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Town Administrator Workgroup Winding Down



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With a planned deadline for submitting final recommendation to the Board of Selectmen at its September 4 meeting, the Town Administrator Workgroup is planning two final gatherings to work up their plans at 3:30 pm on Monday, August 7, and 3:30 pm on Tuesday, August 22.

After a review of points brought up in the extensive interviews the group conducted with Newtown department heads as well as officials from a variety of surrounding towns who have town managers and town administrators, the group began preliminary discussions toward crafting those final recommendations at its July 24 meeting.

Chairman Maureen Crick Owen suggested during discussions that the group needs to be “firm in its recommendation.”

“We need to choose one of A, B, or C,” said Crick Owen, who noted that discussions paring down the possibilities to a chosen option should wait until absent workgroup member Pat Llodra was present.

Workgroup member Ned Simpson noted that the group has an “A and B on the table,” and that when Llodra is present the group will have a vote to “see where it lands.”

Simpson felt there were three choices — tweak the first selectman position, town administrator, and town manager. Simpson leaned towards a town manager, and he felt that taking no action was “the worst for the town.”

“What tilts me most to town manager is we’re not good at change,” said Simpson. “Our last charter revision was not really a stellar exercise in how to do a charter revision that the public will accept.”

Simpson said that if the criteria is what is the easiest to sell to the public, he felt that it would be the town administrator. If the criteria was what he thought was best for the town, it would be town manager.

Bill Brimmer said “the easy way” would be a town administrator, as that would be easier to recruit someone, but Brimmer felt that would be an “interim step.”

“I was more impressed in our interviews with the town managers,” said Brimmer. “I believed that, with the future coming upon us, the town manager would be the best way to go and not have an interim step with a town administrator. If we recommend a town administrator and then move to a town manager, and don’t hire a town administrator, then there would be chaos.”

Crick Owen said she preferred to keep things slower, and making a major change might be unlikely to be supported by the public. Even if a town manager is the final step, Crick Owen thought it would be worth taking the intermediate steps first.

“To get it through the residents is the hardest part,” said Crick Owen.

Simpson noted concern with certain fiscal changes, particularly with a town manager, who he said would be the town’s fiscal authority — whether it would be the town’s chief executive officer, which in that case would be the town manager, or the Legislative Council, which is the town’s current fiscal authority.

Crick Owen said it would need to be determined as part of a charter change that would be required to create a town manager position. A town administrator, which would be an administrative position working under the first selectman and assisting the first selectman, would not require a charter change.

Simpson said he was a “numbers guy” and felt the workgroup should address the question of potential salary for either a town manager or town administrator position. Crick Owen and Brimmer both felt salary discussions were outside the workgroup’s charge, and that would be up to the Legislative Council and Board of Selectmen.

Simpson still felt that the workgroup should look at numbers, and many would judge based on potential salary. He said that while in other towns, residents would often “grumble when voting” on positions that would bring extra salary, but “in the end they saw the value that was created.”

He said the workgroup had “three customers,” the three political candidates who were in the running for the first selectman’s office as of July 24, and “we know what they want.” Republican Matt Mihalcik (who was later eliminated as a candidate at the Republican caucus on July 25) asked for potential salaries.

“We have a flexible charge, if one customer wants dollar figures, we should provide them,” said Simpson.

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

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