Wilton’s finance board hears pitch for new town administrator

An organizational chart outlines the responsibilities of a new chief town administrator position that officials are considering to assist Wilton’s first selectperson.

An organizational chart outlines the responsibilities of a new chief town administrator position that officials are considering to assist Wilton’s first selectperson.

Zoom screen capture

WILTON — Board of Finance members were favorable of a proposal from First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to delegate some of her responsibilities to a new chief town administrator.

On Tuesday, Vanderslice outlined the benefits of putting the town leader’s day-to-day management operations into the hands of a new hire. This, in turn, would allow her and future first selectpersons to turn their attention to state and regional issues, which she said have become a greater part of the office’s role.

Citing state and federal requirements of local municipality leaders who sit on the Western Connecticut Council of Governments and the Southwestern Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, “The position of the first selectperson has become more demanding and more complex,” Vanderslice said.

She also noted a certain degree of responsiveness that has been demanded of her from residents who have come to expect near-constant contact in the age of electronic communication.

“They expect the first selectperson to be responsive and accessible by multiple means of communication,” she explained, “and the Board of Selectmen wants the first selectman to be responsible in that manner.”

Vanderslice added that a town administrator could provide some semblance of consistency when administrations change following elections.

Although she had intended to broach the subject with the Board of Selectmen during the next budget cycle, the imminent departure of Anne Kelly-Lenz prompted her to move up the discussion.

Kelly-Lenz was hired as the joint town-school chief financial officer in Wilton in November 2015. She is due to become New Canaan’s new CFO.

Board of Finance member Chris Stroup said he endorsed creating the position of a new chief town administrator to assist Wilton’s first selectperson.

Like Vanderslice, Chairman Michael Kaelin noted that fewer people are voluntarily serving in government, which demands that more professionals be paid to do the work.

“This has really become too big a job for just one person to do,” he said. “We need to get a professional administrator and we need to free the first selectperson up to do the things that your constituents really expect you to do.”

The challenge, however, is figuring out how to pay for the new position, Kaelin said.

Vanderslice estimated the role would cost between $185,000 to $205,000 annually. She said the cost could be offset by both a reduction in the compensation of the first selectperson and “efficiencies and cost-saving expected to be identified and executed” by the new hire.

The Board of Selectmen will decide at its Jan. 18 meeting on whether to move forward with the change, she said.