TASC List: Turning the ship

Maneuvering from a fixed position or changing speed or direction is more than a tricky accomplishment under any set of conditions. In football misdirection plays, running backs wheel and cut in the face of onrushing tacklers, wet turf, missed blocks and blown assignments. Drivers in the midst of gridlock battle road raging competitors, noise and confusion, and self-generated anxiety and tension.

But the persistent metaphor for the situation is the frequently asked question: “How long does it take to turn a carrier around, and over what distance?” The 1,100-foot long vessel proceeding at, say, 20 to 30 knots, will face the physical laws of momentum, the efficiency of its propulsion and rudder systems, the effects of wind and surface water forces, and extent to which the stopping and turning are deemed critical on the bridge.

Setting aside the classified nature of the answer for our latest aircraft carriers, a consensus approximation would be about four nautical miles to stop, and perhaps four to five minutes to accomplish a complete u-turn.

That raises the very important question here in Wilton: “How long should it take to turn around a town from the course it has been following for some time? We know the answer lies somewhere in between: don’t bother trying because it can’t be done, and the time it takes to replace an existing administration’s major players with new resources willing to try.

And that’s the really good news at the moment. The navigation mechanisms have been activated here and the bridge has placed the need for directional change in the critical category. Let’s look at our situation a bit closer.

The important forces at work today in Wilton are led by a whole new set of human resources. We have a first selectman who is interested in quantitative methods and analytical processes that are data rich and fact based. At the same time she has penetrated the assumptions that underlie whatever models or representations are available for use, and invites the opinions of the citizens who will be affected by the outcomes and directions ultimately reached. Her chief financial officer intends to upgrade the controls and auditability aspects of systems and procedures involved in order to improve the accuracy and integrity of the town’s books, methods, measurements, representations, and evaluations.

We have a chairman of the Board of Finance who is surrounded with colleagues who focus on objective measures of performance, results orientation, clear rationale for decision making, and display a vigorous willingness to ask: “how can we do better?” Together they support searching and incisive audits to assess how well we understood the past, and how effectively we can predict the future. They have inspected the key variables behind our financial operations status, and have exposed them to sensitivity perturbations in order to gauge the confidence levels we might expect when we extend our methods out in time. And they expect other operational and educational functions to provide longer range outlooks as well. Impact assessment has moved front and center for financial reviews and budget discussions.

The district superintendent has a performance plan with goals for capping and reducing budgetary levels and focusing on cost efficiencies and minimization. This is a serious step forward from past objectives which were, and are today in most educational jurisdictions, almost entirely based on classroom objectives and initiatives. There is a growing realization in such offices that quality of education (products and outcomes) is not strictly tied to the amount of money expended on the effort. He will also assure by internal audit that fundamental controls over financial reporting and asset accounting meet requirements and expectations.

Recognizing the changes in players, interests, objectives, and focus, it is no surprise that the new budget objectives are intended to reverse the upward tax burden trends of so many years past. The consequences of these forces will slow the forward momentum of our ship. We will course-correct.

And how will that reenergize Wilton? We will reduce the outflow of citizens seeking economic stability. We will attract families looking for homes that retain value. Business owners will view the community as responsible, conservative, practical, and affordable. Current taxpayers will believe that along with the unusually high quality of life and surpassing natural beauty of its surroundings, they can live in a well-managed, financially prudent, and citizen-responsive community.

They will be able to experience first-hand the fondest hopes and expectations of voyagers everywhere — “fair winds and following seas.”

TASC stands for Toward A Stronger Community. Contact: brennerjoe@aol.com.