Regional planning group hires a new executive director

The Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WCCOG) has chosen Francis Pickering to be the executive director of the newly formed group. Mr. Pickering replaces the first director, Craig Leiner, who resigned from the post after just one meeting.

Mr. Pickering attended Princeton and is currently working on his dissertation in geography at the University of Connecticut.

“I’m very excited to have Francis on board,” said Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.

She said Mr. Pickering worked with another regional planning agency in Connecticut, before the state mandated a consolidation of regions and a change to all councils of governments.

Under a mandate from the General Assembly, the Western Connecticut Council of Governments was formed by a merger of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO) and the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA). The council of governments, or COG, encompasses 18 municipalities in Fairfield and Litchfield counties, including Weston.

After being hired last October, Mr. Leiner had spent the next few weeks meeting with the chief elected officials of the WCCOG. According to Ms. Weinstein, “he said … he felt none of us were really in favor of this merger and we all had differing views. And so, he decided it’s not a good idea and so he can’t support it.”

Over the course of the last two years, most town leaders have, in fact, expressed misgivings about creating a larger regional planning group, but the changes were required by the state, and so there was little choice.

Ms. Weinstein said Mr. Pickering’s understanding of the way different planning organizations have worked in the past and can work together now and in the future will be a great help to WCCOG.

“He brings an incredible bank of knowledge, not only regarding process, but also [regarding] how other planning organizations are working,” Ms. Weinstein said. “He also has some incredible ideas about what our COG could be.”

Ms. Weinstein said Mr. Pickering also has some good ideas as far as streamlining accounting processes for the COG, something she has been working on as the treasurer of the council.

Ms. Weinstein said that after the last meeting of the COG on Thursday, Jan. 22, held in Sherman in the northern part of the region, there seems to be “a new level of collaboration between the municipalities.”

She added that Mr. Pickering is a “make lemonade out of lemons kind of guy ... I’m excited by his energy.”