Wilton residents can certainly agree on one thing: we all want an effective town government. Our expectations are for a well-functioning set of operations managed out of Town Hall, from emergency planning to the celebration of Santa’s arrival. And everything in between.
The heartbeat of the town’s vital activities and ability to reach and benefit its citizen population is found within the province of the chief financial officer. Much more than budgets and tax collection, or investments and audit health, the CFO should set the standard for ethical behavior, prudent use of resources, and balanced cost-benefit judgments on a panorama of propositions, proposals and projects.
With that in mind, TASC (Toward A Stronger Community) welcomes our newly appointed CFO as she begins to discharge her responsibilities here in the last month of 2015. Along with that welcome comes a bit of advice — some of it quite specific — and the promise of support for her office in whatever ways may seem most appropriate in the days and months ahead. All of these recommendations have been published in this space (The TASC List) over the past few years. We will make them available to her in detailed form if necessary. They are summarized below.
But first, an observation. There is a phrase to suggest how some view the present and future through an obscured vision or a closed mind. It says: “To see clearly, as through a glass eye.” Wilton management today requires utmost clarity as it looks ahead to the continued challenges of uncertainty, financial burdens on the taxpayer, growth, and the continued intrusion of otherwise global affairs into our quiet corner of the world.
1) At the top of “The List” is a recognition that we can do better in the drive toward cost effectiveness in everything we do. Without having this objective clearly inscribed in every single employee’s performance plan, the notion is hollow and meaningless. With individual objectives and plans to accomplish them, we can maintain and improve financial balance, sustainability, and attractiveness across the entire town. (See “Solid foundations,” 5/10/12 and “Stronger leads to better,” 1/7/13)
2) Next, we need to recognize that not only do the opportunities for fraud exist in Wilton as the auditors have observed (through a reasonably clear vision of their own), but it is certain that wrongdoing has occurred at times – and needs to be prevented. Systems and procedural controls must be tightened and enforced. An Independent Internal Auditor position should be established with a vigorous program of inspection, sampling, and deterrence. Nothing less will suffice. (See “Internal Auditor,” 7/21/11)
3) We should be careful in establishing what we measure in terms of effectiveness, and how we choose to emphasize and pursue objectives. We need to understand that in a complex and dynamic world of urban affairs, the existence of multiple feedback loops and interdependent variables can sometimes lead to convenient and “common sense” answers. And they in turn can lead to results that are actually counterproductive in the end. Failure to recognize enrollment as a major factor in education budgets and capacity planning leads to erroneous solutions. Here farsightedness and clear vision can help us find a useful path toward improvement, productivity, and beneficial outcomes. (See “On measurements,” 2/7/13)
4) We need to pull together as a cohesive team. The CFO as heartbeat and propelling force should be able to knit together the goals and aims of the major boards, and the missions of every committee and panel, so that all have consistency in action, common objectives, and mutually reinforcing attainments. Tough? Yes, indeed. For the unpredictable waters just ahead, absolutely essential. (See “Tomorrow’s Wilton,” 5/7/15)
Now Anne Kelly-Lenz is driving the “A” team. Perhaps her game plan will include some of the considerations TASC has offered over time, in her search for improvement, efficiency, discipline, and execution. With experienced leadership from the new First Selectman and the guidance of a capably analytical Board of Finance, she will be able to see, in the sports arena sense, “the whole field.” We hope she sees it clearly against a background of exceedingly high expectations, and an environment of critically high stakes.
TASC stands for Toward A Stronger Community. Contact: brennerjoe@aol.com