. “It was productive. We all had a lot more time than we expected to receive. We certainly appreciated him coming–I’ve never had the governor visit me or contact me since I’ve been in office. To have a new governor do that so quickly, we were all excited that he wanted to hear what we had to say,” she says.”
Smith agrees. “I considered it a real privilege to be in the room with the governor and his aide and have what amounts to a one-on-one for just over an hour. That was very positive and stunning that he would be so generous with his time. I think it speaks pretty loudly and clearly to his character. I found him to be open and a really interested, careful listener, and he asked some very engaging questions, seeking ideas. It was clear he was eager to hear our thinking on a range of topics.”
Lynch was impressed with the governor too. “He didn’t come across as a politician. He had more of a business sense, and he seemed candid and legitimate. It was a very comfortable meeting. He let us speak, asked some good questions, he was looking for ideas and very open-minded.”
All of which bodes well for Wilton should the need arise for Vanderslice to call on him. “Having had the personal conversation with him, and speaking directly with some of his staffers, if we need to get back in touch with him, we now have the contact to get it done.”
It’s an opportunity, says Smith, for both Wilton and the governor, who he hopes will now have Wilton faces and a conversation to personify the issues our community faces.
“As we’re moving forward and thinking about the needs we have and solutions we’re trying to generate, it can give them some extra credence. We’ll find another point in time to invite him back to Wilton to continue the conversation and perhaps do strategic thinking about how we confront these challenges together.”
Wilton is a familiar place for the governor–he told everyone that he has family in town and remembers visiting them years ago as a child–and riding his bike to the Riding Club.
Before Lamont left, Vanderslice did ask him to pose for a picture in front of the artwork created by students who have visited her office. “I thought the kids would enjoy that.”